Kobarid is a town located in the Upper Soča Valley in western Slovenia along the border with Italy. This border area is historically important because the famous Battle of Caporetto (the Italian name for Kobarid) took place there during the First World War between the Italian and Austrian-Hungarian armies. After the war ended in 1918, the city was annexed by Italy and became a part of the Italian state in 1920. Thus, the population went through a strong program of italianization during the fascist period.
This place is also important because of the work of TIGR, an anti-fascist organization, which is said to have been the first to exist in Europe. German forces took control in Kobarid between 1943 and 1945 until the town was liberated by the Yugoslav army. From 1947 to 1991 the town belonged to the socialist Republic of Slovenia within Titoist Yugoslavia, and since 1991 it has been part of the independent Republic of Slovenia. It is impossible not to notice that today Kobarid is a vivid tourist destination, rich not only in its history but also in its natural beauty.
Official web page of the municipality of Kobarid: http://www.kobarid.si
Official web page of the musem of Kobarid: http://www.kobariski-muzej.si
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On the second day of our study trip we have a two-hour bus ride ahead of us, from Trieste to Kobarid, Slovenia. Therefore, we are already leaving the hostel at 7.30 am. For the majority of the group this was very early, but three of the German students got up at 5.30 to go for a run along the coast…
Kobarid – a little town which is otherwise famous for outdoor sports such as rafting, hiking or mountain biking – lies in a valley. The bus driver has troubles going through the narrow roads while everyone on the bus is already astonished by the high mountain skyline surrounding the village. Our first place of interest for the day is the museum of Kobarid, which was founded in 1990 by seven private persons – local enthusiasts whose aim was to keep the rich cultural memories and heritage of this area alive, as well as to remember the casualties of World War I by reminding people of the events. There were a total of 12 battles fought along the 18 km long Soča/Isonzofront between the Italian and the Austro-Hungarian army. The twelfth and final battle that took place on October 24th 1917 around Kobarid (Caporetto) is considered to be the most important one. In fact, the entire operation, containing elements of Blitzkrieg, is one of the greatest military campaigns in the Julish Alps during World War even though the border between the two armies stayed relatively stable throughout the years of fighting.
After viewing a short movie depicting these exact historical events, the group is guided through various rooms of the museum, each having a special topic. There are no signs in the “Black Room” dedicated to the memory of all the casualties because the photographs there speak for themselves. The estimated number of fallen soldiers varies heavily from 250,000 to one million, while it is generally assumed that there were approximately 1.2 million victims on both sides in total (including the dead, the wounded, the missing, and those suspected of desertion). The remaining exhibition signs, however, are displayed in German, English, Slovenian and Italian in order to be accessible for many visitors with different language backgrounds.
Thanks to a large scale model of the territory in one of the rooms, it is easier to understand the actions and strategies of the soldiers, as well as the overall happenings in the Julish Alps during the years of war. Many of the soldiers did not die directly in war battles but rather due to circumstances brought on by the natural weather conditions in the mountains such as avalanches during the severe winters or rain, fog and thunderstorms throughout the rest of the year. Temperatures could drop down to minus 50 degrees and there could easily fall up to 5-6 meters of snow during the winters of 1915-1918. Whereas the Italians had a well-trained mountain troop called the Alpini whose equipment included climbing irons and snow-shoes, the Austro-Hungarian soldiers would put on every piece of clothing they had in order to keep warm. At that time military forces in general were not yet prepared for these kinds of extreme circumstances. Additionally, there were serious diseases like cholera or typhus which caused death when left untreated. All these troubles made the terrain unpredictable and thus extremely dangerous and often fatal.
Furthermore, the 29 months of fighting resulted in severe hunger and exhaustion, which caused even more deaths. The average soldier only weighed 52 kg. This information shocked most of our students. We tried to imagine that soldiers had to transport heavy wagons, artillery and all the other items on over 2000m high mountains. Both armies used cable cars, mules and horses to transfer this equipment and actually carved lots of paths in the mountains that are still visible today. This is unbelievable and also frightening. Questions were very welcome throughout the entire museum visit. One of the students asked whether the civil population was harmed in the valley areas. This was not the case since there was no civil population left in the mountain regions due to evacuations. As a result, the inhabitants were sent to refugee camps where they lived during the war. They nevertheless lost all of their belongings – a tragedy in and of itself.
