Dalmatian Italians are the historical Italian national minority living in the region of Dalmatia, now part of Croatia and Montenegro. Since the middle of the 19th century, the community, counting according to some sources nearly 20% of all Dalmatian population in 1840, suffered from a constant trend of decreasing presence and now numbers only around 1,000–4,000 people. Throughout history, though small in numbers in the last two centuries, it exerted a vast and significant influence on the region.
|Regions with significant populations|
|Dalmatia, former Venetian Albania, Italy|
|Primarily Italian and Croatian, formerly some Dalmatian|
They are currently represented in Croatia and Montenegro by the Italian National Community (Italian: Comunità Nazionale Italiana) (CNI). The Italo-Croatian minorities treaty recognizes the Italian Union (Unione Italiana) as the political party officially representing the CNI in Croatia. The Italian Union represents the 30,000 ethnic Italians of former Yugoslavia, living mainly in Istria and in the city of Rijeka. Following the positive trend observed during the last decade (i.e., after the dissolution of Yugoslavia), the number of Dalmatian Italians in Croatia adhering to the CNI has risen to around one thousand. In Dalmatia the main operating centers of the CNI are in Split, Zadar, and Kotor.
Roman Dalmatia and the Middle AgesEdit
Roman Dalmatia was fully Latinized by 476 AD when the Western Roman Empire disappeared During the Barbarian Invasions, Avars allied with certain Slavic tribes, invaded and plundered Byzantine Illyria. This eventually led to the settlement of different Slavic tribes in the Balkans. The original Roman population endured within the coastal cities and in the inhospitable Dinaric Alps. The Dalmatian cities retained their Romanic culture and language in cities such as Zadar, Split and Dubrovnik. Their own Vulgar Latin, developed into the Dalmatian language, a now extinct Romance language. These coastal cities (politically part of the Byzantine Empire) maintained political, cultural and economic links with Italy, through the Adriatic sea. On the other side communications with the mainland were difficult because of the Dinaric Alps. Due to the sharp orography of Dalmatia, even communications between the different Dalmatian cities, occurred mainly through the sea. This helped Dalmatian cities to develop a unique Romance culture, despite the mostly Slavicized mainland.
In 997 AD the Venetian Doge Pietro Orseolo II, following repeated complaints by the Dalmatian city-states, commanded the Venetian fleet that attacked the Narentine pirates. On the Ascension Day in 998, Pietro Orseolo assumed the title of "Dux Dalmatianorum" (Duke of the Dalmatians), associating it with his son Giovanni Orseolo. This was the beginning of the Venetian influence in Dalmatia, however, while Venetian influence could always be felt, actual political rule over the province often changed hands between Venice and other regional powers, namely the Byzantine Empire, the Kingdom of Croatia, and the Kingdom of Hungary. The Venetians could afford to concede relatively generous terms because their own principal aims was not the control of the territory sought by Hungary, but the economic suppression of any potential commercial competitors on the eastern Adriatic. This aim brought on the necessity of enforced economic stagnation for the Dalmatian city-states, while the Hungarian feudal system promised greater political and commercial autonomy.
In the Dalmatian city states, there were almost invariably two opposed political factions, each ready to oppose any measure advocated by its antagonist. The origin of this division seems here to have been economic. The farmers and the merchants who traded in the interior naturally favoured Hungary, their most powerful neighbour on land; while the seafaring community looked to Venice as mistress of the Adriatic. In return for protection, the cities often furnished a contingent to the army or navy of their suzerain, and sometimes paid tribute either in money or in kind. The citizens clung to their municipal privileges, which were reaffirmed after the conquest of Dalmatia in 1102–1105 by Coloman of Hungary. Subject to the royal assent they might elect their own chief magistrate, bishop and judges. Their Roman law remained valid. They were even permitted to conclude separate alliances. No alien, not even a Hungarian, could reside in a city where he was unwelcome; and the man who disliked Hungarian dominion could emigrate with all his household and property. In lieu of tribute, the revenue from customs was in some cases shared equally by the king, chief magistrate, bishop and municipality. These rights and the analogous privileges granted by Venice were, however, too frequently infringed, Hungarian garrisons being quartered on unwilling towns, while Venice interfered with trade, with the appointment of bishops, or with the tenure of communal domains. Consequently, the Dalmatians remained loyal only while it suited their interests, and insurrections frequently occurred. Zadar was no exception, and four outbreaks are recorded between 1180 and 1345, although Zadar was treated with special consideration by its Venetian masters, who regarded its possession as essential to their maritime ascendancy.
