Istrian-Dalmatian exodus refers to the post-World War II
departure of ethnic
Italians from the Yugoslav territory of Istria, as
well as the cities of
Zadar and Rijeka. Istria, Rijeka, and
ethnically mixed, with Croatian, Italian, and Slovene communities.
Istria, Rijeka, and parts of
Dalmatia including Zadar, had been
annexed to Italy after World War I. At the end of
World War II
World War II the
former Italian territories in
Dalmatia became part of
Yugoslavia by the Treaty of peace with Italy, the only exception being
the Province of Trieste. The former territories which became part of
Yugoslavia are part of the present-day
Republic of Croatia
Republic of Croatia and
Republic of Slovenia.
According to various sources, the exodus is estimated to have amounted
to between some 230,000 and 350,000 people (including several thousand
Croats and Slovenes) leaving the areas in the aftermath
of the conflict. The exodus started in 1943 and ended completely
only in 1960.
The formal responsibility of the Yugoslav authorities for the exodus
is still argued over by historians, but in many cases the pressure put
on the ethnic
Italians (killings and summary executions during the
first years of the exodus, replaced after 1947 by less violent forms
of intimidation such as nationalization, expropriation and
discriminatory taxation) gave them little option other than
1 Overview of the exodus
2.1 Ancient times
World War I
World War I and post-War period
2.3 Slavs under Italian Fascist rule
2.4 World War II
2.5 Events of 1943
2.6 The Foibe massacres
3 The exodus
3.1 Periods of the exodus
3.2 Estimates of the exodus
3.3 Famous exiles
3.4 Property reparation
3.5 Minority rights in Yugoslavia
3.6 Historical debate
5 Further reading
6 See also
Overview of the exodus
A Romance-speaking population has existed in
Istria since the fall of
the Roman Empire, when
Istria was fully Latinised.
According to the 1910 Austrian census results (
Istria included here
parts of the Karst and Liburnia which are not really part of Istria),
out of 404,309 inhabitants in Istria, 168,116 (41.6%) spoke Croatian,
147,416 (36.5%) spoke Italian, 55,365 (13.7%) spoke Slovene, 13,279
(3.3%) spoke German, 882 (0.2%) spoke Romanian, 2,116 (0.5%) spoke
other languages and 17,135 (4.2%) were non-citizens, which had not
been asked for their language of communication. So, in the peninsula
World War I
World War I the
Italians accounted for about a third
(36.5%) of the local inhabitants.
Italians who were not part of the indigenous Venetian-speaking
Istrians arrived between 1918–1943, when Primorska and Istria,
Rijeka, part of Dalmatia, and the islands of Cres, Lastovo, and
Palagruža (and, from 1941-43, Krk) were part of Italy. The Kingdom of
Italy's 1936 census indicated approximately 230,000 people who
listed Italian as their language of communication in what is now the
territory of Slovenia and Croatia, then part of the Italian state (ca.
194,000 in today's Croatia and ca. 36,000 in today’s Slovenia).
From the end of
World War II
World War II until 1953, according to various data,
between 250,000 and 350,000 people emigrated from these regions.
According to some estimates, one-third were
opposed the Communist government in Yugoslavia,[dubious –
discuss] while two-thirds were ethnic Italians, emigrants who were
living permanently in this region on 10 June 1940 and who expressed
their wish to obtain Italian citizenship and emigrate to Italy, and
were called optanti (opting ones) in Yugoslavia and esuli (exiles) in
Italy. The emigration of
Italians reduced the total population of the
region and altered its historical ethnic structure.
In 1953, there were 36,000 declared
Italians in Yugoslavia, just 16%
of the Italian population before World War II. In 2002, according
to official Slovenian and Croatian censa, only 23,398 declared Italian
ethnicity. The number of speakers of Italian is larger if taking into
Italians who speak it as a second language. In addition,
since the dissolution of Yugoslavia, a significant portion of the
Istria opted for a regional declaration in the census
instead of a national one. As such, more people have Italian as a
first language than those having declared Italian. Interestingly, the
number of people resident in Croatia declaring themselves Italian
almost doubled between 1981 and 1991 censa (i.e. before and after the
dissolution of Yugoslavia).
