File No. 763.72/11730

The Chargé in Italy ( Jay) to the Secretary of State

No. 1005

Sir: In accordance with instructions contained in the Department’s cablegram No. 1670 of September 7, 1918, I have the honor to forward herewith a full report on the Italian attitude with reference to the Jugo-Slavs, which has been very carefully prepared by Mr. Gino C. Speranza of this Embassy.

I have [etc.]

Peter A. Jay

Report on the Italian Attitude Toward the Jugo-Slavs

General Considerations

The first general impression of the Italian attitude regarding the Jugo-Slavs and the Jugo-Slav movement is that such attitude is characterized by indefiniteness and instability. This appears true both of the attitude of the Italian Government and of that of parties and representatives of popular opinion.

Italians and Jugo-Slavs may fairly be said to be eyeing each other and measuring each other, mutually cogitating whether it is better [Page 833] to take chances as trusting friends between whom mutual concessions and amicable agreements are possible, or to follow a policy of guarded and watchful circumspection as between probable future competitors, if not opponents.

The causes behind such attitude are many; there are traditional, almost racial antipathies between Italians and Croats of a historic-sentimental character which this Embassy has summarized in a special report on “Some Italian Views on the Jugo-Slav Movement” (September 3, 1918), a copy of which is hereto annexed.1 There is also the mutual fear that both the territorial claims and the national aspirations of Italy in this war and of the nascent Jugo-Slavia may be in certain respects not only incompatible but beyond reasonable adjustment.

Recognizing this basic element of mutual mistrust, or perhaps, more exactly, this lack of friendly confidence, we can proceed to examine the Italian attitude toward the Jugo-Slav movement in more detail, seeking out specifically its causes by inquiring into the views of (1) the Italian Government, (2) the various political parties and leaders, and (3) the Italian people.

The Government Attitude

The attitude or policy of the Italian Government can largely be traced to explicit state documents or to official or semi-official declarations.

In the Italian Green Book we find the Italian demands on Austro-Hungary before Italy entered into the war, and as a condition of keeping out of it. They were tentative and diplomatically argumentative, and therefore, not conclusive or binding on Italy to-day; but they are indicative of Italian official territorial aims before the sacrifices of war. These aims included the Trentino as far as Bozen, the Gorizian district, the Dalmatian islands of the central Adriatic, the recognition of Trieste as a free city, a free hand in the Albanian problem, and the recognition of Italian control of the Dodecanese.

The next known official document is the treaty of London, signed in April, 1915, by which Italy accepts the pact of London which had been signed already by France, Great Britain and Russia in September, 1914; by said treaty Great Britain, France and Russia guaranteed to Italy under the future general peace treaty the following territorial claims: the Trentino and the upper Adige, the Gorizian district, the Trieste litoral, Istria and Liburnia nearly to Fiume, the districts of Zara and Sebenico in continental Dalmatia as far south as Tran Traù, the outer islands of the Quarnero and of the [Page 834] Dalmatian archipelago, Valona with a strategic strip on the mainland, the Dodecanese, and in case of France or England enlarging their African possessions at the cost of Germany, Italy to have her proportionate share thereof.

The above territorial claims of Italy were obviously made and guaranteed by the other signatory powers, not merely as a recognition of the national aspirations of the Italians, but in order to assure the strategic safety of Italy against a powerful and unfriendly Austro-Hungary. Hence it may well be asserted that at the time when the treaty of London was signed Italy, Great Britain, France and Russia did not officially aim at the dismemberment of Austro-Hungary. This belief, at least on the official Italian side, finds confirmation in Baron Sonnino’s statement made to the Italian Parliament on October 25, 1917, as follows: “Among our war-aims there are included neither the dismemberment of enemy states nor changes in their internal order.” Premier Orlando also, in an interview in the Journal des Débats (April 24, 1918) is reported as saying: “When the treaty of London was discussed and concluded it had reference to an enemy Austria against which Italy was bound to take the utmost possible safeguards.”

Up to this point we have official definiteness; that is, we have specific territorial claims, national and strategic, solemnly set forth. On the political side, up to such period and for some time thereafter, the policy of the European Allies may be said to have been essentially anti-German rather than anti-Austrian, all aiming at the weakening rather than the destruction of Austro-Hungary.

