South Tyrol

   Situated south of the Brenner Pass with its capital in Bolzano (Bozen), the South Tyrol is a region of mixed population and language. At the end of World War I, with the Italian army occupying the area, it contained roughly 220,000 Germans and about half that number of Italians, a large percentage of whom were very recent arrivals. A small minority spoke Ladin, a Latin derivative found in some regions of the Alps.
   Though the situation called for the plebiscitary procedures mandated by the Paris Peace Conference, political concerns led the Allies to recognize the cession of the area to Italy. American President Woodrow Wilson wanted to compensate the Italians for territories on the Adriatic coast that they had aspired to but that were turned over instead to the new kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, soon to be known as Yugoslavia.
   The embittered German population of both the north and East Tyrol, which remained within Austria, voiced their resentment clearly and vigorously in the earliest years of the interwar period. In an effort to avoid any partition at all, the Tyrol voted in 1919 (unsuccessfully) to become an independent state. Though sentiment remained strong there to secede from the First Austrian Republic and to join Germany, the Nazis did not pursue the issue out of consideration for the interests of their alliance with Benito Mussolini and Fascist Italy. The German-speaking inhabitants of the region hoped at the end of World War II that, with Austria officially recognized as a Nazi-occupied country, they would be incorporated into that newly freed state, as part of a territorial settlement with a now-vanquished Italy. Should that prove impossible, they hoped to win wide concessions of autonomy.
   Once again, however, politics interfered. The Soviet Union, now a victorious power, did not wish to offend the powerful Italian Communist party by supporting such territorial excisions. With the anticommunist parties of Italy and Italian voters at home in mind, the United States was equally loath to be provocative. It was left to the Austrian foreign minister, Karl Gruber (1909–1995), and his Italian counterpart, Alcide de Gasperi, to arrange some compromise, which they did in September 1946. They agreed that, although the South Tyrol would remain a part of Italy, the province of Bolzano would enjoy extensive autonomy. The compact was incorporated into the general peace treaty with Italy in 1947. In 1948, however, the government in Rome joined the South Tyrol administratively with the province of Trentino to the south. Known as Trentino–Alto Adige, the new district now became primarily Italian.
   After the signing of the Austrian State Treaty in 1955, the Germanspeaking elements in the South Tyrol asked Vienna to support their case for genuine autonomy. In 1961, representatives from the government in Rome, meeting with more moderate leaders from the South Tyrol, began discussing ways to resolve their differences. These talks were seriously compromised, however, by periodic waves of terrorism carried on by local nationalist cells. These groups looked to both Austria and Germany for material support and sanctuary and often received it.
   Nevertheless, with the aid of the United Nations, a 137-point settlement was in place by 1969. Austria agreed not to intervene in the area, which was to be granted substantial autonomy in incremental steps laid out in a timetable. As each stage was completed, Austria and Italy were to acknowledge the step. At the end of the process, Austria was to declare its fulfillment. A South Tyrolean assembly endorsed the agreement in November 1969, followed by similar actions on the part of the Austrian and Italian parliaments a month later.

Historical dictionary of Austria. . 2014.

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