Stefano Fait, "A gemütlich Segregation – Multiculturalism and the Iceman's Curse in Italy"
It is useless to continue speaking German if we acquire Italian ways and mentalities…An ethnic minority must never lose its fear of disappearing. Once it does, it will disappear.
– Silvius Magnago, the father of modern South Tyrol
Everyone wants to be a minority, here; being a majority is unappealing.
– Anton Pelinka, Austrian political scientist, on multiculturalism in South Tyrol
In Italy, as in France, Iberia and Latin America, hyphenated identities are uncommon. It is generally assumed that a cohesive civil religion is incompatible with an emphasis on ethnic and cultural distinctiveness as discussed in the Adsett chapter. But what happens when this assimilationist logic, stressing what people have in common, comes face to face with an ethnic identity which celebrates difference, as in South Tyrol or Québec?
South Tyrol/Upper Adige, the northernmost trilingual Italian region, on the alpine border with Austria, has often been celebrated as a model of how ethnic rivalries can be contained. However, the post-war agreement really was a ‘cold peace’ which rested on a peculiar reinterpretation of the ‘separate but equal’ doctrine. The campaign slogan adopted by the party representing the German-speaking majority used to be: “the clearer we make the distinction between us, the better we will get on with each other”, roughly corresponding to the English saying “good fences make good neighbours”. This compromise, together with a lavishly subsidized, but also vibrant, local economy – South Tyrol’s per capita income exceeds the national average by 40 percent, and ranks among the highest in the world – has ensured that the interests of otherwise competing and antagonistic groups would not diverge too sharply. But it has come at a price: ethnic identities and interests matter sensibly more than individual identities and rights. An arrangement originally designed to protect ethnic Ladins and Germans – a majority in the region but a minority nationally – from the encroachments of the Italian State, has produced a ‘fenced society’. Most people live side by side but separately (nebeneinander), often in self-enclosed, ethnically homogeneous enclaves, guarding their ‘irreducible uniqueness’. Mixture (Vermischung), mixed marriages (Mischehen) and mixed schools (gemischte Schulen) are deemed undesirable; even nursery schools are ethnically segregated. This is the result of a clash of two distinct inflections of nationalism.
European nationalism did not come in a package with individualism and secularism, and the transformation of the agrarian world produced sensibly different outcomes. The moral and cultural consensus expressed by the nationalized masses could find a sense of cohesion and shared identity in opposite directions. In part, this is because modern European secular narratives have been shaped by both the Enlightenment and positivistic belief in the malleability of human nature and society and by the Romantic passion for ethnicity and localism and its critique of social fragmentation and dehumanizing mechanism. Under the influence of Romantic aspirations, national identities have been literally invented through the selective removal of memories of past hybridism and syncretism.
Historically, this dualism gave rise to two divergent traditions of accommodating cultural and ethnic diversity within a nation-state. The first is an assimilationist and contractual model, adopted in Western Europe, and mostly derived from the Roman and Roman Catholic ecumenical traditions, and from the Enlightenment and liberal individualist and cosmopolitan values. Its explicit aim is to gradually absorb diversity within its legal framework and the hegemonic national culture. Nationality thus coincides with civic, voluntary affiliation, and membership is determined by acquired traits such as a common language and shared cultural traditions. The second tradition is a particularistic and separatist model, where minorities are not encouraged to integrate into the larger society because their cultural identities are held to be not entirely reconcilable with the values and norms of the host society, and because their members are presumed to be too firmly anchored to their cultural baggage. Arguably this is what we have seen in the case of Germany and Austria in previous chapters, and in Eastern Europe. Within this model, nationality is an ethno-cultural, ascribed affiliation relying on genealogical criteria.