The First World War was the very first war where chemical weapons were used. In the case of the twelfth battle near Kobarid this consisted of poison gas. The military commanders used it as a combat multiplier instead of relying on chemical weapons alone to win the battle against the Italian army. In this case, the six German divisions that joined the nine Austrian divisions successfully deployed chemical weapons in combination with more conventional forces against unprepared troops. Furthermore, simple gas masks and regular uniforms did not provide any protection against the gas attacks because the filters were destroyed and soldiers suffocated immediately. These details already give a hint as to the brutality of these battles. Due to the before-mentioned circumstances, soldiers were often portrayed as heroes because they withstood death or died in a tragic way for their country.
Moreover, there exist many photographs from the front which were mainly taken by military reporters. Even more remarkable is that we even saw photos of Italian and Austro-Hungarian soldiers who spent their free time or important holidays together in peace, playing games such as soccer or lifting weights before fighting against each other again the following day.
As we have been told before, the museum won the museum prize of the Council of Europe in 1993. Therefore, our expectations were very high, and in our opinion the museum absolutely meets these expectations of being an objective and educational institution which puts the descriptive details together in an honorable and effective way. Asking the tour guide, he said that the museum today is supposed to be a meeting place for all nations that fought in the First World War in order to promote everlasting peace and to unite these nations which once were divided. Moreover, he emphasized that people of every single nation come to this place and that there are many emotions attached to it, although Italians and Hungarians are the most passionate with their commemoration.
During an approximately three-hour long history and adventure lesson hiking through the forests and mountains near Kobarid, we gained a sense of the terrain and – at least to some extent – the difficulties soldiers had to endure going up and down these paths. It was a twisted feeling to see the breathtaking nature – a hanging bridge over the amazing cyan colored Soča River, the beautiful Kozjak waterfall, the limestone caves and some deep gorges – and to simultaneously contemplate the cruelties that happened there almost 100 years ago...
After this quite exhausting walk, which we all enjoyed very much, we went on the bus to visit the monument and fallen soldier’s graveyard in Log pod Mangartom ...
Grumpy morning! What was supposed to be just a bier with Pajo turned into just another bier with everyone and after arriving at the hostel it turned into just five more minutes and I’ll go to bed as soon as Prof. Vanni plays another song! But Prof. Vanni never finished a single song…Our breakfast was set to last from 7:30 to 9:00, but I ended up eating and getting ready (simultaneously!) at half past eight! Hurrying through the hallway, Nela told me Martina, Martin and a couple of other German colleagues went for a swim at 5 AM and some had a morning run – some both! I suppose my “morning run” happened last night while trying to make it into the hostel before it closed…
Partially refreshed and well armed with coffee-to-go, I caught the bus for Kobarid 15 minutes early. Pajo was there so we made a bet on how much our empty bus weighs. The bus driver judged in my favor saying it weighs 14 tons! I also found out our bus driver has a license to drive every vehicle besides a rocket and an airplane! This made me feel as snug as a bug during the two hour drive to Kobarid. I slept through most of the drive and woke up in what seemed a fairy land! The Alps stretching high into the blue sky made me feel a religious admiration for Mother Nature! Following the Soča River, I suddenly saw a tiny church on the top of the lowest mountain (and the lowest mountain is ever so high in the Alps). Everything was green and shiny and a few dusty clouds allowed the sun to shine partially here and there, creating a truly divine scene. I even thought to myself how a landscape like this makes you require nothing at all… My romantic imaginings were soon to proven to be the naiveties of a bookworm!
