Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Oh No More on Kashmir - 1


By Ajit Chaudhuri

Actually, no, this is a paper on South Tyrol (patience, those of you going ‘where?’ under your breaths) and may not add to our collective ‘Kashmir fatigue’! But let me first get the Kashmir bit out of the way. Most Indians tend to be vague on Kashmir – we know that there is a problem, but not quite what it is and don’t really care as long as the ‘troubles’ don’t extend beyond the valley and into our lives. Those who do know a bit more tend to find the situation depressing; they feel that the problem has historic roots that can not be undone, that Kashmir will always be a source of contention between India and Pakistan, that Muslim Kashmiris will always face an identity problem in our country, that there is no solution, and that we are forever stuck with the Indian Army pointing guns at Kashmiris to make them Indian. The point I am going to make in this paper is that it does not have to be this way, that solutions are possible, and that there are places that have moved from similar situations towards lasting peace. I give you the case of South Tyrol!

The Summer of 2004: I spent my summer vacation this year in South Tyrol in the Italian Alps. For those interested in the vacation possibilities – if you like walking about 20 km a day on soft ground in hilly terrain with a little weight on your back and eating cheese and ham and drinking red wine in copious quantities, South Tyrol would be heaven for you. If not, it would resemble a Siberian prison camp – very very naturally beautiful and blah, blah, blah but cold from when you wake up to when you go to sleep, even in May. There are no opportunities to socialize and the youngest and prettiest woman I met (by far) was my own Mother. South Tyrol consists of a low and narrow valley into which are squeezed a river (the Eisach), an autostrada, a normal road and a railway line, with the mountains going up another 2000 meters on either side. Its main town is Bozen/Bolzano, and it is separated from Austria by the famous Brenner Pass across which Hannibal had brought elephants to raid Rome eons ago. Much like our own hill areas, the men drink a lot and the women do all the hard work, everyone is very religious, the economic mainstay is tourism, maintaining goats and sheep and small farming, and the young people all get the hell out of there as soon as they can. I stayed in a farmhouse in the vicinity of the village of Klobenstein/Collalbo in the region Ritten/Rennon, about 50 km from B/B. Why these double names, I remember thinking, and how come the locals are blonde haired and blue eyed and, while willing to converse in Italian, speak German in their homes. An enquiry into these questions brought me to the South Tyrol issue, which is seen as a model for the protection of regional and cultural minorities.

A historical perspective: The Austro-Hungarian Empire ruled Tyrol, which consists of today’s Austrian province of North Tyrol and the Italian provinces of South Tyrol and Trentino, from Vienna until the end of WW1. The first two were predominantly German speaking, the last predominantly Italian, and Tyrol itself (89 percent German, 4 percent Italian and 7 percent others in 1900) was seen as a borderland between German and Italian cultures, joined rather than divided by the Brenner. The whole of South Tyrol was ceded to Italy (Peace Treaty of St. Germain, 1919) as per assurances made by the British and the French to the Italians in 1915 in return for Italy’s participation on the allied side in WW1, and in complete contradiction to the principle of self-determination advocated at the time by US President Woodrow Wilson. It is indeed interesting to note how many of today’s territorial disputes have their roots in British and French shenanigans in the first half of the 20th century.

The fascists came to power in Italy in 1922 and embarked on a programme of sustained Italianisation in South Tyrol. The German presence and influence in cultural, political and economic life was repressed, Italian became the official language and those officials not fluent in it were dismissed, schooling, public inscriptions and place names were made solely in Italian, and names of people were Italianised. The government also set up industries and encouraged the movement of people from southern Italy into the region. In 1939, Italians were 24 percent of South Tyrol’s population but in other aspects the policy achieved the opposite of its intentions – by creating a Tyrolean identity that disassociated rather than integrated with Italy. Mussolini finally accepted that he couldn’t convert 220,000 German speakers into Italians and, along with Hitler (who was looking for Italian support for his ambitions at the time), came to the conclusion that a radical solution was required – that South Tyroleans had to choose between Germany, or emigration, and Italy, or assimilation. 86 percent opted to move to Germany, and did not due to the advent of WW2 that gave both Germany and Italy other matters to think about.

