le foibe - rassegna stampa

Forgotten Massacres Finally an Open Topic in Italy 
By DANIEL J. WAKIN Associated Press Writer
Aug. 29, 1996

The victims were dragged from their homes, bound, tortured, shot and dumped - sometimes alive - into yawning crevasses 50 years ago.

The victims were Italians, who have long remembered their suffering at the hands of their Nazi occupiers. But this time, the killers were Communists: Yugoslav partisans of Josip Broz Tito who killed thousands of people around the northeastern cities of Trieste and Gorizia and on the Istrian peninsula from 1943-46.

A half-century later, Italy is confronting the memory of these long-neglected massacres. The debate was ignited by the Aug. 1 conviction of former Nazi SS Capt. Erich Priebke in the killings of 335 civilians in Rome in 1944. His trial reawakened memories of other World War II atrocities.

"The problem doesn't only concern Trieste," said Stelio Spadaro, a former provincial leader of the Communist party, which is in the forefront of efforts to re-examine the massacres. "There is a debate in the country on its relationship with its past."

As the war wound down, the Yugoslavs had entered Trieste and the Istrian peninsula, an area annexed by Italy after World War I and brutally "Italianized" under fascism.

That memory prompted some revenge killings. But thousands more ordinary citizens were killed and tortured simply for being Italian or being hostile to annexation by Yugoslavia. Hundreds were killed after the fall of fascism in 1943. Another wave of killing came with the war's end. Thousands more died after deportation to Slovenian detention camps.

The most conservative number of victims is 3,500, according to University of Trieste historian Gianpaolo Valdevit.

Many of the victims, killed individually or in groups, were dumped into fissures of the Carso mountain range, the easternmost part of the Italian Alps. The crevasses are called "foibe" in the local dialect, and the word has come to encompass all the killings.

Several minor figures were tried and convicted after the war. But the debate has given new impetus to a long-stalled criminal investigation by Rome prosecutor Giuseppe Pititto.

Pititto said Thursday he will request murder indictments for a number of suspects - possibly including an 80-year-old alleged former head of the Yugoslav secret police - in the next several months. Most are presumed to live in the former Yugoslavia.

Legislators have also called for a special parliamentary investigation.

The foibe have long been a battle cry for the nationalist right, who call the killings a form of "ethnic cleansing."

For decades, Italian Communists tried to bury the matter as an embarrassment. Moreover, pro-Western parties that governed NATO-member Italy during the Cold War had no interest in antagonizing a Yugoslavia that was independent of the Soviet Union. Few textbooks mention the massacres.

But the Cold War ended. Yugoslavia broke up. The former Communists, renamed the Democratic Party of the Left, now govern Italy.

At the same time, debate has intensified over the past year about the Italian Fascist collaboration with the Nazis and attacks by Italian resistance fighters that provoked Nazi retaliation.

"It's good to shed light on this, no?" said Elio Apih, a professor of contemporary history at the University of Trieste.

"We have to overcome these old European rancors, but we can't deny the truth, comfortable or uncomfortable," he said.