The Ambassador in Italy ( Page ) to the Secretary of State

My Dear Mr. Secretary: With reference to my letter of November 12, 1918, I have again been requested by Mr. Gay to forward to you the enclosed memorandum relating to Fiume, which I do with much pleasure.

Mr. Gay informs me that he feels sure this memorandum referring to the strained relations between Italians and Jugo Slavs in the City of Fiume will be of immediate interest to you.

Always [etc.]

Thos. Nelson Page

Memorandum Supplied by Mr. H. Nelson Gay

Part I.—Italian Claims

section a).—completion of nationality

Chapter 3) .—Fiume

Treaty of London. The question of the future of Fiume is one of the most complex and most delicate which will be presented at the Peace Conference. The population of the city in an overwhelming majority is Italian by blood, language, character and sentiment. But out of regard for the economic necessities of another proposed nationality, Italy renounced her rights to Fiume in the Treaty of London of 1915.23 At that time Russia advocated the creation of two nationalities of Slavs which would each require an economic outlet on the Adriatic Sea; one of these was to have consisted, roughly speaking, of the catholic Slavs, of which Croatia would have furnished the major region with Fiume as its port; the other, [Page 443] consisting of southern Slavs including Servia, was to have its ports in the Southern Adriatic.

Changed Situation. Today, however, the readjustment of European nationalities is proposed in quite a different combination, providing for the creation of a united Jugo-Slav state, to which the possession of Fiume is no longer essential as an outlet in the Adriatic; the proposed Jugo-Slav state, which will include Croatia, will possess an abundance of other ports in this same sea, notably Spalato and Cattaro, which will be more than sufficient to care for all the commercial needs toward which the most sanguine Jugo-Slav can aspire. It would seem, therefore, to be no longer necessary to violate the great national principle of ethnography in the case of Fiume. This is the point of view of the vast majority of the inhabitants of Fiume, who protest against being sacrificed without reason to what they claim can now be considered only as Jugo-Slav imperialism. Their spokesman is the delegate plenipotentiary of the city of Fiume, Doctor Gino Antoni, who after an interview with the Italian Prime Minister Orlando has sent out through him the following note to the Governments of the Allies:

“I beg Your Excellency to communicate and explain to the Governments of the Allies the following declarations.

At this moment of its liberation from the Hungarian Government the City of Fiume with its territory, which for centuries by statutory right has constituted a corpus separatum of the crown of Santo Stefano, declares through its legitimate representatives—the municipality and the national council—its own autonomy and independence.

And under the protection of that principle by which the future settlement of peoples must be made, according to the articles of the programme set forth by the President of the United States of America, namely the principle that each people is free to dispose of its own destinies, Fiume has determined to unite herself to her Mother Country, Italy.

At the same time she demands from the Italian Government that during the present period of transition there be afforded to Fiume the protection necessary to effectively safeguard her institutions and her national rights.”

Doctor Antoni received his mandate as plenipotentiary of Fiume by solemn vote of the municipality and of the national council of the city, and his credentials have been accepted by the Italian Prime Minister Orlando. Subsequently on November 13, in company with Doctor Antonio Vio, mayor of Fiume, Andrea Bellen, ex-vice-mayor of Fiume, and several other notabilities of the city he has been officially received in Campidoglio by Prince Colonna, mayor of Rome. On this occasion Mayor Vio made the following declaration—referring to the Roman origin of Fiume:

“Mr. Mayor. The Wolf which nursed Romulus and Remus gave life also to our Fiume, now reborn to liberty. Upon the Campidoglio [Page 444] I repeat our oath: Fiume shall be Italian. Let this oath sworn by us before the Mayor of Rome be our oath sworn before Italy and before the World.”

Mayor Colonna replied: “Your oath solemnly pronounced here in Campidoglio, before Rome and before Italy, I receive with the heart and faith of an Italian and a Roman, confident in the justice of the rights of nationality, which the blood shed on the fields of battle render[s] today sacred and inviolable for all civilized nations.”

Juridical Position of Fiume. These firm and passionate declarations of the population of Fiume at this critical hour gain additional significance when viewed in the light of the city’s history. The origin of Fiume (the ancient Tarsatica) dates from the times of the Roman Empire and marks the eastern boundary of Roman Italy, as is shown by a vallum of which the ruins still remain. The city and its territory have never belonged integrally to Croatia, and only for nineteen years, from 1848 to 1867, were they subjected forcibly against their will to Croatian domination. In 1766 Fiume, which was always a libero comune italiano (from 1526 a free port) was annexed by the Empress Maria Theresa to Hungary through Croatia; but only three years later, in consequence of fiery protests from the inhabitants of Fiume, the imperial diploma of annexation was modified to the effect that Fiume be annexed directly to Hungary as corpus separatum; and as such, almost as a state within a state, the city has remained until this present day,* when at last it has been able to break every connection with Hungary, and declare itself entirely independent (October 30, 1918).

Revolution. The events of the past few days have been rapid and dramatic. During the night of October 28 the Hungarian authorities fled from Fiume. On the morning of the 30th. a Croatian government established itself at Fiume taking possession of the city in the name of the National Council of Zagabria which three days before had arbitrarily declared Fiume an inalienable part of the new Jugo-Slav state (without Fiume’s consent). On that same day the Italians of Fiume in open revolt against the Croatian government [Page 445] that had been imposed upon them, issued the following Proclamation announcing the voluntary annexation of the city to the Kingdom of Italy. This Proclamation was prepared on the 29th. by a National Italian Committee consisting of 250 citizens representing all parties and all classes; on the 30th. it was approved in solemn session by the municipality and that afternoon acclaimed by a monster procession (estimated at 20,000 people) which paraded the streets carrying Italian banners:

Proclamation: “The Italian National Council of Fiume, assembled this day in full session, declares that by that right through the exercise of which all peoples have risen to national independence and liberty, the City of Fiume which has hitherto been a corpus separatum constituting a national Italian commune, now assumes the peoples’ right of auto-decision.