It is with the Russian débâcle and the rise and development of President Wilson’s war-principle of the right of racial autodecision in the field of government, that the Italian official policy and the Allied attitude changes; the idea gains ground that the war must be specifically anti-Austrian as well as anti-German, or, in other words, that the Hapsburg Empire must not only be weakened but dismembered.

This change in a political policy which even the United States seemed for a time to favor led inevitably to a change in attitude (it cannot be a change in policy while the treaties of September, 1914, and April, 1915, above cited, hold) in regard to the territorial provisions of the treaty and of the pact of London. But such change of policy in the political aims, and such change of attitude in the territorial aims affected and affect Italy and the Italians most profoundly, in a way, indeed, as no other of the Allies could be affected.

Hence there has come about in Italian official policy or action an almost unavoidable uncertainty, indefiniteness and feeling about which, inter alia, has given the impression of a duality of views in [Page 835] the foreign outlook in the present Italian Cabinet, a duality popularly represented by Sonnino as the conservative defender of the treaty of London and of Orlando as the representative of the less rigid and more liberal policy of Italy taking the lead’ in the movement for the liberation of all the oppressed races of Austria-Hungary.

This duality, if it exists, is probably not so much personal, as generally believed, as inherent in the very situation. For the Italian Government is bound, as a matter of political necessity even at the cost of seeming illiberal, to hold on to its guaranteed territorial claims under the treaty of London until a more up-to-date, more liberal, but equally binding and solemn agreement can be obtained by Italy as the nation most vitally affected by any variation from existing Allied pacts.

Is the Italian Government Willing to Substitute the Treaty of London?

Until such new agreement can be reached, Italian policy in this field is bound to appear uncertain and vacillating, and Sonnino’s motives be subject to misapprehension and suspicion. Passing now from the field of fact to that of impression, it may reasonably be asserted that the majority of the men in the Government, including Sonnino, are willing to recede from the claims of the London treaty but on condition of an equally binding agreement, substantially recognizing legitimate Italian national aspirations. The summary reports of interviews had by this Embassy with members of the Italian Cabinet cabled to the Department corroborate such belief.

On the side of practical politics we must not overlook that if Sonnino should recede from the treaty of London without a “substitute of equal quantity and better quality” all his now quiescent enemies (Clericals, official and reform Socialists and Giolittians) would arise and destroy him. For example, Sonnino has kept the Giolittians in subjection by his very insistence on the treaty of London which gives Italy far more than the “parecchio” which Giolitti contended would be obtainable from Austria merely by Italian neutrality. It is a commonplace that even in the recent Corriere della Sera attack against the Foreign Minister, the Giolittian deputies and press actually defended Sonnino, not because they hate him any less than they did, but because they know the treaty of London will eventually be changed and that such change will furnish them the excuse for a frontal attack against Sonnino. So Sonnino, both as a matter of patriotic statesmanship and of practical politics, cannot renounce anything under the treaty of London unless he can submit to his country an equally strong guarantee.

[Page 836]

Major Difficulties in the Way

There are two outstanding and obvious difficulties in the way of an official Italo–Jugo-Slav agreement: first, the lack of a truly representative organization of the Jugo-Slav people, and, second, assuming that such representative organization can be secured, can the territorial aims of the Italians and Jugo-Slavs be mutually adjusted, and can they have as binding international guarantees as Italy now has under the treaty of London?

On the first point the attitude of the Italian Government (which reflects the majority opinion of the people), is that the Jugo-Slavs have yet to prove their desire and intention to contribute to the dismemberment of Austro-Hungary, that in internal politics they have labored and struggled, if at all, for autonomy within the Empire rather than for independence without, and that they have yet to prove their capacity for national unity or for undertaking international responsibilities.

In this regard it may be pointed out that in Italian opinion up to the present time, the actions and activities of the Jugo-Slavs, in either the political or the military fields, do not seem to measure up to the standards for recognition which are implied in Secretary of State Lansing’s official announcement of the recognition of the Czecho-Slovak Nation. The Secretary’s statement justifies recognition of a de facto Czecho-Slovak Government on the following grounds:

That the Czecho-Slovaks have taken up arms against Germany and Austro-Hungary,
That they have organized armies under their own officers and are carrying on war under the rules and usages of civilized states,
That they are fighting for their independence,
That they have entrusted the supreme public authority to the Czecho-Slovak National Council.