During the war for Croatia there were no military battles in Istria.
Therefore, the Croat Government settled in
Istria the ethnic Croatian
refugees from the regions that were under control of the Republic of
Herzegovina and central Bosnia. Many of these refugees
settled permanently in Istria. The settlements were politically
motivated, to “strengthen the Croatian stock” in Istria, because
during the decade 1981-1991 the number of
Italians in Istria
statistically had increased more than 80% as a result of the new
political conditions in Croatia.
Main articles: Istria, History of Dalmatia, and Dalmatian Italians
Evidence of Italic people living alongside those from other ethnic
groups on the eastern side of the Adriatic as far north as the Alps
goes back at least to the Bronze Age, and the populations have
been mixed ever since. A 2001 population census counted 23 languages
spoken by the people of Istria.
From the Middle Ages onwards numbers of Slavic people near and on the
Adriatic coast were ever increasing, due to their expanding population
and due to pressure from the Turks pushing them from the south and
east. This led to Italic people becoming ever more confined to
urban areas, while the countryside was populated by Slavs, with
certain isolated exceptions.
World War I
World War I and post-War period
Italian presence in
In 1915, Italy abrogated its alliance and declared war on the
Austro-Hungarian Empire, leading to bloody conflict mainly on the
Isonzo and Piave fronts. Britain, France and Russia had been "keen to
bring neutral Italy into
World War I
World War I on their side. However, Italy
drove a hard bargain, demanding extensive territorial concessions once
the war had been won". In a deal to bring Italy into the war,
London Pact, Italy would be allowed to annex not only
Italian-speaking Trentino and Trieste, but also German-speaking South
Istria (which included large non-Italian communities), and the
northern part of
Dalmatia including the areas of
Zadar (Zara) and
Šibenik (Sebenico). Mainly Italian Fiume (present-day Rijeka) was
After the war, the Treaty of Rapallo between the Kingdom of Serbs,
Slovenes (later the Kingdom of Yugoslavia) and the Kingdom
of Italy (12 November 1920), Italy annexed
Dalmatia and some
minor islands, almost all of
Istria along with Trieste, excluding the
island of Krk, and part of
Kastav commune, which mostly went to the
Kingdom of Serbs,
Croats and Slovenes. By the Treaty of
January 1924), the
Free State of Fiume
Free State of Fiume (Rijeka) was divided between
Italy and Yugoslavia.
Between 31 December 1910, and 1 December 1921,
Istria lost 15.1% of
its population. The last survey under the Austrian empire recorded
404,309 inhabitants, which dropped to 343,401 by the first Italian
census after the war. While the decrease was certainly related to
World War I
World War I and the changes in political administration, emigration
also was a major factor. In the immediate post
World War I
World War I period,
Istria saw an intense migration outflow. Pula, for example, was badly
affected by the drastic dismantling of its massive Austrian military
and bureaucratic apparatus of more than 20,000 soldiers and security
forces, as well as the dismissal of the employees from its naval
shipyard. A serious economic crisis in the rest of Italy forced
thousands of Croat peasants to move to Yugoslavia, which became the
main destination of the Istrian exodus.
Due to a lack of reliable statistics, the true magnitude of Istrian
emigration during that period cannot be assessed accurately. Estimates
provided by varying sources with different research methods show that
about 30,000 Istrians migrated between 1918 and 1921.
Slavs under Italian Fascist rule
After World War I, under the Treaty of Rapallo between the Kingdom of
Slovenes (later Kingdom of Yugoslavia) and the
Kingdom of Italy
Kingdom of Italy (12 November 1920), Italy obtained almost all of
Istria with Trieste, the exception being the island of
Krk and part of
Kastav commune, which went to the Kingdom of Serbs,
Slovenes. By the Treaty of
Rome (27 January 1924) Italy took
well, which had been planned to become an independent state.
In these areas, there was a forced policy of
Italianization of the
population in the 1920s and 1930s. In addition, there were acts of
fascist violence not hampered by the authorities, such as the torching
of the Narodni dom (National House) in
Trieste carried out at
night by Fascists with the connivance of the police (July 13, 1920).
