Brief history of South Tyrol
Overview of the political situation
Bibliography and Websites
1. Brief history of South Tyrol
At the end of the First World War, in accordance with the Treaty of Saint
Germain-en-Laye (September 1919), the southern Austrian Tyrol was ceded to Italy. The
English and French had promised this part of Tyrol to Italy in 1915 on the premise that
the latter entered the war on the side of the Allies. The rest now forms part of a land
in the Federal Republic of Austria. Conflicts between the predominantly German-speaking
population and Italian centralism were soon to surface.
On 1st December
1919, King Vittorio Emmanuele pledged to guarantee the new province "una
scrupolosa salvaguardia delle istituzione locale e dellamministrazione
autonoma". However, on 28th October 1922, the Fascists came to power in Italy and
the King was forced to hand over authority to il Duce, Benito Mussolini.
The aim of the
Fascists at home was to degermanise South Tyrol. They introduced three measures in order
to achieve this: a) political persecution of the German language, b) mass
immigration of Italian-speaking citizens and, finally, c) evacuation of the
German-speaking population. Thus, the use of the German language was prohibited and
punished. In 1925, Italian was declared the official language although, as early as 1923,
the German toponomy had been prohibited and replaced by the Italian equivalent. On 20th
February 1935, the fascists began their policy of immigration to South Tyrol by setting up
heavy industry in Bolzano-Bozen.
The third measure
introduced by the Fascists, which was agreed on with Hitler, forced the South Tyrolean to
choose between German nationality (which required them to emigrate to the territory of the
Third Reich) or Italian nationality (which involved renouncing any measures of German
ethnic protection). This measure was called the "Option". A total of 34,237 of
South Tyrols 246,036 inhabitants opted for Italian nationality, whilst 211,799 opted
for German. Of the latter, 75,000 left before the outbreak of war interrupted the process
On 8th September
1943, Italy signed the armistice with the Allies. The birth of the Südtiroler Volkspartei
1945, and international commitments with Austria (DeGasperi-Gruber Agreement) in 1946, led
to the creation of the Statute of Autonomy for the Trentino-Alto Adige region, which
included the provinces of Trento and South Tyrol. The DeGasperi-Gruber Agreement was
conceived as a form of compensation by the Allies to Austria and the SVP, who were in
favour of the re-incorporation of South Tyrol into Austria.
guaranteed special measures for the South Tyrolean as regards maintaining their economic
and cultural characteristics. In addition, it guaranteed education in the German language,
equality between the German and Italian languages, recognition of school certificates, the
possibility of holding positions in the Civil Service and, most significantly, the
granting of autonomy. This agreement was such an integral part of the Allies peace
treaty with Italy, that the South Tyrolean issue became an international affair.
In the years to
follow, Italy did not fulfil all the provisions of the Agreement hence Austria took the
South Tyrolean issue to the United Nations General Assembly. The Assembly urged both parts
(Austria and Italy) to negotiate for an effective application of the Agreement. As a
result of international pressure (and of internal political violence) various commissions
and study groups were set up to draft a set of measures to resolve the disagreement (the
"Paket"), which included a new Statute of Autonomy that came into force in 1972.
In 1992, Italy and
Austria finally declared to the UN that the South Tyrolean issue had been satisfactorily
resolved. The recent entry of Austria into the European Union has created many
possibilities for collaboration between the two parts of Tyrol.