The forgotten history of Trieste Interview with Mr Arlon Stok, TRIEST NGO

The forgotten history of Trieste by Marit Foss

  • Interview with Mr Arlon Stok, TRIEST NGO

Q: You have come to Geneva to attend the Human Right Council ?

  • What is the reason for your venue ?

I came to Geneva, together with my colleagues from Triest NGO, in order to let it be known that there is an unsolved set of issues that involves a wide range of Human and Civil Rights violations, right in the heart of Europe.
In 1947, via the Peace Treaty that was imposed to Italy after the war, a sovereign country was created: the Free Territory of Trieste (FTT). The connection between this territory and the United Nations is so close that a specific Security Council resolution (n.16/1947) was crafted one month before the very peace treaty that founded our country was signed, which gave the UN direct responsibilities over the FTT.

For this reason, we do not consider the United Nations to be just an external observer, but an integral part of our past and present issues, as well as of the potential future solutions to them.

To define an independent State what is needed are a territory with its borders, sovereignty, and citizens to exercise it. We have all three, as of today.
I mentioned rights being violated earlier, so let me make an example. A sovereign country needs citizens that can exercise such sovereignty: in our case, these are the citizens of the Free Territory of Trieste, as defined by the Peace Treaty, which came into force on September 15, 1947. We also now have undeniable proof that such status had been, at least partially, applied in the past.
Yet, despite that very same Treaty recognised by the International community as being today fully in force, the governments that administer this Territory (Italy, Slovenia, Croatia) do not allow this status – in favour of which we deposited over 14.000 signatures at the OHCHR Registry – to be applied, as well as all the rights that are connected to it. These rights are specifically mentioned by International treaties and, for instance, stripping tens of thousands of citizens of their citizenship is a clear violation of Article 15.2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that “No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality”. Yet, this is exactly what is happening.

We have been raising awareness about this at the Human Rights Council, having met – among others – with the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the OHCHR Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, professor de Zayas, who intervened at our first demonstration ever in Geneva in September 2017, recognising that our claims do have merit, and that the Peace Treaty with Italy still needs to be fully applied, following the principle of pacta sunt servanda. Professor de Zayas emphasized that the International order requires Rechtssicherheit, which entails strict respect of treaties and uniform application of international norms.

Q: Could you please tell us a little about yourself ?

  • and why you have engaged in this cause ?

I am a simple citizen, with a background in design and management, who got in touch with the Free Port and Free Territory of Trieste in the same way thousands of Triestines did: thanks to the internet lifting, for the first time in decades, a strict censorship over these issues, in the early 2010s. We directly consulted all the relevant sources, with a substantial amount of scepticism. “This could not possibly be true, some other treaty must have put an end to it” was the kind of thought I originally had. But I was surprised to find out that no such subsequent treaty exists.
Therefore, what we had in our hands were new, relevant pieces of information that involved what we now know to be an artificially economically depressed area of Europe, which also happens to be a sovereign country. And the only thing left to do was acting upon these very notions, in order to raise awareness of this unique and almost-unbelievable situation in the population, as well as – being the reason Triest NGO was founded – in the International community.

Q: Most people have read about Trieste in the history books, but I would say the majority of us believe that you are part of Italy. Is this not the case?

Most Triestines themselves thought the same, until information leading to the opposite conclusion began to spread, just a few years ago. Moreover, the administering countries’ justifications for what happened seem to change all the time, with their governments willing to ignore and repress the issue for as long as they can afford to.

Take the example of Italy: their first version was that in 1947 they never really lost their sovereignty over the Free Territory of Trieste; this, of course, can be easily seen as a lie by anyone who happens to have read the peace treaty itself (Art. 21.2).

As this theory was easily dismissed, it morphed into Italy having acquired sovereignty thanks to the 1954 Memorandum of Understanding, a document that is temporary by nature, which did not – and could not, being equivalent to a letter of intent – change any sovereignty status, simply giving “civil administration” of a portion of this sovereign Territory to the Italian government. This pact was, by the way, broken by all parts the very day after it was agreed upon.

We are now at the point where the Italian government admits that the Free Territory of Trieste existed until 1975, when the bilateral so-called treaty of Osimo was signed by Italy and Yugoslavia. The interesting fact is that – among a staggering amount of further irregularities – when we asked public International law experts about this, we have been told very clearly that “the Treaty of Osimo, a bilateral treaty, could not have amended the Peace Treaty, a multilateral treaty”. Nothing of relevance happened since then.

The only possible further conclusion is that, in 2018, the Treaty of Peace with Italy is fully in force, and the Free Territory of Trieste, with its Free Port, is a sovereign country, with its sovereign citizens, and it happens to be today under the civil administration of Italy, Slovenia and Croatia, which is being carried out in an illegal way.

