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Jens Woelk: Reconciliation impossible or (only) indesireable?
euromed 202This paper is partly based on the article "From Ethnic Minority Protection to Cohabitation", in: Agency of Local Democracy Subotica (ed.), Essays on Regionalisation. A collection of reports submitted at the International Conference: Regionalisation in Southeast Europe – Comparative Analysis and Perspectives, Subotica 2001, pp. 107 - 128
By Jens Woelk
1. Introduction 1
2. From Conflict to Reconstruction 1
2.1. Short History of the Conflict and its Solution 1
2.2. Settlement and Implementation by Institutionalized Negotiation 2
3. Main Features of Implementation 3
3.1. Relations between Minority and Kin-State 3
3.2. Influence on Central State-Decisions 4
3.3. Scope of Autonomous Powers 4
3.4. Relations between the Different Groups Residing in the Autonomous Entity 5
4. A System of Balances – a Balanced System? 7
5. Further Evolution: "Dynamic Autonomy" and Reconciliation? 8
5.1. Few Changes in the Institutional Sphere 9
5.2. Parallel Societies instead of a Multicultural Society 11
5. Conclusions 12
Conference "Ethnic Diversity"
Graz, 1st and 2nd March 2002
Dr. Jens Woelk
Researcher (Ricercatore), Comparative Constitutional Law
Law Faculty - Trento UniversityVia Verdi, 53 - I-38100 Trento, ItalyTel: ++39/0461/88 1819 - Fax: ++39/0461/88 1899E-Mail: Woelk@jus.unitn.ithttp://www.jus.unitn.it Resarch Department " Minorities and Autonomies"European Academy Bozen / BolzanoDrususallee/Viale Druso 1 - I-39100 Bozen / BolzanoTel: ++39/0471/055 224 - Fax: ++39/0471/055 299E-Mail: Jens.Woelk@eurac.eduhttp://www.eurac.edu
DRAFT, please do not cite without author's permission
This paper is partly based on the article "From Ethnic Minority Protection to Cohabitation", in: Agency of Local Democracy Subotica (ed.), Essays on Regionalisation. A collection of reports submitted at the International Conference: Regionalisation in Southeast Europe – Comparative Analysis and Perspectives, Subotica 2001, pp. 107 - 128
Ten years have passed since the formal declaration of conflict-settlement, 30 years even since the entry into force of the 2nd Autonomy Statute, the "Basic Law" of the South Tyrolean autonomy. But does it really represent a "success story", a model for conflict resolution? Despite the autonomous system established and decades of peaceful coexistence, ethnicity and symbols still play a major role in South Tyrolean society. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the South Tyrolean autonomy lies in the duration of this same agreement. Because there are only few other cases with such a long practical experience in working autonomy, the experiences of South Tyrol could prove valuable in answering the question of where minority-protection and autonomy might lead in the future.
After a short description of the evolution of the conflict and its resolution the main legal features of the autonomy arrangement will be presented, followed by an evaluation of today's situation which can be summarized as "parallel societies" living side by side in the same territory. This paper argues that the very detailed legal regulation of nearly all (controversial) issues of living-together succeeded in establishing "tolerance by law", thus permitting reconstruction, but has also revealed to be an obstacle in the transition to "ethnic normalization" or reconciliation, raising questions of sustainability of the settlement.
2. From Conflict to Reconstruction
2.1. Short History of the Conflict and its Solution
South Tyrol, situated in the very north of Italy on the border of Austria, covers only 2.5 % of the Italian territory. Its major valleys form passageways through an overall mountainous terrain. The population of 450.000 inhabitants (corresponding to 0.8 % of Italy's population) consists of two-thirds German speakers, less than one-third Italian speakers and some 20.000 Ladin speakers. The majority of German speakers live in the valleys and rural areas, whereas due to the immigration policies of the past and the attempts at industrialization, the Italian group is concentrated in the three major cities (Bozen/Bolzano, Meran/Merano and Brixen/Bressanone) and in the southern parts of the Province, bordering on the Province of Trento (Trentino) which is almost entirely Italian.