Basing its action upon this right the National Council hereby proclaims Fiume united to the Mother Country, Italy.

The Italian Council considers as provisional the condition of affairs which dates from October 29, 1918, and places its decision under the protection of America, mother of liberty, awaiting the sanction of Fiume’s action by the Peace Congress.

For the National Council of Fiume

Fiume, October 30, 1918.

The Executive Committee:

Dott. Antonio Grossich, Dott. Silvino Gigante, Giovanni Schittar, Dott. Elpidio Springhetti, Adolfo Gotthardi, Dott. Salvatore Bellasich, Annibale Blau, Francesco Codrich, Dott. Lionello Lenaz, Dott. Isidoro Garofolo. [”]

This Proclamation was issued, it should be borne in mind, before the completion of Italy’s great victories over the armies of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It was carried to Trieste overland by patriots of Fiume at great personal risk, and from Trieste to Venice by these same men by sea under cannon fire.

At the urgent request brought by these Fiumani a small Italian naval squadron under Admiral Renier left Venice at once for Fiume with orders to “protect Italians and the interests of Italy”. This squadron has since remained in the port of Fiume, while Jugo-Slav troops occupy the city. The situation is very strained; the Italian flag has been insulted by the Slavs, but afterward saluted by them under pressure from the Italian admiral; the Jugo-Slav flag has been torn down by the Fiumani, and then raised again with proper honors. Both Italians and Slavs, conscious of the fact that the eyes of the world are fixed upon all such delicate international situations as theirs, and that acts of violence and indiscretion will prejudice the future claims of those who commit them, are both making strenuous efforts at moderation—efforts for the continuation of which every care should be exercised.

[Page 446]

Population. Twenty years ago eighty per cent, of the population of Fiume and its territory was Italian. In 1912, according to Hungarian statistics, which certainly do not err in favor of Italy, fifty-eight per cent, of the population was Italian, namely 30,000 in a population of 52,000; of the remaining forty-two per cent. 7,000 were Hungarians, 13,000 Slavs (namely Croatians, Servians, Slovenes and Slovaks) and 2,000 of miscellaneous nationalities.

In 1880 the Hungarians numbered but 379; the recent rapid increase in their numbers has been largely due to the importation of government employees, and to the adoption of various other artificial means to which the Hungarian government had recourse in its efforts to Hungarianize the city. The Hungarians in Fiume are not a stable but a shifting population.

The Slav population is also in very considerable part a growth of recent years, particularly of the last ten years. The Slavs are employed largely in the menial occupations, being longshore-men, cab-drivers, servants, unskilled workmen, etc. But very few of them vote in the elections (perhaps one hundred in all); many of them have not taken out papers of citizenship; hardly any have an interest in civic affairs; the Slavs feel and represent little indeed of the civic life of Fiume.

Language. The language generally spoken in the city is Italian—the accent resembling the Venetian. Both Hungarian and Slav inhabitants of Fiume are for the most part bilinguists and speak Italian.

Economic Considerations. The economic life of Fiume is vigorous and rapidly increasing: in 1911 its port imports amounted to 184,928,228 crowns in value, and its exports to 185,884,954 crowns. Of the exports a value of 25,945,751 crowns went to Italy, that is an amount more than double that sent to any other country. In imports Italy stood third on Fiume’s list, being surpassed by the East Indies and the United States.

In contrast with these figures are those of Croatia’s portion of the total commercial transactions of Fiume—imports and exports together; in 1912 Croatia’s portion amounted to only four per cent. of the total.

A very important commercial consideration in the future destiny of Fiume is that of its rivalry with Trieste. If both cities are held by the same country this rivalry can be justly regulated to the advantage of the two ports themselves and to the hinterland which they both serve, namely to German Austria, Bohemia, Hungary and the Jugo-Slavs. But if they are held by two different states, a commercial war between them, with differential railway rates etc. will be inevitable and permanent, and will be a source of future international [Page 447] irritation. The two cities have been well described as being from an economic point of view, one and indivisible.

Island of Veglia. With the destiny of Fiume is bound up that of the Island of Veglia, with which its local commerce is closely associated, and of which the population is 86 per cent. Italian.

  1. Great Britain, Cmd. 671, Misc. No. 7 (1920): Agreement Between France, Russia, Great Britain and Italy, Signed at London, April 26, 1915.
  2. According to the preamble of the Statuto signed in 1872: “Until the relations between the internal administration of the city, of the port and of the district of Fiume (separatum sacrae regni coronae corpus) shall be definitely regulated by a law framed for the purpose, the present Statuto shall remain in force.” The law contemplated was never agreed upon and the Statuto therefore continued to hold until October 1918.

    Paragraph 3 of the Statuto provided that: “Since Fiume forms a separate corpus annexed to the crown of Santo Stefano, its boundaries can be altered only by a law to which Fiume shall first give its adhesion.”

    Paragraph 127 provided that: “The present Statuto shall be revised or modified only with the knowledge of the representatives of the free city of Fiume and of its district.”

    The juridical position of Fiume as a corpus separatum is therefore beyond all question. Statuto delta libera città di Fiume e del suo distretto. Fiume, Emidio Mohovich, 1872. [Footnote in the original.]