The Italian official reluctance to treating with or recognizing the Jugo-Slavs would seem, therefore, to have some definite and defend-able political justification and be not wholly the result of selfish considerations; and this would seem further proved by the fact that Italians, official and non-official, are united regarding the wisdom and justness of recognizing and supporting the Czecho-Slovak movement.

Some Minor Difficulties

This reluctance is accentuated by certain minor facts which, however somewhat personal in character, have some weight. There is an undoubted mistrust by the Italians of the representative character of Dr. Ante Trumbić and a suspicion that he is, as a great many [Page 837] Slavs undoubtedly are, anti-Italian. There is also considerable feeling of resentment in Italy at the undiplomatic, if not imperialistic and extremist, character of some of the Jugo-Slav claims and propaganda in Allied countries, either through The New Europe or in other publications or utterances. Certain historic-sentimental reasons, of a powerful character, as hereinbefore pointed out, also stand in the way of official recognition.

Are Territorial Adjustments Possible?

But assuming that the Jugo-Slavs could, by political and military action, come within the tests of American recognition as set forth by our Secretary of State, is an adjustment of territorial claims between Italians and Jugo-Slavs possible and probable?

Here we enter into the field of political conjecture; but it may be reasonably assumed that even Baron Sonnino would be willing to make territorial concessions upon two conditions: first, that the Jugo-Slavs officially recognize and guarantee the minimum Italian territorial program, to wit: the boundaries claimed in Istria, the Italian naval bases in the Dalmatian islands, Italian influence in Albania, etc.; and, secondly, that any Italo–Jugo-Slav agreement be brought about in such a way and be of such character as will disarm the varied and numerous opponents of any change in or “renunciation” of the provisions of the treaty of London.

In this respect we should distinguish between the forcing out of Sonnino from the Italian War Cabinet as a real popular reaction against him or his policies, and his ministerial decapitation as the result of the maneuvers of the Giolittians, pacifists and other politicians who want him out so as to replace him by one of their own stripe. In other words, any change in the treaty of London, as I said, would be at the present time a dangerous political step, requiring extreme caution and fine play, both with friends and foes; but I believe that Sonnino is not only willing to take it but has been for some time, laying out his plans possibly even secretly with Doctor Trumbić for an Italo–Jugo-Slav agreement.

What is essential is that such agreement should have as gilt-edged a guarantee as has the treaty of London. That guarantee [is] constituted by the international promise by England, France and Russia to support at the peace conference the Italian territorial claims set forth in the treaty. Can the Jugo-Slavs secure a like guarantee from France and Great Britain for any agreement they may make with Italy? That is the question and that, in a way, would be a test of Jugo-Slav capacity for international action.

Sonnino, unfortunately, does not know America and still less does he wholly and deeply “feel” and gauge the American influence in [Page 838] this war; yet if American diplomacy could “win him over” and he, on his part, would and could secure American sympathy and recognition, if not a formal official guarantee by the United States, of any Italo–Jugo-Slav agreement, it would seem not unlikely that the Italian people would be willing to modify some of the claims in the treaty of London.

Attitude of Italian Political Parties to the Jugo-Slav Movement

Passing to a consideration of the attitude of Italian parties and of the Italian people to the Jugo-Slav movement, the same lack of definiteness is found, and, largely, for the same reasons as were pointed out under the official Government attitude. But the variation between parties and popular groups centers largely around territorial questions. Indeed, so sensitive are both sides on this point that the most definite and promising nongovernmental agreement so far secured regarding Italo–Jugo-Slav understanding excludes all specific territorial considerations.

