A People almost Forgotten (Ein Volk fast vergessen)

Unversöhnliche Grenzen

For centuries borders have both held Europe together and threatened to tear it apart. These borders have been based on geographical features, culture, language, economics, and politics. They have been altered, bled over, expanded, and collapsed. In more recent history, the move has been made to push towards a trade union for the continent to improve relations between countries and to possibly avoid future conflicts, like the World wars, to transpire in the region. However, this project has met significant challenges. Economic under sight and mismanagement brought the Euro currency to a disastrous low. The so called crisis has eventually led to a surge for mistrust in government. This has resulted in citizens moving toward decentralization and localization of power to better represent themselves, their own values, language, culture, and choices. These movements towards localization have sprung up across Europe, the crisis and lack of trust have caused old historical scars to open up, enflaming these movements again. Movements of decentralizations like these have always had their place in Europe throughout the 20th century. Ethnic and sectarian conflicts have emerged in the Balkans, the British (Wise) Isles, and the Iberian Peninsula. They have led to loss of life, loss of civil rights, and property damage. More recently in Catalonia and Scotland, for instance, both minority populations have held marches and protests for greater autonomy. One particular case of interethnic conflict has come to agreement and successful compromise with surprisingly low loss of life.

On the Southern side of the Alps in central Europe, lays the mountainous Dolomite region. Named after its consistent geographical feature and often referred to as the pale mountains. Its landscape is covered with deep valleys, rivers, and impressive mountains giving it a natural beauty. The people of this region have dotted the mountainsides with villages and farms for centuries. Although, historically known for its rural lifestyle that spans centuries, it has also been a center of commerce. The region is home to the Brenner Pass, the lowest of the passes through the Alps; it has been sought after since Roman times as a strategic trading post. The word comes from Prenner, the German word for someone who clears woodland, highlighting the rural historical roots of the region. The passage through the naturally made wall that is the Alps has made the area strategically important throughout the ages for kingdoms, empires, and nations. The oldest documents mentioning the province as Tyrol come from 1271. It went through the possession of a handful of ruling families but eventually landed in possession of the Habsburgs in 1363 (Rosenburger). It became part of the larger mountain region of Austrian Tyrol. It remained with the Habsburg Austrian Monarchy until its eventual loss after the First World War to Italy. The Germanic people that had inhabited it for centuries became minorities, foreigners, and second-class citizens overnight. The Tiroler that had been separated from Austria were cut off from families, friends, and support. Their new Italian government exploited their new position as a minority. This began the long struggle for self-determination, one of many in the 20th century Europe. This movement led to a respectable and significant reconciliation between the Italian and Germanic groups in conflict, especially when compared to the outcome of other national struggles. The Südtiroler movement is significant in its application of an ideal peace process that works for all sides of the issue, and could possibly be used as a model or example to help in other current and future multi-ethnic differences and settlement disputes. However, historical evidence must be examined to filter out what actions worked toward and were productive for favorable progress and which actions may have hindered the process. This requires an understanding of both side’s respective identities in a cultural, lingual, historical, economic, and political way. A sense of these dimensions will shed light on whether or not this model can be applied elsewhere and if it is a viable long-term solution for the problem.

Der Eintritt des Nationalismus

The Empires of Europe during the 1800s were experiencing a new phenomenon in the populations under their control. These Great European Powers had conquered, toiled, and taxed their citizens together in a delicate and sometimes tumultuous balance among each other for hundreds of years. This balance was upset when individuals began to organize themselves into more coherent groups that would form identities with new or stronger cultural values, political and economic expectations, and nationalistically defined goals. These groups have origin in several different dimensions of identity, such as geography, language, or politics. The American colonies proved this to be possible in their successful revolution and independence. In England a solid identity had also started to form in the 18th century, while in France a Monarchy had been removed, and eventually Austria-Hungary, too, would show its first signs of cracking.

The Austro-Hungarian Empire dominated central Europe, neighboring several other powers, including France to the west, Italy to the south, Prussia to the north, and Russia and the Ottomans to the east. In 1848 the Hungarians revolted, Ferdinand was forced to abdicate, further angering the Hungarians, and eventually Tsar Nicolas I came to aid of the Holy Alliance (Prussia, Austria, Russia) putting down the rebellion, although Austria would later have to award Hungary its autonomy in the 1867 Ausgleich. (Glenny, 40,55). In 1866 Austria lost Königgrätz to Prussia (Glenny, 68). This further undermined Austria’s dominant position as an empire. At the 1878 Berlin Congress the Ottoman Empire was being divvied up. The Ottoman Empire’s decay is noted by its own writer and bureaucrat Ziya Bey after visiting Europe, “I passed through the lands of the infidels, I saw cities and mansions; I wandered in the realm of Islam, I saw nothing but ruins” (Glenny, 100).  The Great Powers and newly liberated Ottoman subjects exploited the decline of the Anatolian centered empire, including Austria. Austria took the chance to annex Bosnia, which it was awarded at the Congress, and much to the disappointment of the Serbs (Glenny, 146). This created one of histories most memorable blowbacks, four centuries of millet style governing was replaced with a European power player status quo, and only war could follow. It is also important to note here that Italy and France had left the Congress empty handed, with Italy holding a grudge against the Austrians.

Austria was struggling to stay on its feet, but to prove it would not falter and was still a Great Power they focused all energy on Bosnia and Serbia (Glenny, 281). After Austria instilled an economic blockade on Serbia and the Serbs feared inevitable attack from Austria. The Black Hand was formed and on June 28th, 1914 a less than experienced unit was assembled to assassinate the Arch Duke Ferdinand on his visit to Sarajevo (304, Glenny). His death triggered the Great Powers into the war they had all been waiting for, while nationalism entered the Theater of Europe. The long held assumption was that the Balkans was the powder keg that led to the Great War, when actually the Balkans were merely the fuse, lined up by the powers themselves that ignited war. Austria was trying to prove it was still a great power, Germany wanted to pursue further its Weltpolitik, Italy sought after more imperial gain, and conservative Russia switched to join its old liberal enemies Great Britain and France, in fear of German expansion. As the war winded down, and Austria and the Central Powers had fallen apart, Italy pushed to extend its borders in Yugoslavia, Albania, Turkey, and, of course, Austria (Glenny, 365).

