The Germans get too much credit. Granted, considering the scale of Hitler’s transgressions, it’s to be expected. However, Nazi crimes tend to overshadow the responsibility of the Third Reich’s main European ally, Benito Mussolini, for overseeing his own share of butchery in the Balkans.
Though discussed at length in many academic histories of World War II, popular cognizance of Mussolini’s war crimes remains relatively low. Particularly in Italy, where, like the country’s responsibility for genocides in both Libya and Eritrea before WWII, its colonial administration of the Istrian Peninsula (now Croatia) between 1919 and 1947 remains the subject of infrequent debate.
During Italy’s twenty-six year rule, the peninsula’s Croatian and Slovene inhabitants underwent a process of forced Italianization. The Slavic population was also subject to indiscriminate killings by occupying Italian forces, whose victims were frequently found dumped in sinkholes (Foibe,) which are common to the peninsula. Political conservatives, and Fascist sympathizers, in turn, argue that it was Tito’s partisans (Communist guerrillas) who were in fact responsible for the majority of these murders, both during and after the Second World War.
The source of the dispute: Most recently, the Berlusconi government’s 2005 legislation instituting a National Memorial Day of the Exiles and the Foibe, to commemorate the ethnic cleansing of Italians by Yugoslav Communist (and partisan) leader Tito, between 1943 and 1960. The following translation, below, is taken from a leftwing flyer posted in Turin (see the above photo) in advance of this year’s Memorial Day.
Don’t Buy the Foiba!
The myth of Foibe has ingeniously been created to (render equivalent) fascist and antifascist violence, in order to make armed reactions against fascists appear to be unjustified force, committed by ruthless bandits and criminals.
According to this logic, actions against fascist squads and collaborators, and those Italians who took advantage of the occupation of Istria and Slavic territories, are deemed anti-Italian. The Foiba, (as it were) becomes a symbol of ethnic extermination by the Slavic population. The verified estimate of people thrown into the sinkholes is in the hundreds. However, this number is distorted by a fantasy that the (number of) dead (is actually in their) thousands.
This historic revisionism problematizes the motivations of thousands of people to resist fascist occupation, which caused indescribable abuses.
In Yugoslavia, especially on the Istrian coast, and in Ljubljana province, since from the 1920s, Italian culture and language was imposed. Slovenian and Croatian schools were closed. 400 cultural associations were destroyed. Slavs were excluded from public service employment. Thousands of rural plots were sequestered, and handed over to Italians.
Between 1941 and 1945 there were 45, 000 deaths among Slovenian, Croatian and anti-fascist Italians, many of which were thrown into the sinkholes. 95, 460 were arrested and interned in concentration camps, which in Italy numbered at least 113, and 15 in Yugoslavia. There were others in surrounding occupied territories. In Slovenia 13, 606 died in the camps.
Who Are the Real Victims?
Today overexcited fascists, desperately looking for a new image for the old Fascism, are willing to move a scarcely informed population, hiding behind (the) sinkholes’ corpses.
The arrogant negationists, ready to deny the experiences of Nazi concentration camps survivors and fascist torture victims, suddenly become history’s (martyrs,) courageous defenders of the truth that nobody else will tell.
But Foibe have nothing to do with this, when on the 10th of February about fifty indoctrinated young guys equip themselves with torches and march on the commemorative stone, while their ringleaders rub their hands in front of this farce, organized so as to appear in the newspapers, and to sponsor the “new” Fascism.
It’s all grist for the mill for these abortions of the institutional right. In fact, these young groups claiming to be anti-politics and non-conformists, are bankrolled by (the) big parties and ordered around by leaders who propagandize for Third Millennium Fascism: deceit and plagiarism.
They wait for the death of famous people in the most diverse fields (art, show business, science) to (attach their) symbol to them.
Therefore, the Foibe commemoration is nothing but an opportunity to get themselves talked about.
Let’s stop believing fascist deceit.
Never uninformed, always antifascists!
Translated from the Italian, by Giulia Pace. Introduction and photograph courtesy of Joel Schalit.