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Snapshots from a Peace Settlement


Der Beitrag rekonstruiert piktographisch Etappen der Friedenslösung für den österreichisch-italienischen Konflikt um Südtirol, das als südlicher Teil des ehemaligen habsburgischen Kronlandes Tirol am Ende des 1. Weltkrieges von Italien besetzt und in der Folge annektiert wurde. *** The article reconstructs pictographically stages of the peace solution for the Austrian-Italian conflict over South Tyrol, which as the southern part of the former Habsburg crown land Tyrol was occupied and subsequently annexed by Italy at the end of World War I.
Snapshots from a Peace Settlement
Hans Karl Peterlini
The Settlement of the Austro-Italian "South Tyrolean" Dispute in Images
The transformation of the "hereditary Italian-Austrian enmity"
into a solid and mostly
friendly approach as neighboring regions is a widely analyzed and historically illuminated
case study in European pacification, especially in the cases of South Tyrol and Trieste-
Istria, the final bones of contention between the two opponents during the First World War.
The granting of South Tyrolean autonomy in 1972, which was backed by two UN resolutions
(1960/1961) and 20 years later sealed by the submission of a "dispute resolution", is regarded
in particular as a model for the peaceful settlement of a conflict, on the one hand between the
state and an ethnic minority, and on the other between two states vying for the same minority
territory. The symbolic significance of the resolution of this dispute for the overall process of
European integration suddenly flared up again unexpectedly in 2016, when Austria expressed
a wish to re-establish border controls at the Brenner border, formerly abolished as part of the
Schengen Agreement, and to construct a border fence as a defense against refugees arriving
from the South. A picture from this time shows the then-heads of government Werner
Faymann and Matteo Renzi at a press conference: Faymann makes a gesture with his hand,
slicing the air from top to bottom, while Renzi stands with his hands clasped on the podium
looking forward rigidly, with the European flag hangs behind them, while outside the window
stands the former border post.
The Cardiac Muscle and Heart of a Region
At Brenner, the fate of Europe seemed once again to be at stake. At the place where in 1918,
Italian soldiers first hoisted the national tricolor and laid claim to Tyrol south of the Brenner
Pass, as if to complete the “risorgimentoof Italian national unity, in 2016 a picture of
confrontation emerges: police officers with protective shields and helmets form a wall against
furious demonstrators. The fact that initially the South Tyrolean Schützen, marching in
traditional costume, joined left- and right-wing Italian demonstrators, inter-ethnic Greens,
pacifists and human rights activists to protest in favour of keeping an open border, also sheds
a certain light on the stand-offish border management operations by which Austria, who had
initially closed the Balkan route, then threatened to close the Brenner Pass, which is in
political and literal terms, as well as in terms of transport networks, frequently invoked as the
bottleneck of Europe. The brutal violence which broke out as a result of agitators among the
various protesters provided a frightening indication of just how explosive this place can be: at
this crossing point from north to south, just how thin the ground is on which Europe is
unified, and how ambiguous a supposedly limitless mobility is for people and goods, when it
is not used for tourists, businessmen and commodities, but for emaciated young men, women
and children in search of a better future. One fence – and the Brenner Pass would again be
impermeable. The fact that an age-old tunnel lies underneath the pass, running from north to
south, reveals the contradictions of a globalized, yet only rhetorically denationalized world,
one whose cardiac muscle and along with it the heart are now contracting by reflex in the case
of a relatively straightforward statement of human solidarity. The day that Austria
“temporarily" ceased to carry out border controls, the two interior ministers Wolfgang
Sobotka and Angelino Alfano, as well as the regional heads of Tyrol and South Tyrol,
Wolfgang Platter and Arno Kompatscher, posed for a photo of reconciliation. They placed
their hands on top of one another’s, looked into the camera and smiled: Sobotka like a proud
grandfather at a children’s birthday party, Platter with a sneaky grin, Alfano with a trusting
smile, and Kompatscher with narrow eyes and a twisted mouth.
