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Demonstrations in front of the parliament, Ljubljana, March 23 1993. Photo: Tone Stojko. © Muzej za novejšo zgodovino Slovenije [National Museum of Contemporary History], collection Tone Stojko, inv. n. TS19932303_22.
Photo by Nataša Janković.

Researcher Francesca Rolandi participated from 10 to 12 July 2019 at the conference “Cities and Regions in Flux. Reconfiguring the Frontier, Reshaping Memory and Visualizing Change in Twentieth-Century”, organized at the University of Rijeka with the contribution of three different projects:  Rijeka in Flux (, Empires of Memory ( and Memoryscape (University of Rijeka).

The conference was preceded by an excursion, arranged on July 9, by the organizers of the conference together with the Zagreb-based Ngo Documenta and the association Goli Otok Ante Zemljar to the island of Goli Otok to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the arrival of the first group of political prisoners to the island. Apart from visiting the island, the focus of the excursion was on the controversial memory of Goli Otok in nowadays Croatia, which has been discussed by researchers and witnesses.

Goli Otok
Goli Otok
Goli Otok

The first day of the conference, entirely devoted to the city of Rijeka/Fiume started with a keynote lecture by Dominique Reill addressing the social and political history of Fiume after the First World War. Besides giving an insight into the complex history of the city, the lecture addressed some of the key questions allowing a better comprehension of the transitional period that lasted from 1918 to 1924: from the entanglement of economic and political factors to the questions of access to citizenship. The question of pertinency (pertinenza, Heimatrecht, zavičajnost), crucial to determine the mechanisms of inclusion and exclusion in the post-Habsburg area, was further discussed with Gabor Egry. The first panel included my paper  “Women’s Transitional Experiences in Fiume/Rijeka and Sušak after the First World War” in which I conceptualize some aspects of my ongoing research project in the framework of EIRENE. Looking at the first elections held in Fiume on October 26, 1919, I addressed the topic of women’s political participation and the right to vote and stand for elections. Moreover, by arguing that women did not identify themselves just on national or political grounds, I looked at the impact of the multilayered political transitions that the city went through on the professional categories represented by the three women elected in the Fiume city council – teachers, workers, clerks – as well as the ones who were – according to the law – deprived of political rights –  such as prostitutes.

The panel included another presentation on the visualized images of the occupation of Rijeka by the D’Annuzio’s legionari and the overlapping of gender, national, and geographical borders. The second panel kept the focus on Rijeka: from the use of postcards as a tool to analyze the city’s history, to the reshaping of the identity of the Italian community after the WW2, the post-WW2 reconstruction analyzed through the prism of “frontier urbanism” and, last but not least, the urban rebranding policies following the nomination as European Capital of Culture.

The second day was opened with a keynote lecture by Brandan Karch focused on the shifting ideas of loyalty in Upper Silesia and the unintended results arising from the attempts of the inhabitants to cope with the new national(ist) ideas. The first panel of the day focused on three different cities in which, after the First World War, opposing nationalisms and the establishment of new borders left traces on the idea of territorial sovereignty, the culture of memory, everyday life: Trieste, Flensburg, Komarom. The second panel brought together presentations dealing with continuities and cleavages in the administration in Moravia, the social and political processes affecting Vilnius in late Stalinism, the flows of Jewish refugees from Central Europe to the Balkans in the 1930s and 1940s and the approaches to a shared heritage at the border between Poland and Germany.

The third panel of the day focused on the culture of memory related to border change in case of a radical reshaping of the city (as happened to the city of Stettin/ Szczecin), the nostalgic image attached to Finnish and Polish areas allocated to the Soviet Union after the WW2, contested places of memory in Trieste and the image of the Trieste as it is presented in English-language travelers’ guides.

The keynote lecture by Olga Sezneva highlighted the stratification of memory in the city of Kaliningrad, drawing on the pictures by the photographer Dmitry Vyshemirsky.