In some way, the conflict in South Tyrol reflects the main historical developments of the 20th century: it dates back to the annexation of the former Austrian territory by Italy in 1919, which was done in spite of Woodrow Wilson's declarations of self-determination as guiding-principle for the Post-War-order. The 1920s saw the repression of the native German speaking group by a totalitarian regime, the Italian fascists. After the end of WW II (and a period of direct occupation by the III. Reich), Italy established a first autonomy regime in order to fulfil its international obligations taken 1946 in the De Gasperi-Gruber agreement (an international treaty between Italy and Austria which became part of Italy's Peace Treaty, annex IV). South Tyrolean German speakers soon criticized this first autonomy which had been granted on a regional basis, including the neighboring all-Italian inhabited province Trentino, as a flawed implementation of the treaty. Thus the political struggles aimed at achieving a satisfying autonomous regime began, reaching their climax with several bombings on power lines in the Sixties and the discussion of the case before the UN General Assembly (taken there by Austria as a "protection power").
It was only 30 years ago, that after long negotiations between the Central State and the South Tyroleans a legal framework came into force which put an end to the conflict: it is known as the "Package", consisting of 137 implementation-measures, which "updated" the first and unsatisfactory autonomy and resulted in the actual 2nd Autonomy Statute. It took another 20 years to have all of its enactment laws adopted and implemented, so that formally the conflict was settled just 10 years ago, in 1992. Three years later, Austria joined the European Union and in 1997 the Schengen-Treaty was adopted, an event which transformed the border between Italy and Austria, formerly a strict line of division separating cultures, languages and peoples, into a mere administrative boundary.
2.2. Settlement and Implementation by Institutionalized Negotiation
The compromise between the South Tyrolean People's Party and the Italian State leading to the South Tyrolean "Package" consisted in the explicit recognition of (cultural) diversity and a division of the spheres of influence and powers. As a precondition both sides had to renounce on incompatible positions: the South Tyroleans no longer asked for self-determination (in its external form) and the Italian government formally stepped back from the assimilation politics of its predecessors.
The most important objective for the South Tyroleans was their increased protection as a minority; an improvement in their relations with the Italians was a logical consequence of, but not the aim of negotiations (Baur/von Guggenberg/Larcher 1998, 25). Italy’s aim, on the other hand, was above all to settle the conflict. Thus, neither of the two sides involved had an underlying vision or project for the construction of a multicultural and plurilingual society. It is for these reasons that the agreement has been compared to a "Concordat" between Church and the State (Langer 1996, 167), i.e. a pact of mutual recognition, respect and non-interference (Baur/von Guggenberg/Larcher 1998, 27 f.). This is reflected exactly by the basic structure of the "Package", a compromise between principles of protection of individuals belonging to the German/Ladin group and the group(s) itself, on the one hand, and of the principle of territoriality, on the other.
A remarkable feature of the compromise is the creation of a framework of institutions and procedures for negotiations, enabling both sides to jointly elaborate solutions for the issues at hand (Böckler 1999, 95). Even though the detailed, pre-established time-frame for enactment of the Autonomy Statute (the so-called Operational Calendar), could only be realized with considerable delay, the adoption of each implementation-decree, worked out in special joint commissions, had the effect of a trust and confidence-building measure (this was particularly felt, when during the 1980s the enactment process temporarily came to a halt).
The joint commissions, in which the representatives of the State and of the Province have equal number and standing, were formed for the negotiations on the implementation mechanisms. As a consequence, the enactment decrees, which were the results of the negotiations within these joint commissions, did not need to be discussed in (or even adopted by) the national parliament, although they are formally part of ordinary law. Therefore their deliberation could be kept outside of normal political business; and experts from both sides could be involved in their elaboration. Due to their special procedure and agreement-character, it is generally recognized that they cannot be changed unilaterally by the State, which is, in addition to the possibility of bringing disputes to the Italian Constitutional Court, an important guarantee of the legal framework of South Tyrol's autonomy.
This special process was embedded in international guarantees: once the negotiations had begun, the "soft" pressure from the "Protecting Power" Austria certainly contributed to keeping Italy's interests in the fulfillment of the obligations alive. The necessity of a formal declaration of conflict-settlement - by both Austria and the South Tyroleans - after the implementation process had been concluded, was an important incentive for Italy to settle the conflict. This procedure of consensus and collaboration between the various actors - representatives of the minority, the majority and of Austria, a foreign state - upon which the autonomy is based, as well as the resultant possibilities for control, ensured that the process of minority protection with its long-term orientation was not destroyed in the last link of the chain, i.e. in its concrete implementation (Feiler 1997, 35 f.).
