Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Italy-Croatia: World War II killings were ethnic cleansing, Napolitano says

Rome, 11 Feb. (AKI) - The notorious 'foibe' massacres of several thousand Italians by Yugoslav partisans in and around the northeastern city of Trieste towards the end of World War II were "ethnic cleansing," Italy's president Giorgio Napolitano reaffirmed on Sunday.

"Those from outside Italy who reacted rashly to my speech of one year ago should calm down. This is my advice, " Napolitano, a former communist said in his annual remembrance day address to commemorate the victims of the 'foibe'.

Some 70 relations collected medals on behalf of the 'foibe' victims. Remembrance ceremonies were held in more than 200 ceremonies around Italy.

"If unity does not prevail over dissent, if dialogue does not prevail over prejudice, nothing that we have laboriously built may be considered a permanent gain," Napolitano stated.

Napolitano's message was clearly aimed at Croatia's president Stjepan Mesic who criticised remarks he made during his 2007 remembrance day speech in which Napolitano described the 'foibe' killings as a "tragedy" and "one of the barbaric acts of the last century."

In the 2007 remembrance day speech, Napolitano said of the 'foibe': "We should not remain silent, assuming the responsibility for having denied or ignored the truth owing to ideological prejudices."

Mesic said at the time that he was "unpleasantly surprised by the contents and the tone," used lately by the Italian leaders in describing the events of the past, which "also affect present relations."

"These statements, in which one cannot overlook the hints of open racism, historical revisionism and political revenge, are hardly in line with the declared wish for enhancing bilateral relations between our two countries,” said Mesic.

He claimed Italy was trying to revise the peace accord it signed in 1947 and the Osimo agreement of 1975 in which it renounced territories on the eastern Adriatic coast, such as Istria and Dalmatia, a move that would be "absolutely unacceptable" to Croatia.

Mesic's remarks sparked a diplomatic row between Italy and Croatia. Foreign minister Massimo D'Alema last February cancelled an official visit to the Balkan country by his undersecretary Vittorio Craxi and summoned Croatia's ambassador for an explanation. Mesic's remarks were slammed by Italian politicians from across the political spectrum.

'Foibe' is the Italian word for deep chasms into which several thousand Italians were thrown in 1943 after Italy's capitulation - sometimes alive - by Croatian and Slovenian partisans loyal to General Josip Broz Tito.

The 'foibe' killings occurred in Trieste, modern-day Slovenia and along the Istrian peninsula, which Italy lost to Croatia at the end of World War II.

The estimated number of people killed varies between 1,500 and 5,000. In addition, up to 400,000 Italians were expelled or emigrated from Dalmatia, Istria and the area bordering Slovenia. The ''foibe' have remained a painful historical burden in Italy.

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