Die wahre Dolchstoßlegende

In April 1915, a secret treaty was formed between the Entente and Italy, where the Italians expressed their demands if they were to forsake the Triple Alliance with Austria-Hungary and Germany (Glenny, 332). These demands included the area of Südtirol as well as numerous other territorial gains in Yugoslavia, Turkey, and even colonial territories of Germany in Asia and Africa. With London promising Italy everything it wanted, the Italians enthusiastically switched sides. When the war ended there was little to no remorse for the defeated Central Powers. President Wilson’s famous Fourteen Points plan to divide Europe by national self-determination was mostly ignored by the victorious Entente, who had taken to dividing up their gains, rather than worry about minority or ethnic conflict. Point Nine of the plan specifically requested the readjustment of lines in Italy to harmonize along nationality. This was something the Italians were unwilling to accept. The Italians, like the Volksdeutsche and the Habsburgs, knew how strategic the area of Südtirol was. They maintain that although the Habsburgs may have controlled the region for most of its history, it was under the Kingdom of Italy for a brief period thanks to Napoleon, and that it has always had an Italian character to it (Toscano, 1). However, this Italianness found in Südtirol has always been an urban sort. When nationalism first started to grow, urban Italians were welcoming to new liberal ideas. This did not sit well with the rural Austrian peasantry or the Kaiser, leading to an exportation of half the Italian population between the years 1860 and 1913. This may not have been the decisive reason, but it certainly pushed Italy to go behind the Triple Alliance’s back in the hopes of acquiring the region (Toscano, 2). The Italians maintained that it was to regain the “70 percent” of Italians living there, but the main reason to take the territory was always one of pure strategic military necessity. The Brenner Pass and the highways around it are key to any invasion into Italy from the North (Toscano, 9). During the war, the Italians experienced how even a relatively small force could hold onto those Alps, as the Austrians had shown them. However, neither Vienna nor Rome could trust each other’s census data on the region. The Italians even forfeited a compromise by Austrians to make Südtirol a demilitarized zone, calming Italy’s strategic concerns. The Austrians issued a statement insisting that keeping Tirol together was of historical, ethnic, and economic importance. The statement also ended on a threatening note, adding that if annexation did occur, the Südtiroler have endured worse before and would endure worse to come to see Tirol united again. Italy and the Allies ignored these pleas and threats adding another minority to the mosaic of lost peoples in Europe. Rome promised a generous and liberal stance on this new minority (Toscano, 12). We know today that this was a tremendous lie. After the most brutal war humanity had ever experienced the first thought on Europe’s mind was to prepare for the next one instead of pursuing a path to peace.

Italy had successfully achieved its revenge on Austria, and pushed forward with its own extreme nationalistic agenda. This meant disaster for the Südtiroler. However, the tactics used in this new take on ethnic cleansing had been in development since before the Great War. Ettore Tolomei, an Italian language teacher turned Inspector General of Italian Schools Abroad, had founded La Nazione Italiana publication. In short its aim was to bring the reemergence of the ancient Roman Empire around the Mediterranean. When this publication had to be stopped due to financial reasons he started Archivo per l’Alto Adige. This was another journal promoting Italianness and more specifically for the Südtirol region, which he considered to be Alto Adige and property of Italy for time immemorial. He used the journal to put out his own version of ethnic demographics for the region and from 1914 on it was the sole source of information for Italians on regional problems (Steininger, 16). Tolomei began planning, in detail, the annexation of Südtirol, presupposing that the German speaking population would assimilate. He also translated the names of 10,000 villages, places, and roads into Italian, sometimes just adding an O to the German name or making a literal translation (Steininger, 17). All this was taken as fact from the Archivo, though it lacked scholarly-reliability, when it was really blatant Italian propaganda. This was due to the Archivo being distributed to certain libraries, giving it a false essence of scholarly work. After World War I and the occupation of Südtirol, Tolomei was assigned to put together measures for the Italianization of the region in 1923. This came in the form of his 32 provvedimenti per l’Alto Adige, which Der Tiroler newspaper aptly described as “measures for the eradication of German culture in Südtirol” (Steininger, 19). Just some of the measures included unifying Alto Adige and Trentino into a single province (giving the Italians majority power), closure of the Brenner, German immigration prevention, town and place name changes to Italian, changing German family names to Italian, removal of Germans from public services including police, shutting down the German press, and even banning the use of the name Südtirol (Steininger, 19,20). This intense policy of Italianization continued throughout the 1920s and 1930s. Tolomei announced early in the 1920s that Alto Adige would be incorporated into the province of Trent, robbing the Südtiroler of a majority and solidifying them as a minority in Italy (Toscano, 21).

Das Argument der Südtiroler Selbstbestimmung

Though new Italian nationalism was stronger and more aggressive, German nationalism was also present. Possibly even more present when faced with its annihilation in Südtirol. The Südtirolers have an indisputably more diverse culture than their southern neighbors. They have lived there for centuries; their farms have been passed down along with their language, cultural traditions, and politics. The difference in politics can be seen even more clearly in present day within the European Union. The fact that Tolomei had to sit down and create a list of ways to degrade a culture and a people only proves the point that the Volksdeutsche have been in the Südtirol region for long enough to consider it their home and to have the right to live there. If one were to follow Italy’s argument that the region has always been Italian, the first counter-argument would be that before the 1800s, there was no such thing as an Italian or a German, but that there were only Monarchies and their subjects. What you have after is whatever land these Empires happened to grab and hold onto until their eventual demise, and what culture continued to grow thereafter was what defined that nation. The second-counter argument would be that of the actual culture of the land. What, in fact, were people doing there historically and how does that match a modern description? This question can be looked at using the Iceman found in Südtirol. The Iceman, named Ötzi after the site where he was discovered, stands as a testament to the characteristically rural lifestyle of the region. His leather clothes remind one of traditional Lederhosen, his backpack similar that to a Tiroler backpack (Kraxe). Studies of Ötzi have shown him to possibly be pastoral, fitting again to the farming lifestyle of many Volksdeutsche in Südtirol. This late Neolithic man has more in common with traditional rural Volksdeutsche than with the modern urban Italian (Hudson, Journal of Occupational Science). With this in mind, one can be assured that although Tolomei fooled many about the Italianness of the land, it was historically more representative of the Volksdeutsche living there.

