Helping defuse tensions between Alto Adige’s Italian-speaking and German-speaking communities
Alto Adige, South Tyrol, is a former Austrian province ceded to Italy in 1919. In the 1950s, tensions grew between the province’s German-speaking minority and the Italian administration, leading Austria to bring the matter before the United Nations. However before the issue could be resolved there was a wave of violence. Around 300 terrorist attacks were perpetrated by extremist elements – mostly on property, but also leading to some deaths.
Out of this situation, a joint Italian and German-speaking delegation travelled to the IofC conference centre in Caux, Switzerland, over Pentecost 1968. Over the next 18 months it was followed by six more delegations. A poignant scene took place at the podium when several from the region spoke about what they had learned. They included the German-speaking President of the Provincial Government of Bolzano (South Tyrol), M. Silvius Magnago, and the Italian-speaking Vice-President of the Regional Council of Trentino-Alto Adige, Armando Bertorelli, who spoke in German as a gesture of goodwill. Mr. Magnago then responded: ‘After all we have experienced of Caux, I am convinced that when we meet in negotiations, our friendship will have transcended the bitter words of yesteryear.’
Three years later, in 1971, the Italian and Austrian parliaments approved a ‘package’ of agreements guaranteeing the autonomy of the community and the rights of minorities. In 1992, a vote in the Austrian parliament officially ended the dispute. The Bolzano edition of the Italian daily Il Giorno wrote in 1969: ‘It is worth remembering that our province has close links with Moral Re-Armament (as Initiatives of Change was then known) because of the help that this movement has given to politicians of both ethnic groups at meetings in Caux. The result was a new mindset that made possible a solution to Alto Adige’s problems.’
Further information can be found in The Forgiveness Factor, by Michael Henderson.