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Assessment for South Tyrolians in Italy

Publisher Minorities at Risk Project
Publication Date 31 December 2003
Cite as Minorities at Risk Project, Assessment for South Tyrolians in Italy, 31 December 2003, available at: [accessed 24 November 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
Italy Facts
Area:    116,303 sq. km.
Capital:    Rome
Total Population:    56,783,000 (source: U.S. Census Bureau, 1998, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

It is extremely unlikely that the South Tyrolians will become involved serious rebellion, although bombings by militants may recur. They have substantial local autonomy and have very little to gain by attempting to secede from Italy and join Austria, particularly with the lack of enthusiasm in Austria in supporting them. While they lack most of the risk factors for protest, such as political and cultural restrictions, government repression, and significant support from Austria, due to their history of protest and their deep commitments to their culture and history, nonviolent political action in the future remains a possibility. Furthermore, the effect that the increasing integration of the European Union will have on the region has yet to be determined. Thus far, it has served to help open the borders between Italy and Austria and allowed more personal exchanges between Tyroleans on both sides of the border. There are signs, however, that the German speakers in South Tyrol might try to use the EU to petition for increased autonomy or other privileges which Italy may not be willing to give.

Analytic Summary

The Tyrolians are a German-speaking (LANG = 1) ethnic group located in the Italian province of South Tyrol (GROUPCON = 3). They constitute about two-thirds of the population of the region of South Tyrol which Italians call Alto Adige. Once part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the region was transferred to Italian control at the end of World War I. After 1922 the Fascist government followed a systematic policy of Italianization, abetted after 1939 by the Nazi government, which agreed to move to Germany all South Tyrolese who would not accept complete assimilation. About a third were in fact transferred north of the Alps (75,000 – of whom one third returned after 1945), and substantial numbers of Italians migrated into the region of South Tyrol. The Tyrolians have a strong sense of group identity (COHESX9 = 5). Despite their strong identity, concentration within one province and different language, the Tyrolians do not face demographic (DEMSTR03 = 0), political (POLDIS03 = 0) or economic discrimination (ECODIS03 = 0). There is also no evidence that the group faces any repression from the government.

There appears to be concern over the protection of the group's way of life. The extreme manifest of this grievance is a call by some to rejoin Austria or to be constituted as a wholly autonomous region. The group currently enjoys a certain level of autonomy and is favored in some kinds of provincial policies (such as hiring quotas). The main organization which has promoted the interests of the Tyrolians since 1945 is the Suedtiroler Volkspartei (SVP). Smaller conventional groups include Freiheitliche Partei Sudtirols and Union fuer Sudtirol. A more militant group which has in the past been involved in some rebellious activities is Ein Tirol. Despite the differences between the Tyrolians and the Italian minority in the provinces, only in the 1980s was there any type of intercommunal conflict and it was minimal (CC801X = 1).

While there are those who call for the Tyrolians to rejoin Austria, the Austrian government has remained fairly quiet on the issue. The only support it has provided recently is to encourage trade between the region and Austria.

There were no reports of collective political action in the region in the last several years (PROT03 = 0, REB03 = 0). This has been the exception rather than the rule with the group, particularly in the level of protest. Protest reached a high in the late 1950s (PROT55X = 4) then disappeared until the late 1980s (PROT85X = 3) where it remained fairly constant until 1998 (PROT98 = 2). There were a few minor acts of terrorism starting in the 1950s (REBEL55X = 1) and continuing through the end of the 1960s and then reappearing in the late 1980s (REBEL95X= 2) but none have occurred since 1990.

Since implementation of the new autonomy pact, beginning in 1972, the German minority has gained effective control of public administration, educational and cultural affairs, and economic development, financed by a guaranteed percentage of government spending in relevant sectors. These policies, and a tourist boom, have made the South Tyrol one of the most prosperous Italian regions.


Alcock, Anthony "The Protection of Regional Cultural Minorities and the Process of European Integration: The Example of South Tyrol" International Relations, 11 (1), 1992, pp. 17-36.

Phase I Summary

Lexis/Nexis: All news files, 1990-2003.

Lexis Nexis: US. Dept. of State Human Rights Reports for 1992 & 1994.

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