3. Main Features of Implementation
In order to characterize the main focus and intentions of conflict settlement in South Tyrol, at least four different levels should be distinguished which will be briefly characterized.
3.1. Relations between Minority and Kin-State
The Autonomy Statute does not contain any provisions regarding contacts between the German speaking group and its kin-State, Austria. There are, however, some bilateral treaties promoting economic relations and recognizing educational and vocational diplomas. Economic cross border activities with the Austrian Land North Tyrol were possible and undertaken even prior to the Austrian EU-membership (Zeyer 1993, 195 ff.), and are now intensified within the framework of a "Euroregion", which includes the Trentino.
3.2. Influence on Central State-Decisions
Due to its relatively small size in both territory and population, there are only few provisions dealing with the representation and participation of South Tyrol on central level. South Tyrol is represented by the Province's President in meetings of the Italian cabinet, whenever questions of the Province's interest are discussed (art. 52 Autonomy Statute). Because of the political instability which has characterized Italy over the past decades (more than 50 governments after WW II), the members of Parliament elected in South Tyrol often had great political influence, their support being potentially decisive for the survival of the Italian government. In addition, South Tyrol is one of the most active entities in defending its rights against the State before the Italian Constitutional Court and has thus contributed significantly to the evolution of Italian regionalism as a whole.
3.3. Scope of Autonomous Powers
The desire to conduct one's own affairs on the basis of independent responsibilities and through independent representatives can generally be regarded as a basic goal of minorities. South Tyrol's autonomy satisfies these aims through its key features: autonomy of legislation and administration, proportional ethnic representation, and a commitment to bilinguality (Feiler 1997, 35). Finally, but certainly fundamental, is the generous financial basis provided for the implementation of these provisions.
South Tyrol's autonomous powers are quite outstanding, not only when compared to other minority-situations, but even with regard to its northern neighbor North Tyrol, a member state of federal Austria. South Tyrol’s legislative powers are primarily concerned with economic, social, and cultural matters, e.g. place names, local customs and usages, town and country planning powers, environment, mining, agriculture, tourism, communications, and transport (areas in which the province has primary competence) and elementary and secondary education, commerce and public health (the Province only has secondary competencies). The Assembly (Provincial Council) is the law-making body and elects the Provincial Government which carries out the executive functions.
In South Tyrol German and Italian - which is the official language of the State - have equal standing in the Region (articles 99 and 100 ASt), and all regional and provincial laws are thus published in both Italian and German. In order to meet the objective of a bilingual public administration, all public officials in the Province have to pass a compulsory language test to prove their knowledge of both Italian and German, and residents have the right to use either language before all courts and authorities.
The Autonomy Statute also includes detailed provisions on the financial resources available to the province (art. 69 – 86 ASt). Although the province itself has only limited powers to impose taxes, it is entitled to receive – from the State - a substantial portion of certain taxes levied in the province, including 90% of property tax and income tax. The province also receives 1.61 % of the sectoral government expenditures, as well as certain sums for farm modernization measures and for other programs from the European Union.
3.4. Relations between the Different Groups Residing in the Autonomous Entity
With regard to the relations between the various language groups, two different levels of the conflict must be distinguished: the first deals with the German/Ladin speaking minority in South Tyrol and the Italian nation-state, and the second deals with the relations within the province itself. On the latter level, the German/Ladin speakers are a majority, and the Italian speakers, which also consider South Tyrol to be their homeland, increasingly feel like a minority. There is hardly any awareness of these two levels: until the present, German and Ladin speakers did neither distinguish between Italians in South Tyrol and Italians in general, nor between the Italian people and the Italian government. On the other hand, being a minority seems in a strange way attractive to the Italian group because of the "victim-status", which generates the idea of need for protection (Baur/von Guggenberg/Larcher 1998, 42 f.).
In South Tyrol, a complex and highly differentiated legal system has been created which calls for a mix of rotation, parity and proportional representation, and which might be characterized as "tolerance established by law". As a result of this system, the conflict was to a certain extent civilized and institutionalized, and transformed into one between politicians over the interpretation of the Autonomy Statute (Kager 1998, 8). The main ingredient of the system is power sharing, or "consociationalism", which includes the diffusion of power from the center to the periphery, and comprises four main-elements, all of which are present in South Tyrol:
(1) Participation of the representatives of all significant groups in the government, through jointly exercising governmental (and particularly executive) power, e.g. grand coalition cabinet:
According to the power-sharing model, the composition of the South Tyrolean Government must be proportional to the ethnic groups in the Council; the presidency of the Council rotates between members of the different groups (art. 49).
