Truly more Austrian than Italian
The region, which included Bolzano, was originally part of the county of Tyrol, an Austro-Hungarian county, before the First World War. After the war it was annexed to Italy and by January 1927, Bolzano became the region’s capital. Majority of the people in the area were German-speaking, with only about 4.4% speaking Italian. As of 2011, the total population was 511,750. Even today, German speakers outnumber Italian speakers in South Tyrol.
The region is autonomous and the residents have the right to declare which mother tongue to use, including in the region’s courts. German and Italian are the region’s official languages. Ladin, another official language, is only spoken by a minority. Standard German is used in media and in school. This is one of the reasons why the citizens feel that they are more German or Austrian than Italian. As of 2011, 61.48% of the residents speak German while only 23.08% are speakers of Italian. Ladin is spoken by 4.02% of the populace and the rest speak other languages.
There is considerable awareness in the citizenry of their identity crisis. At the moment, racism is already an issue, with police officers not knowing the German language and demand that the citizens speak Italian. Facts are being gathered by Süd-Tiroler Freiheit or the South Tyrolean Freedom, a separatist party co-founded by Eva Klotz, who carries a yellow card in her purse proclaiming that her mother tongue is German. They had recently launched a referendum survey to see if there is support for self-determination and the result was very favorable, with 90% or 54,900 of the 61,000 voters saying yes.
Since the time of Mussolini, there had been massive programs to “Italianize” the region, but the government found it hard to find success. Ms. Klotz is hoping that someday the region will be re-annexed to Austria or be fully independent.
The separation can be seen in schools as well as they are divided based on the mother tongue, so that social integration and interaction become difficult. Their Citizens’ IDs are different, too. Even the region’s flag bear traces of its Austrian origin. It is red and white and has an eagle in the middle, which is an imperial Austrian style.
This type of identity crisis is happening in many border towns in Italy. Marco Brunazzo, who is from Trento University’s department of sociology and social research, said that the identity crisis is serious, since social integration among communities is separated by the language.