SUN, 04 NOV 2001 23:33:15 GMT
Decoration that Conveys a Message
AIM Zagreb, October 29, 2001
The decision of Italy's President Carlo Azeglia Ciampi to award the
highest Italian military decoration to the city of Zadar appalled
Croatia and turned into a diplomatic scandal. The gold medal was
intended not for present Zadar but the one of almost sixty years ago, or
more precisely, the Italian administration of Zadar in exile.
Official Italy confirmed the news carried by Il Piccolo from Trieste
that on November 13, the President of Italy would decorate "the flag of
the last Italian civil administration of Zadar". The given reason for
the medal of honour is the suffering of this city caused by massive
bombing by the allies in 1943. It is not mentioned that Zadar continued
to support the fascist option even after capitulation of Italy.
Official Croatia reacted immediately. Croatian ambassador in Rome
demanded an explanation, and Italian ambassador in Croatia was presented
a demarche. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Croatia issued a statement
that the decoration of "Italian Zadar" was an expression of an
unacceptable attitude towards the past. Rome responded to this by
postponing the ceremony of presentation of the decoration. But this did
not solve the problem, it was just put on ice.
The award of Ciampi's medal to the so-called "free municipality of Zadar
in exile" is evidently a political act. This decision conveys a
political message that cannot pass unnoticed by Croatia, nor can it be
accepted. It implies, to say the least, a strange attitude towards
historical data. As correctly observed by Croatian Ministry of Foreign
Affairs, it re-opens the long closed historical chapters. It questions
some of generally accepted stands.
If the decoration was awarded to the so-called "free municipality of
Zadar" does this mean that at present it is not free? If the decoration
is awarded to the Italians in Zadar who do not rely on anti-fascist
tradition and for the suffering Zadar endured because of bombing by the
allies, does it mean that Italy is changing its stand concerning the
anti-fascist attitude of modern Europe? Does Rome consider itself the
inheritor of the regime that controlled Zadar and was forced to
capitulate in 1943 or is post-fascist Italy its foothold? As far as it
is known, not a single European statesman made a move such as Ciampi's.
Perhaps the reasons for the unpleasant surprise from Rome should not
after all be sought in the past and in the wish to reformulate it.
Perhaps it is primarily an attempt to redesign the present relations
between Italy and Croatia. Zagreb stresses that what makes this scandal
even more curious is that it followed two weeks after the successful
visit of Italian President to Croatia. But at the time it could already
be surmised that mutual relations are not so idyllic as it appeared from
On the eve of the visit official Rome suggested a change of Croatian
laws, or specifically denationalisation in favour of Italian optants and
abolishment of, as stated, discriminatory provisions based on ethnic
affiliation. Acceptance of these demands would implicitly be a
confession that Croatia legally discriminates minorities, the Italians
to be exact, which can by no means be considered to be true.
Ciampi's statements in Croatia were in the same tone. He kept repeating,
as if giving instructions, the expectations that the law on
denationalisation would be amended and "discrimination" eliminated. In
one of his speeches the guest stated a longish list of towns in Istria
and Dalmatia in which, as he said, Italian culture had left deep traces
and this statement sounded as if it did not refer only to the past. The
bearing of the Italian guest was the reason, it is claimed, why his
Croatian homologue during their joint visit to Istria at a certain
moment made a digression from his prepared speech to remind of Italian
fascism. President Stjepan Mesic mentioned that Istria knew "the evil of
fascism and overdoing of communism" and that both parties had to draw a
lesson from history.
Italian party persisted with the formulation that Croatia would
eliminate "discrimination" of minorities from its laws even during
negotiations on cooperation and partnership which is hastily being
prepared and should be signed quite soon because Rome insists on it.
Croatian Prime Minister, Ivica Racan, was ready to sign it on Monday,
October 29, along with the Agreement on Stabilisation and Joining the
European Union. It is out of the question now, at least for as long as
the Zadar scandal is not resolved.
The Italian party says that it is absolutely surprised by the reaction
of Zagreb. It is considered to be an expression of exaggerated
sensitivity. Il Piccolo from Trieste continues to further strain the
relations. Having established that President Ciampi has not given up on
his decision but just postponed its realisation, this daily announces
that like Zadar, Rijeka and Pula might also be decorated. Il Piccolo
proclaims the reaction of Croatia literally "insolent, thoughtless and
unacceptable". Other Italian media reported on the Zadar scandal in a
similar tone. Corriere della Sera writes that "Zagreb is blocking the
agreement with Italy" and that it is threatening to withdraw its
ambassador if the decoration for Zadar is not definitely cancelled.
Repubblica calls Croatian diplomats aggressive, and it does not believe
that the negotiations were interrupted because of the Zadar case but
because of the content of one of the article of the agreement on
partnership and cooperation.
In the office of Croatian President Mesic they believe that the
postponement of the ceremony is just the first step. They claim that
this is a serious problem in mutual relations between Italy and Croatia
and it is possible to eliminate it only if the decision on decorating
“Italian Zadar” is withdrawn.
Diplomatic circles in Zagreb are expressing wonder, some even
bewilderment because of the latest move of Rome. Even American media
noted that “Croatia is embittered by the decision of Italy to decorate
fascist administration of Zadar which controlled that Croatian city
during the Second World War”. Ciampi’s gesture is not considered as just
a message to Croatia, but also to Europe. Diplomats think it is
comparable with the recent Berlusconi’s declaration that Christianity is
superior to Islamic tradition. It is mostly estimated that the decision
to award “Italian Zadar” is an expression of internal Italian relations.
But it is also possible to speak of the intention of Rome to silently
cease to strictly abide by the Osimo agreements that Italy and Tito’s
Yugoslavia regulated the borders with in 1975 and determined the rules
in resolving minority questions. Croatia still has certain unsettled
debts to Italian optants, and Rome is trying to draw a maximum out of