(2) A high degree of autonomy for the groups (especially for issues which are not of common concern):
The principle of cultural autonomy is established by art. 2 ASt, which states that the parity of rights of citizens of all language groups is recognized, and "their ethnic and cultural characteristics are protected". In other words, the differences between the three cultures are recognized and the "value" of this diversity highlighted. The cultural autonomy and the provisions for the protection and promotion of cultural characteristics, including the system of separated schools, are typical expressions of group-protection. All decisions in these fields require a wide consensus within the respective group. (Lampis 1999, 19 ff.)
As was already established by the 1946 Paris Agreement, a fundamental principle of today’s autonomy is that elementary and secondary education be provided in the mother tongue of the child. Consequently, instruction in South Tyrol is given in separate German and Italian schools (art. 19 ASt) and language instruction in the second language of the province is mandatory. Furthermore, all teachers must be native speakers of the language they teach.. In principle, parents are able to choose the school system which they would like their children to attend; a child can be refused only because of insufficient knowledge of the language of instruction in order to guarantee the character of the school and the efficiency of the lessons.
(3) Proportionality as the basic standard of political representation, public service, appointments, and allocation of public funds:
The Autonomy Statute provides for a system of proportional representation of the language groups for public employment and for the allocation of funds for cultural activities of the groups, as well as for social welfare and services (i.e. housing), which has been consistently upheld by the Italian Constitutional Court.
At the time of the census, every resident must make a formal declaration as to his or her language group, which is the basis for the right to stand for public office, to be employed in the public administration or as a teacher, and to be given social housing.
The principle of ethnic proportions, which has to be applied to all state and semi-state bodies operating in the province (art. 89) as well as to the provincial administration, was introduced to gradually revert the Italian dominance in the public service. The representation of language groups in their respective proportions in all these areas must be achieved within 30 years of the implementation of the second autonomy statute (i.e. by the year 2002).
(4) Minority veto as the ultimate weapon for the protection of vital interests, however only on issues of fundamental importance:
The principles of equality of all residents, regardless of their group affiliation (art. 2 ASt), and the quasi group-personality of the language-groups counterbalance the provisions on proportional representation (Lampis 1999, 29 ff.). This is particularly true for the right to request separate voting by the language groups in the Regional or Provincial Council, whenever a draft-law is judged to be in violation of the parity of rights or the cultural characteristics of one group. The ultimate means available to the language groups is an action before the Constitutional Court, founded on the same motivation. These are emergency-mechanisms in case the normal means of consultation in the organs should not work.
4. A System of Balances – a Balanced System?
The combination of minority-protection – i.e. the protection of persons and groups - and the principle of territoriality has led to a unique institutional mix and balance of the fundamental principles of segregation and integration under international guarantee (Marko 1999, 257).
Following the Austrian tradition of minority-protection, a precondition for the cultural and linguistic protection of minority-members is their declaration of belonging to the group.
This practice, namely the interpretation of everything in terms of ethnic categories is favored by the system of ethnic proportion, which, based on the census proportions, makes the organization of the South Tyrolean society dependent on a declaration of affiliation with one of the language groups. The emphasis placed on language rights and on the rights of language groups is intended to preserve the status quo. In the name of protection, a strict interpretation of provisions often tends to produce a defensive attitude and resistance of the group to changes or innovations (Baur/von Guggenberg/Larcher 1998, 29).
Thus, the dominant cleavage within the society remains ethnicity; other cleavages, such as class, are subordinated to ethnic polarization. Both the German/Ladin and the Italian groups have built up their own organizational structures and societal subsystems: kindergartens, schools, political parties, trade unions, public libraries, youth clubs, sports clubs, media, and churches are mono-ethnic. There is not much contact between the groups, for structural reasons (urban-rural antagonism and divided economic structure) and due to linguistic difficulties (fluency in both languages is still not reached, especially with the elder generations). The reality is therefore characterized by "parallel societies" (Langer 1996, 171); often heard is the allusion to different "clubs".