The situation deteriorated further after the annexation of the Julian
March, especially after
Benito Mussolini came to power (1922). In
March 1923 the prefect of the
Julian March prohibited the use of
Croatian and Slovene in the administration, whilst their use in law
courts was forbidden by Royal decree on 15 October 1925.
The activities of Croatian and Slovenian societies and associations
(Sokol, reading rooms, etc.) had already been forbidden during the
occupation, but specifically so later with the Law on Associations
(1925), the Law on Public Demonstrations (1926) and the Law on Public
Order (1926). All Slovenian and Croatian societies and sporting and
cultural associations had to cease every activity in line with a
decision of provincial fascist secretaries dated 12 June 1927. On a
specific order from the prefect of
Trieste on 19 November 1928 the
Edinost political society was also dissolved. Croatian and Slovenian
co-operatives in Istria, which at first were absorbed by the
Trieste Savings Banks, were gradually liquidated.
World War II
Wehrmacht invasion of Yugoslavia (6 April 1941), the
Italian zone of occupation was further expanded. Italy annexed
large areas of Croatia (including most of coastal Dalmatia) and
Slovenia (including its capital Ljubljana).
Helped by the Ustaše, a Croatian fascist movement animated by
Catholicism and ultranationalism, the Italian occupation continued its
repression of Partisan activities and the killing and imprisonment of
thousands of Yugoslav civilians in concentration camps (such as the
Rab concentration camp) in the newly annexed provinces. This increased
the anti-Italian sentiments of the Slovenian and Croatian subjects of
During the Italian occupation until its capitulation in September
1943, the population was subjected to atrocities described by Italian
Claudio Pavone as “aggressive and violent. Not so much an
eye for an eye as a head for an eye”; atrocities were often carried
out with the help of the Ustaše.
After World War II, there were large-scale movements of people
choosing Italy rather than continuing to live in communist Yugoslavia.
In Yugoslavia, the people who left were called optanti, which
translates as 'choosers'; they call themselves esuli or exiles. Their
motives included fear of reprisals, as well as economic and ethnic
Events of 1943
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When the Fascist regime collapsed in 1943 reprisals against Italian
fascists took place. Several hundred
Italians were killed by Josip
Broz Tito's resistance movement in September 1943; some had been
connected to the fascist regime, while others were victims of personal
hatred or the attempt of the Partisan resistance to get rid of its
real or supposed enemies.
Bodies recovered by firefighters and local civilians in 1943.
The Foibe massacres
Main article: Foibe massacres
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Between 1943 and 1947, the exodus was bolstered by a wave of violence
taking place in Istria, known as the "Foibe massacres". Some Italian
sources claim these killings amounted to ethnic cleansing, forcing
Italians to emigrate.
The mixed Italian-Slovenian Historical Commission, established in 1995
by the two governments to investigate these matters, described the
circumstances of the 1945 killings:
14. These events were triggered by the atmosphere of settling accounts
with the fascists; but, as it seems, they mostly proceeded from a
preliminary plan which included several tendencies: endeavors to
remove persons and structures who were in one way or another
(regardless of their personal responsibility) linked with Fascism,
with the Nazi supremacy, with collaboration and with the Italian
state, and endeavors to carry out preventive cleansing of real,
potential or only alleged opponents of the communist regime, and the
Julian March to the new SFR Yugoslavia. The initial
impulse was instigated by the revolutionary movement, which was
changed into a political regime and transformed the charge of national
and ideological intolerance between the partisans into violence at the
The number of victims is not certain. The Italian historian Raoul Pupo
suggests 4,500 were killed (including the events of 1943), mostly
Italians, but bodies wearing Partisan uniforms were found as well, so
the number is subject to many interpretations. Other sources suggest
numbers reaching up to 20,000 killed or missing, with the most likely
number approaching 10,000.
Economic insecurity, ethnic hatred and the international political
context that eventually led to the
Iron Curtain resulted in up to
350,000 people, mostly Italians, choosing to leave
Istria (and even
Dalmatia and northern "Venezia Giulia").
Furthermore, the nearly complete disappearance of the Dalmatian
Italians (there were 45,000 or nearly 20% of the total Dalmatian
population in 1848, while now there are only 300) has been related
to democide and ethnic cleansing by scholars like R. J. Rummel.
