South Tyrol (German and Ladin: Südtirol, Italian: Sudtirolo), also known by its Italian name Alto Adige, is an autonomous province in northern Italy. It is one of the two autonomous provinces that make up the autonomous region of Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol. The province has an area of and a total population of 511,750 inhabitants (31.12.2011). Its capital is the city of Bolzano (German: Bozen; Ladin: Balsan or Bulsan).
The majority of the population is of Austro-Bavarian heritage and speaks German. Around a quarter of the population speak Italian as first language, mainly concentrated to the two largest cities (Bolzano and Merano), and a small minority have Ladin as their mother language.
South Tyrol is granted a considerable level of self-government, consisting of a large range of exclusive legislative powers and a fiscal regime that allows the province to retain 90% of most levied taxes. Today, South Tyrol is among the wealthiest and most developed regions in Italy and the European Union.
In the wider context of the European Union, the province is one of the three members of the Euroregion of Tyrol-South Tyrol-Trentino, which corresponds almost exactly to the historical region of Tyrol.
Italian annexation of 1919
South Tyrol is an administrative entity whose origins go back to World War I. In 1915, the Entente promised the area to Italy in The London Treaty as an incentive to enter the war on their side. Until 1918 part of the Austro-Hungarian Princely County of Tyrol, this almost completely German-speaking territory was occupied by Italy at the end of the war in November 1918 and was annexed in 1919. The province as it exists today was created in 1926 after an administrative reorganization of the Kingdom of Italy and was incorporated together with the province of Trento into the newly created region Venezia Tridentina.
Under the Italian fascist Mussolini-government, huge efforts were made to bring forward the Italianization of South Tyrol. The German language was banished from public service, German teaching was officially forbidden and German newspapers were censored with the exception of the fascist Alpenzeitung. The regime massively favoured immigration from other Italian regions.
The subsequent alliance between Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini declared that South Tyrol would not follow the destiny of Austria, which had been annexed to the Third Reich. Instead the dictators agreed that the German-speaking population be transferred to German-ruled territory or dispersed around Italy, but the outbreak of the Second World War prevented them from fully carrying out their relocation.
In 1943, when the Italian government signed an armistice with the Allies, the region was occupied by Germany, which reorganised it as the Operation Zone of the Alpine Foothills and put it under the administration of Gauleiter Franz Hofer. The region was de facto annexed to the German Reich (with the addition of the province of Belluno) until the end of the war. This status ended along with the Nazi regime, and Italian rule was restored in 1945.
Gruber-De Gasperi Agreement
After the war the Allies decided that the province would remain a part of Italy, under the condition that the German-speaking population be granted an important level of self-government. Italy and Austria negotiated an agreement in 1946, recognizing the rights of the German minority. Alcide De Gasperi, Italy's prime minister, a native of Trentino, wanted to extend the autonomy to his fellow citizens. This led to the creation of the region called Trentino-Alto Adige/Tiroler Etschland. The Gruber-De Gasperi Agreement was signed by the Italian and Austrian Foreign Ministers, creating the autonomous region of Trentino-South Tyrol, consisting of the autonomous provinces of Trentino and South Tyrol. German and Italian were both made official languages, and German-language education was permitted once more. However, as the Italians were the majority in the combined region, the self-government of the German minority became impossible.
This, together with the arrival of new Italian-speaking immigrants, led to strong dissatisfaction among South Tyroleans, which culminated in terrorist acts perpetrated by the Befreiungsausschuss Südtirol (BAS — Committee for the Liberation of South Tyrol). In a first phase only public edifices and fascist monuments were targeted. The second phase was bloodier, costing 21 lives (15 members of Italian security forces, two civilians and four terrorists).
The South Tyrolean question (Südtirolfrage) became an international issue. As the implementation of the post-war agreement was not seen as satisfactory by the Austrian government, it became a cause of significant friction with Italy and was taken up by the United Nations in 1960. A fresh round of negotiations took place in 1961 but proved unsuccessful, partly because of the campaign of terrorism.
The issue was resolved in 1971, when a new Austro-Italian treaty was signed and ratified. It stipulated that disputes in South Tyrol would be submitted for settlement to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, that the province would receive greater autonomy within Italy, and that Austria would not interfere in South Tyrol's internal affairs. The new agreement proved broadly satisfactory to the parties involved and the separatist tensions soon eased.
The new autonomous status, granted from 1972 onwards, has resulted in a considerable level of self-government, also due to the large financial resources of South Tyrol, retaining almost 90% of all levied taxes.
In 1992, Italy and Austria officially ended their dispute over the autonomy issue on the basis of the agreement of 1972.
The extensive self-government provided by the current institutional framework has been advanced as a model for settling interethnic disputes and for the successful protection of linguistic minorities. This is among the reasons why the Ladin municipalities of Cortina d'Ampezzo/Anpezo, Livinallongo del Col di Lana/Fodom and Colle Santa Lucia/Col have asked in a referendum to be detached from Veneto and reannexed to the province, from which they were separated under the fascist government.
In 1996, the Euroregion Tyrol-South Tyrol-Trentino was formed between the Austrian state of Tyrol and the Italian provinces of South Tyrol and Trentino. The boundaries of the association correspond to the old County of Tyrol. The aim is to promote regional peace, understanding and cooperation in many areas. The region's assemblies meet together as one on various occasions and have set up a common liaison office to the European Union in Brussels.