History of Alto Adige-South Tyrol

History of Alto Adige-South Tyrol

Present day Alto Adige-South Tyrol coincides with the province of Bolzano-Bozen, a province of Italy created in 1927. Until 1918 its area was part of the Austrian County of Tyrol and it was ceded to Italy after World War I.

Annexation to Italy : background

After Napoleonic Era the time of nationalisms started in all Europe.Even in Italy, several groups began to push the idea of a unified national state (see Risorgimento). At the time, the struggle for Italian unification was perceived to be waged primarily against the Austrian Empire, which was the hegemonic power in Italy and the single most powerful force against unification. The Austrian Empire vigorously repressed nationalist sentiments growing in Italy, most of all during 1848 revolution and in the following years. Italy finally reached its independence in 1861; Venetia was annexed in 1866 and Latium with Rome, in 1870.The process of unification of the Italian people in a national state was not complete, because several Italians communities remained under foreign rule (mostly Austrian). This situation created the so-called Italian irredentism (see "Italia irredenta").

In 1882 Italy signed a defensive Alliance with Austria-Hungary and Germany (see Triple Alliance). However, Italian public opinion remained unenthusiastic about their country's alignment with Austria-Hungary, still perceived as the historical enemy of Italy, still ruling several Italian lands. In the years before World War I, many distinguished military analysts predicted that Italy would change sides.

The Kingdom of Italy had declared its neutrality at the beginning of the World War I, because the Triple Alliance was a defensive one, requiring its members to come under attack first. Many Italians were still hostile to Austrian historical and continuing occupations of ethnically Italian areas. Austria-Hungary requested Italian neutrality, while the Triple Entente (Great Britain, France and Russia) its intervention.A large opinion movement in Italy, asked to join the conflict declaring war to Austria, with the aim to gain the "unredeemed" territories.

With the London Pact, signed in April 1915, Italy accepted to declare war against the Central Powers, in exchange (among other things) of territorial gains in the Austrian crown-lands of Tyrol, Kustenland and Dalmatia, homeland of large Italian minorities. The war against the Austro-Hungarian Empire was declared in May, 24, 1915.In October 1917, the Italian army was defeated in the Battle of Caporetto, and was forced to put a new defensive line along the Piave river.On June 1918, an Austro-Hungarian offensive against Piave was repulsed (see Battle of the Piave River).On October, 24, 1918 Italy launched his final offensive against the Austro-Hungarian Army, which consequently collapsed [ [http://www.firstworldwar.com/battles/vittorioveneto.htm First World War.com - Battles - The Battle of Vittorio Veneto, 1918 ] ] (see Battle of Vittorio Veneto). The subsequent armistice of Villa Giusti was signed on November, 3. It was agreed to set it into force at 3.00 PM of November 4.In the following days the Italian Army completed the occupation of all Tirol (including Innsbruck), according to the armistice terms.

Annexation to Italy

According to the London Pact Italy had been granted the right to push its border up to the strategic frontier of the Alpine water divide (i.e. up to the Brenner pass ). So, Italy was allowed to reach its own geographical borders , including all the non Italian people eventually leaving inside.

The Treaty of Saint-Germain ruled that, according to the Pact, the southern part of Tyrol had to be ceded to Italy, granting Italy the right to push its border northward to the strategically important Alpine watershed (and surpassing it around the Drava spring).

These territories where officially annexed in October, 10, 1920 and were organized in the Governatorato della Venezia Tridentina. It included the present day region Trentino-Alto Adige and the three communes of Cortina, Colle Santa Lucia and Livinallongo, today in the Province of Belluno. The northern part of Tyrol (composed by Northern Tyrol and Eastern Tyrol) is today one of nine federal states of present day Austria.

In January, 21, 1921 the "Governatorato" become one of the Italian Provinces, most exactly the "Provincia di Trento". In 1923, the three communes of Cortina, Livinallongo and Colle Santa Lucia were incorporated into the Province of Belluno.Finally, in January, 2, 1927, the new "Provincia di Bolzano" was created in the present days borders. [ Regio Decreto Legislativo n. 1/1927 del 02.01.1927 "Riordinamento delle circoscrizioni provinciali"]

Ethnic situation of the Southern Tyrol

Southern Tyrol included not only the largely Italian speaking area of present day Trentino (then often called "Welschtirol" in German), but also the territory now known as province of Bolzano-Bozen which was inhabited by a German speaking majority.