The “Pact of Rome”

This non-official agreement, known as the Pact of Rome,1 recites, inter alia, (article 4) that:

The representatives of the Italian people and of the Jugo-Slav people agree in particular as follows: In the relations between the Italian Nation and the Nation of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes known also under the name of the Jugo-Slav Nation, the representatives of the two peoples recognize that the unity and independence of the Jugo-Slav Nation is of vital interest to Italy, exactly as the completion of the national Italian unification is a vital interest of the Jugo-Slav Nation. Therefore, the representatives of the two peoples undertake to develop all their efforts (opera) to the end that during the war and at the moment of peace, these aims (finalità) of the two nations may be wholly reached; (5th article) they affirm that the liberation of the Adriatic Sea and its defense against every present and eventual enemy is a vital interest of the two peoples; (6th article) they undertake to settle amicably, in the interest also of the future good and sincere relations between the two peoples, each of the territorial controversies on the basis of the principles of nationality and the right of peoples to decide their own destinies, in such manner as not to injure vital interests of the two nations which will be settled at the moment of peace; (article 7th) such groups (nuclei) of one of the peoples who may have to be included within the boundaries of the other, will have the recognition of and the guarantee of the right of respect of their language, of their intellectual and historic traditions (coltura) and of their moral and economic interests.

[Page 839]

Such “Pact of Rome” was not only a great step in the right direction but it outlined the basis of a method of coming together. Its political value and influence, however, are problematical and conjectural because the signatories thereof could be recognized as “representatives of the Italian people and of the Jugo-Slav people” only by a pretty long stretch of the most benevolent imagination. For instance, Deputy Andrea Torre, chief Italian signatory, could hardly claim to represent any large group of the Italian people or even definite Italian political force. This weakness has since been overcome, in a distinct measure, by declarations of men in the Italian Government, notably by Premier Orlando, and by leaders in Italian political life; but, on the other hand, Dr. Ante Trumbić’s signature as “representative of the Jugo-Slav people” has not received, as yet, any substantial additional suffrage or representative recognition among Jugo-Slavs in Austro-Hungary.

The Pact of Rome, excellent as it is, has not been vivified by any increased real mutual trust between the two peoples, except among certain intellectuals and in the political field among the handful of Italian Radicals.

The Chief Causes which Prevent a Popular Italo–Jugo-Slav Entente

The slow growth of such real trust between the two peoples, preventing the Pact of Rome from becoming a real entente, is due to three principal causes: first, the absence of real leaders on either side—of leaders of vision, courage and “carrying” qualities; second, the policy of not courageously facing the real essence of the causes of mutual mistrust, that is, the policy of dodging the presentation of a reasonable territorial program; third, the propaganda carried on on a great scale by Austro-Hungary in all the Allied countries and especially in Italy to incite and strengthen the mutual mistrust and so excite the hostile sentiments and passions between Italians and Slavs. Within the Empire the Austro-Hungarian Government pursues the plan of “supporting” the Jugo-Slav movement within its boundaries but urges the Slavs to make territorial claims of such unreasonableness as to increase the enmity of the Italians. By such support it gains a double purpose: It renders an Italo–Jugo-Slav entente ever more difficult, and, it seeks to make the Allies believe that the real Jugo-Slav movement is not for national independence but for autonomy within the Empire.

Of the three reasons above given, only through the first (real and courageous leadership) could the other two be effectively overcome. It is the absence of such leadership which makes so many Italians think that the best policy is to avoid the territorial subject; but [Page 840] such a policy is the “best policy” only because there are no men of vision and courage to urge the prompt solution of all differences and differences on a truly liberal basis on both sides.

Italian Political Parties

Among the various Italian political parties we find either opposition, mistrust, “watchful waiting,” benevolent but inert approval, or indifference. The only real exceptions are the Reform Socialists and the Radicals, of whom, later [sic] the Regular Socialists are, of course, alien to the question; the Clericals, as distinguished from patriotic Catholics, cannot be expected to support a policy which would mean the end of the one imperial remnant left to the Vatican; the Giolittians have never been anti-Austrian and are out for themselves rather than for Italy and least of all for the “rights of peoples.” The Liberals, in their various groupings, wish an Italo–Jugo-Slav entente but are still groping and restrained in their enthusiasm; their hopes are with Orlando who is probably today the most representative political leader of the majority opinion of the Italian people regarding the Jugo-Slav movement. What that majority opinion is may be gauged by Orlando’s stand which is a skillful balancing between the official Pact of London and the unofficial Pact of Rome. This same balancing and half-measures find evidence in the most recent resolutions of the Central Committee of the Fascio (League of National Defense) which is supposed to represent the most patriotic elements of independent Italian opinion. The resolutions state, among other things: “We view with satisfaction that there is in the Nation a strong sense of the unchallengeable right of Italy to the realization, wholly and completely, of all her national aspirations” and also that the “defense of the country and the realization of all Italian aspirations are in no way incompatible with the right to liberty and independence of the oppressed nationalities under Hapsburg domination.” But a word to show how they can be made compatible.