In 1943, German troops occupied South Tyrol and, glad to be ‘liberated’ from the Italians, the locals collaborated with the Nazis. This subsequently became an obstacle to South Tyrol rejoining Austria after WW2, with the Allied powers rejecting both their claims in favour of Italy who had ended the war on the side of the Allies. However, Italy and Austria were obliged to come to a political settlement over South Tyrol, and both countries’ foreign ministers assured equal rights for Tyroleans and Italians in a vaguely worded First Autonomy Statute that raised more issues than it resolved. Tyrolean politicians from both sides of the Brenner repeatedly claimed that autonomy was temporary and self-determination was the ultimate objective. The Italian government reacted by passing restrictive laws that it applied restrictively, and lumping South Tyrol with the Italian province of Trentino to form one Italian-majority region. A South Tyrol People’s Party (SVP) was formed to represent German speaker interests and obtained a sufficient majority among them to obtain de-facto rights to negotiate with Italy. Austria’s sovereignty was fully restored in 1955 and it began to seek a role in the South Tyrol issue, which Italy treated as an internal matter and refused to have any official negotiations. The issue became hotter and hotter.

An insurgency begins: The bomb blasts began in 1956 on symbols of Italian rule; government offices, police stations and power plants. Italy sent 15,000 soldiers in, and Italian right wing radicals responded by carrying out bombings of their own, including in Austria. The issue escalated and internationalized – Austria brought the South Tyrol question into the UN in 1960, which confirmed that Austria had a say. Italy continued to refuse to talk meaningfully with Austria, who took it to the UN again in 1961, who in turn re-affirmed the 1960 resolution. Italy relented and began talking to Austrians and to South Tyroleans, the latter for the first time. A settlement package was approved by the SVP in 1969 and subsequently by the Italian and Austrian governments, coming into force as the New Autonomy Statute in 1972.

A few years of relative peace resulted, before two factors intervened. The first was ‘Italian slowness’, or the tortoise-like pace at which the Italian government worked, which created a concern among the German-speakers that Rome was trying to slime out of implementing the autonomy measures fully. This gave cause to German hardliners of the ‘Ein Tyrol’ ideology. The second was that the Italian speakers, up to now a mollycoddled bunch, did not react well to losing their special privileges and began voting for far-right Italian political parties. The atmosphere deteriorated again, with sporadic bombings and whatnot, and this continued until the late 1980s.

Working towards a solution: It was only in 1988 that some of the more contentious points on the Autonomy Statute, such as equal status for the German language in the police force and in court, were passed and implemented by the Italian legislature and this led to de-escalation in tension. After this, there was considerable urgency by the Italian government to get this whole thing over with, and the final points on the statute were implemented in 1992. The SVP approved the packet with an overwhelming majority and a Conflict Settlement Declaration was handed over to the UN Chief by the Italian and Austrian governments.

Managed but not resolved: Since 1992, South Tyrol has been enriched by new legal and administrative competencies and now has far-reaching territorial autonomy within the Italian state. It has also become an economically prosperous region, with low unemployment and high per capita income. However, there is a sort of voluntary apartheid in the region, with the Germans not distinguishing between Italians from South Tyrol (who have been there for several generations) and other Italians. Most institutions of civil society are mono-ethnic; schools, political parties, trade unions, clubs, churches and even kindergartens. About the only exception is the Green Party. The Italians are concentrated in the bigger towns, the Germans in homesteads in the mountains. The Germans generally eschew public employment (the tourism business is more lucrative) and most officials are Italian. This is all a bit weird, and it is clear to the casual observer (which I was for 10 days) that there is a fair amount of mistrust between the two communities who do however make a genuine effort to put the past behind them. The expected negative outcomes for the Germans of remaining within Italy, such as being swamped by southern Italians in search of economic opportunities, did not materialize – in fact the proportion of Italian speakers dropped a bit after 1992. There is also confidence that the future of South Tyrol’s autonomy is not subject to the whims and fancies of the Italian state as it is internationally guaranteed and the Austrian government is a keen observer.

Conclusion: Well, such is the case of South Tyrol! There are some parts that must be pretty familiar for those of us who read local newspapers, and also parts that are not. These do not require enumeration. To go back to the beginning of this paper, conflict can be managed (if not resolved) and it is possible to have lasting peace in areas that have deep-rooted problems of ethnicity, identity, sub-nationalism and nationalism, even when two or more nations are involved. Things don’t have to go the way of Nagorno-Karabakh, or Kosovo, or Chechnya. There are positive models as well, and I sincerely hope that South Tyrol gives some cause for optimism in this depressing business.

· Kager, Thomas, “South Tyrol: Mitigated but not Resolved” in the Online Journal of Peace and Conflict Resolution.

Acronyms/Jargon watch
Autostrada Italian for autobahn
Ein Tyrol One Tyrol
SVP SudTyrolischer Volkspartei
WW1 World War 1
WW2 World War 2

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