Commentary. What shared future can be built if the memory of the crimes is not shared? The horror of the foibe must serve to remind us of our historical responsibilities.

The foibe massacres and Italy’s selective memory

On a date set intentionally close to the day of remembrance in memory of the Shoah (the doing of the right wing), Italians have been called by the authoritative words of President Mattarella to celebrate, with a day of remembrance, the horror and tragedy of the foibe massacres. It is worth noting that in both these tragedies, Italians were not innocent victims. In the extermination of the Jews, they were accomplices of the Nazis, while in the case of the foibe they were involved in a set of more complex circumstances, which only the short memory of politics and the hypocrisy of most of the ruling class have expelled from the collective memory.

This time, there is an additional reason for regret. In his speech on Wednesday, President Mattarella seemed to have forgotten his own institutional initiative of last summer, when he felt the need to add to a nationalistic-unilateral vision of the tragedy, going to Basovizza to celebrate the victims of fascism together with Slovenian president Pahor—victims who were forgotten this time.

What is the point of wishing for “mutual recognition, dialogue and friendship” if the crimes committed by Italians are not also denounced? What shared future can be built if the memory of the crimes is not shared? And how can one say that “the crimes against humanity unleashed in that conflict did not end with the liberation from Nazi-Fascism, but continued in the persecution and violence perpetrated by another authoritarian regime, the Communist one”?

Here we are faced with a failure of memory that obscures the enactors of the Liberation, which is moreover in perfect harmony with the shameful resolution of the European Parliament, which, in 2019, equated Communism with Nazism. But, Mr. President, why not also recall the violence of Nazi-Fascism itself and the trail of blood left across those other lands, as the President of the Chamber Fico had the courage to do? How can we forget the responsibility of the fascist regime in the denationalization of Slovenes and Croats who, after 1918, found themselves within the borders of the Italian state?

This year, there was another “little” date that was forgotten: the 80th anniversary of the Nazi-Fascist invasion of Yugoslavia. In 1941, Italy’s aggression against Yugoslavia and the violent annexation of the province of Ljubljana to the Kingdom of Italy contributed decisively to the dissolution of the Yugoslav state and to the opening of the historical phase that led to Tito’s Yugoslavia. The historian Enzo Collotti recalls: “In each of these phases, the Italian political and military authorities, apart from any geopolitical problem, assumed that the Slavic populations represented, as Mussolini said, ‘an inferior and barbaric race’ against which it was possible and lawful to impose the heavy and cleansing fist of the dominators.”

That occupation, recalls the historian Davide Conti, cost the lives of about 1.5 million people, victims of the draconian measures of the infamous “Circular 3C” that instructed Italian soldiers to commit repression against civilians and partisans, signed by General Roatta. Why isn’t this crime “touching our consciences”? The foibe are part of this context.

Outside of this framework, there is no possibility to understand the reasons for the horrors of which we speak and to which we risk falling victims again. No lie should be able to turn this reality of history upside down or poison our memory, preventing awareness of the evils of a past that we are now supposed to consider as behind us. If this is not the case, we must return to reflect on the superficiality with which the politicians of the day have taken possession of an issue of strong emotional impact in order to alter history and memory with patriotic rhetoric.

The risk, which is renewed every year, is that the issue of the foibe serves precisely to cover the void of awareness of the true reality of the defeat of the country, but also of the ability of the population to raise its head and face the sacrifices that have allowed the reconstruction. Focusing attention on the foibe does not serve to underline the persecution suffered, but to perpetuate a sterile victimhood that does not help to reckon with the past, nor to consolidate the support for our democracy, threatened by many pitfalls. One of these is the denial of the truth.

The emphasis on the foibe has delayed the reconciliation with the nearby Slavic populations—what is the point of talking about “openings” towards that world if we do not always remember our responsibilities?—making it more difficult to heal the wounds of war and obscuring the real dramas of the people forced to leave their homes and their land, the only ones who have paid, in the place of Italians, for the wrongdoings of a criminal regime—without any official gestures by the democratic Italian state of disavowal and compensation for a past which must be condemned without reservation.

The Italian practice of covering up historical passages that would have deserved a strong commitment to self-criticism and truth with oblivion comes together with the removal of uncomfortable memories and their trivialization.

Thus, in the chorus of the media, there is again the same invocation of the “silence” about the foibe massacres, for which an omission-prone left is being blamed: in reality, in 1945, trials were set up and sentences were passed, but the De Gasperi governments prevented the reopening of that chapter of history, in the conviction that raising the issue would have meant that Italy was morally obliged to answer both for the crimes committed in Yugoslavia (and in the Balkans), but also in Libya, Ethiopia and the Soviet Union, and for the economic reparations provided for by the Peace Treaty of Paris in 1947. Accordingly, no Italian war criminal has ever been judged by any Nuremberg-style court.

The horror of the foibe must serve to remind us of our historical responsibilities. And it certainly must not be exploited when convenient in order to corroborate the lockstep political climate that has been established for the new government, as it has been these days.

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