The phenomenon of banditry appeared as a kind of pan-European social process whose origins can be to traced to the period from the 15th to 18th centuries. This was the constant situation in the Istrian peninsula over the centuries, taking on a specific form after the First World War.


Centro per le ricerche storiche Rovigno / Centar za povijesna Istraživanja Rovinj

Il brigantaggio in Istria dopo la Prima Guerra Mondiale

The general famine and poverty led many to banditry, which was mostly carried out by Croats from the interior of the peninsula, in other words, the territory which had been known for banditry since the 17th century. The bandits often looted at night disguised in the uniforms of Italian soldiers or carabinieri, presenting themselves to potential victims as members of the new authorities searching for “subversive” elements. Thefts and violent raids – along with frequent murders and severe injuries – were a daily occurrence. The owners of large estates were affected to the greatest extent, but also anyone who owned at least a few head of cattle. The failure of the police force in the battle against the criminals led to a large number of inhabitants of the interior of Istria into a silent collaboration with the bandits. Many of them were also their neighbours and fellow-townspeople. This eventually, according to the principle of omertà (solidarity, silence), enabled them some kind of peace.

Banditry And Political Propaganda – The Demonization Of The Other

The fact that the bandits were mostly Croats in an area which at that time was under Italian rule created a fertile ground for the political exploitation of their activities, particularly in the period of strong nationalism and increasingly faster growth of fascism. Leading in this were the Italian newspapers that exploited the banditry in order to show the ethnic and cultural inferiority of the Slavic population, almost to the point of demonizing and dehumanising the figure of the bandits.

However, the bandits were not exclusively Croats. Frequently they also worked with Italians in coastal towns, primarily with butchers and smugglers who with stolen livestock found a place in the market and made banditry profitable. Unlike their Italian counterparts, the Croatian newspapers recognised in the growth of the rate of banditry the consequences of the Italian inclination to destroy Croatian education and culture, which had supposedly led many towards banditry. Due to its cruelty, frequency and prevalence, the banditry quickly became one of the main Istrian themes in the initial post-war years. However much it caused fear amongst the local population on one side, on the other, due to its susceptibility to political manipulation it was very socially acceptable.

Military uniforms and weapons from that period, typical clothing in the countryside.

Ivan Kolarić -the “uncatchable” bandit- considered the most famous Istrian bandit. Source: Elio Velan: Glas Istre, 09.12.2006.

He is famou for the theft of cattke in Istrian countriside, he particpated also in armed roberies in Pula and Trieste. It is told that he had closed contacts with members of Communist party. In any case, he always expressed hostility towards the Fascis regime of that time. He is linked with many murders, for which he was convicted for life sentence in 1925. After 23 years in prison, he was released and he came back to Jugoslavia. He died in Pula in 1986.

Map 1. Zones where banditry was mostly present, by murders and robberies. Map 2. Routes for illegal trafficking

Articles from the local newspapers L’Azione e Pučki prijatelj on the topic of bandidtry in Istria, 1920-24. Fonti: L’Azione, Anno II, N. 20, 06.02.1920; Anno III, N. 250, 21.10.1921; Anno III, N. 257, 29.10.1921.; Anno III, N. 289, 07.12.1921; Anno III, N. 303, 23.12.1921. Pučki prijatelj, god. XXI, Br. 8, 24.02.1921.; god. XXV, Br. 3, 17.01.1924.

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