Venetian Slovenia

Venetian Slovenia

Venetian Slovenia ( _sl. Beneška Slovenija, _it. Slavia Veneta or Slavia Friulana, _fu. Sclavanie) is a small mountainous region in northeastern Italy, in the area between the towns of Cividale del Friuli ( _sl. Čedad), Tarcento ( _sl. Čenta) and Gemona ( _sl. Humin) along the border between Italy and Slovenia. It is part of the Province of Udine in the region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia and it is inhabited by a significant Slovene minority.


It comprises the municipalities of San Pietro al Natisone/Špeter Slovenov, San Leonardo/Sveti Lenart, Pulfero/Podbonesec, Drenchia/Dreka, Grimacco/Grmek, Stregna/Srednje, Savogna/Sovodnje, Lusevera/Bardo, Taipana/Tipana, Torreano/Tavorjana, Resia/Rezija and the mountainous areas of the municipalities of Tarcento/Čenta, Nimis/Neme, Attimis/Ahten, Faedis/Fojda, Prepotto/Prapotno and Montenars/Gorjani. Parts of the municipality of Cividale del Friuli are also included.

The localities of Breginj and Livek in the municipality of Kobarid are also part of the historical region of Slavia Veneta; they were however not annexed to the Kingdom of Italy in 1866, and are now part of the Republic of Slovenia.

The name

The current English denomination, Venetian Slovenia, is a translation of the traditional Slovene name for the region. The adjective "Venetian" refers to the Republic of Venice, when the name was invented. In the 15th century, the Venetian authorities dubbed this border region of their Republic as "Schiavonia Veneta" or "Venetian Slav-land". The Venetian words "Schiavoni" and "Schiavonia" were in fact general terms used for all South Slavic peoples with which they came in direct contact: for Slovenes, as well as for Croats and Serbs from Dalmatia. In the local Slovene dialects, the term has been literally translated to "Beneška Slovenija". This name has been in use for almost six centuries, but it has no connection to the modern concept of Slovenia as a polity of the Slovenes, which emerged only with the Romantic nationalism in the 1840s.

In modern Italian, the region is most commonly known as "Slavia Veneta". In the late 19th and early 20th century the term "Slavia Italiana" was also used. In the last decades, there is a tendency to replace the name Slavia Veneta with "Slavia Friuliana", emphasizing its belonging to the traditional Friuli region. Many locals prefer to call it simply "Benecìa", which is also used by most of the local media. The latter denomination comes from the Slovene word "Benečija", a very common alternative name for Venetian Slovenia, but avoided in the written and official use in order to avoid confusion, since it is also the Slovene name for the Italian Veneto region.


Early periods of local self-government

Slavic tribes settled the area in the late 6th century A.D. They settled on the border of the Lombard Kingdom, which comprised most of Northern Italy. Paulus Diaconus, a Lombard historian at the court of Charlemagne, mentioned the local Slavs from the region in his magnum opus "Historia Langobardorum". In the first two centuries, the Slavs were organized in independent communities. In the 9th century they were incorporated into the Frankish Empire, and they were Christianized by missionaries from Aquileia, then one of the most important centers of the Roman Catholic Church in Northern Italy.

From the 9th century onward, the region belonged first to the Duchy of Friuli and later to the Patriarchate of Aquileia. After the dissolution of the Patriatchal State in 1420, the whole region was included in the Republic of Venice. The Venetian authorities gave the local Slovenes full internal autonomy, on the condition that they would serve as border guards against the neighbouring Habsburg Empire. The local autonomy was practiced in small rural boroughs (called "sosednje"), which were in their turn organized into two large communities ("banke"), one in San Pietro degli Slavi ( _sl. Špeter Slovenov) and the other in San Leonardo ( _sl. Šent Lenart). These self-governing boroughs had full authority over fiscal, legislative and judicial matters in their respective areas.

The Napoleonic and Austrian rule

In 1797, most of the Venetian Republic was annexed to the Habsburg Empire, including Slavia Veneta. The Habsburg authorities abolished the ancient privileges of the local Slovene populations, as they had already done with a similar system of autonomy in the neighborunig Tolmin County in 1717. In 1805, the region was submitted to the Napoleonic rule, which did not restore the privileges, but replaced the old boroughs with French-style townships, led by Government-appointed mayors. The old legal system based on common law was replaced by the Code Napoleon. In 1813, the region fell again under Habsburg domain and in 1815 it was included in the Austrian administrative unit of Lombardy-Venetia. Most of the reforms introduced by the French authorities were kept. In 1866, the region became part of Italy, with the exeption of the villages of Breginj and Livek which were included in the Austrian County of Gorizia and Gradisca.