The doubtful allegiance of the Dalmatians tended to protract the struggle between Venice and Hungary, which was further complicated by internal discord due largely to the spread of the Bogomil heresy; and by many outside influences, such as the vague suzerainty still enjoyed by the Eastern emperors during the 12th century; the assistance rendered to Venice by the armies of the Fourth Crusade in 1202; and the Tatar invasion of Dalmatia forty years later (see Trogir).
Republic of Venice (1420–1796)Edit
In 1409, during the 20-year Hungarian civil war between King Sigismund and the Neapolitan house of Anjou, the losing contender, Ladislaus of Naples, sold his "rights" on Dalmatia to the Venetian Republic for a meager sum of 100,000 ducats. The more centralized merchant republic took control of the cities by the year 1420 (with the exception of the Republic of Ragusa), they were to remain under Venetian rule for a period of 377 years (1420–1797). The southernmost area of Dalmatia (now part of coastal Montenegro) was called Venetian Albania during that time.
In these centuries a process of gradual assimilation took place among the native population. The Romance Dalmatians of the cities were the most susceptible because of their similar culture and were completely assimilated. The Venetian language, which was already the lingua franca of the Adriatic area, was adopted by the Latin Dalmatians of the cities (speakers of the Dalmatian), as their own vernacular language. This process was aided by the constant migration between the Adriatic cities and involved even the independent Dubrovnik (Ragusa) and the port of Rijeka (Fiume) .
The Slavic population (mainly Croats) was only partially assimilated, because of the linguistic unsimilarity and because the Slavs were mostly situated in the hinterland and the islands. The Dalmatian language, however, had already influenced the Dalmatian dialect of the Croatian language, the Chakavian dialect, with the Venetian dialect influencing the Albanian language. Starting from the 15th century, Italian replaced Latin as the language of culture in the Venetian Dalmatia and in the Republic of Ragusa. On the other hand, more and more Slavs (Catholic and Orthodox) were pushed into Venetian Dalmatia, to escape the Ottomans. This resulted in an increase of the Slavic presence in the cities.
Napoleonic era (1797–1815)Edit
In 1797, during the Napoleonic wars, the Republic of Venice was dissolved. The former Venetian Dalmatia was included in the Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy from 1805 to 1809 (for some years also the Republic of Ragusa was included, since 1808), and successively in the Illyrian Provinces from 1809.
In the census of 1808 declared to be Venetians (Italian speaking) about 33% of the Dalmatians, mostly in urban areas. After the final defeat of Napoleon, the entire territory was granted to the Austrian Empire by the Congress of Vienna in 1815.
This marked the beginning of 100 years (1815–1918) of Austrian rule in Dalmatia and the beginning of the disappearance of the Dalmatian Italians (who were reduced from nearly 30% in 1815 to just 3% at the end of WW1, due to persecutions, assimilation policies and emigration).
Austrian Empire (1815–1918)Edit
The Croatian faction (later called Unionist faction or "Puntari"), led by the People's Party and, to a lesser extent, the Party of Rights, both of which advocated the union of Dalmatia with the Kingdom of Croatia-Slavonia which was under Hungarian administration. The political alliances in Dalmatia shifted over time. At the beginning, the Unionists and Autonomists were allied together, against the centralism of Vienna. After a while, when the national question came to prominence, they split.
In 1867, the Empire was reorganized as the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Rijeka and the Kingdom of Croatia-Slavonia were assigned to the Hungarian part of the Empire, while Dalmatia and Istria remained in the Austrian part.
The Unionist faction won the elections in Dalmatia in 1870, but they were prevented from following through with the merge with Croatia and Slavonia due to the intervention of the Austrian imperial government.
The Austrian century was a time of decline for the Dalmatian Italians. Starting from the 1840s, large numbers of the Italian minority were passively croatized, or had emigrated as a consequence of the unfavorable economic situation.
According to two Austro-Hungarian censuses, the Dalmatian Italians formed 12.5% of the population in 1865 and 3.1% in 1890.
