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Post Did Italy Nearly Go to War against Tito, 1953?
Created by John Eipper on 06/23/17 6:35 AM

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Did Italy Nearly Go to War against Tito, 1953? (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy, 06/23/17 6:35 am)

Answering John E's questions about my post of 22 June, I will confirm that Italy indeed came close to war in 1953 against Tito. Anyway let me state: this period was the best time of my life in Italy, as we were still a proud and independent country.

The loss of Fiume, Istria and Dalmazia at the hand of Tito was a severe wound for Italy, but also the apparent loss of Trieste, a Free State under foreign occupation Zone A by British and American Forces, and Zone B by Yugoslavia.

Tito was a cruel communist dictator. It is said that his men killed up to 20,000 Italians, 150,000 Slovenians, 1,000,000 Croats, Bosnians, Serbs etc. with the kind cooperation of the Allies, mainly British forces. See, for example, the tragedy at Bleiberg of 15 May 1945 and others.

In the 7 June 1953 Italian elections, Giuseppe Pella (1902-1981) became PM with the external support of the MSI 6% and the Monarchists 7%. Fantastic!

The geopolitical situation seemed favorable for the return of Trieste to Italy. Already on 20 March 1948, one month prior to the decisive election (West or East) of 18 April, France, UK and USA declared their willingness to return both zones A and B of Trieste to Italy.

This was the beginning of the Cold War. Italy was believed to be an important ally, while after June 1948 the powerful Italian Communist Party for once did a good thing, siding with the Fatherland against the traitor (for them) Tito, who had broken with Stalin.

But Tito was trying to get favors from NATO. In a speech of 28 August 1953, he confirmed his will to occupy Trieste.  Immediately Pella with the Defense Ministry Taviani (the Columbus historian) moved most of the Italian troops to the border.

The Italian army was not very strong in tanks, as Tito had just received new tanks from the US. But the Navy and the Air Force could give Italy superiority on the sea and air, against the isolated Yugoslavians.

The strongly arrogant attitude of Tito, who asked for the withdrawal of the British and American forces from Trieste, thus allowing him to move in, did not find the favors of president Truman (I do not know about Clement Attlee--he was probably too busy getting rid of Mosaddegh in Iran). On 8 October, the US and UK government stated their intentions to give Trieste Zone A back to Italy.

In early November we had the massacre of Trieste. Vidali, the leader of the Communists of Trieste, declared that his men would fight in the streets against Tito.

There were also several skirmishes between Italian and Yugoslavian forces with exchanges of fire. A Yugoslavian pilot deserted with his plane at Aviano (now a US military base).

However having reached the very brink of war, especially after the massacre of Trieste, everyone sought to calm things down, including the so-called "great" De Gasperi, the leader of the DC. Pella resigned on 18 January 1954 and Fanfani took over. Italy went back to being the usual obedient "Italietta" colony of the Empire without any dream of independence, but Trieste returned to Italy on 26 October 1954.

JE comments: Interesting; few outside the region know of these events. My reading of the Trieste episode is that the Western allies had taken Tito under their wing as an "our bastard," or at least a useful enemy of their enemy (the Soviets). Much more so than pleasing the Italians, they did not want to drive Tito back into the arms of Stalin--who in any case was dead in March of '53.

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  • Events in Trieste, 1953-'54 (Salvatore Bizzarro, USA 06/24/17 4:55 AM)
    I want to thank Eugenio Battaglia (23 June) for his clear account of the Trieste debacle during 1953 and 1954.

    I remember the loss of Fiume, Istria and Dalmazia well, as I demonstrated in the streets of Naples against losing Trieste. At the time, I had become a member of the Monarchist Party at age 13, mainly because a popular Naples mayor, Achille Lauro, more of a populist really, had many convinced that his running of the city was the best thing happening to Naples.

    Eugenio is right in saying that both the Movimento Sociale Italiano (Fascist) and the Monarchists were against the Yugoslavian annexation of Trieste and joined centrist and leftist parties to protest the Tito's designs on the city. My stint with being a Monarchist lasted only a year or so, as I began to understand who the monarchists represented in the social ladder, but nevertheless, I was demonstrating with a great sense of national pride. I was glad by the fact that before I went to the United States as an immigrant in November 1954, Trieste had been returned to Italy.

    JE comments:  Great to hear from you, Salvatore!  I get the sense that the Trieste crisis of 1953-'54 united Italy's squabbling political factions like no other event since WWII.  Even the communists, who may have cared little about Trieste itself, were happy to do battle against the "traitor" Tito.  Am I correct in this interpretation?