This difference in policy had important consequences. Both the German and the Italian unification processes began during the Napoleonic wars and came to fruition in the early 1870s. But German Romantic nationalism was impregnated with ruralism, ethnicism, and anti-cosmopolitism and drew heavily on a symbolic repertoire of peasants alienated by the ills of modern urban life. Conversely, Italian nationalism developed along the lines of ever-widening circles of integration and abstract superimpositions, and an emphasis on a common language, tradition, history, and on highly formalized juridical and political units that were inevitably inimical to ethnic particularism. The postulate of a ‘natural causation’ of politics and society was consistently rejected even by the far right, and nationalism was seldom associated with völkish themes (Absalom 1995). Thus, for instance, Italian encyclopedias and dictionaries consistently stressed the voluntaristic aspects of nationality and excluded ‘race’ as a constitutive, unifying factor (Gentile 2006).
In brief, German nationalism was more inclined to make a fetish of ethnic identity, that is, to treat it as something superior to humans, possessing an intrinsic, almost sacred value, whereas Italian nationalism often manifested an alarming state idolatry, which would fester with Mussolini’s rise to power. Besides having a remarkable heuristic value as an analytical tool, this divide can be clearly seen in Trentino-South Tyrol (TST), where different ethnic groups managed to peacefully co-exist until the age of European nationalism. Until 1919 a province of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, TST was assigned to Italy by the treaty of Saint Germain, even though its German-speaking inhabitants – an ethnic majority in South Tyrol – longed for their reintegration into the Austrian homeland and especially for the unification with North Tyrol, still part of Austria.
When Mussolini came to power, he was determined to force upon the nation a sense of national identity, in order to make it disciplined and efficient, in spite of the existing linguistic and regional divisions. This meant imposing an absolute linguistic and cultural unity for the whole of Italy, which had been unified less than sixty years earlier. This would include the French-speaking Aosta Valley, the Slovenian-speaking minority, and the German-speaking South Tyrol. He then undertook an ethnocidal scheme of Italianisation of South Tyrol, encouraging thousands of Italian workers to settle down in its towns, disbanding cultural and recreational associations, hiring only monolingual Italian-speaking civil servants and barring access by local elites to positions of responsibility, forbidding the teaching and use of German language in public, and having place names, given names and even gravestone inscriptions translated in Italian.
Eventually, in 1939, Hitler and Mussolini devised a radical solution to this problem: ‘voluntary’ ethnic self-cleansing. South Tyroleans were asked to choose between staying in South Tyrol and renounce their cultural heritage and declaring themselves ethnic Germans (Volksdeutsche) and be resettled somewhere in the German Reich. Approximately 170,000 – 90% of Germanophones and 61% of Ladins – opted for the Reich and were called ‘Optants’ (Optanten). The Dableiber, those who refused to leave their land, and there were as many as 70,000 of them, were regarded as traitors by the others. This collective trauma left a legacy of pain among South Tyroleans.
After the war, some of those who had been resettled in the former German Reich began to return home, but South Tyrol was not restored to Austria. Rome was instead urged to grant self-government to its German-speaking and Ladin-speaking minorities, which it did, in 1948, but in a way that would make sure that South Tyrol would not be able to secede, and which deeply enraged South Tyroleans. The special status was extended to the Trentini, their Italian-speaking neighbours to the South, and a new region was created, called ‘Trentino – Upper Adige’, in which German speakers would once again be a minority with little control over their own destiny. Then came mass demonstrations, bombing attacks, the first victims, and troops were sent to police the province: the spectre of Northern Ireland loomed large in the national debate. Eventually, Rome agreed to discuss a set of far more meaningful measures of self-government for the ethnic minorities, the so-called ‘second autonomy package’, which was originally signed in 1969 and put in place in 1972, although it took twenty years of fierce negotiations to implement all the measures (137) that it contained (Paketabschluss).