The interwar period (1918–1941)Edit
Following the conclusion of World War I and the disintegration of Austria-Hungary, the vast majority of Dalmatia became part of the newly formed Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (later renamed the Kingdom of Yugoslavia).
Italy entered the war on the side of the Entente in 1915, after the secret London Pact, which granted to Italy a large portion of Dalmatia. The pact was nullified in the Treaty of Versailles due to the objections of American president Woodrow Wilson and the South Slavic delegations. However, in 1920 the Kingdom of Italy managed to get after the Treaty of Rapallo, most of the Austrian Littoral, part of Inner Carniola, some border areas of Carinthia, the city of Zadar along with the island and Lastovo. A large number of Italians (allegedly nearly 20,000) moved from the areas of Dalmatia assigned to Yugoslavia and resettled in Italy (mainly in Zara).
Relations with the Kingdom of Yugoslavia were severely affected and constantly remained tense, because of the dispute over Dalmatia and because of the lengthy dispute over the city-port of Rijeka, which according to the Treaty of Rapallo had to become a free state according to the League of Nations, but was annexed to Italy on 16 March according to the Treaty of Rome.
In 1922 Fascism came to power in Italy. The fascist policies included strong nationalistic policies. Minority rights were severely reduced. This included the shutting down of educational facilities in Slavic languages, forced Italianization of citizen's names, and the brutal persecution of dissenters.
In Zara most Croats left, due to these oppressive policies of the fascist government. The same happened with the Italian minority in Yugoslavia. Although, the matter was not entirely reciprocal: the Italian minority in Yugoslavia had some degree of protection, according to the Rapallo Treaty (such as Italian citizenship and primary instruction).
All this increased the intense resentment between the two ethnic groups. Where in the 19th century there was conflict only on the upper classes, there was now an increasing mutual hatred present in varying degrees among the entire population.
World War II and post-warEdit
The Kingdom of Yugoslavia was invaded by the Wehrmacht in 1941 and parts of Dalmatia were annexed to Italy as the Governatorate of Dalmatia with Zadar as its capital. The local population was subject to violent forced italianization by the fascist government. Several concentration camps were established by Italian authorities to house these "enemies of the state", including the infamous Gonars and Rab concentration camps. The Italian authorities were not able to maintain full control over the hinterland and the interior of the islands, however, and they were partially controlled by the Yugoslav Partisans after 1943.
Following the Italian capitulation of 1943, the German Army took over the occupation after a short period of Partisan control (officially, the Governorship of Dalmatia was handed to the control of the puppet Independent State of Croatia). During this period a large proportion of the coastal city population volunteered to join the Partisans (most notably that of Split, where a third of the total population left the city), while many Italian garrisons deserted to fight as Partisan units and still others were forced to surrender their weapons and equipment. As Soviet troops advanced in the Balkans in 1944, a small-scale evacuation took place in Zadar, while Marshall Josip Broz Tito's Partisans (since 1942 recognized as Allied troops) simultaneously moved to liberate the remainder of Axis-occupied Dalmatia. Split was henceforth the provisional capital of Allied-liberated Croatia.
In 1943–44 the city of Zadar suffered 54 air raids by the Allies and it was severely damaged, with heavy civilian casualties. Many civilians had already escaped to Italy when the Partisans controlled the city.
After World War II Italy ceded all remaining Italian areas in Dalmatia to the new SFR Yugoslavia. This was followed by a further emigration, referred to as the Istrian exodus, of nearly all the remaining Italians in Dalmatia. Italian language schools in Zadar were closed in 1953, due to a dispute between Italy and Yugoslavia over Trieste. In 2010 a kindergarten for the small Italian community of Zadar was going to be opened, promoted by the local Italian association, but the local Croatian authorities refused to open the school because the number of attending children was too small. Indeed, the issue was of administrative nature because the administration claimed that the Italian ethnicity had to be proved by the ownership of an Italian passport. Due to the restrictions imposed to the double nationality of the Italian minority in Yugoslavia after 1945, this requirement could only be met by a limited number of children. This administrative difficulty has been solved in 2012 and the opening of the kindergarten took place in 2013.
