Note: Historical regions of Croatia // Austrian Littoral 1897 // Fascist italianization
After the breakup of Yugoslavia (after 1991)
The division of Istria between Croatia and Slovenia runs on the former republic borders, which were not precisely defined in the former Yugoslavia. Various points of contention remain unresolved between the two countries regarding the precise line of the border.
It became an international boundary with the independence of both countries from Yugoslavia in 1991. Since Croatia's first multi-party elections in 1990, the regional party Istrian Democratic Assembly (IDS-DDI, Istarski demokratski sabor or Dieta democratica istriana) has consistently received a majority of the vote and maintained through the 1990s a position often contrary to the government in Zagreb, led by the then nationalistic party Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ, Hrvatska demokratska zajednica), with regards to decentralization in Croatia and certain facets of regional autonomy.
However, that changed in 2000, when the IDS formed with five other parties a left-centre coalition government, led by the Social Democratic Party of Croatia (SDP, Socijaldemokratska Partija Hrvatske). After the reformed HDZ won the Croatian parliamentary elections in late 2003 and formed a minority government, the IDS has cooperated with the state government on many projects, both local (in Istria County) and national. Since Slovenia's accession to the European Union and the Schengen Area, customs and immigration checks have been abolished at the Italian-Slovenian border.
The region has traditionally been ethnically mixed. Under Austrian rule in the 19th century, it included a large population of Italians, Croats, Slovenes and some Vlachs/Istro-Romanians, Serbs and Montenegrins; however, official statistics in those times did not show those nationalities as they do today.
In 1910, the ethnic and linguistic composition was completely mixed. According to the Austrian census results (Istria included here parts of the Karst and Liburnia which are not really part of Istria and excluded ancient Istrian parts, like Trieste), out of 404,309 inhabitants in Istria, 168,116 (41.6%) spoke Serbo-Croatian, 147,416 (36.5%) spoke Italian, 55,365 (13.7%) spoke Slovene, 13,279 (3.3%) spoke German, 882 (0.2%) spoke Romanian, 2,116 (0.5%) spoke other languages and 17,135 (4.2%) were non-citizens, which had not been asked for their language of communication. During the last decades of the Habsburg dynasty the coast of Istria profited from tourism within the Empire. Generally speaking, Italians lived on the coast and in the inland cities of northern Istria, while Croats and Slovenes lived in the eastern and southeastern inland parts of the countryside.
In the second half of the 19th century a clash of new ideological movements, Italian irredentism (which claimed Trieste and Istria) and Slovene and Croatian nationalism (developing individual identities in some quarters while seeking to unite in a Southern Slav identity in others), resulted in growing ethnic conflict between Italians on one side and Slovenes and Croats on the other side. This was intertwined with class conflict, as inhabitants of Istrian towns were mostly Italian, while Croats and Slovenes largely lived out in the eastern countryside.
The Croatian word for the Istrians is Istrani, or Istrijani, the latter being in the local Chakavian dialect. The term Istrani is also used in Slovenia. The Italian word for the Istrians is Istriani and today the Italian minority is organized in many towns and consists officially of around 45,000 inhabitants. The Istrian county in Croatia is bilingual, as are large parts of Slovenian Istria. Every citizen has the right to speak either Italian or Croatian (Slovene in Slovenian Istria and Italian in the town of Koper/Capodistria, Piran/Pirano, Portorož/Portorose and Izola/Isola d'Istria) in public administration or in court. Furthermore, Istria is a supranational European Region that includes Italian, Slovenian and Croatian Istria.
Discussions about Istrian ethnicity often use the words "Italian", "Croatian" and "Slovene" to describe the character of Istrian people. However, these terms are best understood as "national affiliations" that may exist in combination with or independently of linguistic, cultural and historical attributes. In the Istrian context, for example, the word "Italian" can just as easily refer to autochthonous speakers of the Venetian language whose antecedents in the region extend before the inception of the Venetian Republic or to the Istriot language the oldest spoken language in Istria, dated back to the Romans, today spoken in the southwest of Istria. It can also refer to Istrian Croats who adopted the veneer of Italian culture as they moved from rural to urban areas, or from the farms into the bourgeoisie.
Similarly, national powers claim Istrian Croats according to local language, so that speakers of Čakavian and Štokavian dialects of the Croatian language are considered to be Croatians, while speakers of other dialects may be considered to be Slovene. Croatian dialect speakers are descendants of the refugees of the Turkish invasion and Ottoman Empire of Bosnia and Dalmatia in the 16th century.
The government of the Republic of Venice had settled them in Inner Istria, which had been devastated by wars and plague. Many villages have Morlachian names like Katun. As with other regions, the local dialects of the Croatian communities vary greatly across close distances. The Istrian Croatian and Italian vernaculars had both developed for many generations before being divided as they are today. This meant that Croats/Slovenes on the one side and Venetians/other Italians on the other side yielded to each other culturally while simultaneously distancing themselves from members of their ethnic groups living farther away.
Another important Istrian community are the Istro-Romanians in the east and north of Istria (Ćićarija) and parts of neighbouring Liburnia (the east coast of the peninsula, called Liburnia, is part of historic Istria). A small Albanian community, which until the late 19th century spoke the Istrian Albanian dialect, is also present in the peninsula.
According to the 2011 Croatian census data for the Istria County, 68.33% of the inhabitants were Croats, 6.03% were Italians, 3.46% were Serbs, 2.95% were Bosniaks, 1.15% were Albanians, and 1.96% did not state their nationality. Those declaring themselves regionally as Istrians made up 12.11%. Other nationalities had less than 1% each.
The data for Slovenian Istria is not as neatly organized, but the 2002 Slovenian census indicates that the three Istrian municipalities (Izola, Piran, Koper) had a total of 56,482 Slovenes, 6,426 Croats and 1,840 Italians.
The small town of Peroj has had a unique history which exemplifies the multi-ethnic complexity of the history of the region, as do some towns on both sides of the Cicarija mountains that are still identified with the Istro-Romanian people which the UNESCO Redbook of Endangered Languages calls "the smallest ethnic group in Europe".
- History of Istria
- Istria County
- Istrian exodus
- Istrian Italians
- March of Istria
- Roman Catholic Diocese of Poreč-Pula