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ICE Case Studies
Number 128 - May, 2004, Tyrol and Land, by Sonia Steinbrech


1. Abstract : Elements of ethnic and environmental conflict have been present in the northern Italian Province of South Tyrol since Roman times. The area holds an extremely important north/south alpine passage and is at the intersection of many different cultures and languages. The Brenner Pass remains an important commercial route, and the surrounding area of South Tyrol is renowned amongst outdoor sports enthusiasts and international tourists alike. Mild ethnic conflict existed between resident mountain populations for centuries, but the principle clash of cultures came during and after WWII when the local German-speaking population was inundated with Italian-speakers during Mussolini's relocation program created to “Italianize” the north.

2. Description:


Co-governance is encapsulated in the one region, two province system that exists today in South Tyrol. The Province (Sud Tyrol in German and Alto-Adige in Italian) is generally German-speaking, while the Trentino to the south is Italian-speaking. The two provinces are also under the umbrella regional governance of The Region of Trentino/Sud Tyrol (Trentino/Alto-Adige in Italian). In the past, violence has erupted in the Region, mainly in the Province of South Tyrol , over the rights of the German ethnic minority and the willingness of some to return to the ancient borders of Tyrol . These political borders encompassed the Austrian area of Innsbruck and the Italian area of Bolzano , which even today some say would provide a more ethnically suitable governance.

The general cultural environment within the Province of South Tyrol has been in a constant state of flux throughout history. The “Germanization” of the resident population was carried out during the reign of the Hapsburg Empire and consisted of the enculturation of diverse populations in various valleys throughout the southern Alps. In the 1930's, after making a pact with Hitler, Benito Mussolini mandated the mass relocation of southern Italians into South Tyrol . Those residents who declared themselves of German heritage were forced to relocate into the area of the Third Reich and the “Italianization” the Province began. German-speaking churches and schools were closed and laws were passed banning the use of the language or any outward expression of the former German culture.

Years of State suppression brought German activists boiling to center of South Tyrolean society with acts of terror committed against public and private targets in the 1960s. The negotiation that followed these actions ultimately resulted in the passage of equal rights laws for the German-speaking minority and the special jurisdiction of Autonomous Province of South Tyrol within an Autonomous Region of Italy. Many argue that from this point forward, the special status of the German-speaking population within Italy has caused an unbalanced distribution of funds from the central government of Italy . In some sense, it seems to be another cycle of the “Germanization” of South Tyrol .


The population of South Tyrol is 464,530, with 63 inhabitants per square kilometer (Office of Statistics for the Province of Bolzano, 2002). Most of the population lies in the central metropolitan area of Bolazano and in the low-laying valleys of the mountainous Province. The German-speaking majority makes up 70% of the population, while Italian and Ladin-speaking residents make up 26% and 4% of the population respectively (South Tyrol Census, 2001)

The majority of South Tyroleans work in the service sector which employs 68% of the population. The ‘Secondary Sector', which consists of industry workers and artisans, makes up 28% of the labor force, while only 4% of employment in South Tyrol is in the ‘Third Sector' which is defined as agriculture and forestry. This final statistic is somewhat surprising given the strong apple industry in the Province. South Tyrol is the largest producer of apples in Europe and annually provides 12% of the continental production (EURES, 2002).

One explanation of this phenomenon might be the large number of workers that come from outside the European Community every season. In 2001, 6,000 seasonal workers were employed for the cultivation and processing of apples. Within the public sphere, however, the labor environment is controlled by affirmative action based on resident populations. Of every 20 jobs provided within the public sector, 14 will go to German-speakers, 5 will go to Italian-speakers, and 1 will go to a Ladin-speaker (South Tyrol Census, 2001).