Words as Weapons
The Brenner Pass in the north is the counterpart of Salurner Klause/Chiusa di Salorno, located
100 kilometers to the south, thus defining the tense geographical and political environment
that embraces and at the same time generates the region of South Tyrol. While at the Brenner
the "natural" border was initially invented and finally violently drawn up during the course of
the national revival and unification of Italy as part of a process of Italian self-discovery and
reinvention, in the south there is no visible border to speak of, but rather a "linguistic"
demarcation running through the orchards. In this way the Brenner Pass and the village of
Salorno are interrelated: Brenner as a neuralgic point of friction regarding the national
affiliation of South Tyrol, and Salorno as an ethnic-linguistic demarcation line for the now-
autonomous South Tyrolean region. When South Tyrolean separatists began to renounce the
idea of a “returnto Austria in favor of an even more advanced free-state model, the
explanation they offered was astonishing. The northern border at the Brenner Pass separating
South Tyrol from the Austrian northern Tyrol was regarded as being more acceptable if there
was also a border in the south at Salorno, in order to separate South Tyrol from Italy as well.
With respect to the 2016 refugee question, this reasoning was only slightly skewed: at a rally
in Brenner, a deputy to the South Tyrol regional assembly representing the separatist "South
Tyrolean Freedom" movement, Sven Knoll, called for a Europe without borders, but with
efficient controls to be established below Salurner Klause. In a picture taken at the time, he
can be seen standing stiff and upright, embracing two microphones in his right hand, while in
his left holding a manuscript, waving it like a saber through the air.
Hands and gestures
There are several pictures, each of which each have different perceptions of the historical and
fleeting moment of the signing of the Paris Convention on September 5, 1946, where Austria
and Italy agreed upon autonomy for South Tyrol including special linguistic, cultural,
legislative and administrative rights. In one of the pictures, the two negotiating partners
Alcide Degasperi and Karl Gruber are sitting at a table with a few writing utensils and
separated by about one and a half meters of table space. On the right side of the picture, next
to Degasperi, there are two people looking at him. Behind him there is another person looking
down at the sheet of paper, which he has just signed, the pen is already lying on the paper.
There is no one in the picture next to Gruber, there are probably people sitting next to him
who are hidden by his broad form, not yet bent over the page; On his right hand side, outside
of the table, a knee is visible. In the background of the picture, some people are standing with
their backs against the paneled wall, looking at the scenery, one person is in conversation with
someone across from them. There are no women in the picture.
Karl Gruber is lifting his right hand, his gaze is directed at the page, and his gesture is
swinging and sweeping for this important signature, with which he is about to seal this
machine-typed document of 40 narrow lines in English. The movements of the hands in the
picture could be interpreted as saying: Degasperi, is someone who knows, that he no longer
has to think anymore about what he is signing, and is the first to sign. Gruber, hesitates a little,
then pinches himself – it has to be, there is no alternative, have courage, it will be a good
thing. Degasperi is self-conscious, Gruber is physically present, upright. This could mean: I
know that it is difficult for me to sign, I am in a weaker position, but I believe in our strength
to get the best out of this deal. At the train station in Innsbruck, Foreign Minister Karl Gruber
is slapped in the face by a patriot on his return from Paris. Alcide Degasperi had two reasons
to celebrate, he secured South Tyrol for Italy with an international treaty, and he laid the
foundations for autonomy to be extended to Trentino, former Welschtirol.
A change of view with a smile
There is a second picture of the Paris signing, probably taken immediately after the signature.
The two of them reach out across the table, which had just separated them as negotiating
partners. It is one of many handshake pictures that were taken on the way to the 1972
autonomy. Karl Gruber puts his left hand on his stomach to hold his jacket back, Degasperi
uses his left hand to lean on the table, both of them are leaning forward. Their gaze is directed
at one other, they are both smiling. The intensity of the look, could only be measured from the
perspective of one of these two. A third picture help clarify further, it shows Degasperi, as he
smiles at Karl Gruber, blandly and maybe a little sourly, for that was his character type, lean,
slender, thin, not very physical. Karl Gruber shines, he is a large, strong man, who could have
squeeze Degasperi’s hand painfully with his large paw, but instead holds it slightly open, with
Degasperi's hand lying in Gruber's hand, as they then shake hands. It shows evidence of
restraint. Opposite is an old gentleman and a young man. Gruber had ended the war in the
resistance movement and belonged to those who liberated Innsbruck from the Nazis.
Degasperi was a child of the monarchy, of all the Trentino politicians he was the least
charismatic, but the most skilful – he remained faithful to the Austrian imperial house, whilst
it stood. At the end of the First World War, when the list of deceased members was read out
and it came to the name of Cesare Battisti, who had been executed for high treason, Degasperi
sat unaffected in his place. Unlike his socialist opponent, he had not sustained the Italian side,
but held on to Austrian affiliation of Trentino. After the war and the territorial cession in
behalf of Italy, Degasperi, with his Peoples Party (Partito Popolare), did not keep as much
distance from Fascism as did other Christian Democrats.
