Istria - Demographic History

Demographic History

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 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.

There is a long tradition of tolerance among the people who live in Istria, regardless of their nationality, and although many Istrians today are ethnic Croats, a strong regional identity has existed over the years. 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. 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) in public administration or in court. Furthemore, Istria is a supranational European Region that includes Italian, Slovenian and Croatian Istria.

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