The exiles were to be given compensation for their loss of property
and other indemnity by the Italian state under the terms of the peace
treaties, but in the end did not receive anything. The exiles having
fled intolerable conditions in their homeland on the promise of aid in
the Italian homeland, were herded together in former concentration
camps and prisons. Exiles also encountered hostility from those
Italians who viewed them as taking away scarce food and jobs.
Following the exodus, the areas were settled with Yugoslav people.
In a 1991 interview with the Italian magazine Panorama, prominent
Yugoslav political dissident
Milovan Đilas claimed to have been
Istria alongside Edvard Kardelj in 1946, to organize
anti-Italian propaganda. He stated it was seen as "necessary to employ
all kinds of pressure to persuade
Italians to leave", due to their
constituting a majority in urban areas. Although he was to be
stripped of his offices in 1954, in 1946 Đilas was a high-ranking
Yugoslav politician: a member of the Yugoslav Communist Party's
Central Committee, in charge of its department of propaganda.
During the years 1946 and 1947 there was also a counter-exodus. In a
gesture of comradeship hundreds of
Italians Communists workers from
the city of
Monfalcone and Trieste, moved to Yugoslavia and more
precisely to the shipyards of
Rijeka taking the place of the departed
Italians. They viewed the new Yugoslavia of Tito as the only place
where the building of socialism was possible. They were soon bitterly
disappointed. They were accused of deviationism [clarification needed]
by the Yugoslav Regime and some were deported to concentration
The Italian bishop of the Catholic diocese of Poreč and
Radossi was replaced by Slovene Mihovil Toroš on 2 July 1947. In
September 1946 while Bishop Radossi was in
Žbandaj officiating a
confirmation local activists surrounded him in a Partisan kolo
Bishop Radossi subsequently moved from the bishop's residence in
Poreč to Pula, which was under a joint United Kingdom-United States
Allied Administration at the time. He officiated his last confirmation
in October 1946 in Filipana where he narrowly avoided an attack by a
group of thugs. The Bishop of Rijeka, Ugo Camozzo, also left for
Italy on 3 August 1947.
Periods of the exodus
The exodus took place between 1943 and 1960, with the main movements
of population having place in the following years:
The first period took place after the surrender of the Italian army
and the beginning of the first wave of anti-fascist violence. The
Wehrmacht was engaged in a front-wide retreat from the Yugoslav
Partisans, along with the local collaborationist forces (the Ustaše,
the Domobranci, the Chetniks, and units of Mussolini's Italian Social
Republic). The first city to see a massive departure of ethnic
Italians was Zadar. Between November 1943 and
Zadar was bombed by the
Allies, with serious civilian casualties (fatalities recorded range
from under 1,000 to as many ad 4,000 of over 20,000 city's
inhabitants). Many died in carpet bombings. Many landmarks and
centuries old works of art were destroyed. A significant number of
civilians fled the city.
In late October 1944 the German army and most of the Italian civilian
administration abandoned the city. On 31 October 1944, the
Partisans seized the city, until then a part of Mussolini's Italian
Social Republic. At the start of World War II,
Zadar had a population
of 24,000 and, by the end of 1944, this had decreased to 6,000.
Formally, the city remained under Italian sovereignty until 15
September 1947 but by that date the exodus from the city had been
already almost total (Paris Peace Treaties).
A second wave left at the end of the war with the beginning of
killings, expropriation and other forms of pressure from the Yugoslavs
authorities to establish control.
On 2–3 May 1945,
Rijeka was occupied by vanguards of the Yugoslav
Army. Here more than 500 collaborators, Italian military and public
servants were summarily executed; the leaders of the local Autonomist
Mario Blasich and Nevio Skull, were also murdered. By
January 1946, more than 20,000 people had left the province.
After 1945, the departure of the ethnic
Italians was bolstered by
events of less violent nature. According to the American historian
After 1945 physical threats generally gave way to subtler forms of
intimidation such as the nationalization and confiscation of
properties, the interruption of transport services (by both land and
sea) to the city of Trieste, the heavy taxation of salaries of those
who worked in Zone A and lived in Zone B, the persecution of clergy
and teachers, and economic hardship caused by the creation of a
special border currency, the Jugolira.