Fascista Alto Adige

In spite of this, the Italianization process of course continued, driven by the Fascist government. Tolomei’s program targeted every level of society in Südtirol. The German speaking Press was shut down in 1925. This included Der Landsmann, the Brixner Chronik, the Bozner Nachrichten, the Dolomiten, followed by the Volksbote,Volksblatt, and the Burggraefler a year later (Steininger, 25). October 1st, 1923 the Lex Gentile went into effect in all of Italy. For Südtirol this meant the dismantling of the German school system and 30,000 German-speaking students became subjected to Italianization (Steininger, 26). Canon Michael Gamper, previous editor of the Volksbote, took the lead to initiate clandestine German schooling in Südtirol, these became known as the catacomb schools. They became a way for students to continue their education with German instruction; though the quality of the education was certainly not the best, it was still in their mother tongue. As well as schools, most businesses and public services had become strictly Italian. Without proper Italian documentation, many Südtiroler lost their businesses, farms, and even homes. In 1927 the Italians showed just how far they were willing to go by banning all German gravestone inscriptions and forcing them to be in Italian. This was quickly played down a year later stating that, “The Italian Government will not lay even a finger on the past; our mission is the future” (Steininger, 33). The Italian governments confusingly contradictory statement did not give any ease to the German-speaking population’s suffering. Mussolini then began his “domestic colonization” or exploitation of hydroelectric power and agriculture (Steininger, 33).

The Industrial Zone in Bozen was also brought in to exploit resources, but also to alter demographics by bringing in Italian labor. 1936 to 1942 saw the amount of Italian industrial workers in the area rise from zero to 7,000 and reached 12,000 by 1947. The construction of the Industrial Zone managed to destroy 50,000 fruit trees shortly before their harvest, which further angered locals (Steininger, 43). This is not uncommon for any occupational force. The Industrial Zone was then given a “free ride” for companies to invest in an unfavorable geographic location by the government. Aluminum works, fiber board works, magnesium works, and steel works for auto parks all took advantage of the governments generosity and set up camp in Bozen. The area just, economically, does not make sense to industrialize, too much energy was needed to bring in materials and run these plants (Steininger, 44). This emphasizes the actual goal of Industrialization, which was to force a demographic change of the region by Italian authorities.

Mussolini also ordered the construction of the Fascist Victory Monument. “An arrogant demonstration of the Italianization of Südtirol” was the description by German historian Rudolf Lill (Steininger, 35). It was to be put where everyone could see it across the Talfer Bridge in Bozen, where construction of a memorial for Austrian Kaiserjäger troops had already started; this memorial was blown up and removed. The Victory monument was a sign of Italianization and victory over their enemies across the Alps. The monument is adorned with axe blades coming from the columns in a very Roman fashion, a sculpture of Vittoria Sagittaria firing an arrow toward the north, and the inscription in Latin: “Here are the borders of the fatherland. Put down our weapons. From here, we brought to the others language, laws, and arts” (Steininger, 37). The Italians did not stop at creating their own new monuments; to truly bring Italy into Südtirol would mean every monument celebrating Germanness had to go as well. The Walther von der Vogelweide statue in the Altstadt, the Laurin Fountain, and the Bozen Museum were all either relocated or removed (Steininger, 40). Yet despite all the action taken against the Südtiroler they still remained strong and as proud of their heritage as ever.

Die Optionen

The Südtiroler that had not been so easily turned into happy Italian citizens had found another place to turn, and that was National Socialism, but Nazi propaganda only convinced the Italians of the need to push their domestic colonization even harder. In 1934 the Südtiroler Heimatfront was changed to Völkischer Kampfring Südtirols. The change in name was inspired by the implementation of the Führer principle. In 1935 Südtiroler were eager to hear of the reunification of the Saarland with Germany. That night bonfires were lit in the mountains, Nazi symbols and anti-Italian mottos were flaunted, “heute die Saar – wir über Jahr” (Steininger, 47). In 1938 the Anschluß of Austria further heightened hopes that Südtirol would be welcomed in the new Reich. However, Hitler was more concerned with not upsetting his Fascist neighbor and Ally Mussolini. With irredentist behavior on the rise in Alto Adige, the Italians became wary of Hitler continuing his annexations south. Hitler assured Mussolini, evening going to Rome to do so, that Germany had no intention to take Südtirol. After incidents in Lasa where demonstrations against Italy took place and shots were fired, Innsbruck was held responsible and told to show restraint. Hitler’s second man, Hermann Göring, and founder of the Gestapo, was put in charge of solving the problem. In 1938 in a conversation with Italian consul in Berlin he was quoted saying “…the Germans in the Alto Adige, let us say 200,000, represent a mere nothing beside the 75 million in Germany. Those of them who do not wish to become loyal Italian citizens can leave the Alto Adige. We want no more trouble-makers” (Toscano, 38). This was the first mention of a population exchange from both sides, but regardless of the origin of the idea both Italy and Germany were ready to see it through to finish this Südtirol question once and for all.

