• Italy's news in English
 
app_header_v3

Scots inspire separatists in Italy's Germanic north

AFP · 17 Aug 2014, 09:00

Published: 17 Aug 2014 09:00 GMT+02:00

Inspired by Scotland's independence referendum on September 18 and other restive minorities in Europe, and feeling the pinch from Italy's economic woes, strains in the century-old marriage are starting to show.

"We are not Italians," says Eva Klotz, 63, a local separatist politician, her office in the capital Bozen -- Bolzano in Italian -- adorned with a Scottish and a Catalan flag and a large Che Guevara poster.

"Italy is an occupying power, it has no right to govern our country ... We are following very closely indeed what happens with Scotland and (the Spanish region) Catalonia," she says. 

Germanic in culture and language for centuries, South Tyrol was ceded after World War I by the Austro-Hungarian Empire to Italy, Rome's reward for entering the conflict on the winning side.

Italy's fascist leader Mussolini then sought to Italianise the area, moving in large numbers of Italians, banning the German language in schools and the civil service and forcing people to change their names.

"Il Duce" -- whose Roman emperor-esque image can still be seen on a frieze on Bozen's tax office -- and Hitler struck in a deal in 1939 whereby German-speakers could settle elsewhere in the Third Reich.

"We moved to Bavaria (in southern Germany) when I was six," remembers one who did, Sieglinde Taschler, a sprightly 79-year-old with bright blue eyes tending her garden outside Bozen.

"People there made fun of us, saying 'here come the Italians'."

After 1945, many of the 60,000 or so who had emigrated returned, and South Tyrol -- Alto-Adige or Sudtirolo in Italian -- remained part of Italy.

By the early 1960s, however, German-speakers' unhappiness erupted in a bombing campaign -- directed against electricity masts, not people  - and it took UN intervention to settle the dispute.

The resulting 1972 agreement gave the area wide-ranging autonomy which survives to this day, giving the region powers to write its own laws in many areas. Some 90 percent of taxes paid are meant to be returned by Rome.

Economically, South Tyrol boomed, says Georg Lun, 41, from the Bozen chamber of commerce. Until the global financial crisis, it had full employment, profiting from its position between Italy and other parts of Europe.

"South Tyrol is doing very well indeed compared to other European regions. We have a gross domestic product of €36-37,000 ($48-49,000) per capita, putting it among the top 20 regions in Europe," he told AFP.

"We live in a wonderful place," Manuel Moro, 35, an engineer from South Tyrol's Italian community -- which make up around a quarter of the 510,000-strong population -- told AFP. "We should be happy."

But not everyone is, particularly since the eurozone crisis forced Italy -- now back in recession -- to cut spending and hike taxes to pay down its more than €2 trillion ($2.7-trillion) national debt.

South Tyrol no longer receives all the tax money that it should, taxes levied by Rome -- which decides their level -- have risen and the region has even been told to cut hospital beds, locals complain.

Corporate and income tax levels are among the highest in Europe, to say nothing of the huge amount of red tape. Higher fuel taxes mean that filling up your car costs some €20 more in South Tyrol than over the border in Austria.

The laws also keep changing.

"For firms there is no legal certainty," says Heinz-Peter Senoner, chairman of Bozen-based power firm Energie SpA AG. "Every day Rome announces new reforms.

The biggest local party, the South Tyrolean People's Party, which in 2013 lost its long-held absolute majority but remains in power, wants to stay part of Italy but is now pressing for "full autonomy", notably when it comes to tax.

Story continues below…

But three parties with a combined 10 seats in the 35-MPs regional parliament want to cut ties completely, either to unify with Austria or to create a new independent country, possibly even with their blood brothers in the Austrian state of Tyrol.

"We want one Tyrol, one country, independent from Austria," pensioner Lorenz Mayer, 65, told AFP, showing off a "Suedtirol wird frei!" ("South Tyrol will be free!") sticker he keeps in his wallet.

But whether demanding independence is realistic is another matter, particularly with Italy, a unified country only since the 19th century, wary of stoking separatist sentiment elsewhere, for example in the Veneto region or in Lombardy in the north.

Austria, too, does not want to open up old wounds and embark on any "new adventures", said Florian Kronbichler, 62, a former magazine editor and now a Green MP representing South Tyrol in the Italian parliament.