It was in those years, late 1960s – early 1970s, that two American anthropologists, John W. Cole and Eric R. Wolf, did ethnographic fieldwork in TST. They detected a number of distinctive cultural traits which set Italian-speaking and German-speaking peasants apart, despite living in the same ecological niche, to which they had adapted in much the same way. They ranged from settlement and field layouts (dispersed in South Tyrol and nucleated in Trentino); professional aspirations; economic and social arrangements (independence and self-government vs. interdependence and community-orientation, rural life vs. urban life); and, migration patterns (Italian-speaking emigrants maintained close ties with their homeland, whereas German-speaking emigrants burned the bridges behind them). But the most striking divergence was in kinship and family structures. In Tyrolean families, the first born son (Wirth) would inherit the estate (primogeniture) and the younger siblings would have to leave (weichen). Alternatively, some of them were allowed to remain at the farm, and work as farmhands (Knechte, which also means ‘slaves’). Conversely, ethnic Italian families in TST divided the estate and the patrimony in equal parts among all siblings. Farmers would not regard themselves as rulers of an estate, but as stewards. Communities tended to be inclusive, democratic, reciprocal, and flexible, and families and distant relatives would enjoy broad social networks (Wolf & Cole 1999).
From this brief overview of ethnic relationships in TST, one can readily discern that this can easily result in a brand of multiculturalism in which power struggles between ethnic groups and interest groups may cause the right of peoples to self-determination to become a vehicle for the fetishization of group identities. Indeed, in South Tyrol, TST’s northern autonomous province, every ten years, the ethnic census requires local residents, including foreign residents, to identify with one of the three available ethnic designations – dubbed ‘ethnic cages’ by the critics of this system – which will determine welfare entitlements (e.g. social housing) and public employment quotas available to each group, in proportion to their numerical strength. The political implications of this census are obvious. Eastern Europeans living in the region are the most likely to self-identify as German-speakers in the ethnic census, for German was the official language of the Habsburg Empire, and was commonly spoken across south-eastern Europe. The recent decision on the part of the ethnic German ruling party to impose restrictions on migrant workers who are not from Eastern Europe, shows that ethnic allegiance overrides all other considerations.
As a result, 20 percent of residents who would rather not identify with any of the official ethnicities or, given the choice, would check off more than one, have no choice but to select one. In other words, individuals are to a large extent defined by their membership in an ethnic group. Ethnic identities matter sensibly more than individual rights and, even though things are improving, many, perhaps most people still live side by side but separately, in self-enclosed, ethnically homogeneous enclaves, guarding their ‘irreducible uniqueness’, and stigmatizing those who have dared to cross the clearly defined boundaries. People from different ethnic backgrounds, it is argued by the German-speaking political leaders, should meet “as little as possible and as much as necessary” (so wenig als möglich, so viel als notwendig). The imperative of ‘boundary maintenance’ is inexorable: society must be ordered in ‘ethnic drawers’ (ethnische Schubladen) (Staffler 1999), which means that individuals are forced into ethnic straitjackets that define them by their ascribed roles. Unfortunately, it is exceedingly difficult to initiate a reversal of perspective when social interactions and economic transactions are based on ethnically homogeneous pre-existing networks of trust –. This is a problem that has been extensively examined by Patti Lenard in her chapter on immigration and trust.
This ideal Heimat, for all its protections from the outside world and its perpetual reproduction of a ‘geography of avoidance’, seems to be economically unfeasible and politically unwise in an increasingly integrated continental economy and in times of mass immigration. The underlying premise of this model of multicultural coexistence is that ethnic groups should be highly integrated, self-referential and static, or else South Tyrol would quickly find itself on the brink of Verelsässerung, that is, total assimilation, like Alsace, in France (Elsass in German).
As a result of all this, today Upper Adige is “the one area in Central Europe where there is not a dominated but a dominant minority” (Pallaver 1990, 70). But the outcome of this institutionalized compensatory differential treatment and measures taken to promote the autonomous development of each ethnic group – whether manifested in sport, media, religion, education, the labour market, the house market, social amenities, recreational facilities, etc. – can be usefully compared to J.S. Furnivall’s (1948, 304) disillusioned description of South East Asian colonial societies:
It is in the strictest sense a medley, for they mix but do not combine. Each group holds by its own religion, its own culture and language, its own ideas and ways. As individuals they meet, but only in the marketplace, in buying and selling. There is a plural society, with different sections of the community living side by side, but separately, within the same political unit.