Some view these actions as reverse discrimination in a Province where the government controls many lucrative sectors within the territory, including major tourism projects and hydroelectric power centers. Others view these affirmative action labor plans, and aid from the central Italian government, as not enough. Separatist parties also exist in South Tyrol . The ‘Union Fur Sudtirol' and the ‘ Freiheitlichen ' (Freiheitlichen, 2004) have recently been in the news for their ‘no-Italian-language' stance in German primary schools (Union for South Tyrol, 2004).

The European Union has provided great opportunities for populations to reach outside State boarders to create relationships with other communities free of national control. Enculturation of communities within Europe will continue in the future and minority populations in some cases will have the chance to assert their culture and rights within a majority population. In some cases minorities will become majorities and in the case of South Tyrol, Italy, the Italians seem to again be the minority.

Environment: The rich resources of South Tyrol contribute to its affluent condition within the State of Italy. The area, nestled in the Italian Alps, is peppered with world-class ski resorts and some of the most impressive scenery in this part of Europe. There is a strong agricultural sector exporting apples and grapes amongst other fruits, while the artisan culture of wine and cheese is also vibrant. Tourism is a principle revenue source and the industry is motored by all ethnicities in the Province. Finally, the Brenner Pass is the deepest valley in the Alps and therefore has been an important passageway since Roman times. The historic importance of the area is further illustrated by the debate surrounding the recent discovery of Otzi the Iceman . The Pass begins in Trentino and cuts principally through South Tyrol ending in Austria . Currently the Italian state controls the majority of the passageway but if a state based on the borders of ancient Tyrol were to be constructed, the Pass would no longer be under Italian jurisdiction.

There are several committees that exist within the European Union created to address ethnic conflict issues. The Committee of the Regions is a prominent force within the EU and Trentino/South Tyrol is a vocal part of the membership. Growth of the EU and its respective committees may dilute the issues of ethnic conflict but also provides a venue for ethnic minorities to strengthen their cause at the continental level. The development of the EU may suggest an alternative organization to the one region, two province system that would better address the needs of diverse ethnicities and the environment in which they live.

3. Duration: Ongoing

4. Location: Europe; Southern Europe; Italy

5. Actors: Various Ethnic Groups; Italian, German, Ladin

II. Environment Aspects

6. Type of Problem: Civil

7. Environmental Attributes: Cool

8. Cultural/Political Background: The DeGasperi-Gruber Agreement of 1946 lead to the creation of the Autonomous Region of Trentino-South Tyrol. The agreement facilitated measures to protect and maintain the economic and cultural characteristics of both provinces, including reinstating German as a language of instruction in public schools. The year before the Agreement , the Sudtiroler Volkspartei -SVP (the people's party of South Tyrol ) was formed to advocate re-incorporation of South Tyrol into Austria and later became a voice for the minority populations of the province. Minority should be understood in the national sense rather than the provincial sense given the German-speaking population is in fact a majority in South Tyrol . Ladin-speakers can be seen as a minority in both senses. Despite the separatist tendencies of the SVP, the party was recognized by the Allies as the political representative of the German-speaking population of South Tyrol .

South Tyrol is governed by Regional councils as well as a Provincial Assembly. The dominant party within the Assembly represents the German-speaking population but the president alternates twice each term between an Italian-speaking representative and a German-speaking representative. The Assembly also chooses two vice-presidents for the Provincial Government, one from each of the two dominant linguistic groups. Each of the three linguistic groups is given representation in the Assembly roughly based on ethnic presence in the Province(see Table 1).


Ethnic Representation in the Provincial Assembly in 1998

Linguistic Group


% of Votes













Table 1 - source: Official website of the Autonomous Province of South Tyrol


The 1972 Statute of Provincial Autonomy identifies the official languages of the Province and regulates their use in public institutions (d.P.R. 31 August 1972 , No. 670). With this statute German does not replace the former official language of Italian but rather, German is on a par with Italian and both are official languages. Official documents are published in German and Italian and instruction in public schools is in both languages. Though students are not obligated to attend a public school with instruction primarily in their native tongue, most do. The question arises about presence of these virtually monolinguistic scholastic environments and whether they promote integration. The goal of using mother-tongue instruction is meant to preserve the unique cultural and linguistic heritage of diverse ethnic groups within an atmosphere of integration, yet families continue to self-segregate into familiar ethnic environs.