Our tour guide Nejc Šerbec was ready and waiting for us in front of the Kobarid museum. The museum was founded in 1990. It serves as a reminder of events and for preserving the cultural heritage of WWI. First, we saw a documentary in the museum facility telling us what we were about to see. We then followed Nejc through several rooms that contained artifacts from the war. Among these were doors that enclosed the prisoners with inscriptions Fabian had translated for us. What surprised me was one inscription Fabian read: it was not at all about being cold, imprisoned or miserable, or even about tender feelings for home and family… The Unknown Soldier wrote that he and his fellow inmates were well taken care of, and provided with food, water and blankets. It thus reflects the story of a man who in hardship thanks his enemies for being humane. I later saw a weird looking shovel with a sharpened edge. My crew having left, I asked the Spanish tour guide what it was. She said that because the snow in the mountains was frequently above the level of an average person, tunnels had to be made through the snow. In case a soldier encountered an enemy soldier during the digging of a tunnel, this shovel was designed as a tool and a weapon at the same time. This gave me the chills! Under this freezing impression, I followed my crew mechanically, thinking only of the two soldiers I came to know about: the prisoner and the one lost in the tunnel.
Kobarid museum is a place best visited through several tours rather than just one day; only then might I have a vague idea about the conditions of WWI on the hills of Kobarid.
After the museum, we visited the Kobarid ossuary and from there went for a walk along Soča River, finishing at a magnificent waterfall cave. At one stop Nejc, who is also an alpinist, pointed to the hills and said: When we climb these hills today, we carry a maximum of 5 kilo – everything more is too much. These soldiers had to carry a minimum of 35 kilo up the mountain and sometimes they carried a 60 kilo cannon, think about it!
The rest of the trip watched the mountains thinking only of that third soldier climbing them…
I was not completely recovered from my dazedness until lunch hour.
We then set course to Log pod Mangartom.
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My topic of interest in the following essay is the Soča Front, especially the Kobarid valley, where the twelfth and final battle of the Isonzo took place in October of 1917. The entire Soča area is so rich with memories because of the historical happenings of World War I. It is very impressive to see how these condensed memories are still portrayed in recent times and what influence the happenings in this region still have for today’s population and their identity.
Thus, I will not get into details concerning the history of events because they can easily be found in various history books. Instead, I will discuss the specifics and particular features of the Soča mountain region that led to the passionate remembrance of the fallen soldiers on both the Austro-Hungarian as well as the Italian side. This includes pointing out what difficulties soldiers had to encounter during the war in the average 2.000 meter high mountains as well as showing how uniquely the Austro-Hungarian army was organized. Furthermore, the museum in Kobarid (German: Karfreit; Italian: Caporetto) as well as the monument and soldiers’ graveyard in Log pod Mangartom (German: Log östlich Mesnjak; Italian: Bretto) serve as effective examples of how cultural memories are represented today.
To better understand the actions and strategies during the years of war it is very important to know that many of the soldiers did not die directly in war situations – being killed or injured by their respective enemies – but rather due to natural weather conditions in the high mountains. This included avalanches or snow storms during the severe winters or the effects of rain, fog and thunderstorms throughout the rest of the year (Kobarid Museum, 2012). In the winters of 1915-1918 there could easily fall up to five or six meters of fresh snow and temperatures could drop down to minus 50 degrees (Jordan, 2008, p. 287), what in history books is often referred to as “The White Death” (Jordan, 2008, p. 293). The main fighting places in the Julian Alps were, after all, the Krn and the Rombon mountains, among others (Wachtler, 2005, p. 13).
All these troubles made the terrain sheer unpredictable and, accordingly, extremely dangerous and sometimes fatal. Whereas the Italians had a well-trained and well-equipped mountain troop, the Austro-Hungarian and German soldiers, on the contrary, were less adapted because they were not used to mountain terrain (Jordan, 2008, p. 331). In addition, there were serious diseases like cholera, dysentery or typhus breaking out that would cause death if left untreated (Zecha, 2001, p. 411). At that time, military forces in general were not yet prepared for these kinds of extreme circumstances and inhuman conditions which worsened the situation (Jordan, 2008, p. 310). In particular, the 29 months of fighting resulted in acute hunger and exhaustion (Jordan, 2008, p. 298), with the average soldier weighing only a shocking 52 kilograms (Kobarid Museum, 2012).