    Shipping magnate, populist mayor, and legendary Ladies' Man Achille Lauro is best remembered in the US for lending his name to the cruise ship hijacked by the PLO.  Has anyone in WAISworld seen The Death of Klinghoffer?  I can think of no stranger subject for an opera, except maybe for singing barbers and flutes that charm wild beasts.

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    • "The Death of Klinghoffer" (Edward Jajko, USA 06/25/17 2:22 AM)
      John E asked if anyone in WAISdom has seen the opera The Death of Klinghoffer.

      Until we got tired of the expense, of fighting Friday night rush-hour traffic, and trying to find parking, my wife and I used to have season tickets at the San Francisco Opera. Twenty-five years ago--hard to believe--we went to a performance of The Death of Klinghoffer. I should say that we went to the first act of The Death of Klinghoffer. During the intermission, we talked it over and walked out.

      We both thought the opera was terrible--the music, the staging, everything. Personally, I can't stand the supposed music of John Adams. I have been going to recitals, symphony concerts, operas, operettas, and other musical events on three continents for almost 70 years. I have heard many of the greatest ensembles and artists of the world, and also amateur groups (and have played in some of the latter). I began the study of piano at six, and later added trombone and cello. My wife is a flautist and singer and is the daughter of musicians. Our daughter is an opera singer. I occasionally teach classes of the Sunnyvale Classical Music Group (and in May, taught three classes, on Rosenkavalier, choral music of Brahms, and Umm Kulthum).

      In other words, my wife and I are amateurs, but educated and experienced. We hated The Death of Klinghoffer. The best thing about the opera was Adams's use of the instruments of the orchestra to accurately recreate the sound of the ship's horn (or whistle).

      JE comments:  The Death of Klinghoffer is also accused of anti-Semitism and of glorifying terrorism.  Post-9/11 it has not been staged often.  To this political thumbs-down, Ed Jajko gives it the raspberry on artistic grounds.  Adams is described as a "minimalist" composer--definitely not Brahms!  Adams himself calls his work "post-style."

      If I may ask you another question, Ed:  Have you seen Nixon in China?  In the meantime, please tell us more about your class on the Egyptian diva Umm Kulthum.  Wikipedia tell us she memorized the entire Quran at an early age.

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      • Composer John Adams (Cameron Sawyer, USA 06/26/17 4:55 AM)
        John E wrote on June 25th: "[Composer John] Adams himself calls his work ‘post-style.'"

        Yes! But even more accurately, perhaps, would be "post-music."

        JE comments:  Cameron Sawyer originally italicized and boldfaced "post-music."  That, my friends, is emphasis.

        Does anyone in WAISworld have a taste for the avant-garde classical--Schoenberg and his ilk?  If so, please pipe up.  Chime in?  Ring out?

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        • Composer John Adams (John Heelan, -UK 06/27/17 4:00 AM)
          JE asked on 26 June: "Does anyone in WAISworld have a taste for the avant-garde classical--Schoenberg and his ilk? "

          Erm no! My wife is a trained classical singer. Some years ago, a composer friend of hers--studying composition at a famous UK school of music--wrote her some "modern" works. They were dreadful! After years of hearing her rehearse and perform major choral works (Beethoven, Verdi, and "Pie Jesu" in a concert), the new pieces were more like atonal funeral dirges at whose memory I still shudder, even though, ever the professional, my wife gave them her best!

          Even her skilled accompanist had problems with the music.

          JE comments:  Our illustrious Founder, Ronald Hilton, had little use for the avant-garde in music, painting, and poetry.  John Heelan is well familiar with RH's disdain for Federico García Lorca.  Ditto Picasso and Dalí ("two irresponsible Spanish clowns," RH 1999).

          So...anyone going to stand up for the 20th century?  Perhaps we can start with Stravinsky?


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    • Italian Communists and Tito, Stalin (Luciano Dondero, Italy 06/25/17 3:26 AM)
      Fascinating recollections from Eugenio Battaglia and Salvatore Bizzarro about the Trieste events of 1953-'54.

      I was too young at the time to even know anything.

      Later on, this was no longer an issue, at least for most Italians who had no direct involvement--unlike the refugees from Dalmatia, of course.

      Regarding the PCI and PSI, it should be noted that both parties were proud to call themselves Stalinist at the time, and I would suspect that their opposition to Tito did not stem from a nationalistic defense of Trieste as Italian, but rather from their desire both to stick it to Tito, and also as a way to oppose "Anglo-American imperialism."

      I should think that the Soviet attitude toward Trieste would also have been leaning against Tito at the time.