`In 1939 10,000 politically undesirable Reich Germans (Austrians) were to be relocated in the coming year. After that the Volksdeutche and finally the land owning Austrians would be moved (Toscano, 44). The Südtiroler had two options, either leave the homeland to preserve customs and tradition, or to stay and betray their own Germanness by not following the Führer’s instructions. It turned out 86 percent would opt for relocation due to Nazi propaganda, fear of Italianization, and rumors of relocation to Sicily. The Option was in Berlin described as “an act of extraordinary political wisdom” (Steininger, 50). The Nazis referred to this act of ethnic cleansing as human resource relocation, a nice spin on a disastrous policy. The VKS at first stated that they would follow their Führer in every aspect save this one. A few days later their position changed to that of sacrificing ones homeland for ones country (Steininger, 56). For some Südtiroler giving up the homeland was in fact giving up tradition, custom, and country. Those who chose to stay were now subjugated to both Italianization and Nazi propaganda and aggression. The stayers, or traitors, received from their own German-speaking neighbors threats and violence on a daily basis. “Hotel Israel” was painted on an Inn where a Jewish fruit dealer had spent the night by Nazi sympathizers, manure was smeared on houses, and some barns were set on fire, their children were pelted with stones, and houses were smashed and violated (Steininger, 59). One memorable stayer, Friedl Volgger, describes how stayers became as bad as Jews in the eyes of the leaving German population (Steininger, 60). Almost 75,000 Südtiroler left their homeland, with only 20,000 eventually returning. The exchange of a population has shown it self to be more burden than solution not just in Alto Adige but historically as well. The nation states of the 20th century saw population exchange as a viable solution. In the 1920s Turkey and Greece had their Great Population exchange of 1.3 million Orthadox Greeks and 800,000 Muslims, which for them became more of a problem than an answer (Glenny, 392).

When Mussolini was overthrown during the Second World War, Germany occupied Südtirol and Northern Italy. Most believed that they would be the newest addition to the Reich, however this did not happen. Twenty months of German civil administration saw the return of German schools and language and basic rights, but no promise of escape from Italy. During those “terrible” twenty months the German-speaking citizens gave into their resentment of Italians, taking revenge for their treatment during the Italianization process (Toscano, 51). The absence of the Italian administration and the realization that Südtirol would remain Italian led a few to begin to organize for after the war. The Südtiroler Volkspartei was founded May 8, 1945 in Villa Malfér in Bozen and Erich Amonn was elected chairman. The group was a continuation of stayers resistance activity and the goal was re-unification with Austria. They proposed to fight for the right of self-determination for the German-speaking population and to bring peace to the land after twenty-five years of Italian Fascism and German National Socialism.

Opfer vom Kalten Krieg

During World War II the Allies Council of Foreign Ministers met in Moscow and discussed the after war strategy. Austria was to be considered the first victim of Nazi aggression but the question still remained on where to draw the line. The consensus was the 1919 line, placing the border at the Brenner Pass, but the question of Südtirol was kept open for possible change in the future (Steininger, 77). After the war the Council of Foreign Ministers decided on September 14, 1945 that the 1919 borderline would remain the same. This decision was made despite the Tiroler demonstrations in Innsbruck and despite an active Austrian Foreign Minister, Karl Gruber (Steininger, 80). Rome and Vienna protested and argued for their respective cause of maintaining the territory. However, securing a peaceful Europe for everybody for the Allies meant halting communist expansion and so keeping the centers of power happy became more important than small border conflicts. It was agreed upon that if Italy were to lose Südtirol it would upset the government and “open the way for the Communists” (Steininger, 91). In May 1946 the Council of Foreign Ministers in Paris closed the question once and for all, ignoring all ideas of self-determination for the Südtiroler and focusing on creating a safe and democratic capitalist Europe. In all of Tirol there were protests as well as clashes with police and French occupation forces. At this time Austria was still under allied control and the government was too weak to do anything about the Südtirol question. Under Allied persuasion Italy and Austria were to debate further a possible solution for what would certainly be a problem in the future. To keep both countries appeased was of vital importance to any anti-communist strategy. It was suggested that autonomy be given the province under Italian sovereignty with considerable rights of culture, access, and trade for the German-speaking population (Steininger, 101). On September 5th, 1946 Karl Gruber and Prime Minister Alcide De Gasperi signed the peace treaty and the Gruber-De Gasperi Agreement was made. The signing of this agreement is of significant importance because as it was part of the Allied Peace Treaty it made the Südtirol question an international affair and not just an internal Italian affair. It also included the right of protector to Austria concerning the matter.

Italy willingly signed the agreement and showed little problem with granting Austria protector status, and had no problem with the concept of autonomy for Alto Adige. This is likely because their willingness to sign the treaty was followed by their next move, which was to create an interconnected autonomous region of Trentino and Alto Adige. This in effect made the Südtiroler a minority within their own homeland, with the inclusion of the Trentino province there would be 500,000 Italians and only 200,000 Südtiroler (Steininger, 106). The Austrian government at the time was too weak to do anything about this twist in the agreement and decided instead to bide their efforts. Italy used the agreement to their own advantage, the government took its time in implementing the autonomy status and also used this time to suppress a good portion of the German-speaking population, they did this by taking advantage of those 150,000 who had opted for Germany during the war, who now had neither Italian nor German citizenship and could not vote, get a job, or marry (Steininger, 110). The Fascist elements of the Old Italian government had not yet departed.

Das Echo Mussolinis

One headline in 1948 from the Dolomiten expressed how the Südtiroler felt after the agreement had been made; it read, “Danger is Imminent” (Steininger, 112). It articulated the Fascist remnants continued goal of Italianization. What was once blatant behavior by the Italian government became more deceptive and less obvious. The school system was still more accommodating to Italians and the immigration of more Italians to the province was on the rise. The superior behavior of Italians continued much as it had during the 1920s. Graffiti offences for promoting Südtiroler self-determination garnered a year or more in prison.  In April 1955 the Italian government gave 2 billion Lire for public housing for the province, 1.8 billion of which went to the City of Bozen, where the majority of Italians resided and were moving to (Steininger, 114). Protests were held urging for a break with Trient, the Trentino capital, and full implementation of autonomy. The continuation of Italian hostility was followed by a change in the SVP leadership and the adoption of a less moderate stance. They pushed harder for autonomy to be put in place, but the Italian parliament ignored these calls. They then in 1959 issued implementation regulations for public housing construction that removed almost all authority over the area that was still in the hands of the SVP. The SVP then resigned from the regional government signaling a critical turning point in the situation (Steininger, 117).

