The Day Alto Adige Became Südtirol

The autonomous province of South Tyrol has passed a law to forbid the use of the Italian term Alto Adige.

South Tyrol Sudtyrol Alto Adige

The autonomous province of South Tyrol has passed a law to forbid the use of the Italian term Alto Adige

South Tyrol and its related informal use ‘altoatesino’ will be substituted with ‘Bolzano Autonomous Province’ and its translation in German ‘Autonome Provinz Bozen – Südtirol’. These terms will be used by law after the publication of the region’s official bulletin. The reasoning behind this decision is that the Italian term is said to be connected to a fascist era, not representative of the region’s current culture.

What will happen of the region’s current full name Trentino Alto-Adige?

South Tyrol for the law

South Tyrol is an autonomous province in northern Italy, part of the two that make up the region of Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol. It has three official languages: German, Italian, and Ladin. With Trento as its capital, this region is granted a large amount of autonomy and self-government with exclusive legislative and executive powers, and with a fiscal regime that allows the region to retain 90% of its revenue, while remaining a net contributor to the Italian national budget. Bolzano, further north, is considered the capital of South Tyrol.

tirolo sudtirol

Map of the Trentino – Alto Adige (South Tyrol) and Tyrol regions.

The law was passed with 24 agreeing votes by South Tyrol’s parties Suedtiroler Volkspartei, Suedtiroler Freiheit e Freiheitlichen, a contrary vote by Alto Adige nel Cuore – Fratelli D’Italia, and 5 abstentions (Democratic Party, Greens, League, Team Koellensperger). The President of Alto Adige nel Cuore has voted against, deeming this law that passed as “anti-Italian behaviour, not antifascist.” This in regards to the art. 116 of the Italian Constitution, in which the region of Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol is defined as such and stated to be constituted by the autonomous provinces of Trento and Bolzano.

Regional coordinator of South Tyrol and member of the political party Forza Italia Michaela Biancofiore, stated: “I appeal to [current] Minister Boccia [Italian Minister of Regional Affairs] […] so that this aberrant law is challenged.”

Südtirol in history

The reasoning behind the autonomous state and the difficulties in defining the territory has come with history. Indeed, the term South Tyrol has not always referred to the same amount of territory that we define nowadays.

Following the Napoleonic Era, the territory of Bolzano and its surroundings went to the Austrian Empire (1814), and then to what became as the Austro-Hungarian Empire (1867), until 1918. That area has been originally promised to Italy in the Treaty of London (1915) as incentive to enter World War One by their side.

World War Two and the Fascist Era saw what was the ‘Italianization’ of South Tyrol, banning German from public service. Teaching German was forbidden, instead immigration from other Italian regions was favored.

The rise of the Italian and German dictators Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler brought them to plan that the German-speaking population in South Tyrol would be transferred to Germany-ruled territories or in other regions of Italy. The outbreak of WWII prevented them from fulfilling these plans. However, although every citizen had the free choice to stay in Italy, they had to give up their German culture or choose to move to Nazi Germany and leave their original homeland. In 1943, the region was occupied by Germany after Italy signed an armistice with the Allies, yet Italian rule was then restored in 1945.

The Gruber-De Gasperi Agreement and the creation of current Trentino/South Tyrol

When Italian rule was restored, the condition was that the German-speaking population would be granted a significant level of self-government. An agreement was signed between Italy and bordering country Austria, recognizing rights to the Germany minority.

That time’s Prime Minister Alcide de Gasperi, a native of Trentino, wanted to expand the autonomy of his fellow citizens creating what is now known as the region of Trentino/Alto Adige. In 1946, the Gruber-De Gasperi agreement was signed by Italy and Austria, officiating the latter region and making both German and Italian official languages.

A large flux of Italians migrated to the region, increasing the tension between the two groups and culminating in two major terrorists acts that, in the last case, costed 21 lives.

Südtirolfrage: disagreement and terrorists acts

The South Tyrolean question (südtirolfrage) became an international issue taken up by the United Nations in 1960 and to the International Court of Justice in 1961. Austrian were not pleased with the deal and a new Austro-Italian agreement was signed.

The agreement settled many tensions in 1971 to the autonomous state, giving the region’s current freedom(s) and making sure Austria would not interfere with South Tyrol’s internal affairs. All minor disputes have then been definitively settled between Austria and Italy since 1992.

Has everyone lived happily ever after?

In 1996, the Euroregion of Tyrol and South Tyrol-Trentino was formed between the Austrian regions of Tyrol (North and East) and the Italian provinces of South Tyrol and Trentino. They share relations to the European Union and promote peace among the two territories.

However, the Bolzanese want to eliminate the use of Alto Adige (translated as English version South Tyrol), but not the German version. They want to be referred as the autonomous province of Bolzano, as in to differentiate from the Italian Trentino.

Interestingly enough, it seems that this action is aimed at gaining independence and changing the way one thinks of the region, as aspiring to become a whole region apart from the majorly Italian Trentino and moving past their Austrian and Italian’s ‘possession’ debates that occurred during the two world wars.

It is South Tyrol becoming as a region of its own? It is about fascism necessarily? The interesting historical past makes the region unique, neither completely Austrian or Italian. Legally part of Italy, yet the name South Tyrol refers to a geographical area, whose rest is Austrian.

Already extremely independent, I would not be surprised in the future to see, considering that the debate never really ended and has filled the political walls throughout the 90s and 2000s, the request for the region to become similar to the Vatican.

National and geographical identity has always been essential, as discussed in this answer to a reader by Italics Magazine Managing Director, Riccardo Venturi. Südtirol? Just like a teenage rebelling to its Austrian and Italian parents — now of age, this (not so young) adult wants to live on its own.

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