There are several reasons for the decrease of the Dalmatian Italian population following the rise of European nationalism in the 19th century:
- The conflict with the Austrian rulers caused by the Italian "Risorgimento".
- The emergence of Croatian nationalism and Italian irredentism (see Risorgimento), and the subsequent conflict of the two.
- The emigration of many Dalmatians toward the growing industrial regions of northern Italy before World War I and North and South America.
- Multi generational assimilation of anyone who married out of their social class and/or nationality – as perpetuated by similarities in education, religion, dual linguistic distribution, mainstream culture and economical output.
The process of the decline had various stages:
- Under the Austrian starting from the 1840s, as a result of the age of Nationalism, the birth of Italian irredentism, and the resulting conflict with the Croatian majority and the Austrian rulers.
- After World War I, as a result of the creation of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia (where all Dalmatia was included, save Zadar and some northern Dalmatian islands), there was an emigration of a large number of Dalmatian Italians, mainly toward Zadar.
- During World War II, Italy occupied large chunks of the Yugoslav coast and created the Governorship of Dalmatia (1941–1943), with three Italian provinces, Zadar, Split and Kotor. Zadar was bombed by the Allies and heavily damaged in 1943–44, with numerous civilian casualties. The most of the population moved to Italy.
- After World War II Italy ceded all remaining Italian areas in Dalmatia to the new SFR Yugoslavia. This was followed by a massive emigration of nearly all the remaining Dalmatian Italians participating in the Istrian Exodus from former territories of the Kingdom of Italy. Some have become world-renowned, such as the fashion designer Ottavio Missoni, the writer Enzo Bettiza and the industrial tycoon Giorgio Luxardo, founder of the Maraschino liquor distillery.
Modern-day presence in DalmatiaEdit
The Dalmatian Italians were a fundamental presence in Dalmatia, when the process of political unification of the Italians, Croats and Serbs started at the beginning of the 19th century. The 1816 Austro-Hungarian census registered 66,000 Italian speaking people between the 301,000 inhabitants of Dalmatia, or 22% of the total Dalmatian population.
The main communities are located in the following coastal cities:
Following the Italian emigration from Dalmatia and the events  following World War II, the Dalmatian Italians communities were drastically reduced in their numbers. Today according to the official censuses, only a few hundred citizens in Croatia and Montenegro declared themselves ethnically Italian.
It has been claimed by the Italian Communities in Dalmatia that the official census of 2001 underestimated the real number of Italian Dalmatians – because several thousand Croatian citizens of Italian descent might not have declared their real ethnicity for various reasons. While this claim remains difficult to assess, it has been a subject of a controversy regarding the Italian Community of Zadar. Currently it counts 500+ members and yet only has 109 registered residence declared Italian (as per 2001 census).
It has been suggested that this could be due to unresolved legal disputes over property that was nationalised under Yugoslavia's Stanarsko Pravo initiative and nominally returned (with protected tenants) after the 1990s Croatian Independence (under the new legal term Zaštićeno Najmoprimstvo). The implied property rights as stipulated by the Croatian Law gives credence to the idea that owners of property with protected tenants have a stronger case claiming back vacant possession if they were:
- Residence of Croatia (hence holders of a Croatian Identity Card)
- Ethnic Croats (by way of self declaration)
- Pillars of the Community and its Business Network (with ties to the local power structure)
Regardless of the above, it could therefore be argued that the local Italians, Croatian Lombards, Istro-Romanians and the Regionalist Dalmatians & Istrians remain unprotected as minorities; (right under the nose of the European Union). Furthermore it could be added that without consenting to rules and regulations of assimilation (that essentially discredit an individual's rights to his/her own nationality in both Croatia and the wider European Union, credential accreditation towards legal representation become subject to local judgements and interpretations that seem to separate from the legal views of the Supreme Court of Croatia. In that sense we could speculate that claiming to be Italian could be seen as a form of a rebellion against Croatia; something that creates complications in legal disputes where the government (with enforced protected tenants on private land) already remains complicit.
A contemporary reaction to both the Italian irredentist movement and the inadequate legal representation of Italians in Croatia by the Republic of Croatia (and hence the European Union), appears to have spawned a number of self identifying markers among the descendants of (both titled & untitled) former merchant classes of mixed Croatian (mostly Istrian and/or Dalmatian) and North Italian (mostly Venetian, and/or Friulian) extractions. The two most popular self identifications of this kind remain; Croatian Venetists, and Venetian Lombards (most of which explicitly self identify as Croatian, and implicitly as mentioned above).