Die Bombenjahre

In 1955, Austria finally got back its independence and assumed a more active role in the Südtirol problem. When in 1960, Prime Minister Fernando Tambroni suggested secret talks be held to solve the problem, Foreign Office secretary Bruno Kriesky was in favor of this option, but all Tiroler on both sides of the Brenner were opposed to the idea. Austria then went ahead with its plan to bring the question to the UN General Assembly. The UN unanimously passed resolution 1497/XV, which was meant to use the Paris Agreement as determinative and to implement autonomy that “…takes into consideration the ethnic character and the cultural and economic development of the Südtiroler” (Steininger, 121). Negotiations were re-opened and the UN respected Austria’s right as protector to be involved in the issue. However, the Italians were unwilling to compromise and negotiations broke after one day. Many Südtiroler decided this was the end of hope for receiving help from outside, and that it was time to take matters into their own hands.

Südtiroler, unhappy with the SVP leadership, formed the Befreiungsausschuss Südtirol (BAS). They began a strategic bombing campaign of the region, targeting Italian army bases, monuments, and important infrastructure such as bridges and electric pylons. They handed out fliers at demonstrations explaining the need to protect ones Germanness and not be treated like an Italian colony. The Südtiroler tolerance for being discriminated had run out. Germans and Austrians outside Südtirol began sending their monetary, political, and organizational support (Steininger, 123). Rolf Steininger makes a clear distinction in his book on Südtirol about the bombings, stating that during the years 1956-1969 two phases occurred. The first phase lasted until 1961 during which the bombings were carried out in a way that would avoid endangering human life. The second phase from 1961-1969 included deaths, injuries and property damage giving the BAS organization a terrorist branding (Steininger, 123).

One particular bombing marked the turn in the trend from property damaging freedom fighters to life-taking terrorists. It was the 11th of June, 1961, during the Sacred Heart of Jesus Festival, thirty-seven electrical pylons were bombed and taken down, nineteen of which were in Bozen (Steininger, 124). Herlinde Molling, an art historian, was one of the members in this attack and did an interview two years ago talking about her experience as a terrorist bomber and mother. On the appropriately named Feuernacht, she drove from her home in Tirol, down across the Brenner, and into Südtirol with the explosive material for the job in her trunk along with her two daughters in the back seat. Her car was stopped by the Carabinieri, she lightly flirted, pointed out her children, and was sent on her way. She drove a few more kilometers, attached the explosives and the detonator, and went back home. She talks about her involvement with the BAS, secret meetings in Innbrucker Bürgerhäusen, long debates, and dreams of Ein Tirol. She expresses her idea of the border problem with hope saying; “Wer sagt, dass Grenzen ewig Bestand haben müssen” (Fasser). Molling has a history of involvement with the cause, admitting to spray-painting “Freiheit für Südtirol” when she was younger. Her father was also a member of the earlier BAS organization. Her husband, also a member, explains how Wien had forgotten about them and not done enough, even since 1919, and that it was now their fate alone. However, Molling still has respect for socialist Foreign Minister Bruno Kreisky, who helped the Südtirol cause for autonomy status. When the deed had been done that night, many had celebrated, but not Molling. She explains how she was not boastful of her actions like the men in the organization. Pride was their goal, they wanted guns, and they wanted to fight. They even admitted old Nazis into their ranks, which might help explain the change in bombing tactics after the Feuernacht. Though for Molling the fight was never about pride, it was about her people, her culture, her homeland, für Molling die Tiroler sind eben anders (Fasser).

After the Feuernacht, Südtirol saw an increase in troop presence and 150 BAS men were arrested. The men arrested were tortured, tried, and two were murdered (Steininger, 125). From that point on Austrian and German citizens were becoming more and more involved in acts of terrorism. Neo-nazis, spy agencies, and pan-German groups treated the province like a new arena. However, the increase in radical action and brutality claimed, in the end, a total of only fourteen lives. (I use the word ‘only’ merely in comparison to other ethnic conflicts and terrorist movements. I think this is important to mention because as Molling suggested the Tiroler are certainly something else.) Until the second phase of the bombings and neo-Nazi involvement, the strategy had always been one of avoiding the endangering of human life. This is something that most freedom fighters in other countries do away with, thinking that only the same brutality they have been shown can resolve the problem. After another bombing in Porzecharte left four dead, Italian and Austrian relations were at a low point. Some Italians were maneuvering to take Austria out of the Südtirol question once and for all. In 1967, Italy used its veto in the European Economic Community to block Austrian attempts at further negotiations (Steininger, 128). Minister of the Interior, Mario Scelba, appointed a commission of eleven Italians and eight Südtirolers to examine the problem from all points of view (Steininger, 125). It was originally thought that this commission would take Austria out of the picture, but it soon grew to have a life of its own. Socialist chairman Paolo Rossi realized that Italian and Austria diplomacy had come to an end and that it now fell on the Commission of Nineteen to solve the issue. The SVP and Austrian call for provincial autonomy had long been forgotten; the Package that was actually being formed was undermining their regional autonomy (Steininger, 129).

Das Zweite Abkommen

The Package, originally meant to undermine the Volksdeutche, eventually led to a suitable agreement. This change in Italian policy is most attributed to a new, center-left government under Aldo Moro and Giuseppe Saragat. They were more understanding of minorities and opened the floor for discussion. There is an argument, though, between scholars and Bumser (BAS members active in the bombings) as to whether or not the bombings were the source of the Italian policy change, which I will return to later. The new Italian government met in secret talks with Bruno Kreisky but when an agreement was reached the Südtiroler backed away from the deal because it made the Package an internal affair of Italy, which was something they could not comply with. A few years later, in 1966, both foreign ministers, Lujo Toncic-Sorinj and Amintore Fanfani sat down and Italy proposed an all-inclusive offer (Steininger, 130). The SVP was now demanding the Package to be anchored internationally. Italy, again, stalling for time offered to anchor the accord politically. This compromise created a timetable for implementation and specified that Austria would agree to end the dispute after implementation of real autonomy, this became known as the operations calendar (Steininger, 131).  The SVP, in November 1969, voted on whether or not to accept the Package and the timetable, it won 583 votes to 492 (Steininger, 132). Chancellor Josef Klaus delivered his statement denouncing any terrorist activity and Italy returned the good favor by withdrawing its veto in the EEC. Both parliaments in Rome and Vienna accepted the agreement to implement and further the autonomy of Südtirol. One of the major differences was the removal of authority from the whole region to the two separate provinces, fixing the problem from 1948 and the failed Gruber- De Gasperi Agreement that made the Südtiroler a minority in their homeland (Steininger, 134). Now the province of Südtirol could better protect and preserve its cultural identity under its new autonomy status. Another part of the Package was helping the two communities live together; this prompted a policy of learning a second language earlier on in school.

