Venetian Slovenia (Beneška Slovenija, Slavia Veneta or Slavia Friulana, ) is a small mountainous region in northeastern Italy, in the area between the towns of Cividale del Friuli (Čedad), Tarcento (Čenta) and Gemona (Humin) along the border between Italy and Slovenia. It is part of the Province of Udine in the region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia and it is inhabited by a significant Slovene minority.
The localities of Breginj and Livek in the municipality of Kobarid are also part of the historical region of Slavia Veneta; they were however not annexed to the Kingdom of Italy in 1866, and are now part of the Republic of Slovenia.
In modern Italian, the region is most commonly known as Slavia Veneta. In the late 19th and early 20th century the term Slavia Italiana was also used. In the last decades, there is a tendency to replace the name Slavia Veneta with Slavia Friuliana, emphasizing its belonging to the traditional Friuli region. Many locals prefer to call it simply Benecìa, which is also used by most of the local media. The latter denomination comes from the Slovene word Benečija, a very common alternative name for Venetian Slovenia, but avoided in the written and official use in order to avoid confusion, since it is also the Slovene name for the Italian Veneto region.
From the 9th century onward, the region belonged first to the Duchy of Friuli and later to the Patriarchate of Aquileia. After the dissolution of the Patriatchal State in 1420, the whole region was included in the Republic of Venice. The Venetian authorities gave the local Slovenes full internal autonomy, on the condition that they would serve as border guards against the neighbouring Habsburg Empire. The local autonomy was practiced in small rural boroughs (called sosednje), which were in their turn organized into two large communities (banke), one in San Pietro degli Slavi (Špeter Slovenov) and the other in San Leonardo (Šent Lenart). These self-governing boroughs had full authority over fiscal, legislative and judicial matters in their respective areas.
Although many locals hoped that Italy would restore their autonomy which had been abolished after the downfall of the Republic of Venice, the centralist policies continued. The region was subjected to a policy of Italianization and the local Slovene language was systematically pushed out of the public life. During this period, the region became a major focus of historians, linguists and ethnologists, interested in its archaic custums, language and common law. Scholars who wrote about Slavia Veneta included Jan Niecisław Baudouin de Courtenay, Simon Rutar, Carlo Podrecca and Henrik Tuma.
In the last decades before World War One, several cultural and social activists, mostly Roman Catholic priests, started setting up Slovene cultural institutions and associations. The most prominent of them was bishop and author Ivan Trinko. This trend became even more pronounced after the annexation of the Julian March to the Kingdom of Italy in 1920, when a large Slovene-speaking minority was included within the borders of the Italian state. The development was stopped by the Fascist Italianization which started in the 1920s and persecuted all public and private use of Slovene language. In 1938, the Gorizian writer France Bevk published a novel entitled Kaplan Martin Čedermac ("The Vicar Martin Čedermac"), ambientated in Venetian Slovenia. The novel, published under a pseudonym in the Yugoslav town of Ljubljana, was about a local Roman Catholic priest persecuted by the Italian Fascist regime. The novel became a best seller in Yugoslavia and the term Čedermac has been since used a synonim for the clergy persecuded by the Fascists in the Italian-administered Julian March and in the Slavia Veneta.
During World War Two the Slovene partisan resistance penetrated in the region. After the Italian armistice, the whole region was incorporated into the Nazi German Operational Zone Adriatic Coast. During this time, the Italian resistance movement also became active in the mountains of Slavia Veneta. Tensions between the two resistance movements rose. The Liberation Front of the Slovenian People wanted to annex the region to a Yugoslav Communist federation, while the Italian resistance was split between the Communists who partially supported the Yugoslav claims, and the Democratic Nationalists who wanted Slavia Veneta to remain part of Italy. In February 1945, the so-called Porzus massacre occurred, in which the Yugoslav partisans and the Italian Communists killed several members of the Italian non-Communist resistance members. In May 1945 the whole area was liberated by the Yugoslav People's Army, which however withdrew few weeks later.
In 1945, Slavia Veneta became again and integral part of Italy. It was included in the region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia. The policies of Italianization continued. The existence of a Slovene minority was not recognized and all use of Slovene language was discouraged by the authorities and persecuted by militant nationalist associations. Between 1945 and 1947, Slavia Veneta was a border region with the Communist Bloc, and several para-military organizations were established in the area, which also acted against Slovene culture and minority organizations. The region was listed as a special operational zone of the Operation Gladio, a clandestine NATO "stay-behind" operation in Italy after World War II, intended to counter an eventual Warsaw Pact invasion of Western Europe. The activists of the Gladio operation were frequently also radical Italian nationalists who were given free hands to terrorize the local Slovene communities.
A wide phenomenon of emigration also happened during the same period. Many of the villages lost more than two thirds of their populations, as Slovenes from Slavia Veneta moved to larger urban areas in Northern Italy, Switzerland and Germany. In 1976 and 1977, two earthquakes hit the region, provoking a large scale destruction and hundreds of deaths. Political persecution, emigration and natural catastrophes are the reason why the period between 1945 and 1977 has been frequently called "The Dark Years of the Slavia Veneta" (Gli anni bui della Slavia Veneta, Mračna leta Benečije).
Most people in Slavia Veneta speak three different Slovene dialects, named after the three major valleys that form the region: the Natisone (nadiški) dialect, the Torre (terski) dialect and the Resian dialect (rezijanski). Almost all of the inhabitants are fluent in the Italian language, which is taught in schools and present in the media and in the administration. The Friulian language is also widespread, especially in the municipalities of Montenars, Tarcento, Nimis, Attimis, Torreano, and Prepotto; in many villages in these municipalities, the Friulian language has already replaced Slovene as the first language of communication. Because of the lack of education in Slovene, most of the Slovenes do not master the standard Slovene language. Many don't understand it either, especially in the areas where the Slovenian TV and radio are not accessible, since standard Slovene is not entirely intellegible with the dialects spoken in the region. They are however completely intellegible with the neighbouring Slovene dialects in the Slovenian Littoral, especially the ones spoken in the upper Soča valley and in the Brda sub-region of Goriška.
The vast majority of the people belong to the Roman Catholic Church and the religion plays an important role in the local culture. The Roman Catholic priests have traditionally been the most impornant promotors of the local Slovene language and culture in Slavia Veneta.
Slavia Veneta is famous for its rich folk traditions. Numerous folk and ethno music bands come from the region, and many of them are extremely popular throughout Slovenia and the Friuli Venezia Giulia. The most famous of these bands are propably the Beneški fantje ("Venetian Lads"), which are considered to be oldest still existing Slovene band. Besides its archaic traditional music and dances, the Resia valley is also famous for its folk tales, which were edited and translated into standard Slovene language by the Slovene scholar Milko Matičetov and published by the largest publishing house in Slovenia, Mladinska knjiga, in 1976. They have been re-published in eight editions since, and have had an huge inpact in popularizing the Venetian Slovene folk culture in Slovenia.
Since the late 1980s, Slavia Veneta has also emerged as one of the major centres of high quality Slovene dialect poetry. The most famous poets from the region are Silvana Paletti, Francesco Bergnach and Marina Cernetig.
Since 1994, the artistic project Stazione di Topolò - Postaia Topolove or "Topolò Station" takes place every summer in the small village of Topolò (Topolovo, known as Topolove or Topoluove in the local dialect). The project, which is the most important cultural and artistic event in the region, is an attempt to bring together contemporary visual art with and the local folk traditions.