This segregation is, at least in part, counterbalanced by the territoriality-principle, which adds a functional dimension, related to the territory as such, and to the application of law in the autonomous entity. Participation, integration and co-responsibility are achieved through the equality and equal standing of all citizens. (Baur/von Guggenberg/Larcher 1998, 29). The territorial dimension also offers the chance of a frequent exchange between majority- and minority-positions: a German-speaking resident of Bozen/Bolzano, for instance, is a member of a minority in Italy, at the same time a member of the majority on provincial level, and again part of a minority in the city of Bozen/Bolzano. This should also help to understand the positions of others.
An example of the dual character of the Statute-framework are the provisions on the use of language: These are in part individual rights, formally reserved to the members of the minority-group, a, for instance in art. 100 ASt: "German-speaking residents of the Province [...] are entitled to use their language [...]". The territorial dimension, on the other hand, is expressed in art. 99 ASt, which prescribes the equal standing of both languages. Consequently the enactment decree on the use of language (d.p.r. 574/1988) does not distinguish between members of the minority and other residents, so that everyone has the choice between German and Italian.
Regarding the public administration, the combination of both principles is visible even in the system of proportional representation, which was adopted as a repair-mechanism, correcting historical inequalities and disadvantages, in order to reach a higher representation of Germans and Ladins. A higher proportion of German speakers did of course contribute to the objective of a bilingual administration, too. The mandatory language-test for all new public servants is again a clear expression of this functional dimension.
To sum up: a peaceful coexistence (Nebeneinanderleben) was established as a basis for the cohabitation of the groups (Zusammenleben) by paying particular attention to security and to other sensitive interests of the groups and by following a step-by-step policy. Already from the beginning, however, the Autonomy Statute did require cooperation and contacts between the groups (Böckler 1999, 98 f. and Palermo 1999, 14 f.). Whereas in the past emphasis was above all placed on the aspects of minority-protection, the possibility of a more flexible and functional interpretation for the future, based on the principle of territoriality, or better said, of "normal governance" does already exist.
5. Further Evolution: "Dynamic Autonomy" and Reconciliation?
Time is a very important factor for resolving conflicts. Over the past several decades, the province has seen rapid economic development, a significant amelioration of ethnic tensions and increased cooperation between local and State authorities. The package of measures for the South Tyrolean population, introduced in 1969 to provide German and Ladin populations with a better protection in the framework of the Italian constitutional system through a larger territorial self-government, can be considered, at least from a legal point of view, fully implemented and thus fulfilled.
This was confirmed by the formal declaration of conflict-settlement given by Austria in 1992 (after previous approval of an SVP assembly ). It marks the beginning of a period requiring new orientation and new objectives. After reaching the aim of full implementation of the second autonomy statute and subsequent to the establishment of a satisfactory standard of protection, there have been indications of a period of opening up and of (increasing) normality. From the institutional point of view, however, despite important changes in the legal environment, on national and European level, hardly anything has been changed. Overall, the legal and political system has remained the one established thirty years ago.
5.1. Few Changes in the Institutional Sphere
In the last thirty years, the legal context has changed radically at all levels asking for new orientation and a change of perspective.
At local level not only a satisfactory standard of minority protection, but also a high level of self-government has been achieved which continues to develop and is sometimes even seen as a model case for further decentralization or federalization of the Italian State as a whole (thus showing that autonomy is not a concept limited to the protection of minority groups, only).
However, despite the 30 years-term set for achieving the proportional representation of all language groups in the public administration (i.e. by the year 2002, or at least within 2006) and with these proportions actually reached in most areas, there is no public discussion on replacing this system by softer instruments which would encroach less on individual rights. While the purpose of compensation for historical injustice has been reached, there is now a perception of the quota-system as a general distribution mechanism and it is even stated that today it serves more to the protection of the Italian group (which is demographically on the decline). Even though there are a number of problems in recruitment of qualified personnel (in the – not so well paid - State administration nearly half of the posts marked for German speakers is currently deserted; in the hospitals it is increasingly difficult to find German speakers for leading positions), the solution is sought in a more flexible application, but not in a general reform of the system, still declared to be one of the "pillars" of the whole autonomy arrangement.