The new autonomy Statute went into effect January 20th, 1972 and marked real progress for Südtirol, unlike the last promise for autonomy. Now there would be schools for each of the languages in the province, including the Ladin minority. There would also be positions in public jobs for all three ethnic groups under the Proporz Decree. The Patentino was the ticket into civil service and a certificate of bilingualism (Steininger, 137). The implementation process was long and there were times when things slowed down. In 1986 Rome held a debate over the Package, which the SVP declared “a grave violation of the Package, the autonomy statute, international commitments, and the agreements that had been arrived at between the representatives of the majority parties in the Südtiroler legislation” (Steininger, 139). Over the next months the number of rejected bills rose, and in 1987 it was admitted that Rome was doing everything it could to delay rather than work together to bring the solution to form (Steininger, 139). In 1991, pressure was put on Rome for these delay tactics when a rally was held on the Brenner demanding for Break with Rome-Province Now! (Steininger, 140). The new governor, Roland Riz, had experience as an MP in Rome, and started to act in order to speed up the process. Riz assured Rome of Austria’s declaration of an end to the dispute to the UN should all points be made in accordance with the 1969 agreement. On January 30th, 1992 the Package was declared fulfilled by the Italian government, however, the Treaty of Paris was not mentioned and therefore no link to international law (Steininger, 142). Austrian Ambassador, Emil Stafflmayr, was then a few months later handed an additional note from Italian Foreign Ministry, General Secretary Bruno Bottai, expressing that the broadest possible autonomy was implemented for the German-speaking minority as mandated (specifically) by the Treaty of Paris (Steininger, 143). Finally it was Austria’s time to go to the UN and mark the end of the Package implementation. On June 19th, 1992 Austrian and Italian ambassadors handed in the “Notification of the Termination of Conflict” to the UN. The UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, called the resolution on resolving a minority dispute between two states exemplary (Steininger, 144).

Dank dem Kampf – Dank dem Zufall

Though autonomy was implemented in 1992 for the province, the question remains, was the resolution a success and, if so, could it be used as model for other ethnic conflicts? The first real major act of defiance and, therefore, towards better treatment was the choice of some Südtrioler not to opt for Germany, as they had every right to stay in their homes and villages. Those who left made the entire minority seem like chess pieces willing and waiting to be moved from space to space on the board, when, in fact, they were actually individuals, with families, values, goals, and rights. When those rights are taken away, one must act and stand firm. To work against such discrimination is difficult, especially when the country that protected those rights is under occupation itself, as Austria was after World War II. The SVP made the right move in organizing, being active in finding a solution, and connecting with Austria, despite its occupation status. The acceptance and grounding of Austria’s right as protector of the minority in the Paris Agreement was crucial in that it later forced Italy into a position where they would need Austria to settle the dispute.

Tiroler governor and later Foreign Minister Karl Gruber took the next important step in appealing to the allies for “freedom to be restored in Südtirol, the country of Andreas Hofer after twenty-six years of cruel oppression that did not even spare the graveyards” (Steininger, 80). Although Cold War tension and fear ultimately stopped the Allies from giving Austria back Südtirol, calling for support from greater powers is another key step in achieving autonomy or way to self-determination. With Austria out of its cage in 1955, it began to be able to help more, taking the problem to the UN in 1960 despite pressure from the West not to do so (Steininger, 146). They received no support from the UN, but Britain a close trading partner of Austria, however, managed to help revert the situation from disaster. Things seemed to change when a new Italian government came in that was more understanding. This opened up the route for new negotiations. The Südtiroler denied any chance of Italy making the province an internal affair, a move that I think was very important for eventually solidifying any agreement that could have been made in international law. I believe the Italian delay tactics during implementation of the Package are a sign that had an internal solution been accepted the Package would have been significantly undermined. A crucial step the Tiroler and Südtiroler took was to make sure any negotiation for the implementation of autonomy was grounded firmly in international law, or it could have meant the Paris Agreements failure all over again. Then arose new negotiations, where this course threatened to return. Italy had gone against any treaty-like agreements in connection with the Package, and offered only to anchor the accord politically (Steininger, 131). This became the operations calendar and was a smart choice to accept this compromise or risk losing the whole agreement.

The actual package that came to be, after two decades of negotiation and implementation, gave the province the autonomous authority it struggled so long to achieve. This included the Proporz Decree, an attempt to bring bilingualism into the communities. This is an important step in any long-term peace solution. It also signaled the equal status of the German language in the province that had been lost since 1919. It set up a Provincial Supreme Court, and split the province into three districts giving Südtirol three senatorial seats. All powers that had once been under regional authority now came under the province. This included subsidized residential construction, hunting and fishing, parks for the protection of endangered plants and animals, streets, water supply, sewage system, public works, communication, transportation, public services, tourism, agriculture and forestry, hydraulic engineering, public welfare, and construction of schools (Steininger, 135).  All the taxes earned from these were to be kept in the province, allowing Südtirol to only pay 10% of taxes to Rome.