There is indirect contemporary documentation by Iginio Rogger, the church historian from
Trentino, as well as philosopher, theologian and connoisseur of Tyrolean history: “Alcide
Degasperi has been done an injustice. I know that you South Tyroleans have a problem with
him, because he extended autonomy to Trentino. I spoke to Karl Gruber (...). He told me,
look, at the time of the contract signing, Degasperi and I looked at each other as thinking: the
contract is one thing, but the implementation of it another. And at the beginning unfortunately
it all went wrong"
Hands tied and hidden
There are no iconic pictures of the South Tyrolean question policy in the first decade since the
Gruber-Degasperi agreement. It is as if a whole generation has withdrawn from the scene, and
depression and weariness characterize the mood. Only a picture in 1956 rouse awareness, that
of the young boys from Pfunders, who were carried away in heavy chains. In the village inn,
there had been a dispute with financial officials, one of whom was found dead the next day in
the creek bed. The lads were sentenced to draconian punishments for premeditated murder,
although it was never proven whether the case was one of homicide or misadventure on the
way home that night. The incident shook people, moved them, and became a sign of a dual
mobilization. Within the South Tyrolean Volkspartei a wing was formed around young,
aspiring politicians such as Hans Dietl, Peter Brugger, Franz Widmann, and Joachim Dalsass,
who in 1957 succeeded in achieving a turnaround at the South Tyrolean People's Party
congress. Silvius Magnago, the new chairman, was also supported by the moderate camp, but
had to deal with a very patriotic majority in the party committees.
Away from the party, a movement formed, from ground level, which first acted with peaceful,
then with violent means. From the leader of the "South Tyrol Liberation Committee" (BAS),
Sepp Kerschbaumer, there are many good photos. There is one of him at the family dinner
table: A large family, his wife, relatives, children. His right hand rests on the table, barely
visible between stub of a still glowing cigarette between his fingers, he is holding is other
hand under the table. A second photo – Kerschbaumer standing under a banner: "Long live
South Tyrol and Sepp Kerschbaumer." He had recently been released from prison and
received in his home village among celebrations, after being arrested and sentenced as a result
of demonstrative hoisting of the banned Tyrolean flag. He, too, is a strong man: with an
unyielding head of hair, a firm and wide stance, one hand akimbo, the other behind his back;
In another photo he has his hand in his trouser pocket. Is this the fist that will soon strike?
Dead and injured
It resulted in a policy of pinpricks, isolated attacks during the years 1958, 1959, 1960; when
Bruno Kreisky succeeded in bringing South Tyrol’s case to the United States in 1960, but
Italy was still not ready for serious negotiations, a crescendo followed – the 1961 bombing
year, culminating with "Feuernacht"
on Sacred Heart Sunday, 1961. Almost 40 electricity
masts were blown up, they were symbolic of the fascist industrialization of South Tyrol and
assimilation pressure through state-controlled immigration, even in democratic Italy. Despite
the attacks being only on material objects, they resulted in one death. A road maintenance
worker had attempted to retrieve a device from a tree in Salurn and was killed by it. The
dynamite should have overturned the tree in such a way that it traversed the road like a felled
tree and became a symbolic border between South Tyrol and Italy. The bodily remains of
Giovanni Postal had to be scraped from the street with a spatula. The Carabinieri managing
official, was later to be one of those who were accused of the cruel torture of South Tyrolean
terror suspects. There was no photo of Postal that could be used as an icon. A picture of the
seriously tortured and soon after deceased, imprisoned prisoner Franz Höfler, predating the
world-famous symbol of Che Guevara, has become a symbol of the Tyrolean guerrilla
movement against the state of Italy.
Head on the door, head on the table
Of around 200 assassins, half of them were imprisoned over several weeks during the summer
of 1961, many retired unnoticed, some continued to carry out increasingly uninhibited attacks
from Austria. For the detainees, years of waiting began, first for a trial, then for release after
detention. Many families were without fathers, and women organized themselves to be able to
visit the men in the widely scattered Italian prisons, with the "bus of tears" becoming a
symbol of female solidarity, and it was also the women who had to endure the results of the
men’s actions
. There was hardly any public protests against the torture, Magnago and the
bishop intervened on a diplomatic level. The women traveled to the barracks, from where the
cries of the prisoners penetrated. In one picture, a group of women are standing in front of a
door at one of these barracks, one of them are holding their head against the door, she wants
to know what is going on inside.