How they perceive Italy and the general Italian ethnicity remains unclear. However, while its historical context, in part by the colonial elements of the Republic of Venice, Italian unification & the legacy of two world wars, remains a controversial issue at best, it does suggest a much larger presence of people of Italian and Venetian descent in Croatia than previously thought.
Since Croatia's much talked about adoption of Italian as one of the national languages of Croatia (particularly in Istria), curtailing language rights for Venetian Language speakers however, may have triggered conflicting identity issues of cultural affiliations between Italians of various regions of Italy, and Croatia. Particular note of reference point towards the Venetian independence referendum, 2014, and Venetian autonomy referendum, 2017 in Italy, which may have weakened the Italian language in the Northern Adriatic Basin since.
Main Dalmatian Italian associationsEdit
In contemporary Dalmatia there are several associations of Dalmatian Italians, mainly located in important coastal cities:
- The Italian Community of Zadar (Comunità Italiana di Zara). Founded in 1991 in Zadar, with an Assembly of around 500 members. The current president is Rina Villani (who has been recently elected  in the Zadar county, or Županija). The former president of the CI, Dr. Libero Grubišić, started the first Italian courses in the city after the close of all the Italian school in Zadar in 1953. The actual vice president, Silvio Duiella, has promoted the creation of an Italian Choral of Zadar under the direction of Adriana Grubelić. In the new offices, the CI has a library and organizes several courses of Italian and conferences. The office of the community was the target of a criminal fire in 2004.
- The Italian Community of Split (Comunità Italiana di Spalato). Was created in 1993 in Split, with an office near the city's trademark Riva seashore. The president is Eugenio Dalmas and the legal director is Mladen Dalbello. In the office, the CI organises Italian language courses and conferences. This CI has 97 members.
- The Italian Community of Mali Lošinj (Comunità Italiana di Lussinpiccolo). Created in 1990 in the northern Dalmatian island of Lošinj. This CI was founded thanks to Stelio Cappelli (first president) in this little island, that was part of the Kingdom of Italy from 1918 to 1947. It has 461 members under the actual leadership of Anna Maria Saganici, Livia Andrijčić and Andrino Maglievaz. The activities are run in a place offered by the local authorities. The library has been donated by the local Rotary Club.
- The Italian Community of Kotor (Comunità Italiana di Cattaro), in Kotor is being registered officially (with the "Unione Italiana") as the Italian Community of Montenegro (Comunità degli Italiani del Montenegro). In connection with this registration, the "Center for Dalmatian Cultural Research" (Centro di Ricerche Culturali Dalmate) has opened in 2007 the Venetian house in Kotor to celebrate the Venetian heritage in coastal Montenegro.
- The "Dante Alighieri" Association. The "Dante Alighieri" is an Italian government organization that promotes Italian language in the world, with the help of the Italian speaking communities outside Italy. In Dalmatia is actually present in:
- Zadar 
- Split 
- Dubrovnik 
- Kotor 
"....The monuments left in Dalmatia by the Romans are numerous and precious. They are chiefly confined to the cities; for the civilization of the country was always urban, just as its history is a record of isolated city-states rather than of a united nation. Beyond the walls of its larger towns, little was spared by the barbarian Goths, Avars and Slavs; and the battered fragments of Roman work which mark the sites of Salona, near, and of many other ancient cities, are of slight antiquarian interest and slighter artistic value. Among the monuments of the Roman period, by far the most noteworthy in Dalmatia, and, indeed, in the whole Balkan Peninsula, is the Palace of Diocletian at Split. Dalmatian architecture was influenced by Constantinople in its general character from the 6th century until the close of the tenth. The oldest memorials of this period are the vestiges of three basilicas, excavated in Salona, and dating from the first half of the 7th century at latest. Then from Italy came the Romanesque. The belfry of S. Maria, at Zadar, erected in 1105, is first in a long list of Romanesque buildings. At Rab there is a beautiful Romanesque campanile which also belongs to the 12th century; but the finest example in this style is the cathedral of Trail. The 14th century Dominican and Franciscan convents in Dubrovnik are also noteworthy. Romanesque lingered on in Dalmatia until it was displaced by Venetian Gothic in the early years of the 15th century. The influence of Venice was then at its height. Even in the relatively hostile Republic of Ragusa the Romanesque of the custom-house and Rectors' palace is combined with Venetian Gothic, while the graceful balconies and ogee windows of the Prijeki closely follow their Venetian models. In 1441 Giorgio Orsini of Zadar, summoned from Venice to design the cathedral of Šibenik, brought with him the influence of the Italian Renaissance. The new forms which he introduced were eagerly imitated and developed by other architects, until the period of decadence – which virtually concludes the history of Dalmatian art – set in during the latter half of the 17th century. Special mention must be made of the carved woodwork, embroideries and plate preserved in many churches. The silver statuette and the reliquary of St. Blaise at Dubrovnik, and the silver ark of St. Simeon at Zadar, are fine specimens of Italian jewelers' work, ranging in date from the 11th or 12th to the 17th century ...".