Remarkable, in my opinion, is the multi-ethnic composition of the Austro-Hungarian army during World War I. The statistics say that of one thousand soldiers about one third spoke German (248 people), another one third Hungarian (233), and then, in descending order, Czech (126), Croatian/Serbian/Bosnian (92), Polish (79), Ukrainian (78), Romanian (70), Slovakian (36), Slovenian (25) and Italian (13) (Fabi, 2001, p. 423). As can be seen by these figures, the soldiers did not speak one identical language and the army was composed of or rather split into many different nationalities, which means that they subordinated their individual identity with the greater common good of fighting as one military force against their enemies.
The First World War was the very first war where chemical weapons were used. In the case of the twelfth battle near Kobarid it was poison gas that was launched as a surprise attack at 2 AM to paralyze the enemies (Svoljšak, 2009, p. 98). “The military commanders used [it] as a combat multiplier added to sound military tactics instead of relying on chemical weapons alone to win the battle” against the Italian army (Mauroni, 2007, p. 194). So, in this case, “the use of chemical weapons combined with conventional forces against unprepared troops resulted in a successful offensive operation” for the six German divisions that joined the nine Austro-Hungarian divisions (Mauroni, 2007, p. 194-95). Simple gas masks as well as regular uniforms did not provide any protection against the gas attacks because the filters were destroyed and the Italian soldiers suffocated immediately (Zecha, 2001. p. 413). These details already give a hint to how brutal the battles were. Because of the before-mentioned circumstances, soldiers were often portrayed as heroes because they withstood death, died in a tragic way and hence sacrificed their lives for their country.
It is totally natural that eyewitnesses, injured persons or surviving family members of fallen soldiers might suppress their traumatic experiences in the first years after the war, as if such drastic mental or physical pain never existed (Verginella, 2010, p. 88). In fact, it took quite some years until written reports or letters of (former) eyewitnesses appeared that gave historians and other researchers the chance to reconstruct the circumstances of the war and its manifold effects on the local population who were not directly involved in the war.
Only in the 1990’s and 2000’s were many monuments, history paths and museums established to portray some kind of collective memory in remembrance of the fallen soldiers, and in the same way, to promote peace between the nations having been involved in World War I. Newer attempts of coping with the Soča Front history often work with photographs mainly taken by military reporters during the war. Moreover, multimedia materials such as movies or presentations are used to convey meaning because they basically speak for themselves and thereby touch people in a deeper way than words alone could.
A very good example for contemporary commemoration is the museum in Kobarid which was founded in 1990 by seven private persons – local enthusiasts whose aim it was to keep the rich cultural memories and heritage of this area alive, as well as to remember the casualties of World War I by reminding people of the events in an honorable way. The museum is, for this purpose, not affiliated with the Slovenian or any other government and thus does not act as a political monument. This has been a central question for me in evaluating the institution. Displayed in the museum are, among various other things, items found along the 18km long Soča Front that are valorized and charged up with certain emotive memories. In total, the memories are not personal memories, but those of a collective number of eyewitnesses.
The battles of the Isonzo did not only affect the soldiers, but also the common people living in this region. While civil population was not directly harmed due to previous evacuations and migrations, this still left a sharp cut in their lives because often those evacuations happened “in great haste and without prior notice” (Svoljšak, 2009, p. 102). As a result, the inhabitants stayed alive, but were mostly sent straight to refugee camps and lost all of their belongings they left behind (Kobarid Museum, 2012). It took a long time before they could return to their home towns, if at all, – a fact which forms a central part of their identity and memory. The Slovenian population living “within 500m of the operational zone of the Soča Front” was removed in advance for their own safety by Italian military authorities (Svoljšak, 2009, p. 102).
According to our guide, the Kobarid museum is supposed to be a meeting place for all nations having fought in the First World War in order to promote everlasting peace and unity between those nations that were once divided. Moreover, he emphasized that every single nation comes to this place and that there are many emotions attached to it, although Italians and Hungarians are the most passionate with their commemoration. The quote “The battle of Caporetto occupied a curious position in post-war Italian memory and debate” (Wilcox, 2008, p. 46) indicates that thinking about and dealing with the war defeat played and still plays an essential role in the formation of an Italian identity and that it is a highly emotional matter for them. This is also the reason why, politically, it was easier to eliminate the “inglorious, and perhaps embarrassing” (Schindler, 201l, p. xiii) war defeat out of the collective memory and to remember the fighting as a victory instead (Wilcox, 2008, p. 51).
