Italians Yearn for Slice of Balkans
Border disputes in Europe extend to Italy, where some officials want the Istrian Peninsula back
SILVA PERI longs to return to her home, remembering the days of her youth when Mussolini was in power and the Istrian Peninsula was part of Italy.Skip to next paragraph
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``Mussolini, God bless him,'' says the 62-year-old Italian housewife-turned-political activist, clasping her hands up to the sky. Along with an estimated 300,000 other Italians, she fled to Italy when the scenic peninsula, popular with tourists, shifted from Italian to Yugoslav territory after World War II.
Her family left behind a restaurant, a house, and a large tract of land in the town of Motovun, which now lies inside Croatia. Ms. Peri, who lives close to the border in Trieste, Italy, dreams that one day the borders will be changed so that her family's property will once again lie inside Italy.
``Oh boy, I think it would be nice if Istria would be Italy again, and we could go there to those beaches and mountains I adore,'' she says. ``But for this we can just dream, it doesn't cost anything.''
Peri's dreams are shared by many Italians, and they are making many in Croatia and Slovenia wince in trepidation; they know all too well what talk of changing borders in this part of Europe can bring.
Peri is the secretary for a group in Trieste that calls itself the Italian-Istrian Community in Exile. Members believe that Istria historically and philosophically belongs to Italy.The group's irredentist claims, sidelined for years by Italy's socialist government, have been resurrected by Italy's newly elected right-wing leadership headed by media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi. The neofascist National Alliance won three posts in President Berlusconi's Cabinet, and the party's leader, Gianfranco Fini, has been outspoken about Italy's territorial claims on Istria.
New territorial claims
Italy's government ``didn't want to hear us for 50 years, but this new government is listening to our arguments and understanding our needs,'' says Denis Zigante, president of the Italian-Istrian Community in Exile in Trieste. ``We don't want to hear anything about compensation for our troubles, we want our property back.''
Istria was under Venetian and Austrian rule for most of the 500 years prior to 1918, when Yugoslavia was formed. After the 1991 breakup of Yugoslavia, Istrians became part of two new states, Croatia and Slovenia, with most of the peninsula lying inside Croatia's borders.
On a visit at the end of June to Croatia, Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Martino told Croatia and Slovenia that neofascist demands for Istria's return to Italy would not become official government policy.
``We hope that from now on some statements will not be overemphasized to create problems where they don't exist,'' Mr. Martino said, apparently referring to Mr. Fini's comments. ``It is important that the future of our relations is not hampered by any delays.''
Nevertheless, Italy vetoed Slovenia's bid for associate membership in the European Union (EU) in June and has vowed to do the same for Croatia until two key issues are settled: the property rights of Italians who left after the war and the rights of the Italian minority in Istria.