Can Europe Make It?

Fighting for self-determination in South Tyrol

In 1983, I was first elected to the South Tyrolean Parliament. Since then I have continued to fight for the self-determination of the South Tyrolean people, as our movement goes from strength to strength.

Eva Klotz
24 September 2014

Sign in South Tyrol. Wikimedia. Public domain.

In 1919 the region of Tyrol was forcibly divided when the southern part was incorporated into Italy. The entire Tyrolean population rebelled against this measure and claimed the right of self-determination, just as the American president Woodrow Wilson had promised to the peoples of Europe.

However this injustice has remained until today, but still the desire for self-determination is still alive. In South Tyrol it is getting stronger and stronger.

In 1977 Italy signed the UN Covenants on Human Rights. In article 1, it says that peoples are granted the right to self-determination. Before that year, Italian citizens risked life-long imprisonment if they openly demanded the exercise of this right. Therefore, this right could only be demanded openly by the freedom fighters who lived in Austrian exile. Amongst them was my father, Georg Klotz.

After Italy had ratified the Covenants on Human Rights, a group was immediately formed to work towards the exercise of self-determination. I also took part in this group. We invited well-known experts in international law – the law of the peoples – to give lectures, we brought our concern before the politicians in the whole Tyrol, in Vienna and in Rome. We distributed memoranda and scientific papers and stood for political elections.

In 1983, I was elected to the South Tyrolean Parliament as a representative of the ‘Südtiroler Heimatbund’ – a pioneering political party which sought to fight for the self-determination of the South Tyrolean people. From that moment, the democratic struggle for the exercise of this fundamental right had entered the national political realm.

At first we were ignored, then we were ridiculed because of our claim for self-determination and – eventually - we were attacked. I was personally exposed to mockery and malice, but I never resigned. On the contrary: together with the few brave people who always believed in the principle of self-determination, I kept on fighting.

Since 1983 I have, with increasing public support, been re-elected into the South Tyrolean Parliament every five years. In 2013 it was for the seventh time. Since that year, myself and two others have sat under banner of our party ‘Sud-Tiroler Freiheit’ (‘South Tyrolean Freedom’) in the 35-member Parliament of the South Tyrol. In the course of the last year, we have been able to initiate more programs for the exercise of the law of the peoples.

A big step forward was our membership of the European Free Alliance (EFA) in 2009, a European political party in which all European regional parties fighting for self-determination work together. With our combined numbers, the forces for freedom can no longer be ignored.

The Scottish National Party (SNP), the Esquerra Republicana Catalana (ERC), the Nieuw Vlaamse Alliantie (N-VA), but also other movements for independence, have been receiving increasing support in recent years. The SNP now represents the government in Scotland and has forced the implementation of self-determination by democratic means. For all the other peoples not being able to identify themselves with the state in which they live – such as the South Tyroleans, the Catalans, the Basques, the Flemings – the development in Scotland is exemplary, and the process of freedom in Europe is unstoppable!

Following the example of Catalonia, in August 2013 the South Tyrolean Freedom party initiated a self-determination referendum in South Tyrol, in which over 90% of the participants expressed their support for self-determination for their region. Although the result is not legally binding, this action did cause a very lively discussion, and the rest of Europe has now understood that, in addition to the Scots, Catalans, Basques and Flemings, the South Tyroleans are riding the freedom train as well. Our actions caused a stir in the Italian state, mainly because Veneto also carried out a similar self-administered referendum around the same time.

The support for the independence of Veneto is very large now. Just as the Spanish government wants to deny the Catalans the exercise of self-determination by pointing out that the unity and the indivisibility of the state is enshrined in the constitution, the Italian government does the same in the case of South Tyrol and Veneto. However, more and more people are coming to the opinion that a democratic constitution can never be a long term peoples’ prison.

South Tyrol is a very clear case for self-determination: to this day the people have never been allowed to vote on whether they agree with belonging to Italy. So far in South Tyrol one party has always decided. In 1969 this party gave its consent to an autonomy agreement not deserving of its name. Even this rudimentary autonomy agreement has been repeatedly undermined by Italy, so that in the end not much of it has remained.

In the meantime this is also visible in the economy: being a part of the Italian state, South Tyrol is deteriorating along with country. Unemployment is increasing in all areas, funds have to be shortened not only because the Italian state will not pay the amounts of money that it owes South Tyrol, but also because it retains the taxes being levied in South Tyrol and sends them directly to Rome. In this situation, more and more people notice that, within Italy, South Tyrol has no future, and that the South Tyroleans could solve their problems far more easily without Italy.

Therefore, after the referendum in Scotland, the South Tyroleans are now eagerly looking to Catalonia. All those voices claiming for decades that self-determination brings war and distress are finally silenced. The vote in Scotland has shown how political issues can be resolved without violence but with democracy. It has shown how much the political debate has been stimulated by the self-determination initiative and how well the discussion has done democracy as a whole. The freedom issue has become a central theme, and Europe will therefore have to seriously deal with it.

The reconstruction in Europe towards a continent with natural regions and with free nations has not been accelerated to the same extent as it would have been after a majoritarian Scottish “yes”, but changes will occur: Europe will host its policy according to the will of the peoples and will have no other choice but to help the right to self-determination which is breaking through! 

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