      The PSI of Nenni broke with the USSR in 1956 over Hungary and the Khrushchev revelation at the CPSU 20th Congress; the PCI began its slow distancing a bit later: in 1964 Togliatti wrote his "Yalta memorial," then in 1973 Berlinguer wrote about "the exhaustion of the propulsive force of the Russian Revolution" and in 1989 the PCI dropped the "Communist" label altogether under the leadership of Occhetto.

      JE comments:  Tito was a wily survivor, rather like Franco.  Both were born in 1892, and both were adept at playing superpower rivalries to their advantage.  Has anyone done a parallel biography?  If not, they should.

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      • Italian Communists and "Traitor" Tito (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 06/26/17 5:32 AM)
        Let me thank my friends Luciano Dondero (25 June) and Salvatore Bizzarro (24 June) for their kind words and excellent posts.

        I just want to confirm that the Italian Communist and Socialist Parties' opposition to Tito was absolutely not a nationalistic defense of Trieste, but only hatred against the traitor (for them) Tito.

        However in the summer of 1936, when Mussolini was at his apogee, the poor Communists lead by Togliatti wrote the famous, but then "disappeared," letter "Call to the Brother in Blackshirt" offering their cooperation. Then the PCI plus the PSI (the latter at a lower level) became enemies not only of Fascist Italy but of the Italian Nation.

        After June 1941 the PCI supported the few meager partisan groups emerging in Slovenia. In March 1943 the communist Group Garibaldi joined the Slovenian partisans. After the unconditional surrender of 8 September 1943 the Communist Slavic Antifascist Movement stated its willingness to occupy all Istria and Trieste.

        On the 9 September Kardelj confirmed to the PCI leader Bianco that the 9th Slovenian Corps would occupy all Fiume, Istria, and Friuli, almost up to Venice. On September 24th 1943, the PCI gave the order to its partisans to submit to the orders of the Yugoslavians (absolute high treason).

        On 19 October Togliatti, leader of the PCI, expressed to Kardelj his agreement with the Yugoslavian claims with the recommendation: "Do not let the Western Allies enter into the area"--while he invited the local Italian populations to welcome Tito's men as liberators and brothers.

        Such actions were not followed by the non-communist Italian partisans, but they were wiped out. See, for example, the massacre of Porzus.

        At the end of 1944 the Communist Triestini accepted Tito's claims.

        Togliatti as Vice President of the government wrote a letter to the Italian PM Bonomi on 7 February 1945 stating that if the Italians opposed the Yugoslavian forces in Venezia, Giulia and Friuli, it would be civil war.

        On 30 April the non-communist Italian partisans took over Trieste, but they were wiped out the day after by huge Yugoslavian forces that deported some 3000 civilians to concentration camps and their deaths.

        If Trieste, Fiume and all Istria remained free and saved until May 1945, it was only thanks to the Repubblica Sociale Italiana and its armed forces that kept the partisans busy fighting terrible battles--see Selva di Tarnova (Trnovo), etc.

        Therefore I confirm the Communists Stalinists in the crisis of 1953 were not ready to fight for Italy but were willing to fight only against the traitor of Stalin and his empire--Tito.

        Oh, by the way, it has been reported thet the British Ambassador in Moscow, to avoid the entrance of Yugoslavia in the Axis in March 1941, offered the Istria to Yugoslavia if it did not enter in the pact and joined the war alongside the UK.

        JE comments: Does it make sense to speak of "Yugoslavia" possibly joining the Axis? The nation had been cobbled together in the first place, and it was completely divided during the Second World War, with the singularly brutal Croatian Ustase allying with Hitler.

        Is Togliatti's 1936 letter (or was it a speech?) available in English translation?  

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        • Togliatti's Letter to the Blackshirts; on the Yugoslavian Chetniks (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 06/27/17 5:00 AM)
          Sorry but I could not find on the web a translation of Togliatti's "Appello ai fratelli camerati in camicia nera" (a letter not a speech), but you can find it in Italian on the web:  http://www.alessandracolla.net/2007/11/16/appello-ai-fratelli-in-camicia-nera/

          About Yugoslavia, I believe I've already reported that it joined the Axis on 27 March 1941 but after an immediate military coup it switched to the side of the UK. Not only the Croatian Ustase but all the peoples of former Yugoslavia had military formations fighting on the side of the Axis. The best were the Chetniks fighting with the Italians but against the Communists but also against the Muslim SS, etc.  Maybe it will informative to write a post on this.

          JE comments: Absolutely.  The Chetniks are confusing even to those well versed in WWII history.  They collaborated, or at least coexisted, with the Axis, but were fiercely independent Serbian monarchists.  I'm sure Eugenio Battaglia could tell us much more.

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