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Venetian Slovenia

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Venetian Slovenia

Slavia Friulana, which means Friulian Slavia, is a small mountainous region in northeastern Italy and it is so called because of its Slavic population which settled here in the 8th century AD. The territory is located the Italian region of Friuli Venezia Giulia, between the town of Cividale del Friuli and the Slovenian border.


Actually, Slavia Friulana has to be referred to the area also known as Valli del Natisone (Natisone Valleys) and which was called Antro in the middle ages and then Schiavonìa during the Venetian domination: nowadays, the area is divided into the municipalities of San Pietro al Natisone, San Leonardo, Pulfero, Drenchia, Grimacco, Stregna, Savogna di Cividale. Although this historical extension, in the last decades the name has been used to indicate all the friulian territories with a Slavic presence, including also the municipalities of Lusevera, Taipana, Torreano, Resia and the mountainous areas of the municipalities of Tarcento, Nimis, Attimis, Faedis, Prepotto and Montenars.


Since the beginning of the 8th century AD (c. 720), Slavic people settled in this area and in the middle ages they would have been called Sclavons. In the early 16th century, the Venetian authorities dubbed this border region of their Republic as Schiavonia Veneta, meaning "Venetian Slav-land". The Venetian words Schiavoni and Schiavonia were general terms used for all South Slavic peoples with which they came in direct contact, Slovenes as well as for Croats and Serbs from Dalmatia. In 1884 the local historian Carlo Podrecca named the area Slavia Italiana, as well as Slovene nationalists in 1899 started to use the toponym Beneška Slovenija (Venetian Slovenia) or Benečija.

After World War I, as soon as the Italian kingdom expanded its borders eastwards (including vast slavophone territories in Istria and in the so called habsburgic Illirian kingdom), the region started to be commonly called Slavia Friulana instead of a generic Slavia Italiana.


Early periods

Slavic tribes settled the area in the early 7th century AD. They settled on the border of the Lombard Duchy of Forumiulii. 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 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. In 1420 the Patriarchate of Aquileia was invaded by the Republic of Venice. The Venetian authorities gave the local Slavs full internal autonomy, on the condition that they would serve as border guards against the neighbouring Habsburg Empire. The local autonomy was structured in two co-valleys (Antro and Merso) represented by their people's assemblies called arenghi; each co-valley had also the right to elect its own judges and its own tribunals (banche). The whole Schiavonia had important tax benefits.

The Napoleonic and Austrian rule

In 1797, most of the Venetian Republic was annexed to the Habsburg Empire, including Schiavonia Veneta. The Habsburg authorities abolished the ancient privileges of the local Slav populations, as they had already done with a similar system of autonomy in neighboring 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. The local population fought bravely for Italian unity in 1848 and 1864. In 1866, the region became part of Italy by a referendum (won with 3687 votes against 1), with the exception of the villages of Breginj and Livek which were included in the Austrian County of Gorizia and Gradisca.

Under the Kingdom of Italy

Main article: Slovene minority in Italy (1920-1947)

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 customs, 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 I, several cultural and social activists, mostly Roman Catholic priests, started setting up Slovene cultural institutions and associations. The most prominent of them was 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. However, Italian scholars in those years pinpointed that the Slovene dialects of the "Slavia Italiana", as the region was referred, and were mutually unintelligible with standard Slovene, due to a divergent historical development and a significant number of Italian and Friulian influences on the local vocabulary. They considered these dialects as archaic Slavic dialects, not related to the Slovene language. This claim was especially emphasized in the case of the Resian dialect, which is both phonetically and syntactically very different from standard Slovene, and maintains archaisms lost in all other Slovene dialects. Despite this emphasis on the differences between standard Slovene and the dialects of the Slavia Italiana, the very same policies of Italianization that were first applied to the neighboring Julian March were extended to the Slavia, thus paradoxically bringing the local populations, which diverged in their historical experiences, closer together.

This feature was further emphasized by the Slovene anti-fascist and nationalist propaganda (both left-wing and conservative-Catholic), which frequently portrayed the Venetian Slovenia as the symbol of Slovene resistance to Fascist Italianization, often simplifying the complex linguistic and social realities of the region. The most famous literary portrayal was written in 1938 by the Slovene writer France Bevk from Gorizia in his novel "The Vicar Martin Čedermac" (Kaplan Martin Čedermac). Set in Venetian Slovenia, the novel, published under a pseudonym in the Yugoslav town of Ljubljana, described the efforts of a local Roman Catholic priest to preserve the use of Slovene language in church against the policies of the Italian Fascist regime. The novel became a best seller in Slovenia and the term Čedermac has been since used as a synonym for the clergy persecuted by the Fascists in the Italian-administered Julian March and in the Slavia Veneta.

During World War II the Slovene partisan resistance, led by the Liberation Front of the Slovenian People, penetrated in the region. The Kobarid Republic was established as a temporary administration after the Italian armistice in early September 1943.[1]

In early November 1943, the Nazi German forces crushed the insurgency, and incorporated the whole area into the Operational Zone Adriatic Coast. In 1944, the Italian resistance movement also became active in the mountains of Slavia Veneta. Tensions between the Yugoslav (Slovene) and Italian 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.


