This stunning set of 17 unused flyers by Yugoslav Partisans, crudely printed from both sides in Italian and Slovenian language over the flags of Italian minority in Istria and Yugoslavia was printed at the end of WWII as a propaganda to annex the city of Trieste and the coastal region Julian March (between the wars the name for the region from Rijeka to areas north of Trieste) to Yugoslavia, instead to Italy, with its Fascist history.
The text reads:
Referendum of Julian March and Trieste to Join Yugoslavia:
19.357 burned homes
16.837 partly destroyed homes.
All because of the Nazi-Fascist crimes.
The numbers refer to the crimes of the Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany upon the local, mostly Slavic and Jewish inhabitants.
Up to the end of World War I, the city of Trieste and the Istrian Peninsula, to its south, were part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The region was ethnically mixed, with large portions of the population being Italian, Slovenian, Croatian, and Austro-German, amongst other groups. Historically, the venerable port city of Trieste proper, although long a part of the Habsburg Empire, was a majority Italian, with a large Slovenian minority, while the areas surrounding the city were overwhelmingly populated by Slovenians. Further south, in far northewestern Istria, the population was mixed, although the Italian-speaking population was often the majority right along the coast, while the Slovenes dominates inland areas (a legacy of the location of the old Habsburg-Venetian border which existed until the Napoleonic Wars). Further south, deeper into Istria, the population was mixed between Croatians and Italians. Traditionally, while things were not perfect, these ethnic groups got along quite well.
That all changed following World War I, when the entire region was given to Italy. Benito Mussolini, who became the Italian dictator in 1922, enforced a policy of ‘Italianization’ of Trieste and Istria, brutally suppressing any manifestations of Slovene or Croatian culture. While many of the Italians native to the region did not support this policy, Mussolini brought in tens of thousands of pro-Fascist migrants who did. Almost overnight, Mussolini had ruined a peaceful and enlightened multi-ethnic society. Many Slovenes and Croatians were either forced to suppress their identity or immigrate to the newly created state of Yugoslavia, or overseas. That being said an underground Slovene resistance movement developed in Trieste operating under the motto: ‘Trst je naš!’ [‘Trieste is Ours!’].
Moving forward to 1945, Yugoslavia and her Allies were victorious over Nazi Germany and her client state Italy. Marshall Tito, the Yugoslav leader, had conquered Trieste and Istria and was naturally eager to re-establish the full Slovene and Croatian cultural presence, and to annex the area to Yugoslavia. However, the Allied powers, not wanting to provoke further rancour in Central Europe, called for a more cautious approach. While it was acknowledged that Slovenian and Croatian majority areas should, in theory, be granted to Yugoslavia, the problem remained that placing Trieste, a large majority-Italian city within Yugoslavia could cause big headaches. Making matters even more complex, Trieste was virtually surrounded by majority Slovene areas.
The temporary solution was to form the Free Territory of Trieste, created in 1947, it was to consist of the narrow coastal area of Trieste and environs and the northwestern part of the Istrian Peninsula (the rest of Istria had already been ceded to Yugoslavia). While the Free State had some of the trappings of an independent country (i.e. its own stamps and passports), in reality, it was merely and ephemeral entity living on borrowed time, nervously overseen by the Allied powers and the United Nations.
To make matters even more complex, the Free State was subdivided into ‘Zone A’, consisting of Trieste and the surrounding coastal strip; and ‘Zone B’, consisting of northwestern Istria. It was pretty much a forgone conclusion to everyone that Zone B would, in due course, be given to Yugoslavia, owing the strong Slovene-Croatian majority of the population in that area.
However, in spite of the flyers’ rhetorical flair, when the Free State of Trieste was dissolved in 1954, Zone A (save some minor border concessions in Yugoslavia’s favour) was handed to Italy, while Zone B was given to Yugoslavia. This allocation was de facto accepted by both nations, although it was not formally agreed until the Treaty of Osimo (1975). Fortunately, today relations are amicable, as Slovenians in Trieste enjoy special cultural protections, while Italian speakers enjoy similar protections in Istria (now divided between the sovereign republics of Slovenia and Croatia).