Former Italian President tells South Tyroleans that they are not Austrians

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Mon Aug 29 15:08:21 UTC 2005

 Former Italian President tells South Tyroleans that they are not
Biel / Bienne, Wednesday, 17 August 2005 by Peter Josika

The former President of Italy, Francesco Cossiga, currently on holidays in
South Tyrol, said in an interview, published by the provinces most popular
weekly magazine ff last week, that South Tyroleans were Germans but not
Austrians. Now I will tell you something that you South Tyroleans wont
like- South Tyroleans are Germans- Hitler was right in this regard,
Cossiga is quoted to have said. Cossiga also expressed the opinion that
the idea of an Austrian nation was invented by Austrian fascists such as
Engelbert Dollfuss - Austrian chancellor during the inter war period and
assassinated by Nazis in 1934.  Is there anything like Austrian literature
or music? He asked. Cossiga concluded that Austrians are Germans and South
Tyroleans are therefore Germans as well.

Cossigas statements were heavily criticised by South Tyrolean Governor
Luis Durnwalder at his annual press conference at his summer residence in
Pfalzen, South Tyrol, on Friday. We are an Austrian minority living in
Italy, Durnwalder pointed out. The Austrian and South Tyrolean media was
also outraged by Cossigas statements. German and Ladin speaking South
Tyrol was given to Italy after World War I, despite protests by the local
population and the Austrian government. The decision by the victorious
Allied powers in 1919 was subject to major criticism even within the
alliance.  There were heated debates about South Tyrol in the British
House of Commons and the US House of Representatives shortly after the
annexation to Italy was announced.

Many considered the new Brenner boundary between Italy and Austria to be
clearly in breach of the 1918 conditions of armistice that were based on
the so called 14 points by US President Wilson, including one on the self
determination of all peoples of Austria-Hungary, and another one on the
promise that all new boundaries were to be drawn along ethnic lines. In
the inter-War period, characterized by enormous economic hardship as a
result of reparation payments and the loss of traditional markets in the
former Austro-Hungarian Empire, many Austrians, including South Tyroleans,
supported the idea of a Greater Germany as they saw little prospect in the
small state of left over Austria.

However, after annexation by Hitler in 1938, and the beginning of World
War II in 1939, the situation changed dramatically and there was ever
increasing support for the re-establishment of an independent Austria
among the population. Hitler and Mussolini agreed on the forced transfer
of all South Tyroleans to regions in occupied Poland, but there was not
enough time for the plans to be put in place before the War ended.
Meanwhile Mussolini started a major wave of re-settlements during the 30s
and 40s sending tens of thousands of mostly southern Italians into South
Tyrol. As a result of these re-settlements a considerable part of the city
of Bozen/Bolzano and surrounding areas has become Italian speaking, while
the rest of South Tyrol remains virtually German and Ladin speaking only.

After the end of World War II in 1945, South Tyroleans collected more than
100,000 signatures in favour of a return to Austria. Plans by US-President
Roosevelt and his administration included the demand for Austria to be
re-established with the addition of the province of Bozen. British
Prime-Minister Winston Churchill called the annexation of South Tyrol by
Italy a huge mistake. The French occupying forces of Austrian North Tyrol
also supported South Tyrol being re-attached to Austria in 1945. Despite
these factors it was decided that South Tyrol remain part of Italy, mostly
because of Soviet pressure and in a trade off with Yugoslavia, which
received the Istria peninsula and parts of Gorizia/Gorica from Italy. In
the 1946 peace treaty between Italy and the Allied powers, South Tyrol was
given regional autonomy and the German and Ladin languages and place names
were given official status.

Today South Tyrol is recognised as a model for regional autonomy and
minority protection, although some issues, like the official status of
Italian place names invented by the controversial Italian nationalist
Ettore Tolomei, and subsequently introduced in the 1920s and 30s, remain
highly controversial. (Eurolang 2005)

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