Silvius Magnago ended up in a lonely position as a result of the attacks. He condemned the
assassinations, but did not give in to pressure for a more smooth action against Rome. A
balancing act: He had to prevent, as far as possible, further escalation in South Tyrol, keeping
political demands reasonable, whilst at the same time, using the attacks to obtain as much as
possible. The pressure on him was enormous, and for years he fought on the brink of failure.
On his journeys to Rome, he usually sat alone in the compartment, as the Rome-friendly
delegates of his party avoided him; and he distrusted the hard patriots who might have
supported him but also put him under pressure. One picture shows him behind a large table
with his hands folded in front of him and his head lowered.
Handshakes and a look into the chamber
In 1967, the bombing subsided, more recently also due to increased pressure from Austria
against the attackers from its territory – the negotiations required peace and quiet. In 1969, a
vote was held within the South Tyrolean People's Party on the Südtirol Paket, the South
Tyrolean package negotiated by Magnago in a solo final spurt with Aldo Moro. The outcome
was uncertain, a strong opposition mistrusted the Italian offer and hoped that the refusal will
lead to its return to Austria. Magnago fought for every vote, at midnight he exclaimed: "If we
now vote for Yes, everything that I have mentioned will become true, if we vote No ... then
nothing of it will happen."
An eerie situation. When the votes were finally counted, there was
a slight Yes majority for acceptance of the Paket. Magnago and the opposition leader Peter
Brugger shook hands.
This photo too, made history. The handshake is often praised and much cited, but what does it
look like exactly? Magnago and Brugger are not facing each other, but are standing side by
side, both looking into the hall. Brugger, who lost, beams a smile. Can a loser beam a smile
like this? Magnago, the victor, has a restrained smile, if a smile at all. He is happy to refer to
himself as sinister. Is he not happy? Or does he just not want to show it?
The hands are not clasped tightly together, they are held high at shoulder level, on show but
not pressed together, more a gesture intended for the audience. In response to the occasional
interpretation that the two had looked each other in the eye, Magnago later responding smiling
– that he was not aware of this, but perhaps others were more aware of whether he and
Brugger had looked each other in the eyes then. He suspected that Brugger was happy to lose,
as the responsibility would have been enormous. The "South Tyrolean package" was a hard-
fought compromise, based on many footnotes, which at the time were vilified as “pitfallsand
– their value only appreciated over decades of risky implementation of the "South Tyrolean
packageas areas of power were devolved from the state to the region, especially in the
golden era of the 1990s, when South Tyrol's autonomy became a "model".
Handshakes and a look into the camera
It was no April Fool’s joke, when the two Tyrolean provincial governors compromised and
met on April 1st, 1998 at the border post. The photo shows Durnwalder, as raises the border
post with his left hand and greets Wendelin Weingartner with his right. He then turns to him
and smiles, while Durnwalder looks past Weingartner into the camera. The Tyrolean
community, which was now possible with the Schengen dismantling of the border, was still
characterized for some time by its distancing itself from the need for South Tyrolean
emancipation and self-complacency, until it gradually becomes less emotional in the context
of projects around the Tyrol–South Tyrol–Trentino Euroregion.
Back slapping into a void
Again in April, on April 14, 2015, the then brand new Italian Minister President Matteo Renzi
visited the brand new South Tyrolean state chief Arno Kompatscher. In the wake of a
European financial crisis, which hit Italy particularly hard, Rome had also asked the
autonomous region to pay its own way, without much regard for any special rights for South
Tyrol. In addition, the constitutional reform of 2001, which was autonomous in its own right,
required adaptations of the Autonomy Act
, but this was traditionally avoided in order to
avoid the risk of deterioration. New financial regulations were agreed with Renzi and, against
the centralist constitutional reform, a safeguard clause was agreed for which South Tyrol –
which was legally controversial – should be excluded from the institutional weakening of all
other regions.
