A Blood Border: Trieste between Mussolini and Tito

Luisa Morettin
Dean of the Faculty of Politics and International Relations, NC Italian University London, United Kingdom

Series: Political Science and History
BISAC: POL058000




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Venezia Giulia is a small border region that stretches over Italy, Slovenia and Croatia. For centuries its capital city, Trieste, was a multicultural place whose inhabitants shared a pragmatic mercantilism. However, dormant tensions, especially between Italians and Slavs, emerged powerfully towards the end of the Hapsburg rule when the idea of nationalism gained ground and was later fully exploited by Italian fascism.

After Italy’s Armistice in September 1943, and again in May 1945, Venezia Giulia became a no man’s land where the competing forces of fascism and communism fought a pitched struggle. It was the last battle of the Second World War and the first of the Cold War: the much sought-after stakes were Trieste and Venezia Giulia where the violence unleashed was beyond brutal.

Some of the most terrifying episodes of this story are linked to the Karst landscape of the region, which is studded with foibe, deep cone-shaped pits excavated by water in the limestone rock. During the period of Yugoslav partisan rule in the area, thousands of Italians were thrown inside these pits. Some were killed beforehand, others were dumped alive and left to rot in the chasms. However, such events were sharply contested by Marshal Josep Broz Tito and still are by left-wing sympathisers, sparking intense debate over the truth. Was this simply revenge for Italy’s attempts to erase the Slav identity of the Slovene minority in Venezia Giulia? Was it just self-defence for the 1941 fascist invasion of Yugoslavia? Were all Italians fascists and all Slavs communists?

By drawing on Anglo-American documents, this powerful study challenges decades of selective rhetoric about the rendition of events, leading the reader through the process by which the foibe killings became possible. Rather than focusing on the minutiae of the ongoing debate, the book reduces the story to a modern territorial contest: two nations, one land. A Blood Border is a nuanced and detailed account of Mussolini’s and Tito’s manoeuvres to redraw borders in blood, in order to achieve maximum territorial expansion where to impose their ideology. The history of this brutal time also analyses the reaction of the Allied troops present in the area. The result is a vivid and often disturbing account of facts, where Luisa Morettin convincingly portrays a border region in a moment of historical transformation.
(Imprint: Nova)

List of Illustrations

List of Maps



Guide to Pronunciation of Slavic Terms

Chapter 1. Contended Spaces

Chapter 2. The Interwar Years

Chapter 3. Yugoslavia: War and Occupation

Chapter 4. A Journey into Darkness

Chapter 5. The Boundary Issue

Chapter 6.

Chapter 7.


"Massacres deserve to be commemorated, even if they were carried out as a measure of revenge. Yet when commemorating the civilians brutally murdered in the context of larger wars, accusations have often been made that such commemorations serve the exculpation of similar acts by one’s own side. Of course two wrongs don’t make a right, and yet both during and after the Second World War in particular, the argument et tu has often been used as though it did. Historians thus walk a tightrope when they seek to commemorate the dead, as they need to avoid the impression that theirs is a unilateral account. Luisa Morettin does a magnificent job here: her research not only brings back into our conscience the many (mostly civilian) victims of the foibe killings in Yugoslav-occupied frontier areas of Italy at the end of World War II, but also contextualizes them honestly in a much larger picture. This is not only one of preceding Italian atrocities committed in Yugoslavia during the war itself, but also a story of the brutalization throughout the “Bloodlands” of Europe (Timothy Snyder). As this very detailed study demonstrates, these Bloodlands were not just confined to the East, but also spread to the Mediterranean, all the way to Venezia Giulia, Istria and Dalmatia." - Professor D.B.G. Heuser, Chair of International Relations, Politics & International Relations, University of Glasgow, Scotland

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