President of European Parliament Antonio Tajani (Photo: Alberto Lo Bianco/IPA/PIXSELL) President of European Parliament Antonio Tajani (Photo: Alberto Lo Bianco/IPA/PIXSELL)

During a speech in Basovizza, part of the municipality of Trieste, the President of European Parliament Antonio Tajani, ended his address with: Long live Trieste! Long live Italian Istria! Long live Italian Dalmatia! Long live our refugees and the values of our homeland! The event marked the departure of Italian optants from Croatian and Slovenia territories after the fall of fascist Italy. Optants were Italian nationals who chose to leave the Croatian territories of Istra and Dalmatia when the Italian occupation ended. Italy however, maintained control over the Slovene town of Trst and its surrounding areas.

Reactions to the outrageous comments were fast and furious, coming from Slovenian Prime Minister Marjan Šarec and Croatian members of European Parliament. MEP Dubravka Šuica (HDZ), called the statements unacceptable. “I can understand people commemorating those who came before them, but to speak of the Istrian peninsula and Dalmatia as being Italian territories, I think this is a relic of times long past.”

She did, however, try to argue that Tajani’s comments should be taken in the context of the ongoing election campaign in Italy. “We should, however, take into account that Tajani is in the middle of an election campaign, in which his Forza Italia is massively losing votes to the right-wing Lega Nord Party, so I would look at his statement in that context. I think it was a statement made for the Italian public. I also know that Tajani has strong ties with the Italian minority in Croatia, and that minority has its representative in Croatian Parliament, and that he has contributed constructively to Croatia's democracy, so, even though his comments are out of line, they should be taken in the context of the election campaign and the loss of support by his party,” Šuica said.

Another Croatian MEP, Biljana Borzan (SDP), was less forgiving. “I strongly condemn Mr. Tajani's statements, I think they are absolutely inappropriate, primarily because of the office he holds, and because when he was running for the post of President of the European Parliament, he campaigned on the idea of being a representative of all EU citizens. To make matters worse he has buckled under to pressure from the extreme right-wing in his country, and he is now repeating exactly what he stood against as the president of European Parliament. My colleague Tonino Picula and I are starting an initiative in which we will seek out the support of our fellow MEPs in demanding that Tajani apologize for his statements, and to show exactly what Croatia thinks about this kind of rhetoric.”

Source: HRT