Croatian Antifascist Movement in Istria
How the Yugoslav Communists Suppressed the Croatian Antifascist Movement in Istria
Sent: Thursday, March 10, 2005 3:38 PM
Subject: Re: Miller & Istria
I wanted to respond to Rudi Arapovic's comments to give one an idea of what I meant by pointing out the positive.
Unfortunately, WWII history in Croatia has been and to a great extent continues to be ideologized and remains an issue of political contention till today. The Communists basically take and took all credit for the anti-Nazi and anti-Fascist struggle in Croatia.
An excellent example is what occurred in Istria in Sept 1943 when Italy capitulated. The Communist Party of Croatia (KPH) had sent some representatives to Istria in an attempt to build support for the Partisan movement. However, in mid-1943 there were only 25 KPH members in all of Istria and there were no organized Partisan units whatsoever. There were also several dozen sympathizers. Ethnic Italian communists at the time did not support the Partisans or the KPH - they viewed the movement as overly nationalist and believed that communists should be working on a revolution in the cities rather than in the countryside.
Despite the literal handful of KPH members in Istria, within several days of Italy's capitulation, the Croatian people in Istria, in a mass uprising that I do not believe can be compared to anything else in Europe, took over the entire peninsula - only Pula, Trieste and the eastern portion of Rijeka remained outside of their control.
The KPH members themselves recognized at the time in contemporary documents that this uprising caught them by complete surprise and got away from their control. Using a Leninist phrase, they admitted that they found themselves in the "tail" of the movement.
On Sept 13 members of the District National Liberation Committee for Istria issued the so-called Pazin Declaration (Pazinska odluka) where they declared the union of Istria with its homeland, Croatia (YU was not mentioned at all). People such as Berto Crnja and Dusan Diminic write in their memoirs of the nationalist euphoria which enveloped Istria at the time. They note that Croatian flags (not YU flags) were found everywhere. Diminic writes that he and a collegue went to visit one prominent priest (Zvonko Brumnic) who was so delighted that he invited them into his home where he played Lijepa nasa on his piano. Diminic or Crnja (can't remember which off hand) note that people in Pazin wrote graffiti on locomotives which said Zivili Nasi Domobrani, the writers noting that this showed that the people in Istria remained more or less unaware of the political differences which divided Croats in Croatia proper.
Later in September a meeting of Communists and prominent non-Communist Croats from Istria met in Pazin and constituted themselves as the Provincial National Liberation Committee of Istria. Significantly, four Croatian priests were among the delegates - one of them was Josip Pavlisic, who currently is the retired Archbishop of Rijeka!
At the meeting a number of resolutions were adopted including repealing all Italian fascist laws, calling for the removal from Istria of Italians sent to colonize Istria after 1918 and calling for the re-introduction of Croatian (not "Serbo-Croatian") in all churches in Istria.
The three weeks of freedom and euphoria came to an end in early October when Germans launched an offensive in Istria. The newly constituted Partisan units in Istria were destroyed and an estimated 5,000 people were killed in Istria by the Germans in the next several months alone. German repressive activities continued throughout the rest of the war - in May 1944, for ex., the Germans executed over 250 people in the village of Lipa (near the border with Slovenia at Rupa). Another massacre occurred in Tinjan in western Istria where about 80 people were executed in one day. Hundreds of Croat Istrians were taken to concentration camps in Germany as well as the so-called Risseria camp in Trieste (the only one in Italy that had a crematoria). I encourage anyone driving thru the interior of Istria to take a couple of moments to look at the local "Partisan" monuments - most of the people listed were killed in 1943 or '44. More importantly, in light of the small number of KPH members in Istria at the time, there is little doubt that those listed were non-Communist civilians.
During the last 2 years of the war the KPH gained its bearings in Istria and began to impose its ideological views. The support that probably all Croats in Istria gave to the anti-fascist movement began to dissipate in the face of Communist stupidity. An example of this was the relations between the KPH and Croatian priests in Istria which took a 180 degree turn as the KPH began to attack a number of prominent priests (such as Bozo Milanovic). The ultimate end of the war saw the now Yugoslav Army enter Istria in late April 1945.
My point in this story is that what occurred in Istria in Sept 1943 (and indeed what probably occurred in Split at the same time) was not a Communist led uprising but a popular revolt against a regime which engaged in the open ethnic elimination of Croats and all things Croatian (e.g., the Italians removed the Ninski statue when they came to Split in '43; the well-known ban on the use of Croatian names and language in Istria since the mid-1920s, etc.). That the Communists were able to take over the leadership of the revolt is due to the fact that there were no other organized political parties or organizations in Istria as a result of the fascist regime's policies (the NDH attempted to send emissaries to Istria but their attempts were thwarted by the Germans who put Istria and the Kvarner under their direct control). They could only be opposed by the Church and as noted above the initial alliance forged with local priests came to a quick end.
We should not allow the Communists to claim this truly remarkable story as something of their own doing - it wasn't. It was the doing of those Croatian patriots who remained in Istria throughout Italian rule and surreptitiously kept alive among the local people the desire to join their motherland and to destroy fascism at the same time.