Another effective example of how cultural memories are being restored today is the monument and soldiers’ graveyard in Log pod Mangartom, just about 30km north of Kobarid and only approximately seven kilometers from the Italian border. The monument in the center of the peaceful cemetery was built in 1917 and represents two soldiers looking towards the mountains, where the fights happened and “where most of the soldiers buried [t]here were killed in fierce battles”, as it says on the entrance sign to the cemetery. One of the sculptured soldiers represents a Bosnian soldier; they were generally considered the cruelest worriers – but also the toughest and bravest – especially after the battle of Kobarid (Grdina and Luthar, 2010, p. 25).
More than 800 Austro-Hungarian soldiers in total, both of Muslim and Christian faith, were buried behind the local graveyard from the end of the battle of Kobarid (1917) onwards. The Christian graves are marked with crosses whereas the Muslim burial places are indicated by notches. These different tombstones, once again, serve as an illustration for the multi-ethnic, multi-religious and generally heterogeneous composition of the Austro-Hungarian army. Sabine Rutar added that she was very fascinated by the fact that the separation between Muslim and Christian faith was only promoted after death. When she visited the Log pod Mangartom cemetery in 2007, there were solely Christian crosses present – even for Bosniak victims. So within the last few years the Christian crosses on the Bosniak graves were replaced with the characteristic Muslim notches; it took almost 100 years after the First World War for the distinction of faith to be granted importance.
Nowadays, the local government as well as a number of associations take care of the impressive graveyard and it is open for all kinds of people who want to remember the fallen soldiers. There is great interest in keeping the local memories and myths alive for future generations and, clearly, the local population also supports this idea. For me, the cemetery is also evidence of patriotism and national pride because the soldiers died a heroic death. The people are aware of the history in the mountains. It belongs to their cultural memory and turning the former fighting places into silent centers for encounters between different nations is an excellent way of dealing with a burdensome history.
In conclusion, the rich cultural memories of the Soča region are still very important for today’s population. After decades of silencing the traumatic war memories, there has been a shift since the 2000’s to pass these memories on to future generations and to display them publicly, “for study, tourist and educational purposes” (Press Release 1). This includes talking about details such as the natural circumstances of the mountain region as well as the features of the army. Institutions like the Kobarid museum or the monument and soldier’s graveyard in Log pod Mangartom are special places for grieving and for remembering the fallen heroes. Additionally, those associations promote peace and help to make history part of the population’s collective identity instead of something to deny.
One example of a very recent development is the following event: Just a couple of days after our visit in Log pod Mangartom, a new memorial, specifically remembering the mostly Muslim soldiers from Bosnia and Herzegovina, was inaugurated at the graveyard. An impressive opening ceremony and speech marked the occasion. President Danilo Türk of Slovenia, as well as the Bosniak and Croat members of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Link), Bakir Izetbegović and Željko Komšić, were all part of this memorial ceremony. They stressed that it is important to not only reflect upon historical happenings, but also to pave the way for a future Europe of permanent peace. Apparently, more ethical remembrance projects are planned to combine the area around Log pod Mangartom into an even greater region of commemoration for the 100th anniversary of World War I (Press Release 2).
Communicative memory vs. cultural memory
The aim of this small investigation is to show the discrepancy between communicative and cultural memories and their impact on the building and maintaining of social identities in the Italo-Yugoslav border region, particularly with respect to its special case of the towns Gorizia and Nova Gorica. The split between historical factuality, every day narrative and specific role of forgetting and selecting in the sphere of cultural memory may be very important to answer the question: Why are imagined boundaries between Gorizia and Nova Gorica still more important than the real obstacles? (1)
On Thursday evening – the 20th of December 2007 – thousands of Italians and Slovenians in Gorizia and Nova Gorica celebrated the fall of barriers between their towns when Slovenia became part of the Schengen zone. (2)
The city of Gorizia celebrated the event just like Berlin in 1989 – celebrating its reunification. No barrier will ever again divide Gorizia and Nova Gorica, the Slovenian city created from parts of Gorizia in 1947 under Yugoslav communism. (3)
Slovenia’s accession to the Schengen Area brought a short-lived feeling of euphoria to the border region of Gorizia/Nova Gorica. It was a theme of interpretations in the local press and high on the European political agenda, however this euphoria lasted only a few days and left no major changes in the region.
