Oddelek za zgodovino

Department of History

The Rapallo border: a quarter of a century of existence and a century of heritage and memory

The Rapallo border: a quarter of a century of existence and a century of heritage and memory

Code and title: J6-3124 The Rapallo frontier: a quarter of a century of existence and a century of heritage and memory

Head: Dr. Božo Repe

Research organisations in Slovenia: ZRC SAZU, UL PeF, UL FA

Duration of the project: 01.10.2021-30.09.2024

On 12 November 1920, the Kingdom of SCS and the Kingdom of Italy signed a treaty in the Italian town of Rapallo which demarcated the border between these two countries after World War I – the so-called Rapallo Border.

The 289 km long borderline, along which extensive defensive infrastructure was built, radically sliced into the Slovene ethnic area. The border left a permanent mark on the landscape and on the identity of the population. The aftermath or its “imprint” can still be detected today.

As regards duration, the Rapallo Border was a short-lived political border that: (a) owing to the nature of the environment through which it ran; (b) the countries involved; (c) the dominant social climate and the administrative-political, military, economic and cultural practices forced a strict demarcation and division. It demarcated a territory which, prior to 1918, had belonged to a unitary state (Austria-Hungary), thus dividing the territory of Slovenes that had been ethnically homogeneous for centuries.

Despite agreeing to the course of the border, both sides began to fortify it in preparation of (anticipated) future border conflicts. The first to begin fortification were the Italians in the 1920s. Extensive fortification works began on the Italian side in 1931 when they began building a number of underground and aboveground fortifications and barracks connected into the Alpine Wall. On the Yugoslav side, a similar initiative emerged in the mid-1920s but no major fortification works were carried out until 1935 when they began building the so-called Rupnik Line. The area where Yugoslavia fortified the border with Italy was officially called the Western Front but is now mostly known in Slovenia as the Rupnik Line. It was named after the contemporary Yugoslav general of Slovene descent, Leon Rupnik. In 1937, Rupnik became in charge of fortification works at the Border Fortification Headquarters.

Most of the Rupnik Line ran along the Rapallo Border and a smaller section along the Austrian border. When Austria was annexed to Germany in 1938, the northern border of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia also became problematic. That is why Yugoslavia protected it with Sector 6 of the Rupnik Line. In the Koroška region, the fortification line ran from Črna na Koroškem to Dravograd, and continued eastward all the way to Ptuj.

The new border inevitably resulted in many traumas and severed the traditional patterns of migrations, agriculture, commerce and the like. The local population continued to feel hurt and has passed this on to younger generations and to the collective memory. Conflicts that have not been resolved trigger “memory wars”, which prevent peaceful coexistence for decades or even centuries after the original events. The first step towards reconciliation is to confront the past, which cannot be done if the facts are unknown. This will be the first research study to examine the facts behind the planning, designing and establishing of the new Rapallo Border, the effects its existence had on the daily lives of the border population, the methods of protecting and defending the border, etc.

The inter-war Rapallo Border divided Slovenes for “only” a quarter-century but its effects are still visible today, 100 years after its establishment.

Within the context of the “legacy” of the Rapallo Border we can point out four aspects, which we intend to study:

-Rapallo Border as tangible cultural heritage;

-Rapallo Border as the maker of regional affiliation;

-Effects of the Rapallo Border in various contemporary administrative divisions;

-Psychosocial effects of the Rapallo Border on the ethnic and ideological beliefs of the population.