A minority finally gains its rights
The diplomatic route from the beginning of the independence movement to attaining a degree of self-government as the Autonomous Province of Bolzano/Bozen, Südtirol was arduous, the atmosphere at times explosive.
During the peace negotiations following the Second World War a request for South Tyrol to be returned to Austria was rejected. However an autonomy blueprint for South Tyrol was negotiated between Austria and Italy as part of the Paris Settlement of 1946. In 1948 a first autonomy statue was finalised in Rome for the entire region comprising the provinces of Bolzano (South Tyrol) and Trentino. The neighbouring province was included in order to ensure an Italian majority in the region as a whole and consequently in the regional parliament. This rendered the South Tyroleans practically powerless.
Likewise in 1948 the question relating to the South Tyroleans who had opted to emigrated in 1939 was resolved. They were allowed to return and became Italian citizens.
In 1957 the South Tyrolean people converged on Sigmundskron Castle near Bolzano to take part in a large rally. The South Tyrolean People’s Party with Silvius Magnago as its head proclaimed “separation from Trento”, that is, a separate autonomous status for South Tyrol.
In 1959 the sovereign state of Austria brought the South Tyrol question before the UN General Assembly. The negotiating partners, the Austrian and Italian foreign ministers were to table a resolution.
From 1956 the ‘Committee for the Liberation of South Tyrol’ had blown up electricity pylons, monuments, railway lines and attacked barracks, culminating in the ‘Fire Night’ in June 1961. In one night 37 electricity pylons were blown up in order to deprive industry in northern Italy of power. One explosive charge detonated late and killed an Italian road worker.
South Tyrol grabbed international attention. Over the following year 94 liberation activists were put on trial. In 1961 the South Tyrol question was once again brought before the UN General Assembly and as a result a commission of 19 members drew up an autonomy package. In the same year the first ‘Autonomy Package’ was ratified by Austria and Italy. The South Tyrolean Regional Government was granted jurisdiction over many spheres which would normally be regulated by the state, for example transport, public works, social affairs etc. Over the following decades the Italian government devolved ever increasing powers to the South Tyrolean government. The German and Ladin language groups received extensive protection including the right to being taught in their own languages at school. The public administration is bi- or tri-lingual.
The second autonomy statute came into force in 1972, placing further spheres under the control of the South Tyrolean Regional Government including public health and safety, commerce, trade and road building. In addition the South Tyrolean Legislative Assembly (Landtag) received wide-reaching legislative powers.
There is still dispute regarding place names, which remain officially based on the Fascist toponyms. The Victory Monument in Bolzano remains a bone of contention given that it is likewise a Fascist creation built to celebrate Mussolini and his politics.
Around 70% of South Tyroleans still declare themselves as belonging to the German linguistic group, around 25% are Italian and 5% still speak Ladin as a first language.
In 1998 Europe’s first tri-lingual university (German, Italian and English) was founded as the ‘Free University of Bolzano/Bozen’.