If you think about it, Italy and Austria could well be the strangest of neighbours. Their languages differ like night and day, yet their respective histories are intertwined. The latter ruled over large parts of the former for a long time. In Italy’s north, where the Habsburgs dominated unchallenged from Trieste to Milan, the word svanziche is still occasionally heard. It means ‘dosh’, from the German zwanzig, or twenty, as in twenty Kreuzer, a currency used in Lombardy and Veneto under Austrian rule.
Italy, on the other hand, eventually reclaimed its own independence over the course of various wars, the last one being WWI. It did so too zealously, perhaps: Italy not only ended up annexing the southern part of Tyrol; it tried to strip it of its Germanic nature (mostly inhabited by German speakers and just a few thousand Italian ethnic at the time) by also calling it Alto Adige, a name bearing no reference to its Austrian past. And it’s still called that, despite a welcome change in attitude from successive central governments, although the expressions Sudtirolo – also spelled Sud-Tirolo – and sudtirolese are gaining prominence in the Italian media and literature.
So, South Tyrol had been for many decades at the centre of a sort of cold war between Vienna and Rome. That being said, it is also fair to point out the ‘love’ side of this relational coin. Well, love may be too big a word.
‘Affectionate curiosity’ is more like it. An example of this was a prime time broadcast last night (November 7) on ORF1, the Austrian public television’s main channel. Reporting from Scampia, the Neapolitan area notoriously ridden with organised crime, journalist Katharina Wagner reported on the ongoing recovery of this densely populated neighbourhood: revamped public spaces, kindergartens functioning again, ordinary people safely reclaiming social life in the streets.
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