DeRossi: My name is Livia
DeRossi and I come from Italy. Part of Italy that now is SloveniaÖ
LIVIA DEROSSI RECALLS GROWING UP IN ISOLA, A SMALL TOWN NEAR
TRIESTE IN NORTHERN ITALY.
DeRossi: I used to go in my bathing suit out of the
house jump out and go to the beach. And in 24 hours- when the Slavic people
came, they said 24 hours to move out.
ISOLA IS IN ISTRIA, A REGION THAT HAS CHANGED MANY HANDS OVER
THE LAST CENTURY. MUSSOLINI ANNEXED IT FROM THE AUSTRO-HUNGARIAN EMPIRE IN
1919. DEROSSI WAS A TEENAGER WHEN THE REGION WAS HANDED OVER TO YUGOSLAVIA
FOLLOWING WORLD WAR II. THE LOCAL ITALIAN POPULATION SUDDENLY FOUND THEMSELVES
UNWELCOME, SUSPECTED OF BEING FASCIST SYMPATHIZERS.
DeRossi: They used to put people in prison, beat them
up. They, how can I say, they made us leave. They have foibes, big holes
underground in the mountain, and they used to put people, you know, that they
didnít like, that was fascist, they used to say, or people who donít approve of
DEROSSI DESCRIBES WHAT EXCAVATORS HAVE FOUND IN THE ISTRIA
REGION: ABOUT 20,000 ITALIANS WERE SHOT AND THROWN INTO THESE PITS IN THE
DeRossi: And people around used to hear the screaming
for days and days because some of them didnít die right away. And so when you
hear this, you were afraid that it will happen to you
AN ESTIMATED 350,000 ITALIANS LEFT ISTRIA. DEROSSI AND HER
PARENTS FLED TO TRIESTE, STILL PART OF ITALY AND UNDER AMERICAN OCCUPATION.
DEROSSI EVENTUALLY RESETTLED IN THE UNITED STATES. LEAVING ISOLA, SHE LEFT THE
ONLY HOME THAT SHE HAD EVER KNOWN
Zolberg: for her it was a homeland, but if you look at
it historically, it was not.
ARISTIDE ZOLBERG IS A PROFESSOR OF POLITICAL SCIENCE AT THE
NEW SCHOOL FOR SOCIAL RESEARCH IN NEW YORK CITY.
Zolberg: So probably for her it really was a very
traumatic business of being kicked out, even though it was the Fascists who had
arranged for her to be there in the first placeÖ
PROFESSOR ZOLBERG EXPLAINS THAT THE ISTRIAN MIGRATION WAS A
PART OF A MASSIVE MOVEMENT OF PEOPLE THROUGHOUT EUROPE FOLLOWING WORLD WAR II.
Zolberg: The main movements after WWII were for example
Germans who were expelled from- from Poland. When Poland was revived after WWII
in compensation it got part of Germany. And so uh- the Germans who were living
in that part of Poland had to go somewhere. And uh, the allies made sure that
the new Germany had to take them in.
GERMANS MADE UP ROUGHLY HALF OF THE ESTIMATED 20-TO-30
MILLION PEOPLE DISPLACED BECAUSE OF THE WAR. THIS DISPLACEMENT WAS ONE OF THE
REASONS FOR THE BIRTH OF THE INTERNATIONAL REFUGEE REGIME. THOUGH PROFESSOR
ZOLBERG SUGGESTS IT HAS ITS ROOTS FURTHER BACK.
Zolberg: You really have to go back to WWI and the
Russian Revolution and the creation of lots of new countries after WWI and a
lot of- a lot of these new countries did not accept some of the minorities as
WHAT TO DO WITH THESE MINORITIES? THE LEAGUE OF NATIONS
APPOINTED FRITDTJOF NANSEN, A NORWEGIAN EXPLORER, AS REFUGEE COMMISSIONER. HE
PROVIDED REFUGEES WITH SO CALLED ďNANSEN PASSPORTSĒ, WHICH ALLOWED THEM ENTRY
INTO ANY COUNTRY.
Zolberg: As it turns out, League of Nations did not
really protect them very well, once the Nazis came to power. My parents were
born in Poland- they were Polish Jews and they got out of Poland after WWI, and
first went to Germany and then ended up in Belgium, which is where I was born.
And they had Nansen passport. So they were officially stateless people under
the protection of the League of Nations, but during the war when the Nazis
occupied Belgium, it didnít do them any good. Because the Nazis did not
recognize this. My father was caught- we were all in hiding. My father was
caught and died in Auschwitz.
ALLIED LEADERS TOOK THIS LESSON TO HEART AND RE-CONCEIVED THE
LEAGUE OF NATIONS REFUGEE POLICY INTO AN INTERNATIONAL STRUCTURE. THE
CORNERSTONE OF THE NEW SYSTEM WAS THE UNITED NATIONíS 1951 REFUGEE CONVENTION,
WHICH LEGALLY OBLIGATES STATES THAT SIGN ON TO PROTECT REFUGEES. THE CONVENTION
WAS EXPANDED IN 1967 AND BECAME AN INTERNATIONAL PROTOCOL.
Zolberg: the initial convention was really European
only, and uh, the mass of refugees now is mostly third world. The idea of the
conventions is to make it relatively easy for people to demonstrate that
theyíre refugees because uh- when youíre persecuted, usually itís not a very
orderly process. The government that persecutes you does not keep records of
TODAY REFUGEE LAWS ARE BEING CHALLENGED ALL OVER THE WORLD--
IN RESPONSE TO GROWING REFUGEE POPULATIONS, AND BECAUSE OF NATIONAL SECURITY
Zolberg: all of the countries of the European Union have
tightened their immigration laws in recent years. So itís become increasingly
difficult for even legitimate refugees.
MEANWHILE, WARS AND MASSIVE HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS CONTINUE
TO DISPLACE MILLIONS OF PEOPLE WORLDWIDE. THE NEED TO FOR REFUGE IS NEVER GOING
TO GO AWAY.
Zolberg: countries are artificial entities. And theyíre
never homogeneous when the world is reorganized and borders are drawn, it never
works smoothly, there are always people who are on the wrong side of these
DeRossi: when you go back there and you see your house
and you see people who speak another language, itís very sad. For us itís like
going in a place where there is only ghost.
IN NEW YORK, THIS IS SARAH ELZAS. THIS PIECE WAS PRODUCED
WITH OLIVIA BUENO.
This piece was produced for Radio Netherland's Euroquest
and aired on October 25, 2005, on WFUV
on June 3, 2006, and on RFI
on August 18, 2008. A shorter version aired on November 15, 2005, on Prime Time Postscript
Producers: Olivia Bueno and Sarah Elzas.
Recorded in New York