Other ethnic conflicts and minority disputes could be solved in this way. Allowing a certain region to have more localized authority is a healthy compromise when conflicts like this arise. It would be better, however, to avoid such conflicts and allow a minority that has lived there for considerable time to use their own language, but also give the opportunity for other languages to be learned and used as well. Devolution of powers allows for tensions to settle and for democracy to flourish without the need for escalating violence. Discrimination against a certain group by the centralized government will, in most cases, lead to backlash against them in one way or another. Italy was fortunate that the conflict had so few casualties. Looking at how other sectarian standoffs have spun out of control, as in Israel/Palestine or Northern Ireland, the showdown in the Dolomites is a model example for how to bring peace, compromise, and stability. Today, the province still has a majority of German-speakers, they live their lives, continue to practice their customs and traditions, and coexist with their ethnically different neighbors in this Austrian/Italian province.

Der Stolz des Hofer

(Before going into this side argument over the bombings, it should be noted that I might hold some bias. As an American, I am perhaps more partial to agree with the side of the self-determinists, those searching for justice and independence. Noting this, I am also ashamed the USA did not do more for the Südtiroler, especially during the Cold War. I felt especially inspired by the interview that Herlinde Molling offered the Zeit Online, and how she did not let pride get in the way of, what for her were, extremely important steps to get international recognition and was able to stop short of violence towards human life.)

There is some argument, as I mentioned earlier, about the new left-leaning government being the single reason for re-starting negotiations. The Bumser, or bombers of the BAS organization argue that their actions are what led the Südtirol problem to the world press and, therefore, why Italy finally gave into negotiations, out of fear from international response. The Bumser hold onto this claim with a strong sense of pride. Two notable scholars on the situation maintain another theory. The Südtiroler Political Scientist, Günther Pallaver, points out that the new, centre-left Aldo Moro government was the real reason for autonomy and not the bombing campaign. He states; “Autonomie nicht wegen, sondern trotz der Bomben der Sechziger” (Fasser). Rolf Steininger specifically writes in his book that; “the bombings were later said by their perpetrators and their sympathizers to have been what triggered a change in Italy’s Südtirol policy. This is certainly not the case. At the suggestion of Minister of the Interior Mario Scelba, the Italian government – not because of but despite the bombings – appointed a commission consisting of eleven Italians and eight Südtiroler..” (Steininger, 125). Both scholars suggest that the Commission of Nineteen would have been formed with or without the bombing campaign, supporting the theory that the Package would have been delivered despite these acts of terrorism. This is something that I do not think can be said with such certainty.

Steininger and Pallaver provide only the assumption that it was the center-left Italian government that made negotiations possible. I agree with the assumption that if a right-leaning government had come to be, they most likely would have used the bombings to justify harder suppression and stop negotiations. However, I would argue that if the first phase of the bombings had maintained and not escalated under a right-wing establishment, it could have still been able to bring about a solution. I say this because I do not think the first phase of these bombings can be so easily ignored. In any activist movement, there is a line that needs to be crossed for it to be considered an act of terror. I would draw that line at the same juncture the original BAS had chosen, that of endangering human life. The Feuernacht bombings only had one casualty, Italian street maintenance employee Giovanni Postal, and this was surely an accident because for an untold reason he was handling the explosives and surely not qualified to do this knowingly. The first phase of the bombings still maintained an activist character; it was still a protest movement. It is necessary for a movement, especially of this nature, to get the word out. The major powers of the time feared Red, not Rot-Weiss-Rot, the Südtiroler movement was almost entirely on its own and surely needed World media attention. The BAS movement meant to cause massive property damage, especially to the Industrial Zone that for decades increased the fear of losing their homes, was genuine activism. This movement deserves credit, massive damage to infrastructure alone is an ingeniously authentic way to make the movements’ voices heard and still respected. It is when they cross the line into inflicting real panic and pain to lives and families that they descend into terrorism. We can say that Aldo Moro and the lefties made the Package possible; we can say that the second phase of the bombings were indeed acts of terror, used to bomb self-determination into existence. However, we cannot say that the Initial Phase of the BAS liberation movement was irrelevant in bringing about attention to the need for change in the province.

Alte Gewohnheiten

The Province has not only come out of its dark past, but it has flourished since 1992. It holds the lowest crime rate in Italy and a remarkably low unemployment (Steininger, 148). Südtirol now produces ten percent of the apples in the EU, and two percent of the global market. It is today the wealthiest region in Italy. The secondary autonomy status guarantees that ninety percent of the tax revenue remains inside the regional budget, with only ten percent going to Rome and the national budget (Rosenburger). There are still marches held calling for re-unification by the Südtiroler Schützenbund, and some place signs are still vandalized between the two language groups, but now only a small minority participates in these activitites (Bell). Now, a part of the EU, the Brenner border seems irrelevant and one would think the economic and political union bringing Austria and Italy even closer together would have stopped separatist movements. This has not been the case, at least since the economic crisis. As in other parts of Europe, the crisis has brought up old problems. As the wealthiest region in Italy, many are afraid that Rome will seek to take more from the Province to help Italy’s debt problem, and infringe upon the coveted autonomy status. Ulli Mair of die Freiheitlichen stated; “Südtirol is not in charge of saving Italy and could not have done so even if it wanted to. Italy is a bad house keeper with lots of debts! We’re not paying for their debts with our money!” (RT). While the Italian unemployment average is around eleven percent, the Südtirol average is about three or four percent (Rosenburger). The fear of being dragged in to help Italy’s problems can be examined by looking at support for the Provinces political parties. SVP has long been the main party for the German-speaking population, but in the last decade Die Freiheitlichen and Süd-Tiroler Freiheit separatist parties have been gaining momentum. In 2003, Die Freiheitlichen had five percent of the vote, increasing to 14.3 percent in 2008, and is expected to gain 23.7 percent this year in the October elections. This means the SVP would lose its majority in parliament for the first time since 1945 (Rosenburger).

I had a chance to sit down and talk with people working for both the SVP and Die Freiheitlichen to get a better idea of what their goals and worries are in the coming years.