Italians leave Pula, 1947
The third part of the exodus took place after the Paris peace treaty,
Istria was assigned to the Socialist Federal Republic of
Yugoslavia, except for a small area in the northwest part that formed
the independent Free Territory of Trieste. The coastal city of Pula
was the site of the large-scale exodus of its Italian population.
Between December 1946 and September 1947,
Pula almost completely
emptied as its residents left all their possessions and "opted" for
Italian citizenship. 28,000 of the city's population of 32,000
The fourth period took place after the
Memorandum of Understanding in
London. It gave provisional civil administration of Zone A (with
Trieste), to Italy, and Zone B to Yugoslavia. Finally, in 1975 the
Treaty of Osimo
Treaty of Osimo divided the former Free Territory of Trieste.[citation
Estimates of the exodus
Several estimates of the exodus by historians:
Vladimir Žerjavić (Croat), 191,421 Italian exiles from Croatian
Nevenka Troha (Slovene), 40,000 Italian and 3,000 Slovene exiles from
Raoul Pupo (Italian), about 250,000 Italian exiles
Flaminio Rocchi (Italian), about 350,000 Italian exiles
The mixed Italian-Slovenian Historical Commission verified 27,000
Italian and 3,000 Slovene migrants from Slovenian territory. After
decades of silence from the Yugoslav authorities (the history of the
Istrian Exodus remained a tabooed topic in Yugoslav public discourse),
Tito himself would declare in 1972 during a speech in Montenegro that
three hundred thousands Istrians had left the peninsula after the
Those whose families left
Dalmatia in the post-World War II
Alida Valli, film actress
Mario Andretti, racing driver
Lidia Bastianich, chef
Nino Benvenuti, boxer: three times professional world's champion and
Olympic gold medalist
Enzo Bettiza, novelist, journalist and politician
Valentino Zeichen, poet and writer
Laura Antonelli, film actress, active 1965 to 1991
Sergio Endrigo, singer and songwriter
On 18 February 1983 Yugoslavia and Italy signed a treaty in
Yugoslavia agreed to pay US$110 million for the compensation of the
exiles' property which was confiscated after the war in the Zone B of
Free Territory of Trieste.
However, the issue of the property reparation is of big complexity and
is still of actuality as by 2014 the exiles have not been compensated
yet. Indeed, there is very little probability that exiles out of the
Zone B of the Free Territory of
Trieste will ever be compensated. The
matter of property compensation is included in the program of the
Istrian Democratic Assembly, the regional party currently
Minority rights in Yugoslavia
In connection with exodus and during the period of communist
Yugoslavia (1945–1991), the equality of ethno-nations and national
minorities and how to handle inter-ethnic relations was one of the key
questions of Yugoslav internal politics. In November 1943, the
federation of Yugoslavia was proclaimed by the second assembly of the
Anti-Fascist Council of the National Liberation of Yugoslavia (AVNOJ).
The fourth paragraph of the proclamation stated that "Ethnic
minorities in Yugoslavia shall be granted all national rights". These
principles were codified in the 1946 and 1963 constitutions and
reaffirmed again, in great detail, by the last federal constitution of
It declared that the nations and nationalities should have equal
rights (Article 245). It further stated that “… each nationality
has the sovereign right freely to use its own language and script, to
foster its own culture, to set up organizations for this purpose, and
to enjoy other constitutionally guaranteed rights…” (Article
There is not yet complete agreement amongst historians about the
causes and the events triggering the Istrian exodus.
According to the historian Pertti Ahonen:
Motivations behind the emigration are complex. Fear caused by the
initial post-war violence (summary killings, confiscations, pressure
from the governmental authorities) was a factor. On the Yugoslav side,
it does not appear that an official decision for expulsion of Italians
in Yugoslavia was ever taken. The actions of the Yugoslav authorities
were contradictory: on the one hand, there were efforts to stem the
flow of emigrants, such as placement of bureaucratic hurdles for
emigration and suppression of its local proponents. On the other hand,
Italians were pressured to leave quickly and en masse.
