16 OCTOBER 1953, Page 7

Trieste : October 1953 By JENNY NICHOLSON T HE frontier post

which controls traffic coming from the direction of Venice is a dismal place beyond Monfalcone. On the left are the low stony hills to which the thin October sunshine gives a biblical eeriness. An Adriatic breeze disturbs the clump of rushes by the striped frontier pole. On the right the sullen mudflats wander out to sea. In' the middle distance the mudflats end abruptly in precipitous rocks and standing on a rocky height over the sea is Duino Castle, the residence, until the Allies withdraw, of the British Commander of Trieste. A Union Jack flows from the battlements. General Winterton is in residence.

The twelve miles of coast road which serpents to the city of Trieste between the bleak hills and the precipitous drop to the Adriatic would be as formidable as they were in the days of Elizabeth of Austria who insisted on riding on the land side of the royal carriage to protect her husband the Emperor from possible assassins' bullets, if it were not bordered, like all Italian roads, with flowering oleander, petunias and cypresses. At the approaches to the city is Miramare Castle—formal, romantic, under the Hapsburg curse —the residence of the General Commanding the American troops in Trieste.

Trieste itself has a flourishing Italian flavour. Villas and blocks of flats storm the mountain behind the city. Motor scooters swarm in the arcaded streets, policemen direct the traffic as if they were conducting the last act of Aida. Foun- tains play in the piazzas, Espresso coffee bars flourish. Beside the picturesque canal which comes gaily into the city crowded with coloured fishing boats, the market flutters with ribbons_ and flannel nightgowns and piles of scarlet and yellow peperoni. There is a sea front splendid with hotels and an elegant baroque opera house. There is the faint smell of salt sea spray and roasting chestnuts. In the port, among the giant meccano-like cranes and galleries, the hulks of ships being salvaged or constructed, and the bossy little steam engines, ,there is an air of prosperity.

Only an occasional military sign, some soldiers buying stamps in the palace-like post-office, some American military police in shiny green helmets going by in a jeep and the wide hem of propaganda posters on the walls, remind one that here lurk all the ingredients of trouble. There are still two different nationalities in Trieste, two economies, even two sorts of communists. It is a city which two countries Want very badly. In the Spring of 1945, foreseeing trouble, American General Morgan (the highest ranking General in that area at the time) authoritatively drew a line outside Trieste on the Yugoslavia side and persuaded the Yugoslays, then our friends and allies, to remain peacefully on their side of it until the fate of Trieste was decided. Yugoslav patience was quickly exhausted and they have since tried every political and military trick to acquire the whole territory. Both they and the Italians have been tire- less in their propaganda and counter-propaganda. During the early years, Yugoslav irritation manifested itself in kidnapping Allied soldiers who, they claimed, were trespassing on the ill-defined frontier and whom it took strong diplomatic representation to get back. In 1947 a Special Commission of the Foreign Deputies of the Four Powers examined the situation and proposed four entirely different solutions. UNO decided to adopt the least extreme—the French Line, a theoretically ethnic line—and make the whole zone international. It was arranged that the day after the Italian Peace Treaty was ratified, on 15th September, 1947, the Anglo-American troops would move back and the Yugoslays would move forward to this line., There were a few attempts to cross the line but thanks to the diplomatic handling of obstreperous Yugoslav troops— especially by the Americans—the attempts were unsuccessful and bloodless.

Since then the Yugoslays have been fairly ruly. But the Italians know what they can expect. By 1948 the Four Powers had still not agreed on a Governor for the International Zone. The extreme Left and Right were planning big propaganda over the Trieste question at the first general elections in Italy since the war. So a Tripartite Declaration recommended the return of the whole zone to Italy. And now, eight years after General Morgan drew his line and five years after the Tripartite Declaration, the Americans and British (the French, although eligible, have not taken much part in Trieste affairs) have proposed an Italian future for half the territory.

These days the bells are ringing and flags are flying from every public building in Italy. But when Pella announced that his government accepted the administration of Zone A the scene in the Chamber was not very jubilant. Indeed, the Deputies—perhaps because of the gloomy light which matches the early-Pullman interior decoration—seemed pale and uncomfortable. Mr. Pella, looking, as always, like one of Mr. T. S. Eliot's Practical Cats, made one of his tactically businesslike speeches. The applause, even from the Govern- ment benches, was timid. The average Italian legislator does not 'want to show any enthusiasm for an arrangement which might permanently consolidate Zone B with Yugoslavia. They would have preferred the plebiscite which they proposed two weeks ago and which Tito naturally rejected. He had little doubt that all but the most ardent communist voters would realise that on the Italian side their bread would be buttered.

If the people of Trieste themselves were consulted they might choose a continued Anglo-American occupation. Neither Yugoslavia nor Italy can assure them a reliable economic future. Germany has already begun to divert traffic to Hamburg by offering cut rates. For eight years the troops have been spending a fortune in dollars and pounds, they have brought prosperity to the port and order to the municipality, and have cushioned them against the Iron Curtain. The Triestini have grown used to the bomb outrages and other civic disturbances; the reports of three Yugoslav divisions on the frontier, two armoured and one infantry, hadn't the power to move them like Sunday afternoon's football match against Palermo, which they won by one-nil.

But nobody really cares very much what the Triestini want. Already the Italians have run up their tricolour over the Town Hall and are preparing their emotional Triumph into this half of their territory. The Italians will shout and weep when the Bersaglieri, Italy's most romantic shock troops, rush into the city at their strange regimental trot— their carbines at the trail, cocks' plumes streaming from their black hats. There will be rigid police precautions to see that nobody waves the wrong flag. But all this, of course, Tito permitting. He is showing all military signs of preparing to back his threat to march on Zone A if one Italian soldier sets foot in it. Having seen the Italians in the last war he does not think they will resist him. But though few Italians believe that the Italian army would really fight in a third World War, every Italian says he would fight' for Trieste. Even if the British and Americans succeed in bringing about a peaceful hand-over, it will be 'a long time before the politicians of either side will be able to quell the stimulated passions of their peoples long enough to treat civilly with each other—to bargain port facilities for the return of ,Zone B. Meanwhile Anglo-American troops are keeping up their eight-year-old vigilance. Up in the desolate foiba country the weather-browned English captain is inspecting his frontier units. Between finger and thumb he holds .a bright blue mountain flower. The sergeant from Kilburn springs to atten- tion, logbook in hand. The militiaman from the Cotswolds remains crouching on a heap of orange-coloured stones, his eye to a telescope which is balanced on a rough wall built against the biting winds.

" Larkspur family." "Yessir," agrees the Sergeant obligingly.

" Any activity ? " A hundred yards downhill is Yugosliv territory. There is _ a stony lane at the foot of the hill. " A little activity in the lane, sir. They might be refugees, sir, but they don't carry much—hard to tell." Beyond the lane are sparse meadows, vineyards turning autumnal red, a pink farmhouse fringed with dark cypresses. Far beyond and below is the grey gulf of Istria, the land curving round it and flattening out to a point at- the town of Pirano. From the flat lands rise the autumnal coloured Venetian towns of Isola and Capodistria. Beside the quay at Capodistria is a long low building the Yugoslays are using as barracks: " At 8.22 a.m. a Jug company did a little drill and marched off to the rifle range. A couple of tanks sighted on the Pirano road at a quarter to nine, sir. There's a Jug Populare Difesa sitting under that apple tree with a gun on his knees if you care to take a look at him, sir."