Under the Kingdom of Italy

Although many locals hoped that Italy would restore their autonomy which had been abolished after the downfall of the Republic of Venice, the centralist policies continued. The region was subjected to a policy of Italianization and the local Slovene language was systematically pushed out of the public life. During this period, the region became a major focus of historians, linguists and ethnologists, interested in its archaic custums, language and common law. Scholars who wrote about Slavia Veneta included Jan Niecisław Baudouin de Courtenay, Simon Rutar, Carlo Podrecca and Henrik Tuma.

In the last decades before World War One, several cultural and social activists, mostly Roman Catholic priests, started setting up Slovene cultural institutions and associations. The most prominent of them was bishop and author Ivan Trinko. This trend became even more pronounced after the annexation of the Julian March to the Kingdom of Italy in 1920, when a large Slovene-speaking minority was included within the borders of the Italian state. The development was stopped by the Fascist Italianization which started in the 1920s and persecuted all public and private use of Slovene language. In 1938, the Gorizian writer France Bevk published a novel entitled "Kaplan Martin Čedermac" ("The Vicar Martin Čedermac"), ambientated in Venetian Slovenia. The novel, published under a pseudonym in the Yugoslav town of Ljubljana, was about a local Roman Catholic priest persecuted by the Italian Fascist regime. The novel became a best seller in Yugoslavia and the term "Čedermac" has been since used a synonim for the clergy persecuded by the Fascists in the Italian-administered Julian March and in the Slavia Veneta.

During World War Two the Slovene partisan resistance penetrated in the region. After the Italian armistice, the whole region was incorporated into the Nazi German Operational Zone Adriatic Coast. During this time, the Italian resistance movement also became active in the mountains of Slavia Veneta. Tensions between the two resistance movements rose. The Liberation Front of the Slovenian People wanted to annex the region to a Yugoslav Communist federation, while the Italian resistance was split between the Communists who partially supported the Yugoslav claims, and the Democratic Nationalists who wanted Slavia Veneta to remain part of Italy. In February 1945, the so-called Porzus massacre occurred, in which the Yugoslav partisans and the Italian Communists killed several members of the Italian non-Communist resistance members. In May 1945 the whole area was liberated by the Yugoslav People's Army, which however withdrew few weeks later.

The "Dark Years": 1945-1977

In 1945, Slavia Veneta became again and integral part of Italy. It was included in the region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia. The policies of Italianization continued. The existence of a Slovene minority was not recognized and all use of Slovene language was discouraged by the authorities and persecuted by militant nationalist associations. Between 1945 and 1947, Slavia Veneta was a border region with the Communist Bloc, and several para-military organizations were established in the area, which also acted against Slovene culture and minority organizations. The region was listed as a special operational zone of the Operation Gladio, a clandestine NATO "stay-behind" operation in Italy after World War II, intended to counter an eventual Warsaw Pact invasion of Western Europe. The activists of the Gladio operation were frequently also radical Italian nationalists who were given free hands to terrorize the local Slovene communities.

A wide phenomenon of emigration also happened during the same period. Many of the villages lost more than two thirds of their populations, as Slovenes from Slavia Veneta moved to larger urban areas in Northern Italy, Switzerland and Germany. In 1976 and 1977, two earthquakes hit the region, provoking a large scale destruction and hundreds of deaths. Political persecution, emigration and natural catastrophes are the reason why the period between 1945 and 1977 has been frequently called "The Dark Years of the Slavia Veneta" ( _it. Gli anni bui della Slavia Veneta, _sl. Mračna leta Benečije).

After 1977

Although the area was largely depopulated after 1977, several positive developments took place. The political pressure was lifted after the Treaty of Osimo between Italy and Yugoslavia, and a Slovene cultural revival started to take place in the early 1980s. In the early 1990s, the first elementary and high school in Slovene language was established in San Pietro al Natisone, and in 2001, the Italian state recognized the Slovene minority living in the erea, guaranteing it full rights. After Slovenia's entry into the European Union in 2003, the relations between the Slavia Veneta and the bordering Goriška region have intensified.

Language, culture and religion

Most people in Slavia Veneta speak three different Slovene dialects, named after the three major valleys that form the region: the Natisone ("nadiški") dialect, the Torre ("terski") dialect and the Resian dialect ("rezijanski"). Almost all of the inhabitants are fluent in the Italian language, which is taught in schools and present in the media and in the administration. The Friulian language is also widespread, especially in the municipalities of Montenars, Tarcento, Nimis, Attimis, Torreano, and Prepotto; in many villages in these municipalities, the Friulian language has already replaced Slovene as the first language of communication. Because of the lack of education in Slovene, most of the Slovenes do not master the standard Slovene language. Many don't understand it either, especially in the areas where the Slovenian TV and radio are not accessible, since standard Slovene is not entirely intellegible with the dialects spoken in the region. They are however completely intellegible with the neighbouring Slovene dialects in the Slovenian Littoral, especially the ones spoken in the upper Soča valley and in the Brda sub-region of Goriška.

