The South Tyrolean independence movement (German: Südtiroler Unabhängigkeitsbewegung, Italian: Movimento d'Indipendenza dell'Alto Adige) is a political movement in the Italian autonomous province of South Tyrol that calls for the secession of the region from Italy and its reunification with neighboring Austria. Concurrently, some groups favor the establishment of an interim Free State of South Tyrol as a sovereign nation while reintegration is organized.
The entirety of contemporary South Tyrol was core of the County of Tyrol of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. After the death of Meinhard, the only son of Margaret, Countess of Tyrol, in 1363 it became united with the herary land of the Habsburg dynasty, and was Austrian Crown Land for centuries except for a period during the Napoleonic wars. After this it came under the jurisdiction of the Austrian Empire again in 1814. The popularity of nationalism cast a prominent shadow over Europe following the Napoleonic Wars. In the Kingdom of Italy, the fervor of Italian irredentism was born in 1866. Irredentism entailed the unification of all territories on the Italian peninsula or those perceived to be Italian into a single nation. South Tyrol, given its geographic location south of the Alps, and despite a German-speaking, Austrian-oriented population majority, was often the subject of Italian calls for absorption into Italy.
On the onset of the First World War, Italy remained strictly neutral. It was only on April 26, 1915 that the latter nation declared war on the Central Powers. This change in attitude is attributed by historians to the secretive signing of the Treaty of London, which entailed that in exchange for Italy's support the country "shall obtain the Trentino, Cisalpine Tyrol with its geographical and natural frontier (the Brenner frontier)" from the German-aligned Austro-Hungarian Empire. Despite petitions from public officials in South Tyrol and reassurances from United States President Woodrow Wilson that the "readjustment of the frontiers of Italy should be effected along clearly recognizable lines of nationality," southern Tyrol and Trentino fell under Italian military administration with the signing of the Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye in September 1919.
With the rise to power of Benito Mussolini and Fascism in Italy in 1922 came a strong desire for the Italianization, which essentially sought for the elimination of the German language in speech as well as every day use, such as dual language notices on road signs and advertisements. By the commencement of World War II Italy and Nazi Germany converged to form the Axis Powers. With this came an agreement between the two authoritarian dictatorships to provide South Tyroleans with the difficult and forced option to emigrate into the Greater Germanic Reich or accept the terms of their Italianization. 86% of South Tyroleans complied with resettlement in territories controlled (or occupied) by Germany. Due to the start of World War II only a proportion of this population emigrated. While most of the emigrants returned after the war, these policies resulted in the permanent departure of 75,000 of their populace. Linguistic reforms were instituted following the Fascist regime's overthrow in 1945, restoring most of the basic rights of South Tyroleans that had been previously revoked.
South Tyrol was granted the status of an autonomous area by an agreement between the Government of Italy and local officials in 1972. This entailed a much greater level of self-government in the province; the extent of which was a topic of heated debate until a final agreement between the governments of Austria and Italy in the 1992. South Tyrol's designation as a self-governing province grants it an abundance of privileges; for example, of the taxes paid in South Tyrol, only 10% go to the centralist government in Rome.
The earliest post-war activism for South Tyrol's removal from Italy can be found in the South Tyrolean Liberation Committee, which conducted bombings of Italian infrastructure and fascist monuments primarily between the mid-1950s and 1961. The most notable of these incidents was the Night of Fire on June 12, 1961, in which a large electrical supply unit was destroyed via explosives.
Years after the Liberation Committee ceased activity came the Ein Tirol, a far right terrorist organization which followed suit of its predecessor by executing the explosive damage of various relics of Italian fascism as well as historic memorials. Since the mid-1980s the extremist group has taken on a far less prominent and violent role in the independence movement; in 2009 a mountainside overlooking celebrations of the Sacred Heart of Jesus feast was burned to spell out the name of the group.
Some political parties advocating South Tyrol's secession have risen to minor prominence on both the local and national levels, among them the South Tyrolean Freedom, Die Freiheitlichen and Citizens' Union for South Tyrol. These parties encompass 10 of the 35 seats of the South Tylorean Provincial Council, with the autonomist South Tylorean People's Party consistently coming on top of the coalition above in elections. The movements specific to South Tyrol do not maintain a relationship with the Lega Nord, whose agenda is sometimes dedicated to the establishment of an independent state of Padania in Northern Italy.
The workforce and passion with which the calls for South Tyrol's secession are delivered vary by time and political climate. In 1991, unofficial votes indicated that the majority of German-speakers in South Tyrol would favor remaining within Italy. Polls held by the Austrian research institute Karmasin show that 54% of German or Ladin-speaking South Tyroleans would support secession from Italy, while 46% of the total population (including Italians) would encourage South Tyrol's secession.
Tensions over the fair treatment and acknowledgement of minority-language speakers have been a historical justification for separatism, although their protection is cemented by a law passed in November 1991.
South Tyrol is among the wealthiest provinces of Italy with a GDP per capita of €32,000. This being said, Italy is a nation which has suffered unrelenting decline since the birth of the Eurozone crisis in 2009. In 2012 the region was projected to allocate 120 million euros towards stabilizing the national budget of Italy. To accomplish this, the region was forced to heighten taxes and fees on crop production, a move which pundits say violates South Tyrol's status as an autonomous region. Eva Klotz, founder and representative of South Tyrolean Freedom in the local parliament, has reflected much of current German-speaking South Tyrolean sentiment in stating that the region "shouldn't be dragged down" with the rest of Italy.
The treatment and absorption of South Tyrol have often been a source of strain in the foreign relations between Italy and Austria. In the immediate aftermath of World War II, the transitional Austrian government expressed concern for the treatment of German and Ladin ethnic minorities in South Tyrol. This was settled via the signing of Paris Treaty by the two parties on September 5, 1946, outlining a platform for South Tyrol's autonomy and the protection of minorities. However, the changes dictated by the treaty went largely unimplemented, resulting in an Austrian appeal on the situation to the United Nations in 1961. Austria disputed Italy's claims over South Tyrol until the issuing of the aforementioned autonomy package in 1992; in the mid-1990s the Austrian government pleaded with their Italian counterparts to offer amnesty to jailed independence activists, the majority of whom had been engaged in the bombing campaign during the 1950s and 60s. The Freedom Party of Austria has encouraged the distribution of Austrian citizenship to South Tyroleans, although the Austrian government has repeatedly turned down this request.