Main article: Slovene minority in Italy (after 1947)

In 1945, Slavia Veneta again became an 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 the Slovene language was discouraged by the authorities. Between 1945 and 1947, Slavia Veneta was a region on the border with the Communist Bloc, and several paramilitary 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 Operation Gladio, a clandestine NATO "stay-behind" operation in Italy after World War II, intended to counter a possible Warsaw Pact invasion of Western Europe. The activists of the Gladio operation were frequently also radical Italian nationalists who were given a free hand to terrorize the local Slovene communities.[2]

There was also widespread emigration during the same period.

Population trends


1871 1881 1901 1911 1921 1931 1936 1951 1961 1971 1981 1991
Dreka/Drenchia 1036 1278 1389 1424 1562 1458 1285 1392 1128 599 359 255
(%) 66.3 81.8 88.9 91.2 100 93.3 82.3 89.1 72.2 38.3 25.4 16.3
Garmak/Grimacco 1324 1560 1570 1678 1780 1621 1543 1737 1645 929 760 591
(%) 74.4 87.6 88.2 94.3 100 91.1 86.7 97.6 92.4 52.2 43 33.2
Podbonesec/Pulfero 3256 2492 3779 3991 4066 3864 3681 3735 3306 2237 1831 1307
(%) 80.1 85.9 92.9 98.2 100 95.0 90.5 91.9 81.3 55 45.1 32.1
Sv. Lenart/S. Leonardo 2188 2382 2639 2623 2637 2424 2222 2283 2077 1375 1220 1128
(%) 83 90.3 100 99.5 100 92.6 84.3 86.6 78.8 52.1 46.9 42.8
Špeter/S.Pietro al N. 2811 3182 3313 3525 3544 3039 3077 3088 2842 2331 2066 2173
(%) 79.3 89.8 93.5 99.5 100 85.8 86.8 87.1 80.2 65.8 58.1 61.3
Sovodnja/Savogna 1820 2017 2078 2026 2143 2044 1867 2077 1741 1226 1017 786
(%) 84.9 94.1 97 94.5 100 95.40 87.1 96.9 81.2 57.2 48 36.7
Srednje/Stregna 1616 1710 1805 20 00 1908 1908 1722 1883 1554 952 730 538
(%) 84.7 89.6 94.6 104.8 100 100 90.3 98.7 81.4 49.9 38.3 28.1
Total 14051 15621 16573 17267 17640 16358 15397 16195 14293 9649 8051 6869
(%) 79.7 88.6 94 97.9 100 94.3 87.3 91.8 81 54.7 45.6 38.9
(in millions)
27.30 28.96 32.97 35.85 38.45 41.65 42.99 47.52 50.62 54.13 56.57 56.41
(%) 71 75.3 85.7 93.2 100 108.3 111.8 123.6 131.7 140.8 147.1 146.7

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 May and September 1976, two earthquakes hit the region, causing large scale destruction and hundreds of deaths. Due to political persecution, emigration and natural catastrophes, the period between 1945 and 1977 has frequently been called "The Dark Years of the Slavia Veneta" (Italian: Gli anni bui della Slavia Veneta, Slovene: Mračna leta Benečije) by Slovenian authors.[4]

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 area, guaranteeing it full rights. After Slovenia's entry into the European Union in 2004, 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 Valley dialect, the Torre Valley dialect, and the Resian dialect. All the three dialects are part of the Littoral dialect group of Slovene, and are closely related to each other.

Almost all of the inhabitants are fluent in Italian, which is taught in schools and present in the media and in the administration. Friulian 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 intelligible with the dialects spoken in the region. They are however completely intelligible with the neighbouring Slovene dialects spoken in the Slovenian Littoral, especially the Soča and Brda dialects.

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 important promoters 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 probably 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 a huge impact 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 - Postaja Topolove or "Topolò Station" takes place every summer in the small village of Topolò (Slovene: 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;
  • Pietro Fanna, professional soccer player;
  • Lorenzo Crisetig, young professional soccer player;
  • Roberto Chiacig, professional basket player.

See also


  • 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).
  • Sergij Vilfan, L'autonomia della Slavia Italiana nel periodo patriarcale e veneto (Trieste-San Pietro: Quaderni Nadiža, 1987).
  • Fran Zwitter, The Venetian Slovenes (Ljubljana: Institute for Ethnic Studies, 1946).

External links

  • Description of the Slavia Veneta coat of arms (English)
  • Web portal of the region (Italian)
  • Novi Matajur: biligual journal from Slavia Veneta (Italian) (Slovene)
  • Centro studi Nediža: Cultural-Scientific Institute from the region (Italian) (Slovene)

Coordinates: 46°8′22″N 13°27′39″E / 46.13944°N 13.46083°E / 46.13944; 13.46083

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