According to the census of 1910 ("according to the spoken language") southern Tyrol was mainly Italian, but the area of present day "Alto Adige" was inhabited by approximately 89% German speakers, 2,9% Italian speakers, 3,8% Ladin speakers, and 4% speakers of other languages of the Austrian empireOscar Benvenuto (Ed.), South Tyrol in Figures, Bozen/Bolzano 2007, p. 19, Table 11.] .

The results of the census are in some points controversial, since it reported just the spoken language and not the nationality. According to some sources, it did not include immigrants from Italy [ [http://books.google.it/books?id=rwFJu_3NtXAC&pg=PA58&lpg=PA58&dq=censimento+austriaco+1910&source=web&ots=Sh6Lo5_mfk&sig=PX5VojtCu6wyEmHac124do2ano0&hl=it&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=6&ct=result] Italians non included in 1910 census] , whereas immigrants from the Empire (Germans and others) were included, thus increasing the number of German speakers. Furthermore, these sources claim that Ladins were counted as Italian speakers, although this contraddicts the previous statement that the Austrian Empire sought to minimize the number of Italians living in Tyrol [today Ladin is the third official language of Alto Adige/South Tyrol alongside German and Italian. Ladin was formerly considered an Italian dialectFacts|date=July 2008. Under Austrian administration, Ladin lands used Italian as official language (for instruction, public acts, press, etc.)Facts|date=July 2008. Still today Ladins have no definite ethnic identityFacts|date=July 2008; Ladin was, and largely still is, an unstandardised language, used mostly in spoken contexts, just like German or Italian dialects [http://www.spell-termles.ladinia.net/ The problem of a standard Ladin] ] .) The figures of the 1910 census published by the Provincial Statistics Institute of the Province of Bolzano-Bozen [Oscar Benvenuto (Ed.), South Tyrol in Figures, Bozen/Bolzano 2007] seem to further contraddict these claims. From this work it appears that in the 1910 census the population of Tyrol was subdivided into four groups according to the spoken language: Germans, Italians, Ladins, and Other. Italian citizens who didn't speak Italian, German or Ladin were included in the voice "other", which shows that Italian citizens were indeed registered in the census, although not necessarily as Italian-speakers. The figures also show that Ladin-speakers were treated as an own language group.

Reasons of the annexation

Italian annexation went against the principle of self-determination propagated by US-president Woodrow Wilson in his Fourteen Points, specifically against point nine where Wilson explicitly stated that "readjustment of the frontiers of Italy should be effected along clearly recognizable lines of nationality" [Sterling J. Kernek, “Woodrow Wilson and National Self-Determination along Italy's Frontier: A Study of the Manipulation of Principles in the Pursuit of Political Interests”, "Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society", Vol. 126, No. 4. (Aug., 1982), pp. 243-300 (246)] . Consequently, Austrians had hoped that the United States - which did not sign the London Pact - would enforce Wilson's "Fourteen Points", respecting the ethnic principle. At the Paris conference, however, Italy's requests where granted without difficulty and without opposition from President Wilson.

Among other things, Italy had already seen refused her claims on Dalmatia (granted her by the London Treaty) because of French and U.S. opposition.

It has been claimed that Woodrow Wilson later complained about the annexation: "Already the president had, unfortunately, promised the Brenner-Pass boundary to Orlando, which gave to Italy some 150,000 Tyrolese Germans-an action which he subsequently regarded as a big mistake and deeply regretted. It had been before he had made a careful study of the subject..." [Ray Stannard Baker, Woodrow Wilson and World Settlement, New York, 1992, Vol. II, p. 146.]

The fate of the Germans of Southern Tyrol was similar to the fate of millions of other Europeans, detached from their motherland. Among them, millions of other Germans were put under a foreign sovereignty, such us the 3.2 millions of Sudetendeutsche, whose lands were detached from Austria and annexed to new state of Czechoslovakia, to grant it defensible borders.

Fascist Italianization

The peace treaty signed in Saint Germain left Italy without binds of protection for the German minority. Italian government and the king Vittorio Emanuele, however, assumed precise duties in this direction. The King, during the "speech of the Crown" in December, 1, 1919, declared the full respect of local autonomies and traditions.

The protection proposals were soon fought by the rising Fascism. In April 21, 1921, a group of fascist mobsters killed an elementary teacher, Franz Innerhofer, who become later the symbol of the opposition against Fascism. In October 1922, the new Fascist government retired all the special dispositions, already emanated to protect linguistic minorities. All the toponoyms, were given just in the Italian version, several family names were translated.