Q: What exactly would you like to achieve ?

No doubt, the application of the International legislation currently in force, something that should be taken for granted in a normal situation. But we are unfortunately not in one.
While there technically is a chance for Italy, Slovenia and Croatia to apply these laws, which could also go to their advantage, we have instead been subject to censorship and repression, exercised with complete impunity.

There are several potential steps towards our objective. From relatively simple ones like official notes of protest for violating the UN Charter directed towards the countries directly involved, to the one decision that could stabilise the situation in virtually no time: the nomination of a Governor of the Free Territory by the UN Security Council.
It is worth mentioning that our claims do not come from a nationalist perspective but quite the opposite, being our country in a position that makes it diverse, multilingual, International and neutral. We have a genuine wish to see this area of Europe evolve from the cold-war era gridlock it still finds itself in. And we think it’s time.

Q: If you gain the status of an independent territory, how would you survive? What do you have to offer ?

The status of independent territory is already recognised, on paper, by all the signatories of the treaties involved, as well as by the United Nations.

Trieste is a port city, a condition that virtually anywhere in the world generates prosperity and wealth; If there is one issue we are very unlikely to face, in a future scenario where the International law is applied, is economic or financial sustainability.
This is in large part thanks to the current legislation on the Free Port of Trieste, which is tightly connected to the Free Territory, and could be considered the most advanced Free Zone in the whole continent.
That is, on paper. Things are very different on the field: the Northern Free Port, a very large (at over 700.000 sqm) part of our Free Zone, right in the heart of the city of Trieste, today looks worse than it did when World War 2 ended, as a direct result of these laws not being applied! It is so uniquely awful it needs to be seen to be believed.

The Free Port of Trieste is formally recognised by the Italian government and even by the European Union, yet it is run in a completely illegal way, to the detriment of the local population. To make a clear example of this, let’s consider Art. 18.3, stating that “The Director [of the Free Port] shall not be a citizen of [former]Yugoslavia or Italy”; despite this, the Italian government has nominated only Italian citizens for this role, for decades.

They know these laws are in force, they formally admit they are in force, but they simply do not seem to care when it’s time to apply them. They blatantly act against the law, for the very simple reason that they have been completely unchallenged, until very recently.

The main dilemma, for the Italian government, is most likely that the Free Port of Trieste and the Free Territory can not be decoupled: they proceed on parallel lines, from a legal perspective.
If we also consider that the legislation I have been mentioning throughout this interview is embedded even in the very fabric of the current model of International trade, the GATT/WTO agreements (Art. XXIV 3.2), we can see that, on paper, there is no doubt that the Free Territory of Trieste could thrive and stand on its feet.

A Free Port – even a crippled one like today – is a clear vector for prosperity; yet, if the Italian government confiscates hundreds of millions of revenue from it every single year, as is being done right now (which also happens to be completely illegal), normal citizens see no substantial benefit from it.

According to UN expert professor de Zayas, in the case of Trieste the reactivation of the Free Port would be a win win proposition for all concerned and would energize trade in Europe and beyond.

Q: Finally Mr Stok, do you have a message to our readers ?

  • If yes, what would that be ?

These treaties will keep on being in force, regardless of how much time is wasted before they are applied. But the longer it takes, the more damage is done: the city of Trieste has lost almost one third of its population, mainly due to the lack of work. Keeping in mind that we are talking about what is supposed to be the most prosperous Free Port in Europe, this is being perceived more and more as outrageous.

Dozens of citizens of Trieste have been picked by the Italian authorities, seemingly at random among thousands at peaceful demonstrations, and have been accused of the fascist crime of “seditious gathering”, most likely to make an example to scare the others.
Hundreds have decided that they will not pay any more taxes to the Italian government unless their full legal status is applied. Their claims have merit, but they will face severe charges, if no effort to apply the current International law is made.

Thousands and thousands of citizens marched on the streets of Trieste demanding for their rights to be respected, in a major event that anywhere else in Europe would have been met with International media coverage.

But this was not the case here, where government-sponsored censorship has unfortunately become the norm. Anyway, one thing must be clear: the treaties in force are not going anywhere, and neither are the citizens who are now well-aware of this problem.

The International community should understand this issue and work towards a solution as soon as possible: they might very well find out they have as much to gain, from an effective solution to the question of Trieste, as we citizens do. My message to the readers would then be: whoever finds this complex issue to be interesting and is in a position to give this cause further International exposure, should contact Triest NGO as soon as possible.

How the Northern Free Port of Trieste looks like today