At national level, important reforms towards a federalization of Italy have finally been adopted. In the last five years, South Tyrol had already received a number of additional powers from the Italian State on a bilateral basis (e.g. roads, electricity, teachers and school-staff). After the “administrative federalism”-reform (i.e. full decentralization in the administrative sphere), which had begun in 1995, three constitutional laws have been passed in the last years. Despite the fact that there is still some way to go until Italy can be considered a federal State, these reforms will change Italy's regional system profoundly, especially by giving more powers to the ordinary regions and by raising the issue of fiscal federalism. In the context of general reform of Italy's regional system, the reform of the Statute of the Autonomous Region Trentino-South Tyrol has been limited so far to some amendments in the institutional sphere and created the preconditions for the reform of the Autonomous Region - today an empty shell and a mere roof-structure. The chance of the amendment of the autonomy statute has not been used for adapting the autonomy by introducing some substantial changes.
Finally, the legal framework has also changed due to the progress of European integration which provides for new opportunities, but may also be a source of trouble. The opportunities are especially reflected by the increasing interest in cross-border cooperation between the three Alpine neighbors North Tyrol, South Tyrol and Trentino. The experience in this field can be subdivided into three phases. Already foreseen by the Gruber-De Gasperi agreement and finalized in a bilateral agreement, the socalled "Accordino" from 1948, the “soft” cooperation in the working groups Arge Alp and Alpe Adria, embedded in a greater Alpine regional context, stood at the origins of this cooperation. It was followed by the idea of an institutionalized form of CBC across the Brenner, widely known as “Euregio Tyrol”, which was controversially discussed because of its high degree of institutionalization and the clear reference made (even by name) to the historical entity of Tyrol. This experience, and the resistance it created, finally led to a third phase, currently under way, characterized by concrete projects with a functional dimension without a "hard" institutional design. In this context, also the successful, but initially contested, experience of a joint representation of the three entities at European level, by means of a Bureau in Brussels, should be mentioned.
But there have also been two recent judgments of the European Court of Justice, interfering with the autonomy-system, dealing with the questions of language rights and the obligation of bilingualism. Both judgments did not contradict the autonomy-provisions, but saved their conformity with EC-Law by extending their scope of application (including EU-citizens) or by generous interpretation (the certificate of bilingualism released in the province is no longer the only proof of a sufficient knowledge of both languages, other language-certificates have to be also admitted). Nevertheless, they were intensively discussed and there are certain worries that other instruments might be in contrast with the free movement of persons and services in the common market (also due to the fact that there is still no provision in the Treaties expressly protecting minorities).
An explanation for the relatively few changes in the institutional sphere cannot overlook the "ethnic governance" in the political system: all candidates have make their ethnic affiliation public in order to stand for election and the most important institutional functions are ethnically marked. The uncontested political quasi-monopoly of the South Tyrolean People's Party (SVP), still voted by the overwhelming majority of German speakers (i.e. the absolute majority of all voters in the province), has helped in the past as a strong and united political representation in front of the Central State authorities and politicians. But still today, according to the party's own understanding as an "umbrella party", political pluralism is an exclusively internal affair.
Another important structural factor explaining why there have been so few changes is the important role of the joint commission: devised as a preferential channel for communication and consultation between State and autonomous entity, it continues to regulate a large number of important political issues even after the full implementation the autonomy statute. Despite the fact that the six experts nominated in equal number by the Province and by the Government (three German speakers, three Italian speakers) only have a consultative role, they are usually acting as the real drafters of the enactment laws. This negotiation-like procedure did not change substantially after 1992: on the contrary, new powers were in part allocated by this method and enactment decrees substituted or amended. This did not leave much room for important decisions of the elected assembly, the Provincial (or Regional) Council. In addition, there is hardly any transparency in the work of the commissions and their members are often no longer experts, but politicians, thus the problem of democratic control of an organ with quite far-reaching powers becomes evident.
5.2. Parallel Societies instead of a Multicultural Society
The civil society is still characterized by a segregated way of living together in the same territory. Issues of multiculturalism are more or less confined to the major towns and cities, where the Italian group is concentrated. Quite surprisingly, people from mixed marriages or families do not have a major public and/or political impact.
Apart from the private economy, where skills and bilingualism are often de-facto mandatory, there are some interesting developments in the cultural sphere: after decades of fruitless discussions the Free University of Bolzano (three Faculties: Teacher formation, Informatics and Economics) has been founded in 1997 and offers courses in three languages, not only aiming at local students (see Woelk 2001, 870 ff.). There are also some experiments regarding second language acquisition in the (Italian) kindergartens and schools, the first signs of asymmetry in a parallel, but separate education system. On the whole, however, the actual separated system is still justified through historical experiences, namely the prohibition of the use of German in public, and the consequent secret underground-schools set up during the period of forced assimilation by the Italian fascist regime.
