An exhibition with an impact

Back in the 1960s, Italy had laid claim to the hinterland of Trieste – though without success. But at the same time, BAS activists were carrying out a series of attacks to demand the right of political self-determination for South Tyrol. The Italian state responded with brutal police actions, arbitrary arrests, and even torture – in some cases, with fatal results. Political monkey trials were carried out. The double-standard was the mainstay of the Italian state when it came to the South Tyrol Question.
The Italian state later indulged in a prolonged fit of self-flattery for the efforts it had undertaken to grant South Tyrol a degree of autonomy. It praised South Tyrol as a model of political autonomy, allegedly the best in the world – as a provincial brochure once claimed. But the legal and historical/political realities speak a different language. It was thanks chiefly to the struggle conducted by the South Tyrolean People’s Party (SVP) that an improved degree of autonomy was achieved. But the consensus barely attained at the SVP provincial congress in 1969 reminds us of the ambivalent nature of the improved autonomy: It should not be thought of as the ultimate solution to the South Tyrol Question. The South Tyrolese are a people in the political sense of the word, and are thus entitled to self-determination – but this right was denied them and continues to held beyond their grasp.
There is no justification for the Italian state to expect any thanks for the improved, but still precarious autonomy it has granted the South Tyrolese. Politically, it was the result of the decisive efforts of the Austrian Foreign Minister Bruno Kreisky – who was simultaneously being hamstrung and even sabotaged in secret by the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP); the historian Helmut Golowitsch has done much to clarify this – that the South Tyrol Question was finally submitted to the General Assembly of the United Nations. But substantial credit is due to the “Liberation Committee of South Tyrol” (BAS) for the fact that, beginning in the autumn of 1961, Italy – which had made fearful by the events in South Tyrol and the resultant international pressure that had developed – was persuaded to come to the negotiating table.
The exhibition’s historical items and accompanying texts and documentation draw attention to these historical circumstances. The exhibition thus helps to sharpen our collective memory of these events, to better understand them, and to fight against the suppression of these truths. It also serves to counteract the subtly opportunistic and counterproductive policies now at work in South Tyrol. Without the BAS activists, Italy would not have been pressured to engage in the negotiations that ultimately led to a betterment of the political situation of the South Tyrolese. Of course, the Italian state will never officially admit that, and official government records will never contain mention of any fear which motivated it to agree to talks. Reasonable and democratically oriented Italian prime ministers like Aldo Moro and finally Giulio Andreotti were men of good will, and were able to advance the cause of improved autonomy. But this improved autonomy is no substitute for the indispensable right of self-determination, and must therefore be viewed only as a provisional political solution.
The exhibition has been hailed by many people, including younger people who want to know more about how the South Tyrolean fight for freedom arose, the motivation of the freedom fighters, the great sacrifices they made, and the consequences for the victims. The political representatives of the South Tyrol of that era did not decisively react even to the terrible tortures and inhumane treatment of the prisoners. The legitimate means of submitting protests were nowhere near to being fully exploited. Mass protests and decisive initiatives in the international arena would have been effective. Against its will, the SVP of that era thus made itself also culpable for the crimes of the state which declared the torturers not guilty or which amnestied or even officially commended them. This exhibition – which has long since achieved a great success as far as achieving its original goals is concerned – will continue to have an impact in the future, as well. We owe a debt of gratitude to all of the individuals who have contributed to realization of this project, against all odds. Chief among them are the late South Tyrolean activist Sepp Mitterhofer and the military historian of the Austrian Federal Army, Colonel Dr. Hubert Speckner – but there are many more. The “Association of South Tyrolean History” under its Chairman Andreas Schwaighofer (M.A. Jurisprudence) has assumed a strong sponsorship for the project.

Dr. Franz Pahl
Provincial MP (ret.) (SVP)
Chairman of the Committee for the Exhibition “Haus der Tiroler Geschichte”