The photo of the even of the agreement shows Renzi fooling around for the camera in front of
the Bozner Landhaus, his upper body is thrown forward, his left hand is on Kompatscher’s
back, who is laughing and is about to slap Renzi on his back, but this does not work because
of his hand position, and Kompatscher's hand somehow ends up hooked on to Renzi's arm. A
light-hearted picture, without that fateful seriousness, common with autonomy negotiations
until then. When the Constitutional Council and with it, Renzi’s government fell in December,
the SVP began talking of a victory, because a high percentage of the South Tyrolean
population has were saying yes to SVP constitutional reform.
Virtual faces, virtual bodies
The relationship between South Tyrol and Italy is expressed more than within real encounters
in a picture that is not even a real picture. The picture is a screenshot of Bruno Vespa's "Porta
aperta" TV show, the South Tyrolean nationalist Arno Kompatscher, who is at the start of his
career, is not present in the studio, but connected as a guest, via a giant screen. In the picture,
Kompatscher’s face appears large, his mouth tense, lips tight, eyes narrowed. Bruno Vespa is
standing next to the giant face, grinning, he is clearly gloating, and Vespa is holding his hands
as if he were rubbing them in glee. He not only confronted Kompatscher live with all those
accusations and prejudices that were being muttered in Italy against the rich and over-
financed South Tyrol, but also surprised and dominated him. Media, juridical and political
attacks from Rome against South Tyrolean autonomy had always existed until this time. Now
– based on the precarious financial situation of the state and the dreary lack of work and
prospects for many young Italians – a new dimension arose of rage, hatred and envy against
the rich province in the north.
In a broad-ranging, multi-lingual “convention”, which aimed to advise the South Tyrolean
state parliament on modifications to and modernization of the Autonomy Council, in
2015/2016 a new consensus was sought for the further development of the "South Tyrolean
model". For the first time, political leaders and experts were not included in the autonomous
process, but representatives from broader civil society. The result is still open, as is the further
development of this story in pictures.
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Women during the South Tyrolean Bombing Years). Raetia, Bozen, 2003.
PETERLINI, H. K., Zwischen Disziplin und Geistesblitz. Das Curriculum Vitae des Silvius
Magnago (Between Discipline and Flash of Light. The Curriculum Vitae of Silvius Magnago).
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Legacy. Confessions of a Political Legend). Raetia. Bozen, 2007, pp. 7-22.
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Journey through the national unity) . Haymon. Innsbruck-Vienna, 2008.
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Background – Fate – Reviews). Raetia, Bozen, 2016.
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zu föderalen Ansätzen – die Auswirkungen und ungeschriebenen Änderungen im Südtiroler
Autonomiestatut (South Tyrol's Autonomy and Italian Constitutional Reforms: From a Central
State to a Federal Approach – Implications and Unwritten Changes to the South Tyrolean
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Life. Women during the South Tyrolean Bombing Years). Raetia, Bozen, 2003.
PETERLINI, H. K., Zwischen Disziplin und Geistesblitz. Das Curriculum Vitae des Silvius
Magnago (Between Discipline and Flash of Light. The Curriculum Vitae of Silvius Magnago).
In: PETERLINI, H. K. (ed.), Das Vermächtnis. Bekenntnisse einer politischen Legende (The
Legacy. Confessions of a Political Legend). Raetia. Bozen, 2007, pp. 7-22., p. 16
PETERLINI, O., Südtirols Autonomie und die Verfassungsreformen Italiens: Vom
Zentralstaat zu föderalen Ansätzen – die Auswirkungen und ungeschriebenen Änderungen im
Südtiroler Autonomiestatut (South Tyrol's Autonomy and Italian Constitutional Reforms:
From a Central State to a Federal Approach – Implications and Unwritten Changes to the
South Tyrolean Autonomy Council). New Academic Press Braumüller, Vienna, 2012.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Tirol -Notizen einer Reise durch die Landeseinheit (Tyrol -Notes of a Journey through the national unity)
  • H K Peterlini
PETERLINI, H. K., Tirol -Notizen einer Reise durch die Landeseinheit (Tyrol -Notes of a Journey through the national unity). Haymon. Innsbruck-Vienna, 2008.
Hintergründe -Schicksale -Bewertungen (Night of Fire. Background -Fate -Reviews)
  • H K Peterlini
  • Feuernacht
PETERLINI, H. K., Feuernacht. Hintergründe -Schicksale -Bewertungen (Night of Fire. Background -Fate -Reviews). Raetia, Bozen, 2016.