The Reform Socialists

The Reform Socialists and the Radicals have the advantage of more definite programs. The Reform Socialists are strong for the absolute dismemberment of Austro-Hungary and for aiding the oppressed races to gain their independence, but (especially the more extreme wing under Benito Mussolini of the Popolo d’Italia) they hold that the treaty of London is a minimum of Italian strategic aims, that it was drafted when the claims of Russia had to be considered and that now that those claims do not exist Italy should have something of what she gave up for Russia’s sake. They believe, in substance, in an independent Jugo-Slavia but hold that the [Page 841] Slavs on the Adriatic litoral are outside their natural and ethnic boundaries, that strategic reasons necessitate Italian control of the Dalmatian coast and historic reasons the inclusion into Italy of the Italian cities of Dalmatia excluded by the treaty of London.

The Radicals

The Radicals have the most liberal program; they believe that the Jugo-Slav movement should be powerfully aided and encouraged to the end that the future Jugo-Slavia shall be Italy’s best friend; that such friendship is worth more to Italy than any strategic advantages secured in the Adriatic and that its value is such that it is well worth making reasonably ample concessions in order to secure it. But the Radicals are few and Deputy de Viti de Marco as their leader on the Jugo-Slav question is too rigid, unpopular and unmagnetic a personality to arouse popular sentiment or enthusiasm, or to create a real following even in political spheres.

The People’s Attitude

Among the Italian people the Jugo-Slav movement meets with an almost instinctive diffidence and mistrust. But for this there is a reason so basic and deep-rooted even in the masses that it deserves the greatest consideration; indeed any disregard of such sentiment by the Allies, even for the great stake of a vast theoretical liberal program, may be the one and only cause of a popular uprising in Italy.

The one universal, unifying, deeply national sentiment of Italy-at-war is the liberation of all Italians from the Austrian yoke and their inclusion within the strategically safe boundaries of United Italy. This is the mainspring and the vivifying force of Italy-at-war; without the assurance that such complete liberation and unification would be accomplished through joining the Allies Italy would probably not have entered the war or, at least, would not have so steadily stuck to it. Conversely, any movement which, even remotely, threatens the complete realization of this essentially popular national war program, strikes at the deepest sentiment of the Italian people.

It is because the Jugo-Slav movement holds the possibility of renunciations on these deeply cherished aspirations of the Italian people, that only the highest statesmanship and the most intelligent and patriotic leadership could make such Jugo-Slav movement acceptable to Italian opinion.

The Essence of the Italian Popular Distrust of the Jugo-Slavs

It is this deep sentiment of the people, hallowed by nearly a century of sacrifices and heroisms, which is the real substratum of [Page 842] the Italian lack of real support to the Jugo-Slav movement. The Italian Government, Austro-Hungary, the Allies and party leaders of every color have each used this sentiment for their own ends for it is both a strength and a weakness, but from the human standpoint which informs and leads American statesmanship, such a deep popular sentiment will be recognized as an element deserving great consideration even in political councils and decisions.

Can Such Sentiment Be Overcome?

Such sentiment, can, I think, be reached and influenced to a more liberal attitude by a serious, courageous, intelligent and honest appeal to that reasonableness and good sense which the writer of this has always contended is at the base of Italian character. Such an appeal, however, cannot, or rather must not come from any of the European Allies, for any campaign of this nature undertaken by them would be held, and justly, to be suspect if not selfish.

American Opportunity

The hope of a solution would seem to be in the willingness of the United States to undertake this task. It seems a superb opportunity for American diplomacy, essentially in the spirit of that “human liberalism” which has characterized American intervention in the Great War. Its success would mean the adjustment of a grave international problem, the peace of mind of a friendly nation seeking to do what is right, and the gratitude to our country of a nascent nationality in its first steps towards the new freedom.

Gino. C. Speranza

  1. Not printed.
  2. See ante, pp. 797799.