Life in the South Tyrol of ethnic quotas (ethnischer Proporz) can also be contrasted with the Cantle Report’s (2001, Section 2.1) depiction of the inner cities of Northern England:
The extent, to which these physical divisions were compounded by so many other aspects of our daily lives, was very evident. Separate educational arrangements, community and voluntary bodies, employment, places of worship, language, social and cultural networks, means that many communities operate on the basis of a series of parallel lives. These lives often do not seem to touch at any point, let alone overlap and promote any meaningful interchanges.
Bones of Contention
Symbols, systems of signification, and narrative accounts are tied together in complex ways, and even scientists sometimes end up enmeshed in the cobweb of identity politics.
Between 1878 and 1900, in a political climate ideologically charged due to border disputes between Austria and Italy, Meran medical anthropologist Franz Tappeiner (1816-1902) and his colleagues used craniometric measurements and skin and hair sampling to argue that Trentini closely resembled the dolichocephalous ‘Germanic type’. Their colleagues in Trent, Giovanni Canestrini (1835-1900) and Lamberto Moschen (1853-1932), countered that, according to their own findings, Trentini should be classified together with their Italian neighbours to the south. Paolo Mantegazza, one of the leading Italian anthropologists, while clarifying that his critical remarks should not be intended as a personal attack on an esteemed colleague and friend, remarked that he could not believe that “the hyper-craniological faith could be stretched to the point of fanaticism” (Mantegazza 1884, 355-356). Both sides refused to acknowledge the physical resemblance of South Tyroleans and Trentini, who had lived side by side and intermarried for centuries. This is a forgotten tidbit of local history which shows that even scientific practices may become objects of fierce struggle and impassioned debate over disputed classifications. This is far more likely when there is an ongoing conflict between ethnic groups vying for control of resources and power.
About a hundred years later, in 1991, German hikers discovered a well-preserved corpse, still half buried in a glacier on the South Tyrolean border with Austria. It turned out that the corpse was not that of a mountaineer, but of a man who lived in the region thousands of years ago and who was christened ‘Oetzi the Iceman’, because people initially thought that he had been found in the Austrian Oetz Valley. Since 1998, despite the protests of those who found this decision appalling and degrading, Oetzi has been on display in a refrigerated chamber at the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano/Bozen, the capital town of South Tyrol, and has immediately become an object of desire. Hundreds of tourists from across the world line up every day to catch a glimpse of the mummy through a small stainless steel window. As the oldest preserved human being, he has acquired a true celebrity status and, from an invaluable treasure for palaeontologists, he has turned into a huge business venture, spawning a veritable ‘Ice Man industry’, with countless commercial ramifications, from books and documentaries, to tours, holiday packages, and escorted hikes to the site of discovery, to special recipes, dishes, and menus, to merchandise. His image appears on cups, t-shirts, postcards, key chains, calendars, notepads, mouse pads, backpacks, etc. Now even Hollywood stars are joining the Oetzi-cult. It is reported that Brad Pitt got a new tattoo of Oetzi on his left forearm, perhaps because the Iceman himself had 60 tattoos, allegedly for shamanic/therapeutic reasons.
Now, because the body was found on the Italian-Austrian border, a legal battle ensued between Italy and Austria over the ownership of Oetzi, which soon became a clash between North and South Tyrol, Innsbruck and Bozen. Bolzano eventually won the dispute when a topographic survey established that the resting place lay inside South Tyrol, less than a hundred yards from the border. For the first time since the annexation, South Tyroleans had reason to rejoice for not being part of Austria: their special status meant that every archaeological finding would fall under the provincial jurisdiction. This also meant that the ancient man initially dubbed by the media Homo Tirolensis, and portrayed as the first Tyrolean, really was Homo Tirolensis Meridionalis (‘South Tyrolean Man’), with potentially serious implications for the future relations of the two ethnically related, but politically separated neighbours. Many Austrian Tyroleans thought that they had been robbed. After all, his name was Oetzi, like the Austrian Oetz valley, not Schnalsi, as he should have been called, if he had been found in the South Tyrolean Senales valley. This was but the latest of a string of altercations between Tyroleans, with the northerners accusing the southerners of taking unfair advantage of Italian multicultural policies to pursue their own interests to the detriment of their Austrian ‘cousins’.