The vast majority of the people belong to the Roman Catholic Church and the religion plays an important role in the local culture. The Roman Catholic priests have traditionally been the most impornant promotors of the local Slovene language and culture in Slavia Veneta.

Slavia Veneta is famous for its rich folk traditions. Numerous folk and ethno music bands come from the region, and many of them are extremely popular throughout Slovenia and the Friuli Venezia Giulia. The most famous of these bands are propably the "Beneški fantje" ("Venetian Lads"), which are considered to be oldest still existing Slovene band. Besides its archaic traditional music and dances, the Resia valley is also famous for its folk tales, which were edited and translated into standard Slovene language by the Slovene scholar Milko Matičetov and published by the largest publishing house in Slovenia, Mladinska knjiga, in 1976. They have been re-published in eight editions since, and have had an huge inpact in popularizing the Venetian Slovene folk culture in Slovenia.

Since the late 1980s, Slavia Veneta has also emerged as one of the major centres of high quality Slovene dialect poetry. The most famous poets from the region are Silvana Paletti, Francesco Bergnach and Marina Cernetig.

Since 1994, the artistic project "Stazione di Topolò - Postaia Topolove" or "Topolò Station" takes place every summer in the small village of Topolò ( _sl. Topolovo, known as "Topolove" or "Topoluove" in the local dialect). The project, which is the most important cultural and artistic event in the region, is an attempt to bring together contemporary visual art with and the local folk traditions.

Notable people from the region

*Francesco Bergnach, Slovene dialect poet;
*Edi Bucovaz, musician;
*Marina Cernetig, Slovene dialect poet;
*Luigi Faidutti, Friulian politician in Austria-Hungary;
*Anton Klodič Sabladoski, philologian, linguist and poet;
*Gianni Osgnach, sculptor;
*Silvana Paletti, poet in the Resian dialect;
*Carlo Podrecca, historian;
*Graziano Podrecca, fotographer;
*Stefano Podrecca, physician;
*Peter Podreka, author;
*Rudi Šimac, politician and author (from Breginj);
*Jožef Školč, politician (from Breginj), founder and first president of the Liberal Democratic Party;
*Ivan Trinko, Roman Catholic prelate, translator and author;
*Natalino Božo Zuanella, priest, historian and activist.

See also

*Slovene Lands
*Slovene Union


*Tadej Koren, "Beneška Slovenija po drugi svetovni vojni: fenomen paravojaških enot" (Ljubljana: Univerza v Ljubljani, 2005).
*Branko Marušič, "Primorski čas pretekli" (Koper, Trieste, Nova Gorica: Lipa - Založništvo tržaškega tiska - Goriški muzej, 1985).
*"Venezia, una republica ai confini" (Mariano del Friuli: Edizioni della Laguna, 2004).
*Faustino Nazzi, "Alle origini della "Gladio": la questione della lingua slovena nella vita religiosa della Slavia Friulana nel secondo dopoguerra" (Udine: La Patrie dal Friûl, 1997).
*Natalino Zuanella, "Gli anni bui della Slavia: attività delle organizzazioni segrete nel Friuli orientale" (Cividale del Friuli: Società Cooperativa Editrice Dom, 1996).

Further reading

*Lavo Čermelj, "Venetian Slovenia" (Belgrade: Yugoslav institute for international affairs, 1946).
*Bogo Grafenauer, "The Autonomy of Venetian Slovenia" in "Slovenci v Italiji po drugi svetovni vojni" (Ljubljana, Koper, Trieste: Cankarjeva založba, Primorski tisk, Založništvo tržaškega tiska, 1975), 105-109.
*Svetozar Ilešič, "Beneška Slovenija" in "Encyclopedia of Yugoslavia", ed. by Miroslav Krleža (Zagreb: Leksikografski zavod FNRJ, 1955-1971).
*Carlo Podrecca, "Slavia italiana" (Cividale del Friuli: Fulvio Giovanni, 1884).
*Simon Rutar, "Beneška Slovenija" (Ljubljana: Slovenska matica, 1899).
*Gaetano Salvemini, "Racial minorities under fascism in Italy" (Chicago : The Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, 1934).
*Henrik Tuma, "Avtonomna uprava Beneška Slovenije" (Ljubljana: Slovenski pravnik, 1933).
*Fran Zwitter, "The Venetian Slovenes" (Ljubljana: Institute for Ethnic Studies, 1946).

External links

* [ Description of the Slavia Veneta coat of arms] en icon
* [ Web portal of the region] it icon
* [ Novi Matajur: biligual journal from Slavia Veneta] it icon sl icon
* [ Centro studi Nediža: Cultural-Scientific Institute from the region] it icon sl icon

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