Liburnian Autonomist Movement

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The Liburnian Autonomous Movement or the Liburnian Federalist Movement was a political group founded in Rijeka in the summer of 1943, disbanded in the last months of the Second World War. Its most prominent members were killed during the Fiume Autonomists purge.

Historical overview[edit]

For centuries the city of Rijeka was a corpus separatum within the Austrian Empire and later the Austro-Hungarian. This is linked to a long political autonomy, which led to the foundation in 1896 of the local namesake party.

Headed by Riccardo Zanella, on 24 April 1921 the autonomists won the parliamentary elections of the newborn Free State of Fiume, but their government was overthrown in March of the following year by the nationalist and pro-fascist group, reunited in the National Block. Zanella was forced into exile together with all his cabinet, later the city was annexed to the Kingdom of Italy following the Treaty of Rome (1924).

The contention for Fiume at the end of the Second World War[edit]

The city of Rijeka, one of the landmarks of the Adriatic dispute between Italians and Slavs (Slovenians and Croats), was declared annexed to Yugoslavia by a group of Slovenian and Croat partisans of the liberation movement, with the so-called Declarations of Pazin of September 13, 1943 .

This event, connected to the fall of fascism, gave rise to the resurgence of the ever dormant autonomous feelings of Fiume. The heirs of Zanella - at that time exiled in France - found themselves in the Autonomous Movement under the guidance of some of the old members of the party, among which one of the most authoritative was Mario Blasich. Referring to the Treaty of Rapallo (1920), they again requested the implementation of an autonomous statute for Fiume. They considered it impossible to form a political alliance with the Communists, who were considered too filial, but also opposed the Nazi-Fascists, although they never committed militarily against them.

At the beginning of 1944 a part of the zanelliani, above all the younger ones, merged into the Italian Autonomous River Movement (FAI), founded by don Luigi Polano. They foreshadowed for the city the maintenance of a status of autonomy, similar to that enjoyed at the time of the Empire, also advocating armed resistance against the Nazi-Fascists (though without creating partisan formations), but accepting collaboration with the Slavs, in above all the protection of the industrial heritage of the city, threatened with destruction by the Germans. This autonomist component was considered in a very suspicious and dangerous way by the Yugoslav liberation movement, appearing as a possible alternative to the simple and simple annexation of the city to the new socialist state of Tito.

The creation of the Liburnian Autonomous Movement[edit]

After the fall of fascism (25 July 1943) other autonomists, mainly former fascist militants, joined the Liburnic Autonomous Movement (or Movimento Liburnico Movement), led by the engineer Giovanni Rubini. Also considering an agreement with the AVNOJ impossible, they planned the transformation of the Carnaro Province into a federated state, including all the annexed territories following the enlargement of the province after the Italian-German victory in the Yugoslavia campaign of 1941: the Dalmatian coast to Carlopago, the islands of Krk, Rab, Lošinj and Pag, a small part of Slovenia and the eastern part of Istria. Throughout this territory, divided into cantons on the Swiss model, the mother tongues of the resident population would have been admitted, but the only official language would have been Italian.

The Movement formalized its project, sending a copy to the governments of Rome, Berlin, Washington and London, but in the city had little follow-up among the other autonomists, above all because of its open support to the Nazi-Fascists, who cleverly exploited it in propaganda .

Among the most important exponents of the Movement we should mention: Ramiro Antonini, Icilio Bacci, Salvatore Belasic (or Bellasich), Carlo Colussi, Riccardo Gigante, Ruggero Gotthardi, Arturo Maineri, Ettore Rippa, Gino Sirola, Antonio Vio and Arnaldo Viola. Of these, the Yugoslavs later killed Bacci, Colussi, Gigante and Sirola.

The "Rubini memorandum"[edit]

The discovery of the autonomous project of Rubini during a search, inside a file entitled "Memorandum Rubini", was the formal cause chosen by the Germans to justify the arrest of the Fiume Police chief Giovanni Palatucci, September 13, 1944. From this makes us think that Palatucci was among the proponents of the Federalist solution advocated by the Liburnic Autonomist Movement.

The Yugoslav military occupation and the purge[edit]

Tito's troops entered Fiume on May 3, 1945, without any major insurrectionary movement developing in the city.

From the previous months, however, the Yugoslav propaganda had deliberately considered the autonomists as if they were one, accusing them of betrayal, attendism and fascism, in order to weaken their position in the city. From the first hours of the occupation, the Yugoslav secret police organized teams to go in search of the autonomous leaders: it was so that between May 3 and 4 lost their lives Mario Blasich, Nevio Skull, Mario De Hajnal, Giuseppe Sincich, Radoslav Baucer and other autonomists.

Their fate had been anticipated by that of Giovanni Rubini, who was killed by a Yugoslav commando on the stairs of the house on 21 April 1945.[1] [2]

Apart from the elimination of the main figures of the movement, between 1500 and 2000 sympathisers of the Autonomist cause were arrested.[3]

During the peace talks the president of the Free State of Fiume Riccardo Zanella tried to spearhead the cause of the tiny state, this time supported also by the previous political rival Andrea Ossoinack. The experienced new Italian minister of foreign affairs Carlo Sforza, an early anti-fascist dissident, supported this idea and lobbied with the Allies to have Fiume as a free state to become a head-quarter of the newly formed United Nations (following the previous wilsonian proposal of having it as a similar head-quarter of the League of Nations). The idea found also the official support of the Italian president Alcide de Gasperi, when the Allies displayed little interest in the option of keeping Italian sovereignty over Fiume's territory.

But the Yugoslavs acted quicker, incorporating Fiume in Croatia itself and de facto separating on the ground from the Istrian territories which kept being treated as disputed territories for a longer period. The exodus of Fiuman people in this period brought 58,000 of the 66,000 inhabitants to leave the city through as a consequence of large discrimination and targeted violence by local authorities.


  1. ^ Gaetano La Perna, Pola Istria Fiume 1943-1945. L'agonia di un lembo d'Italia e la tragedia delle Foibe, Milano, Mursia 1993
  2. ^ Società di Studi Fiumani-Roma, Hrvatski Institut za Povijest-Zagreb Le vittime di nazionalità italiana a Fiume e dintorni (1939-1947) Archived October 31, 2008, at the Wayback Machine, Ministero per i beni e le attività culturali - Direzione Generale per gli Archivi, Roma 2002. ISBN 88-7125-239-X, p. 597.
  3. ^ Italiani a Fiume - Una Storia Tormentata, Luciano Giuricin e Giacomo Scotti (1996), ISBN 953230064-3, pages 18-19,