Historical experiences often have a great influence on public discussions about ethno-national problems. Traumatic historical experiences and antagonistic interpretations of historical events block the understanding between the different ethnic groups. This is also true, at least to some extent, for South Tyrol, where the actual debate on toponyms (place names) demonstrates very clearly that a return to ethnically polarized political policies is still possible: The German place names in use, which have been substituted by Italian translations during fascism, are still not official. A provincial law would be sufficient to officially reintroduce them and to legalize them, given the respective power in the Autonomy Statute (art. 8 no. 2). Because Italian place names had been imposed (and sometimes invented) by the Fascists, to simply uphold the actual bilingual denomination everywhere, is unacceptable for a number of German-speakers, which would see such a move as an explicit recognition of historical injustice. The dilemma is that a number of local Italians would feel deprived of their (young) roots and their rights of identification, if the territory would legally become (mostly) monolingual and thus react quite harsh.
This discussion, kept alive by political interests and the media which are likewise creating parallel and different worlds of public opinion "filtering" the perceptions of the other group, clearly shows that the transition from reconstruction to a further phase of reconciliation is, at best, not yet concluded. By referring to the historical traumata in today's situation this controversy on symbolic issues does not only represent the old schemes of domination of one group or the other. It is also totally neglecting the experience of thirty years of peaceful reconstruction on the basis of the autonomy statute which is generally accepted by nearly the entire population. This demonstrates again that a multicultural and plurilingual society, despite the changed reality and the fact that a growing number of people are already living it everyday, is still not overall accepted and definitively not a declared political goal for the leading political elites and parties.
The conflict in South Tyrol has been successfully "settled", but there is still a way to go in order to reach reconciliation. There is a number of open, but substantial issues which are currently under discussion, but the incentives for change just do not seem strong enough. Political interests in "ethnically divided governance" are still prevailing on nearly all sides, because change could mean less control over the distribution of rich resources which determine the political control of respective group.
There is no doubt that the settlement of the conflict by the 2nd Autonomy Statute was a first and necessary step. Italy's German and Ladin minorities were no longer threatened by assimilation. Achieving a compromise solution accepted by the majority of all those concerned – Italy, Austria and the South Tyroleans – was certainly due to tolerance and goodwill on all sides (Kager 1998, 1). The same should be true for the preservation of the achieved results and their gradual development towards a society more characterized by interethnic interaction and cooperation. After 30 years the time seems to be ripe for a second step to resolve the ethnic division of the society in order to reach an even higher level of peace.
Autonomy is a dynamic process, balances established in a certain situation and a specific context can and must change, if their preconditions change. Only such processes will inspire and maintain public confidence which are inclusive of those concerned. Given the fact that territorial arrangements – in most cases – do not only concern the minority group, but the whole population, functional criteria and conditions of tolerance, but also the perception of pluralism as a basic value, play an important part.
The recent changes at local, national and supranational level provide that South Tyrol today is no longer surrounded by "enemies" (the Italian State for the German/Ladin minority, Austria as a threat for the integrity of the Italian nation), but by partners with whom it can cooperate in managing certain governance functions. In this light, it makes sense to think of changing some principles and rules of cohabitation which still express a defensive attitude and substitute them by other, more flexible and functional-oriented principles which do not stress ethnicity as the main distinctive criterion any longer. A shift of balances towards the territorial principle is needed in order to succeed in the transformation from a post-conflict situation to a society which does not only accept the presence of different groups on the same territory as a matter of fact, but appreciates plurilingualism and multiculturalism as basic values and enriching factors.
Gruber-De Gasperi Agreement (including English original text): http://www.regione.taa.it/giunta/normativa_it/normat_pag_it.htm
Autonomy Statute Trentino-South Tyrol, d.p.r. 31/8/1972, no. 670 (text in English):
· Hannum, Hurst (ed.), Documents on Autonomy and Minority Rights, Dordrecht/Boston/London 1993, p. 460 - 495
· Magliana, Melissa, The Autonomous Province of Bolzano-Südtirol, Quaderno/Arbeitsheft No. 20, European Academy Bozen/Bolzano 2000 – Appendix, p. 167 – 195
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