Patrizia Cacciani: On the border between Italy and Yugoslavia: Italian film newsreels and propaganda


Patrizia Cacciani, Luce historical archive, Rome

On May 10, 2023, the Slovenian Cinematheque in Ljubljana showed Italian film newsreels from the cycles "La settimana Incom" and "Mondo libero", kept by the Luce historical archive in Rome. The video material shown explores the border between Italy and Yugoslavia in the period between 1946 and 1953 with a special emphasis on the Trieste issue.

The same newsreels were also the subject of a previous retrospective in May 2022 at the EAST/WEST Border in Film and History conference in Trieste.

They showed eight works from the series of newsreels "La settimana Incom" from the period between 1946 and 1953 and one newsreel from the series "Mondo libero" from 1953. These are short works in the newsreel format with the exception of one about Pula, which is from 1947.

The content of the audio-visual heritage of the Luce historical archive is stored in a database that can be searched using three large search groups: anthroponyms, themes, and toponyms. These are further hierarchically arranged in search subgroups, e.g., the historical-political subgroup is subordinate to the thematic group. Even the international historical-time axis, for example in the search parameter "from the end of the war to the fall of the Soviet bloc (1945-1989)", has its own chronologically hierarchical arrangement for each country separately. Certainly, the case of Italy is better elaborated, for example in the case of the search term "Italy 1. Period of De Gasperi (1945-1953)", which appears when researching the period "Trieste issue". With an advanced search for topics using the keyword "Trieste issue", the website offers many film and photographic documents. In the sub-group film newsreels, we find 77 hits, among which the most are from "La settimana Incom", followed by "Mondo libero".

The analysis of the scenes and the audio commentary help us understand how non-fiction films had the function of a historical movement at the time of their production and how they carry the role of a historical-documentary source today. Therefore, it was expedient to analyze some of the contributions that were on display at the symposium. This selection corresponds perfectly to the time period when the Italian-Yugoslavian border was drawn. At the same time, national political propaganda dictates the topics shown.

From March 9 to April 5, 1946, an international commission was in Trieste to finally determine the state border. The aim was to study the ethnic composition of this territory and propose a new demarcation line. The first two contributions of "La settimana Incom", under serial numbers 7 and 8, which bear the publication dates of April 1 and 10, 1946, are related to the presence of the mentioned commission. Scenes of demonstrations in the streets are supported by an evocative audio commentary that talks about the homeland, the nation, and especially the Italian language.



The first De Gasperi government in Italy took measures that redrew the calendar. With the decree of April 22, 1946, April 25 was declared a national holiday, while May 1 was recognized as an international workers' holiday.

On May 1, 1945, Trieste was liberated by units of the 4th Army of the National Liberation Army of Yugoslavia. On July 3, 1946, the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union accepted the French proposal. According to the proposal, Tržič and Gorica belonged to Italy, while Trieste became a free territory under allied military authority. Istria and Dalmatia, on the other hand, belonged to Yugoslavia.

The date February 10, 1947 marked a crucial milestone. It was then that the Paris Peace Treaty was signed, which, among other things, divided the Goriška region. Italy lost Zadar and Pula. The treaty entered into force on September 15, 1947, but the Allies left the border line already in February of the same year. It is interesting that the unique edition of the newsreel "La settimana Incom" 46, under the title "Goodbye Pula", was broadcasted for the first time on the same day as the agreement was signed.

The visual and audio narration in the review "Goodbye Pula" is distinctly painful. There are many scenes showing terrified crowds, with particular emphasis on the elderly and women leaving the city. On the other hand, the material tells very little about the failure of Italian foreign policy in the period from the Paris Peace Conference of July 29 to October 15, 1946.



The elections in Italy in the spring of 1953 brought a loss of votes to the Christian Democrats and as a result, Alcide De Gasperi had to step down. The period of internal political instability that followed led, among other things, to a reduction in Italy's bargaining power. The government of Giuseppe Pella, which succeeded the fallen government of De Gasperi, tried to solve the dilemma with two actions: they staged military demonstrations with the intention of a military coup in Zone A, which failed; at the diplomatic level, they informed the British and the Americans that they were renouncing their demands for Zone B and at the same time agreed that the Free Trieste Territory should be divided according to the Morgan Line. On October 8, 1953, Great Britain and the United States issued a bilateral declaration announcing that they would dissolve the Allied Military Administration and hand over Zone A to the Italian authorities. The government in Belgrade protested strongly, as its bargaining power to acquire some key areas of Zone A declined, and at the same time Yugoslavia lost the opportunity to negotiate with the Italian government for adequate compensation on the basis that it had to give up Trieste.

The shift occurred in early 1954, when Great Britain and the United States convened negotiations in two phases: initially a separate negotiation with Yugoslavia and then a new negotiation with Italy. The issue was resolved the following October with the London Agreement, which entered into force on 26 October 1954. Italy then eventually extended its administration to Zone A, and Yugoslavia to Zone B.

The London Memorandum was only an agreement and not an international treaty. This temporary solution was finally settled only in 1975 with the Osim Agreements, which also officially defined the new border line.

In the newsreel "La settimana Incom" the London agreements are listed together with the dates and statements of the Italian and Yugoslav sides, which each claimed the mentioned areas for themselves. Meanwhile, the newsreel "Mondo libero" talks about the departure of allied forces from the Free Territory of Trieste and the border military exercises of the Italian army to confirm that Trieste is Italian "in terms of tradition, history and life".

A border is an actual line that separates the area under the authority of one country from the area of another country. The border area legally corresponds to a strip of territory located near the border of the two countries. This is a transit zone that is more loosely defined and more imaginary in nature. It’s where nations move, stop and meet.

In our case, the newsreels of the Luce historical archive talk about the political decisions that were of central importance in determining the borders. They place us in a time when people could not meet because of the political situation and a time when there were conflicts over the question of identity. I believe that we will reach a new milestone when we also examine private audiovisual sources. In this way, we will build a new link between the simultaneous historical sources and in this way, we will be able to say much more about the otherwise undefined and imaginary space of the border.