Once mentioned on Slovenia’s biggest multimedia portal “www.rtvslo.si” it was never again the subject of discussions. The non-governmental association “Babel International” that publishes the European magazine “cafebabel.com” released an article about Gorizia/Nova Gorica only some three weeks later on the 9th of January 2008. It’s worth a mention in this context that “Babel International” promotes European public opinion and an active European citizenship.
The irony of these articles was that writing about the Iron Curtain and the Great Hour of the European history they didn’t mention the most open boundary in Eastern Europe during the Communist Era in Yugoslavia and the fact that only few connections were made between these two towns in spite of this openness. These two towns did not come closer together even after 1991 when Slovenia gained independence or even after 2004 when the country joined the European Union. (4)
The indifference of Italian citizens towards the little known town of Nova Gorica and the fears of their Slovenian counterparts to face the dominant Italian rival and oppressor again were hidden behind the common euphoria.
The village of Gorizia was first mentioned under its Slavic name Gorica in 1001. In 1514 the settlement came under the dominion of the Habsburgs. Gorizia transformed into a multi-ethnic town as a trade centre during the 16th century, in which Slavic, Romance and Germanic idioms were spoken. During the 19th century it was under Austro-Hungarian imperial administration. Between 1918 and 1943 it was a part of the Kingdom of Italy. The partisans controlled Gorizia for the brief intermezzo during 1943 before it was occupied by Nazi Germany and was incorporated into the Operational Zone Adriatic Littoral. After again briefly coming under the control of Yugoslav partisans in May and June 1945, the administration was transferred to the Allied Military Government consisting of both British and American troops until 1947. It has been part of Italy again since 1947. (5)
Relations between the Allied Military Government and Slovene population of Gorizia worsened gradually during 1946. In autumn of 1946 occurred a number of demonstrations of the Slovenes, which were accompanied by repressive measures against them: the National House in Gorizia was closed on the 8th of November 1946 followed by the Slovene school closure in Miren on 16th of December 1946. (6)
The town was finally divided into two parts: Italy obtained the main part of Gorizia, which a significant Slovene minority. The Yugoslav parts included only the suburbs of Salcano/Solkan and San Pietro/Šempeter, but also the transalpine train station Monte Santo and hydroelectric power stations on the Isonzo/Soča.
The new boundary disconnected some old traffic roads; divided fields and gardens, houses and even graves. The old Gorizia lost about a fifth of its territory and population.
The Yugoslav areas had no urban centre and Yugoslav authorities decided to build a new town named Nova Gorica. Its symbolic (re)foundation took place on the 13th of June 1948. (7)
Nova Gorica was originally planned as a garden city and as a symbol of Yugoslav superiority and progressiveness. Nova Gorica was built to be proudly shown to Italy and Italians in Gorizia – a modern new town for a better new life in Yugoslavia. The red star on top of the roof of the transalpine train station was immediately visible from the Italian side of the border. Thus, the old Piazza della Transalpina was the centre of symbolic division and rivalry between italianità and Jugoslovenstvo.
Impact on the building of social identities
Social identities play a crucial role in the processes of defining and redefining personal belonging to a group and the others that are not members of this group. Therefore, national and ethnic sentiments are an integral part of social identities. Many different components and levels only emphasize the multi-layered character of social identities with possible overlapping and contradicting roles. In different contexts some components may become as puncta salientia additional significance. (8) It is worth a mention that it has no great importance whether the social identity of individuals or groups is a matter of a conscious choice or if it is predestined by biological, familiar or other social structural conditions. (9)/(10)
Social identities have a significant influence over the communicative memories in the area of Italian-Yugoslav border.