If does not appear that Yugoslavia ever meant to exterminate its
Italian population but also clearly wanted to avoid any subsequent
claim from defeated Italy over its new acquisitions. The impact of the
killings and lynching of Italian
Italian Social Republic
Italian Social Republic (RSI)
fascists and supposed nationalists in 1945 (especially in the context
of the huge casualties of
World War II
World War II Yugoslav front), has been
Slovenian historian Darko Darovec writes:
It is clear, however, that at the peace conferences the new State
borders were not being drawn using ideological criteria, but on the
basis of national considerations. The ideological criteria were then
used to convince the national minorities to line up with one or the
other side. To this end socio-political organisations with
high-sounding names were created, The most important of them being
SIAU, the Slavic-Italian Anti-Fascist Union, which by the necessities
of the political struggle mobilised the masses in the name of
'democracy'. Anyone who thought differently, or was nationally
'inconsistent', would be subjected to the so-called 'commissions of
purification'. The first great success of such a policy in the
national field was the massive exodus from Pula, following the coming
into effect of the peace treaty with Italy (15 September 1947). Great
ideological pressure was exerted also at the time of the clash with
the Kominform which caused the emigration of numerous sympathisers of
Italians and others, from Istra and from Zone B of the FTT
(Free Territory of Trieste)
For the mixed Italian-Slovenian Historical Commission:
Since the first post-war days, some local activists, who wreaked their
anger over the acts of the Istrian Fascists upon the Italian
population, had made their intention clear to rid themselves of the
Italians who revolted against the new authorities. However, expert
findings to-date do not confirm the testimonies of some - although
influential - Yugoslav personalities about the intentional expulsion
of Italians. Such a plan can be deduced - on the basis of the conduct
of the Yugoslav leadership - only after the break with the Informbiro
in 1948, when the great majority of the Italian Communists in Zone B -
despite the initial cooperation with the Yugoslav authorities, against
which more and more reservations were expressed - declared themselves
against Tito's Party. Therefore, the people's government abandoned the
political orientation towards the "brotherhood of the Slavs and
Italians", which within the framework of the Yugoslav socialist state
allowed for the existence of the politically and socially purified
Italian population that would respect the ideological orientation and
the national policy of the regime. The Yugoslav side perceived the
Italians from their native land with growing
satisfaction, and in its relation to the Italian national community
the wavering in the negotiations on the fate of the FTT was more and
more clearly reflected. Violence, which flared up again after the 1950
elections and the 1953
Trieste crisis, and the forceful expulsion of
unwanted persons were accompanied by measures to close the borders
between the two zones. The national composition of Zone B was also
altered by the immigration of Yugoslavs to the previously more or less
exclusively Italian cities.
A Brief History of
Istria by Darko Darovec
Raoul Pupo, Il lungo esodo. Istria: le persecuzioni, le foibe,
l'esilio, Rizzoli, 2005, ISBN 88-17-00562-2.
Raoul Pupo and Roberto Spazzali, Foibe, Mondadori, 2003,
ISBN 88-424-9015-6 .
Guido Rumici, Infoibati, Mursia, Milano, 2002,
Arrigo Petacco, L'esodo. La tragedia negata degli italiani d'Istria,
Dalmazia e Venezia Giulia, Mondadori, Milano, 1999.English translation
Marco Girardo, Sopravvissuti e dimenticati: il dramma delle foibe e
l'esodo dei giuliano-dalmati Paoline, 2006.
Pamela Ballinger, "The Politics of the Past: Redefining Insecurity
along the 'World's Most Open Border'"
Matjaž Klemenčič, "The Effects of the Dissolution of Yugoslavia on
Minority Rights: the Italian Minority in Post-Yugoslav Slovenia and
(in Italian) (in English) Site of an association of Italian exiles
Istria and Dalmatia
(in English) Slovene-Italian Relations 1880-1956 Report 2000
(in Italian) Relazioni Italo-Slovene 1880-1956 Relazione 2000
(in Slovene) Slovensko-italijanski odnosi 1880-1956 Poročilo 2000
Italians mark war massacre
National Memorial Day of the Exiles and Foibe
Free Territory of Trieste
World War II
World War II in Yugoslavia
Italian Social Republic
Flight and expulsion of Germans (1944–50)
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