Thursday, February 10, 2005

From Past to Future in the Pit

One of the most popular explanations for the late unpleasantness in former Yugoslavia was Balkan populations’ inherent inability to deal with their violent past. Those theories explained long periods of peace and multi-ethnic tolerance with the presence of authoritarian and totalitarian regimes that had kept ethnic tensions in check. Once the authoritarian and totalitarian regimes fell, those tensions allowed Balkan peoples to regress to their natural state and start slaughtering each over real and imaginary grievances in the past.

Western Europe, with more than half a century of peace, prosperity and multi-culturalism – all achieved through democracy – was often cited as anti-thesis of Balkans. Progress of Western Civilisation allowed those nations to achieve level from which any regression to the savage nationalism simply wasn’t possible.

However, some events that occurred lately show that the line that separates “civilised” Western Europe and “savage” Balkans isn’t as thick as most people in both areas of the world would like to believe.

One of those events is a TV movie Il cuore nel pozzo (Heart in the Pit), mini-series shown on RAI, Italian state-run television, few days ago.

The mini-series deals with one dark chapter of former Yugoslav WW2 history which was overshadowed by more spectacular and darker chapters that had occurred eastwards.

While most of ink (and, in 1990s, blood) was spilled over how many Serbs, Croats and Muslims got killed or exiled during WW2, there was and there is still very little talk about fate of some other ethnic groups. That includes Italians who bore the consequences of Italian defeat in WW2.

Prior to WW2, there was significant presence of ethnic Italians on eastern coast of Adriatic – which now comprise Slovenia, Croatia and Montenegro. Most of those people, especially in the south, were limited to coastal towns where they comprised business, administrative and cultural elite. In the north, namely in Istria and Maritime Slovenia, there was indigenous Italian population. Between two world wars, those territories belonged to Mussolini’s Italy where the local Slavic population was subjected to Fascist repression and various schemes of demographic engineering.

When Italy capitulated in September 1943, those areas became battlefield between Croatian and Slovenian Partisans on one and Germans and die hard Italian fascists on the other side. In the end, Tito’s army liberated those areas before Western Allies and many ethnic Italians, whether they had supported Fascism or not, were subjected to victor’s justice. It is estimated that after 1947 peace treaty some 200,000-250,000 ethic Italians left territories of former Yugoslavia.

However, there was another, even darker thing that happened in those times. In 1943-45 another word – “fojba” – became common word in local vocabularies. It means the “pit”, which is very common feature of local geography. For Croatian and Slovene Partisans it was very convenient way to dispose of Fascists, German collaborators and anyone they deemed “undesirable” in new Yugoslavia. Nobody knows for certain how many people got killed that way, but estimates range from few to few tens of thousands.

After WW2 any talk of “fojbas” was officially suppressed by Italian government, which wanted good relations with Tito’s Yugoslavia in order to prevent Soviet tanks on their borders. Tito, for his part, returned the favour by suppressing talk about some 50,000 civillians massacred by Mussolini’s troops in former Yugoslavia 1941-43.

The only people who were carrying the torch for people killed in “fojbas” belonged to Italian far right. For them the story about “fojbas” grew into myth, very much like hard-line Serb nationalists used Jasenovac as a rallying cry for their cause. Until recently, Italian far-rightists were harmless and marginalised, but with the arrival of far right parties into Berlusconi’s government everything changed. “Fojbas” and everything else related to the traumatic loss of eastern territories became part of state-sanctioned history.

One example of that is a mini-series which, according to Croatian media reports, gives one-sided and simplistic portrayal of “fojbas” in a manner very similar to the way Serbian writers, filmmakers and intellectuals portrayed WW2 in late 1980s. The mini-series shows how, at the end of war, small Istrian town gets invaded by hordes of rampaging Slovenian partisans who round-up the inhabitants – all ethnic Italians – and then take them to the concentration camp where they would be subjected to beatings, rape and summary executions before mass disposal in “fojbas”. Not a word in the film was said about Fascism and events that preceded this dark chapter of history.

The mini-series created some sort of publicity in Croatia this summer, when it was shot in neighbouring Montenegro. Dragan Bjelogrlić (Dragan Bjelogrlic), popular Serbian actor, who plays psychopathic leader of Slovenian partisans, even gave some statements to Croatian magazines and tried to justify himself by telling how he had tried to “humanise” the character.

I must admit that I was too busy to watch the mini-series. Those who did, however, say the same things that they had said about Jakov Sedlar’s Četverored (Cetverored), probably the most infamous film in the history of Croatia. They describe it as a mix of historic revisionism and incredibly inept filmmaking.

One this film’s details is potentially disturbing. In his Summer 2004 interviews Bjelogrlić claims that he tried to talk the producers into replacing ethnicity of his character or at least some of the Partisans. He said that it would have been more realistic for some of the Partisans to be ethnic Croats. They refused and they stuck with Slovenian-only horde of murdering savages. Which is very peculiar, because Italy and Slovenia are part of the very same European Union. Just like Serbia and Croatia were part of the very same Yugoslavia in late 1980s.

Any similarity between EU and former Yugoslavia – especially when the word “pit” is mentioned – should send you shiver down your spine.


Blogger cicciosax said...

Your article is a perfect explanation of what's sadly happening in Italy.
Thanks Drax (and nice to meet you :-))

5:55 PM  

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