Italianisation program has been started; Fascist regime charged Achille Starace and Ettore Tolomei (a nationalist from Rovereto) to drive it. Tolomei's “program in 23 points” was adopted, among other things it scheduled:
* the exclusive use of Italian language in the public offices
* the closure of greater part of the German schools
* incentives for immigrants from other Italian regions.

The first forms of opposition to the regime appeared in 1925: priest Michael Gamper opened the first "Katakombenschulen". They were clandestine schools where teachers taught in German language.

In 1926 the ancient institution of communal autonomy was abolished: in all Italy the "podestà", appointed by the government, replaced the mayors and he had to report to the "prefetto".

The advent of Nazism in Germany give hopes to several people, especially young ones. Hilter was seen as a possible liberator of the Southern Tyrol. The Völkischer Kampfring Südtirol a party close to Nazist ideals, was consequently founded.

An large industrial zone in Bolzano was realized in 1935. It was followed by a strong immigration of workers, with their families, from other Italian lands (mainly from Veneto).

Nazist Germany annexed Austria in 1938: though Nazists were incumbent to the Brenner pass, Mussolini obtained from the Hitler reassurances about the Italian borders.

German Italian option agreement

Adolf Hitler never claimed any part of the Southern Tyrol for his Third Reich, even before the alliance with Benito Mussolini [Mein Kampf] ; in fact in "Mein Kampf" (1924) he claimed that Germans were just a small and irrelevant minority in Southern Tyrol (this definition including also Trentino) and he definitely acknowledged that the German portion of Southern Tyrol as a permanent belonging of Italy.

In 1939, both dictators agreed to give the German-speaking population a choice (the Alto Adige Option Agreement): they could emigrate to neighbouring Germany (including annexed Austria) or stay in Italy and accept their complete Italianisation.

South Tyrolean society was deeply divided. Those who wanted to stay ("Dableiber") were condemned as traitors; those who left ("Optanten"), the majority, were defamed as Nazis.

There was a plan to relocate the Optaten in Crimea (annexed to Greater Germany); Most were meanwhile resetteld in the German annexed Western Poland or mainly expelled or killed after the war.

Because of the outbreak of World War II, this agreement was just partially consummated.

Annexation to Nazist Germany

In 1943, Mussolini was deposed and Italy surrendered to the Allies, who had invaded southern Italy via Sicily. German troops promptly invaded northern Italy and South Tyrol became part of the Operation Zone of the Alpine Foothills, annexed to the Greater Germany. Many German-speaking South Tyroleans, after years of linguistic oppression and discrimination by Fascist Italy, wanted revenge upon ethnic Italians living in the area (particularly in the larger cities) but were mostly prevented from doing so by the occupying (northern) German Nazis, who still considered Mussolini head of the Italian Social Republic and wanted to preserve good relations with the Italian Fascists still supporting Mussolini and his combat against the Allies. Although the Nazis were able to recruit amongst South Tyrolean youth, and to capture the local Hebrews, they prevented anti-Italian feelings from getting out of hand. Mussolini, who wanted to set up his new pro-German Italian Social Republic in Bolzano, was still a Nazi ally.

The region largely escaped fighting during the war, and its mountainous remoteness proved useful to the Nazis as a refuge for items looted from across Europe. When the 88th Infantry Division occupied South Tyrol from May 2 to May 8 1945, and after the total unconditional surrender of Germany (May 9 1945), it found vast amounts of precious items and looted treasures of art. Among the items reportedly found were railway wagons filled with gold bars, hundreds of thousands of metres of silk, the Italian crown jewels, King Victor Emmanuel's personal collection of rare coins, and scores of works of art looted from art galleries such as the Uffizi in Florence. It was feared that the Germans might use the region as a last-ditch stronghold to fight to the bitter end and from there direct Werwolf activities in Allied-controlled territories, but this possibility was rendered moot by the suicide of Hitler, the disintegration and chaos of the Nazi apparatus and the rapid Nazi German surrender thereafter. ("The Times", London, 25 May 1945)

After World War II: the Austrian - Italian agreement

After World War II and despite the harsh German occupation of Italy, the Province of Bolzano was untouched by the massive expulsion of ethnic Germans which occurred in all Europe, including former Nazi allies such us Hungary and Romania and western countries such us France and Netherlands.

No one of remaining "Optanen" (the greater part) was forced to leave. On the contrary, Italy allowed several "Optanten" to came back. Attempts of the restored Republic of Austria, to regain the German lands of "Venezia Tridentina" came to nothing.