The third day of the conference was opened by a panel on the visualization of the relation between styles and nationalism in interwar Zagreb, the architectural projects implemented in Koper in the 1960s, the ethnographic value of post-WW2 graffiti in Istria.

In the second panel of the day musealization practices connected to shifting borders have been explored in Gorizia/Nova Gorica after the erasure of the border, the multilayered connections between the ship Galeb and the city of Rijeka in the upcoming project of a museum, the foundation of the Izmir museum after the 1922 population change between Greece and Turkey which affected the city to a large extent.

The third panel dealt with representations of urban changes in different media: from the image of Skopje emerging in the postcards throughout the entire 20th century to the documentation of the destruction in Zadar after WW2 in the framework of the identity shift in the delated reconstruction of the city and the portray of social issues in the contemporary post-Yugoslav hip hop scene.

The last panel of the conference has presented the preliminary results of the interdisciplinary project “Rijeka in Flux”, pointing at the risks of dealing both with space (history) and time (geography) and to communicate history, as well as the challenges represented by the use of digital media.

The last keynote lecture by Anne Kelly Knowles, starting from the presentation of a project dealing with the Geographies of the Holocaust, has addressed several methodological issues connected to the contribution that mapping can bring to history.

Throughout the three days of the conference the coffee breaks were devoted to poster presentations: some of them dealt with institutions dealing with the history of Rijeka, some others with ongoing research projects connected to the city.

Photo by Nataša Janković.
Photo by Nataša Janković.

In conclusion, the conference achieved a twofold result: on one hand, it gathered together several scholars dealing with Rijeka and the Upper Adriatic region, creating a platform to discuss key issues from an interdisciplinary perspective; on the other it used the regional expertise on the Upper Adriatic case study to provide a useful term of comparison with other areas affected by border changes in Europe and beyond. The same investigation of border change mostly theorized from the historical perspective and drawing on case studies on post-WW2 Eastern Europe has been extended in time (the whole 20th century) and space (including Western Europe). Geographer, architects and experts on urban planning have given a huge contribution to the discussion around the concepts of mapping and spatialization.


Women’s transitional experiences in Fiume/Rijeka and Sušak after the First World War

This paper aims to present the preliminary results of a research conducted in the framework of the EIRENE project which deals with the impact of border changes on women’s everyday life in Fiume/Rijeka and Sušak in the transitional period following the First World War. The two cities were different municipalities in the framework of the Hapsburg Empire and were later divided by the establishment of an international border between the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes and the Kingdom of Italy.

The events following D’Annunzio’s occupation through the self-proclaimed Regency of Carnaro (1920), first, and the establishment of the internationally-recognized Free State of Fiume (existing de jure from 1920 to 1924), later, led to the annexation of Fiume to Italy in 1924, as sanctioned by the Treaty of Rome. The Adriatic city went through different phases, political systems, and sets of rules. In particular, the Regency of Carnaro represented a peculiar political experiment, gathering together a wide range of political, social, and economic options. This also implied a challenge to established gender rules which coexisted with a widespread chauvinist narrative, drawing on the connection between irredentism and masculinity. The annexation bound Fiume’s fate to the Italian political system which, in 1926, entered a new phase with the leggi fascistissimeand the beginning of the harshest stage of the implementation of the policy of Italianization. On the other hand, in 1918 Sušak became part of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, whose sovereignty was recognized in 1923, and became an epicenter of pro-Yugoslavist ideals.

Therefore, Fiume and Sušak represent a promising case study to investigate the issues of border change, state belonging, and political transition over the years 1918-1926.

Whereas the majority of scholarship has drawn on political history, privileging a male-dominated narrative (see ie. the publication of the legionari‘s memoirs), the social history of women is completely unexplored and their role minimized. Moreover, the analysis of two border municipalities on both sides of the Italo-Yugoslav border which have previously been part of the same state will allow us to compare the impact of the issues of citizenship, national belonging, labour, on women in two different – but entangled – contexts.

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