Istria & Kvarner
Middle Croatia
Northern Croatia
Slavonia & Baranja

Croatia  History of Istria and Kvarner

The Istria name is derived from the Illyrian tribe of the Histri, which Strabo refers to as living in the region. The Romans described the Histri as a fierce tribe of Illyrian pirates, protected by the difficult navigation of their rocky coasts. It took two military campaigns for the Romans to finally subdue them in 177 BCE.

(Some scholars speculate that the names Histri and Istria are related to the Latin name Hister, or Danube. Ancient folktales reported -- inaccurately -- that the Danube split in two or "bifurcated" and came ashore near Trieste as well as at the Black Sea. The story of the "Bifurcation of the Danube" is part of the Argonaut legend.)

After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the region was pillaged by the Goths, the Longobardi, annexed to the Frankish kingdom by Pippin III in 789, and then successively controlled by the dukes of Carinthia, Meran, Bavaria and by the patriarch of Aquileia, before it became the territory of the Republic of Venice. It passed to the Habsburgs in 1797, (reverting temporarily to Napoleon in 1805- 1813).

The region has traditionally been rather ethnically mixed. Under Austrian rule in the 19th century, it included a large population of Italians, Croats, Slovenes and some Vlachs/Istro-Romanians and Serbs. In 1910, the ethnic and linguistic composition was completely mixed. One source quotes 170,000 Croats (43%), 150,000 Italians (38%) and 55,000 Slovenes (14%), another quotes 138,654 speakers of Serbo-Croatian (Croats and Serbs), 136,039 Italian and 55,008 Slovenian.

After World War I, Istria passed from Habsburg to the rule of Italy. During these few decades, the Slavs complained of being forced to Italianize their names under the policy of forced Italianization. Some Croats allege further that the Fascist regime of Benito Mussolini colonized Istria with up to 50,000 more Italians (from Calabria, Sicily). The subsequent Nazi occupation during World War II further worsened the traditionally tolerant ethnic relations.

After the end of World War II, Istria was assigned to Socialist Yugoslavia. In the process, (1945-1947), an estimated 15,000 Italian-speakers were killed and 300,000 left (300,000 was the number in a speech made by Tito). This process can be described as the Italians leaving due to fear of the Communist oppression, and as them being ethnically cleansed by the Communists. Some well-known postwar exiles from Istria include race driver Mario Andretti, singer Sergio Endrigo and boxer Nino Benvenuti. Following the expulsions which ended by 1954, the areas were settled with Croats, Slovenians and a minute number of other Yugoslav nationalities like Serbs or Montenegrins.

Today, most of Istria lies in Croatia, in Istria county, seated in Pazin. A small section, including the coastal towns of Piran (Pirano), Portorož (Portorose) and Koper lies in Slovenia.

There is a long tradition of tolerance between the people who live there, regardless of their nationality, and although most Istrians today are ethnic Croats, a strong regional identity has developed over the years. The Croatian word for the Istrians is Istrani, or Istrijani, the latter being in the local èakavian dialect. The Italian minority is small, but the Istrian county is bilingual.

Since the first multi-party elections in 1990, the regional party Istrian Democratic Assembly (Istarski Demokratski Sabor or Dieta Democratica Istriana) has consistently received an absolute majority of the vote and maintained a position often contrary to the government in Zagreb with regards to their regional autonomy.