This story is important because it highlights the limits of identity politics when the need to emphasise diversity leads to the iconization of symbols of difference, even if it is the body of a deceased man, turned into a relic. Oetzi has been turned into a South Tyrolean saint, the object of a secular, spontaneous devotion. A hunter, a travelling salesman, a shaman, an outlaw, or a warrior, no one really knows who this man was. Nevertheless, his body, preserved forever in a sarcophagus monitored by multiple sensors, together with his goatskin leggings, axe, grass cape, longbow, arrows, fire-making kit, and backpack, is now part of a mythologizing process, which closely resembles the cultification of Lenin.
This is unsurprising, given that the cultural construction of ethnicity is grounded in objects, symbols, institutions, places, and habits. The perpetuation of undiluted cultures and ethnicities has much in common with the preservation of this warrior hero, media icon, and ancestral patriarch. The 5,300-year-old mummy is in many ways an allegory of how local power struggles have led to the fetishization of group identities. When certain ethnic identity markers are less readily accessible, or their content is thinning, or they are questioned, or no longer as distinctive as they used to be, and therefore less relevant –this is precisely what is going on in South Tyrol, as the new generations appear to be less interested in ethnicity – then it becomes necessary to develop and introduce some new ones (Wrong 1997). In other words, apart from the ordinary symbolic manipulation for commercial purposes, the hype surrounding Oetzi is possibly an indication of a decline of real cultural differences, or at least of a much less polarized division between South Tyroleans and Alto Atesini. This has forced ethno-political entrepreneurs to find new ways to mobilize intra-group solidarity. This secular relic is therefore a promise of immortality for the current multi-ethnic arrangement of the province, the guarantee that South Tyroleans will forever continue to exist as a distinct ethnic group. As the body of the mythical ancestor has stood the course of time, so will the South Tyrolean identity (Bergonzi & Heiss 2004). What is even more interesting is that all this is occurring as North and South Tyroleans, who share virtually the same tradition and language, are undergoing a process of schismogenesis (Bateson 1958). Partitioned into two subgroups by the border, and therefore lacking those checks and restraints that prevent progressive differentiation, the division is becoming dialectically heightened to the point that it is spinning out of control and leading them to increasing rivalry and hostility. This could lead, eventually, to the breakdown of pan-Tyrolean ethnic solidarity, similar to the way in which, in the post-war years, Austrians distanced themselves from pan-Germanism as seen in the previous chapter. An event that would appear all the more baffling, given the otherwise stubborn commitment to the ‘one Tyrol’ ideology (Landeseinheit), which finds eloquent expression in the old folksong ‘There is only one Tyrol’ (Tirol isch lei oans). Ultimately, the nature of the alleged Iceman curse, which has thus far claimed the lives of 7 persons somehow related to the discovery of Oetzi or to research conducted on his body, might well be that those coming in close and prolonged contact with Oetzi are bound to be torn apart from their loved ones, and this is just as true for ethnic groups.
But there is another sense in which identity politics has major commercial implications. These days, DNA-screenings are performed on a number of peoples, particularly if they live in remote places, in which case they are known as founder populations, that is, human groups descending from a small number of ancestors (founders). They represent an enormous opportunity for clinicians, because their genetic variations become amplified, with a higher allele frequency. Instead, the rest of their genome remains substantially the same, given that very few mutations are introduced from the outside (‘genetic noise’). These studies can only be useful if both the environment and lifestyles have remained unchanged, playing a minor role in genetic variation, and isolated populations come closer to the ideal conditions. This should facilitate the highly profitable and immensely helpful medical research into the genetic determinants of common disorders.