This border area including Gorizia from the 19th century onwards experienced the rise of Italian and Slavic nationalism and processes of ethnicizing of the entire population. According to the Austrian-Hungarian census of 1880, there were spoken three languages in the town of Gorizia: 13.500 speakers of Italian, 3.400 speakers of Slovenian, and 2.150 speakers of German. Suburban areas were dominated by Slovenian speakers (58.200). (11)
Gorizia was severely affected by World War I. The front lines remained close to the town for the duration of the whole war. Under the Italian monarchy the policies of Italianization instigated further inter-ethnic tensions and harassment. Italian authorities tried to establish heroic post-war narratives, but these attempts weren’t successful among the Slovene population. On the 4th of November 1920 the Slovene newspaper Goriška straža noted that Slovenes were denied the most basic necessities of life. (12)
After World War II the boundary between Italy and Yugoslavia was disputed. Slovenes approached this dispute from a largely pro-Yugoslav perspective, while the the Italian and Furlan speaking population supported Italy. There were nonetheless a number of relatively small groups with divergent social identities within each community: Italian communists, Slovenes that had relatives in Italy, Yugoslav anti-communists, the italianised Slavic population, etc. Their influence, however, was very limited because of their numerical negligibility.
Many members of these groups perceived the events of the late 19th century, and especially both world wars and their aftermaths, in a different way: mainly, they viewed these events in a national light, and developped correspondingly different narratives. Thus, their memory and mental mapping were often strictly divided along national lines.
Discrepancy between communicative and cultural memory
Communicative memory includes those varieties of collective memory that are generally based on everyday communications and narratives. It functions as everyday oral history and has a significant impact on the building of social identities and vice versa.
Cultural memory develops some distance from everyday life: it has some fixed points, and it changes more slowly. It is maintained trough cultural formations (texts, monuments, rites). (13)
Over the last few years the Italian and Slovenian authorities have tried to establish an official narrative in the region within the framework of the European institutions and projects. (14) The Piazza della Transalpina is a new symbol of Europeanness for the divided towns, but even the naming of this place is still disputed: on the Slovenian side it is called Trg Evrope. Furthermore, this celebration of the region's Europeanness points decisively only to the future, while the historical past is to a considerable extent left in oblivion. On the other hand, public discourses in both towns celebrate predominantly their own past. Examples of the maintenance of the strict national differentiation are the street names in both towns: this difference serves as a boundary defining mechanism that simultaneously helps to form and to keep alive each group's own cultural memory.
…there aren’t so many towns with so many streets named after brigades, battalions, armies, heroes, martyrs, commanders and commandoes as in these two towns. The only difference is that in Gorizia there aren’t many from World War II, while in Nova Gorica there aren’t any from the World War I. In a way these two towns are still at war. (15)
The studies of the International Sociological Institute of Gorizia (1996, 2003) showed that Italian citizens are mainly indifferent towards developments in Nova Gorica while Slovenian citizens, although more interested in cooperation with Gorizia, indicate that Slovenes and Italians have different mentalities and that Slovenes in Gorizia still don’t have any rights. A revealing example of this discrepancy is the willingness to promote and support bilingualism or multilingualism in the area. According to Petra Cotič, the Slovene part is currently investing much more effort in supporting teaching of Italian at schools, while Italians in general do not learn Slovene. (16) Negative stereotypes about the neighbours are widespread amongst both Italians and Slovene groups, although such attitudes are often latent and can often be discovered during interviews only indirectly. (17) Obviously, the level of the Italian-Slovene alienation is deeper than it is shown in flowery newspaper reports.
Since 1947, the bondary between Italy and Yugoslavia was a place of active social exchange between Italian and Yugoslav/Slovene population in spite of tensions. But even since the declaration of Slovenian independence, there remains a visible prevalence of national narratives and stereotypes on both sides despite the openess that existed during communist rule in Yugoslavia and the current half-hearted cooperation between Gorizia and Nova Gorica.
The level of cooperation between Gorizia and Nova Gorica is lower than, for example, that between German Görlitz and Polish Zgorzelec. The openess of the Yugoslav era certainly suggested a more propitious outcome. (18)
Different perceptions of the virulent events of the last two centuries, and the maintenance of nationally oriented narratives in particular, may play a crucial role in segregating the area that was formerly united for over 1000 years. Both Italian and Slovene communities neglect their cultural closeness and common history in the region, instead constructing and maintainting cultural formations that represent them as distant nations. Thus cultural and communicative memories sustain their lasting effects on relations between Gorizia and Nova Gorica.
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