In the 19th century the cultural influence from Italy originated the editing in Zadar of the first Dalmatian newspaper, in Italian and Croatian: Il Regio Dalmata – Kraglski Dalmatin, founded and published by the Italian Bartolomeo Benincasa in 1806.
The Il Regio Dalmata – Kraglski Dalmatin was stamped in the typography of Antonio Luigi Battara and was the first done in Croatian language.
The Dalmatian Italians contributed to the cultural development of theater and opera in Dalmatia. The Verdi Theater in Zadar was their main symbol until 1945.
Contessa Gabriella De Lupi — painter, philosopher, philanthropist humanitarian.
Contemporary notable Dalmatian ItaliansEdit
Across the centuries Dalmatian Italians made with their life and their works a large influence on Dalmatia. However, it would somehow arbitrary to attribute a nationality to the Dalmatians living before the Napoleonic time. Indeed, only at the beginning of the 19th century the concept of national identity started to build up. For this reason, hereafter are reported only the notable Dalmatian Italians living after 1800, in chronological order of birth.
- Pier Alessandro Paravia (Zadar 1797 – Turin 1857) – Writer
- Niccolò Tommaseo (Šibenik 1802 -1874) – Linguist, journalist and essayist
- Antonio Bajamonti (Split 1822 – 1891) – Italian mayor of Split
- Arturo Colautti (Zadar 1851 – Rome 1914) – Journalist, writer and opera composer
- Roberto Ferruzzi (Šibenik 1853 – 1934) – painter
- Antonio Tacconi (Split 1880 – Rome 1962) – Senator and last Italian mayor of Split
- Alessandro Dudan (Vrlika 1883 – Rome 1957) – Politician and historian
- Girolamo Luxardo (Zadar 1887–1944) – Owner of the former "Maraschino" liquor distillery in Zadar
- Tino Pattiera (Cavtat 1890 – 1966) – tenor
- Mila Schön (Trogir 1916 – Quargnento 2008) – Stilist
- Gabre Gabric (Imotski 1917) – Athlete
- Ottavio Missoni (Dubrovnik 1921 – Sumirago 2013) – International fashion designer
- Enzo Bettiza (Split 1927) – Journalist and international writer
- Renzo de' Vidovich (Zadar 1934) – Writer, journalist and director of "Il Dalmata"
- Gianni Garko (Zadar 1935) – Actor
- Armando Marenzzi (Šibenik 1963) – football manager
- Giovanni Rosso (Split 1972) – Former footballer for the Croatian national team
- Ana Grepo (Split 1975-Osijek 2011) – Model
- Fausto Budicin (Pula 1981) – Footballer
- Paolo Marinelli (Rijeka 1995) – Basketball player
Organizations and periodicalsEdit
Many Dalmatian Italians are organized in associations such as:
- Associazione nazionale Venezia Giulia e Dalmazia
- Comunità di Lussinpiccolo.
- Comunità chersina nel mondo 
- Libero Comune di Zara in esilio (Free Commune of Zadar in exile)
- Società Dalmata di Storia Patria
- For example in the Austrian Census of 1857 the Dalmatian Italians were only 45,000 -or nearly 15% of the Dalmatia without the Quarner islands (read 
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