Each year a census is conducted and citizens are asked to identify themselves based on ethnic/linguistic heritage (see Table 2). This data is then processed to allocate public sector employment, funds for public instruction, and political representation. In the last century there has been a visible wave in ethnic identification between those who identify themselves as Italian and those who identify themselves as German-origin. German self-identifiers remain the largest group throughout. A large decrease in the German-speaking population can be seen between 1921 and 1961, and a gradual increase from the decade of the 1970s onward.


% Ethnic Identification 1900-1991

































Table 2 - source: ASTAT: Statistical Services, Autonomous Province of Bolzano
III. Conflict Aspects

9. Type of Conflict: Ethnic

Employment Data: Unemployment in South Tyrol in 2002 was at a relatively low rate of 2.2%. The majority of employment is in the service sector where 109,355 of 160,255 (68.2%) workers were employed (Europaregion of Tirol-Sudtirol/Alto Adige-Trentino, 2004). Employment in agricultural sector is higher than the European average and in 2002, 6,430 (4%) of the workforce was positioned in this sector.

Employment in the public sphere is regulated by census results and is allocated according to the ethnic identification of census respondents (see Table 3). The 2001 repartition of public positions shows the growth in German representation from the above ethnic identification chart. In 2001, 27 out of every 100 public positions available were allocated to Italians, 69 to Germans, and 4 to Ladins. Though the increase is slight, when paired with the increasing ethnic identification of German-origin in the Province, an upward trend can be seen.


Allocation of Public Positions in 2001

Public Positions
















Table 3 - source: 2001 Census of South Tyrol , Italy


Tourism Data: In 2003, 2,744,652 visitors arrived in South Tryol . Despite the national identity of the Province, the majority of these visitors were German-speaking (see Figure 1). Geographic position and optimum tourist facilities could explain the draw these people have to the area. The zone is easily accessible from Austria and Switzerland and tourism is centered on mountain culture that is more similar to its Germanic neighbors than to its Italian co-nationals. Sustained tourism from German speaking countries most likely serves to enforce strong ethnic identity of the German population in South Tyrol and more research is yet to be done to illustrate the effects of this tourism on local ethnic divisions. The following chart illustrates the strong presence of German over Italian speaking tourists in the Province.

Figure 1 - source: Summer 2003 Statistical Data for Tourism; Province of South Tyrol

 10. Level of Conflict: Low

11. Fatality Level of Dispute: Minor fatalities in the 1960's.

IV. Environment-Conflict Overlap:

12. Environment-Conflict Link and Dynamics

13. Level of Strategic Interest: Region

14. Outcome of Dispute: Stalemate

Related Information and Sources

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16. Sources, Relevant Websites and Literature:

European Job Portal:

European Academy:

Euroregion of Tyrol/South Tyrol/Trentino

Freiheitlichen Official Site:



Official Site of the Province of Bolzano:

Province of Bolzano Office of Statistics:

Region of Trentino/South Tyrol:

Sudtiroler Landtag:

Union for South Tyrol Official Website:

Doob, Leonard W. ‘ South Tyrol : An Introduction to the Psychological Syndrome of Nationalism' Public Opinion Quarterly , Vol. 26, No. 2. (Summer, 1962), pp. 172-184.



"We are inside of a bilingual zone; you need to understand that Italian and German are both spoken here. My mother was German and my father was from Mirano. I was born here in South Tyrol. I feel as if I'm Austrian, my mother was Austrian. I have Austrian blood and I've always acted this way. I'm married to an Italian woman that comes from Bari . She is now dead but I am at ease here and I won't leave this place."