In 1945 the South Tyrolean People's Party (Südtiroler Volkspartei) was founded, above all by "Dableiber" – people who had chosen to stay in Italy after the agreement between Hitler and Mussolini. A party founded by the "Optanten" would not have been acceptable for the occupying Americans, owing to the 'Optants' apparently close relationship to the Nazis and their ideology. The support of the "Dableiber" proved useful as a means of deflecting Austrian claims.

In 1946, Italy and Austria accepted a compromise solution, the De Gasperi-Gruber agreement, so named after the Austrian minister for foreign affairs and the Italian prime minister. The German-speaking people were granted special rights.

A special "Autonomy Statute" was granted by the new Italian constitution to region "Trentino-Alto Adige" (the new name of "Venezia Tridentina"). Thus, in this region Italian speakers were in the majority, so a proper self-government for the German speakers was made harder. Not all what was granted was fully and quickly implemented; the total implementation of this "First statutory order" was delayed repeatedly.

Critics to the agreement

Many German speaker began to suspect that the Italian Republic was trying to do in softer way what Italian Fascists tried to do by force, namely Italianise the province. The local infrastructural development (hydro power and steel plants) saw more and more Italians moving to the South Tyrol to live in state-built housing and employed in state bureaucracy and state-encouraged businesses. Many German speakers saw this as a policy whose aim was to create an irreversible Italian majority. Some went so far as to believe that indigenous South Tyroleans were on a "Todesmarsch", a death march into oblivion.

As a consequence of delaying implementation of the statutory order, the late 1950s saw the rise of an movement to claim a more effective autonomy. Until December 1960 among the organizers, there were reputed even Austrian conservatives with an active anti-Nazi resistance record, such as the journalists Fritz Molden (who went on to become an important publisher) and Gerd Bacher (later to become head of the Austrian state television, ORF). Following the withdrawal of these moderate personalities, turned toward acts of terrorism which at the beginning was targeted only against Italian infrastructure.


The late 1960s brought some progress towards the establishment of deeper self-government for the region. In consequence, only the most fanatical of the terrorists wanted to continue their fight for an Austrian South Tyrol by violent means. Moreover, the movement was increasingly infiltrated by neo-nazist activists from Austria and Germany. Terrorists carried out 361 attacks with explosives, guns and land mines, between 1956 and 1988. Acts were mainly against infrastructures, so human casualties were very few considered the time span involved. However, some of the acts were aimed at killing police officers in the line of duty. On June 25, 1967, four police officers dispatched to inspect a power line were killed by explosive booby traps in what is remembered as the "slaughter of Cima Vallona". Three months later, on September 30, two policemen were blown to bits while inspecting a suspicious suitcase abandoned in the railway station of Trento. In total 21 people were killed, among which 15 military and law enforcement personnel, two civilians and four terrorists, who died when their own explosive devices blew up. The wounded were 57 (24 military and law enforcement officers and 33 civilians). The terrorists were eventually discredited by their association with neo-Nazi circles in Austria and Germany, and the investigations pursued by the Italian law enforcement bodies led to many arrests and a total of 17 court cases that brought prison terms on 157 defendants, among which 103 South Tyroleans, 40 Austrian citizens and 14 German citizens.

The second agreement

Eventually, international (especially Austrian) public opinion and domestic consideration led the Italian central government to consider a "Second statutory order" and to negotiate a "package" of reforms that produced the an "Autonomy Statute", that virtually delinked the mostly German speaking province of Bolzano from the Trentino. The new agreement was signed in 1969 by Kurt Waldheim for Austria and by Aldo Moro for Italy. It took further 20 years of reforms to be fully implemented.In 1992 Italian government of Rome emanates the last previewed norms to implement the Package. After a debate in Parliament, also Vienna declares sluice the dispute. In June 18, 1992 the releasing receipt signed was signed by Italian and Austria in New York, in front of the U.N. [ [http://www.altoadige-suedtirol.it/arte_storia/storia/1969_1998.php Storia dell'Alto Adige in breve - 1969-1998 ] ]


Today, Alto Adige/South Tyrol is a peaceful and rich land, which enjoys a high degree of autonomy.It has deep relations with North and East Tyrol, especially since Austria's 1995 entry into the European Union, which led to a common currency and a "de facto" disappearance of the borders.

The whole historic region Tyrol (Austrian state Tyrol (North and East Tyrol) and Trentino-Alto Adige) forms an Euroregion, a region of intensified cross-border cooperation within the EU, called "Tirol-Südtirol/Alto Adige-Trentino" which, albeit having only limited competences, led to a joint Tyrolean parliament .

ee also

* Tyrol


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