The Alps, with their narrow valleys and scattered settlements would appear to be extremely promising for genetic analysis of complex traits. And, indeed, there is an ongoing population research project, called GenNova, which is being conducted by the Institute of Genetic Medicine at the European Academy in Bolzano/Bozen – which also hosts an ‘Institute for Mummies and the Iceman’ – in partnership with the universities of Harvard, Munich and Lübeck. Their homepage says that ‘several of South Tyrol’s remote Alpine valleys and villages, especially some Ladin communities and other communities of the Val Pusteria, Valle Isarco and Val Venosta, have basically maintained the same geographical conditions, small-scale economic structures and above all, limited mobility since their settlement in the Neolithic period, leading to genetic-environmental ‘microisolation’. Such small, visible pockets of microisolated populations, together with unique genealogical and medical documentation, make South Tyrol an ideal location for research in the field of genetic medicine.
Understandably, German-speaking media reports of this project often betray the crypto-colonial fascination with the “virgin”, “the pristine”, the ‘Otherness’ of peoples “living close to nature”. Now even genetics appear to be committed to the preservation of the ethnic Garden of Eden, where South Tyroleans are most themselves, at their most pristine, unsullied and immune for centuries from the diluting influences of foreign cultures and genotypes (Pinggera et al. 2006). These communities have ostensibly marched through history in ordered ranks, keeping their ethnic heritage intact and becoming sites of moral values where pristine native culture intersects with a primordial landscape. However, critics have questioned the value of this kind of research, on the ground that population geneticists ignore the significant body of ethnographic literature pointing to the mobility of the human species and to the contingency and plasticity of human cultural expressions and of group-boundaries. They believe that scientists have fallen prey to the so-called ‘classificatory fallacy’ (or ‘essentialist fallacy’), in that they have mistaken artificially constructed and constantly negotiated and contested categories for natural categories.
Indeed, in deeply divided multicultural societies like South Tyrol, it is not always easy to disentangle scientific reasoning from preconceived notions of self-identity, and professional agendas from political agendas. For instance, let us consider Germanic kinship and inheritance systems. Traditionally, Germanic ethnic aggregations (Stämme) comprised a few thousand families and defined their identity in relation to a common ancestor and to their consanguinity (endogamy) (Gasparri 1998). It was customary for the members of peasant patriarchal clans to be unilaterally related to each other and to trace their genealogy back to the alleged founder of the lineage, that is, to their common ancestor. The patriarch was the highest religious, political, and legal authority of the clan and decided when it was time to transfer his power to the first-born son, together with the knowledge of the body of norms and practices of the lineage, according to the inheritance right called Anerbenrecht. It is therefore far more natural for South Tyroleans than for Alto Atesini to think of their heritage as part of this ‘ancestral inheritance’ (Ahnenerbe). Because we cannot assume a basic literacy in genetics and biological evolution for most South Tyrolean readers, many might erroneously understand genealogies in terms of genetic continuity – some sort of Eternal Recurrence – and regard their existence as an epiphenomenon of perpetual bloodlines. This would in turn exacerbate the existing tendency toward the fetishization of culture and identity, or neotraditionalism, whereby ethnicity is seen as timeless, bounded, discrete, and organic, the permanent and inalterable property of a primordial ethnic group.
Indeed, the implicit assumption is common, that the authentic South Tyrol is rural and that genuine South Tyroleans are healthy and sturdy mountain farmers. Those who have to leave the countryside for urban settings are presumed to be eager to reconnect with their rural roots, whenever possible. This belief recreates and commercializes a mystique of the natural and redeeming authenticity and purity of the Alps as a getaway from the pressure of urban daily life and from the corrupting influence of modernity, especially Italian modernity. The Alps are then viewed as an ideal space of subversive nostalgia, for those longing for a more genuine identity. It is through this psychological transference that environmental conservation (Naturschutz) and ‘homeland protection’ (Heimatschutz) become closely intertwined in the South Tyrolean self-narrative.
