Autonomy – a role model

Since the time of the Roman Empire, Italy’s most important trading routes have crossed the Brenner Pass. Around 400 fortresses and castles on mountain tops bear impressive witness to the days of generally corrupt knights who sought to intercept traders en route in order to exact “tolls”.

The more recent history of South Tyrol reflects the whole drama of political developments in the 20th century. The peace treaties after the First World War gave rise to problems for minorities or further aggravated these. South Tyrol, with its nearly 100% German-speaking population, which had been part of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy for more than five hundred years, was incorporated into Italian national territory with its border on the Brenner Pass. South Tyrol was also affected by the rise of National Socialism and, after the first phase of the Nazis in power, by the Hitler-Mussolini Pact of 1939. Many inhabitants of South Tyrol exercised their option at that point and left their home country.

The Second World War also had severe repercussions on South Tyrol with Italy fighting first on one side, subsequently on the other. After the end of that War, lengthy political negotiations were conducted which led to the Autonomy Agreement between Austria and Italy in September 1946. Austria was given the official status of “protecting power for South Tyrol” and Italy granted South Tyrol autonomy which, however, proved to be a sham. As a result, the situation in South Tyrol deteriorated significantly in the ‘50s, with demands for self-determination becoming ever more vociferous, thus preparing the ground for genuine autonomy.

Finally, Austria submitted the “South Tyrol issue” to the United Nations. After decades of negotiations, the dispute between Austria and Italy was officially resolved in 1992, when South Tyrol was granted genuine autonomy, which continues to serve as a model of its kind.