I talked with three members of the SVP, one in their offices, and two from an event introducing their new team of MPs for the coming election. It seems for the SVP leadership that there is no reason at all to be pushing for independence from Rome at the moment. I asked them all questions about signs and language disputes, the school system, and whether or not they felt threatened that Rome would take away their autonomy tax status. The SVP are trying to be realistic and practical in this matter. There is no need for more borders by becoming an independent state. In the case of future problems, they want to have Rome on their side and not Vienna. This was because of the Italians’ streak of luck in getting through things, completely ignoring the fact that Italy is being hit hard by this economic crisis and Austria on the other hand is managing quite well. For the SVP Independence could mean loss of power in the EU, a power that they have by being a part of Italy. One member also did not want the Austrian police there, but instead preferred the Carabinieri. “We have it so good here”, is something I heard repeated often. It was strange to have read about the party that for so long pushed and fought for self-determination and could now only commit to saying why a break with Rome was far from the realm of possibility. One member, when questioned about Rome taking more money to help with their debt problem, answered surprised; “Was? Noch mehr?” (What, even more?) and then played down the possibility of this ever happening.

I then stepped into the office of die Freiheitlichen Party and the tone was significantly different. The SVP members I talked to seemed to be going through the motions, when I met with Sigmar Stocker it was a completely different experience, the word Leidenschaft (passionate) comes to mind. He was more than happy to answer my questions and talk about the current situation, but perhaps that comes with the territory of running a campaign based on an independence movement. He expressed quite clearly that his party, too, was being realistic, but still thought that someday Südtirol could be its own country, similar to Switzerland. He explained that the power comes directly from the people and that any attempt at a free state would mean bringing the Italians, which have now come to also call the province home, with them. Comparisons can be drawn in this regard, again, to Switzerland, which can be seen as a trilingual country, having French, Italian, and German speakers. Stocker explained how the youth on both sides are seeing the advantages of being bilingual, opening job opportunities from the South of Italy all the way to Berlin. However, he expressed that unlike the Italianization policy, learning another language cannot be forced and that it is something you must want to learn, through life and through jobs. He also underlined the importance of receiving schooling in one’s mother tongue. On the question of Rome and its financial problems, Stocker explained that there is a huge difference in Italian and Südtiroler politics. One is chaotic and has led to many problems, where the other has focused on order and stability and remains the wealthiest province in Italy. The difference in the political culture brings new meaning to the phrase, Südtirol ist nicht Italien. Die Freiheitlichen also give out leaflets alluding to the idea that Europe is pregnant, expecting five new states in Flanders, Catalonia, Scotland, Venetia, and Südtirol. They are also handing out a small packet (in several languages including English) explaining the history of the province, arguments for a free state, and even a constitution for it. The constitution provides for mutual respect and high involvement of the three language groups in the province.

Recently, Südtirol has indicated it is willing to buy its freedom. SVP Economics Minister, Thomas Widmann, is quoted saying “Full independence from Italy is not possible, because new states are unprecedented these days in modern Europe (In accord with SVP perspective). We can stay a part of Italy, but we want full financial freedom. We’re ready to pay a solidarity tax of 3 per cent (15 billion euros). We’ll pay for foreign policy, fiscal and euro policy. Otherwise, we’ll do the rest on our own. We build our roads in several months, but before it happens we wait for permission from Rome for years!” (RT). While the SVP continues its path towards autonomy, working slowly with Rome, Stocker and die Freiheitlichen offer another opinion: “Verteidigen ist kein Lebensmotto”.

Anleitung zur Autonomie

Whether or not Südtirol will gain its financial autonomy or its independence is still years away, but the example the province has made for Europe and the world stands strong. The fact that democracy exists and that these debates can be held is a testament to the fact that the conflict has been resolved. If I were to simplify the model that could be exported (I also heard one Bozen resident describe the autonomy status as being an export product), I would state it as this:

  1. Act and stand firm on a certain position (those who opted to stay).
  2. Organize, as the SVP did.
  3. Get outside support, preferably major powers such as other countries.
  4. Attempt to ground agreement in international law and get the international community to be aware of the situation.
  5. Negotiate and be able to compromise (operations calendar).

These steps can be followed to attain modest autonomous authority, with intent to implement local democracy.

As an interethnic conflict the situation followed many similar paths under a fascist or blatantly discriminate government. The Italians were negligent to the Südtirolers’ needs and in fact methodic in their application against them. Yet, somehow Südtirol has not only come out of its dark fascist past, but prospered as well. Although every conflict is unique the steps taken toward a solution in the Dolomites, this Südtiroler model, could be used in reference to finding a peaceful agreement elsewhere. Even the Dalai Lama has visited the province, possibly in hopes of finding a unique answer for his own home. It may be possible that in the future we see several autonomous regions come to flourish under this same fashion, as the over centralized democracies of the western world continue to collapse.

Works Cited

Bell, Bethany. “South Tyrol’s Identity Crisis: Italian, German, Austrian…?” BBC. N.p., 8 Dec. 2012. Web. 14 July 2013

Fasser, Manuel. “Bomben Im Kofferraum.” Zeit Online. N.p., 16 June 2011. Web. 17 Aug. 2013.

Glenny, Misha. The Balkans: Nationalism, War, and the Great Powers, 1804-2011. New York: Penguin, 2012. Print.

Hudson, Mark J., PhD, Mami Aoyama, PhDOTR, Mark Connery Diab, MA, and Hiroshi Aoyama, PhDOTR. “The South Tyrol as Occupationscape: Occupation, Landscape, and Ethnicity in a European Border Zone.” Journal of Occupational Science 18.1 (2011): 21-35. Journal of Occupational Science. Routledge, 32 Mar. 2011. Web. 26 Aug. 2013.

RT (no author mentioned) “Italian Province Offering 15 Billion for Financial Sovereignty.” RT. N.p., 2 Apr. 2012. Web. 5 Sept. 2013.

Rosenburger, Malte P. “Self-determination in South Tyrol- The Red Eagle Spreads Its Wings.” Fair Observer. N.p., 20 Dec. 2012.            Web. 18 June 2013.

Steininger, Rolf. South Tyrol: A Minority Conflict of the Twentieth Century. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 2003. Print.

Toscano, Mario. Alto Adige, South Tyrol: Italy’s Frontier with the         German World. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1975. Print.


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