Advertising campaigns for tourism promotion make the link between environmental management and the multiple meanings and uses of the ‘touristification’ of heritage even more apparent. In the South Tyrolean tourism industry it is not unusual to encounter traces of ethno-nationalistic rhetoric such as the expression “the obstinate love of the people for their homeland” (hartnäckige Heimatliebe der Menschen) or quotes such as, “every man has a homeland and should love and honour that patch of land where he was born” (Jeder Mensch hat eine Heimat und soll das Fleckchen Erde, wo er geboren ist, in Lieb’ und Ehren halten). These words, found in a tourist brochure, were taken from a poem by the nineteenth-century German poet and writer Julius Wolff, and were used by the South-Tyrolean Dairy Association as a caption for the photo of two blond children drinking milk while sitting in the mountain grass.
Within the ethno-environmentalist model “Homeland and environment” (Heimat und Umwelt), Heimat is the ubiquitous and constitutive feature of a defensive strategy against the globalised and secularised ‘outside world’ which combines landscape preservation, economic protectionism, and the attempt to restore the perceived harmony of the past and the moral qualities associated with the countryside. Yet South Tyroleans should not be seen as passive recipients of the effects of this manipulation of signs and signifiers. They also play active roles in the dynamic conversion of the particular into the universal and back again, and they deliberately try to market a particular approach to modernity and multiculturalism, transformed into a fetishized commodity. In other words, today’s South Tyrol is also a brand name closely identified with authenticity. By the same token, South Tyroleans, as they dress in traditional garb, play traditional instruments, sing folksongs, and try to anticipate the tourist’s expectations are, as it were, human billboards, with a corporate identity who seek to generate brand loyalty among tourists/consumers while catering for the demands of the local tourist industry.
What is truly fascinating is that, far from restricting the jurisdiction of commodization, as in Igor Kopytoff’s model (Appadurai 1999), South Tyroleans are resolutely and purposefully committed to its expansion, as the only viable remedy to the increasing depopulation of mountain areas, and as a way to express their lifestyle. Self-objectification and self-commoditization via the resurrection, invention, and staging of folkways are palatable because they provide hard currency and symbolic capital, and revive practices that would otherwise have no place in everyday life. In this way, South Tyroleans can assert their group identity and teach traditional values, ideals and norms of behaviour to the new generations. The focus is on building a sense of continuity with the past and integrity in the present, and retaining an appearance of authenticity, spontaneity, worth, genuineness, and plausibility, that is, of collective identity. At least for young people, who are gradually losing the sense of ethnic self-preservation (Selbsterhaltungsgefühl), being South Tyrolean also means voluntarily consuming one’s own identity, choosing to be part of a ‘tribe’, but only insofar as it is in their economic, social and political interest to do so (Maffesoli 1996).
I therefore have to disagree with Oliver Schmidtke’s contention that “the pragmatism of a primarily managerial approach to a common market and the highly emotional reference to the endangered Heimat are not very compatible” (Schmidtke 1996, 298). South Tyrolean identity has served to protect and expand business opportunities. What is more, a fast-shrinking global marketplace causes distinctiveness to become commercially attractive, and at the same time it intensifies regional competition, fostering economic and cultural chauvinism. Hence, identity politics should be seen, at least to some extent, as a natural outgrowth of mass consumerism and the struggle for symbolic hegemony. It follows that there is no inherent tension between commercialism and traditionalism, and between exchange-value and use-value. Cultural preservation and business are simply two sides of the same coin, and the commercial exploitation of objects and practices (including a people’s genome) may lead to native essentialism – the idea that group members have a primordial attachment to their traditional ways of life and worldviews – which, incidentally, seems to enjoy a broad appeal, and not only in South Tyrol (Brumann 1999).
It is only fair to say that the alpine region has never been welcoming to foreigners, newcomers and underrepresented minorities. Witch-hunting was endemic in the isolated rural societies of the Alps and their foothill (Trevor-Roper 1969) and minorities such as Gypsies, Jews, Karrner, Hutterites, Sinti and Roma, have been systematically discriminated against, harassed and persecuted by institutionalised lynch mobs for centuries in Switzerland, Austria, Trentino-South Tyrol, and Slovenia. They were regarded as ‘imperfectly assimilated’ or ‘inassimilable’, and treated as ‘matter out of place’. These itinerant, cosmopolitan, boundary-transgressing ethnic groups violated the deeply entrenched taboos and imperatives of societies where priority was placed “on keeping people judiciously apart, on maintaining delicate balances that made possible long-term accommodation” (Barber 1974, 256). This is precisely the state of affairs in Upper Adige.