Sieglinde Taschler, meanwhile, having seen it all, adopts a zen attitude.

"I'm nearly 80, I just want peace and quiet. All this nonsense about independence comes from politicians stirring things up," she says.

For more news from Italy, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Refugee crisis
At least 1,000 feared dead in nine migrant boat wrecks
An image of a migrant boat wreck taking by the Italian navy last week. Photo: Marina Militare

At least 1,000 people are thought to have drowned or are missing in nine migrant shipwrecks in the Mediterranean over the last six days, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said on Tuesday.

Ten Airbnb apartments where you'll feel at home in Rome
Photo: Moyann Brenn

Our pick of the best apartments to spend your Rome vacation.

Panic as three earthquakes strike Umbria
Schools in the Umbrian town of Orvieto were closed on Tuesday after strong tremors were felt. Photo: Yaniv Ben-Arie

An earthquake measuring 4.1 on the Richter scale struck the central Italian region of Umbria on Monday night, and was followed by two smaller quakes this morning, creating panic among residents and closing schools in the hilltop town of Orvieto.

Video
Fourteen people injured in Turin paints factory explosion
Fourteen people were injured in a fire at a paint factory on Monday night. Photo: YouReporter

Fourteen people, seven of them firefighters, were injured in an explosion which also completely destroyed a paints factory near Turin on Monday night.

Disgraced Concordia captain awaits appeal verdict
Francesco Schettino during his first instance trial last year. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

An appeals court in Florence will make a decision later today.

Italian admits burning his ex alive 'because she left him'
Rome Flying Squad chief Luigi Silipo and prosecutor Maria Monteleone during a press conference on Monday. Screengrab: RepTV/La Repubblica

A 27-year-old man has admitted to burning his ex-girlfriend alive because he “couldn’t accept that she abandoned him”.

Refugee crisis
No longer just a job: the unlikely crew saving lives
Antoine Laurent, one of the merchant seamen aboard MS Aquarius. Photo: Gabriel Bouys/AFP

They are unlikely members of the same crew: career seamen for whom it was initially just another job and landlubber humanitarian workers trying to make the world a better place.

Migrant crossings to Italy - what do we know?
A report this month said there were around 800,000 migrants in Libya waiting to attempt the journey across the Mediterranean. Photo: Gabriel Bouys/AFP

With 13,000 people rescued in one week and hundreds presumed drowned, what do we know about migrant flows across the Mediterranean to Italy?

Italian gran drives wrong way along motorway...for 7km
The 80-year-old was heading home after going for pizza in Alghero, Sardinia. Photo: Cost of Living/Flickr

The 80-year-old was returning home – in pouring rain - to Sassari after spending the evening with friends at a pizzeria in Alghero, Sardinia, but took the wrong direction on the SS 291.

Video
Severe storms and flash floods wreak havoc in Milan
Severe storms caused flash floods in Milan on Monday. Photo: YouReporter

A hospital accident and emergency unit was flooded, while the River Lambro burst its banks.

Sponsored Article
Eat, learn, live: unforgettable holidays in France
Politics
Quiz: Silvio Berlusconi versus Donald Trump - who said it?
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
National
Crew who sunk with WWII sub 'wanted to be found': relative
Culture
Why the average ancient Roman worker was dead by 30
Did a Nazi official save Ponte Vecchio from destruction?
National
How the brutal murder of an anti-mafia hero altered Sicily
Travel
These are the best beaches within easy reach of Rome
National
Why Italians are falling out of love with the EU
Business & Money
Foreign, female and a self-made success in arduous Italy
National
How Italy's richest region is feeling the migrant strain
Culture
Rome mulls 'metro museum' after new line unearths ruin
National
Why Italy's facing a birth rate apocalypse
National
Why talk of barriers is opening up old wounds in South Tyrol
Culture
Huge Roman villa found under Amalfi church set to open
Travel
Two men kicked off plane in what captain calls 'racist act'
Meet the expats making a career out of Italian food
Society
'Staying single is why I'm the world's oldest person'
Travel
Where can you find the best beaches in Italy?
The ultimate guide to the insanity of driving in Italy
Travel
Eight of Rome's most tantalizing foreign food gems
Migrant arrivals in Italy top 30,000 for 2016: navy
Italy’s deadliest earthquakes over the last 100 years
2,524
jobs available