Alexander Langer, a South Tyrolean green politician, journalist, and writer, ostracized in his own community for his hostility to ethnic segregation and for his alleged betrayal of his own ethnic group, committed suicide in 1995. In a short autobiography, he recalled the day that he was late for school and saw other children that he had never seen before, entering the school from a different entrance, which he had never heard of: “it wasn’t my entrance, I did not know them, the whole place was different, and there were fewer children”. It was then that he realized that an entire side of the school was reserved for children from a different ethnic background, with their teachers and their recreational area, their gate, and their schedule. This early experience made Langer’s resolve to denounce and combat social segmentation, ethnic segregation, and separate education unshakeable. But even after his death, this state of affairs has not improved significantly. His dream of a society whose main slogan would be “the more contact we have, the better we will get on with each other” has not come true. The official motto of this formal democracy is still “to count, to weight, and to divide” (zählen, wägen, teilen) (Baur et al. 1998).
Under Mussolini’s dictatorship, the only way for ethnic German children to study German was through a network of illegal, underground schools in farm-houses called Katakombenschulen. Today, it’s the other way round, and there are ethnic German parents who must hire Italian teachers for their children sub rosa, because South Tyrolean and Alto Atesini pupils are not supposed to mix and learn about each other’s culture. Integration cannot go too far, for Italians must continue to play the role of the ‘perpetual foreigners-within’ as Nicolacopoulos and Vassilacopoulos describe in their chapter. In the words of Siegfried Brugger, a former South Tyrolean People’s (SVP) chairman, “we need no new type of South Tyroleans, who are a mish-mash, with a little bit German, a little Ladin, a little Italian. This is a political approach which is old-fashioned and has been superseded” (Quoted in Pallaver 2005, 203).
The South Tyrolean People’s Party is a Sammelpartei, that is, a party with a cross-class electoral appeal representing an ethnically homogeneous constituency. It was founded in 1945 and has since managed to secure the votes of nearly all South Tyroleans and Ladins, invariably gaining the absolute majority of votes and seats in local elections. Oliver Schmidtke reports that, in the 1990s, a group of people, all wearing their folk costumes, appeared on an election campaign poster in support of the SVP, with the slogan “We South Tyroleans” (Wir Südtiroler). Schmidtke correctly argues that the poster seems to suggest that those who share that identity should cast their vote for the SVP (Schmidtke 1996). However, the obverse could also be posited: those who express a preference for the SVP are expected to dress, act, look, and feel like Südtiroler, at least once in a while. “My ethnicity right or wrong” (Mir sein mir) is still the dominant attitude in this corner of Europe. After all, in a less ethnically divided society, the party would lose considerable ground, because the very reason for the existence of the “guardians of the homeland” (Heimatschützer) would disappear, and a crisis of legitimacy would ensue (Pallaver 2005).
This is why the SVP maintains a peculiar attitude to autonomy, and concentrates its efforts in perpetuating inter-ethnic divisions and prioritizing social cohesion and ethnic conflict (Volkstumkampf) over individual rights (Rossi 1980). This approach is noticeably reminiscent of the collectivist “Liberty of the Ancients”, understood as “active and constant participation in collective power”, and is a far cry from the modern notion of liberty as private independence against the subjection to arbitrary power (Constant 1988). Freedom as intended in South Tyrol is a group right, not an individual right, a subject Andrew Robinson in Chapter Two reflects on the importance of both personal autonomy and communal identifications in the pursuit of a meaningful life.
In order to preserve the “community of fate” (Schicksalsgemeinschaft) which keeps all South Tyroleans bond to one another and to the party, the SVP has invested heavily in ethnically based and party-linked social and cultural associations, knowing that, in the long run, they would ensure the propagation and hegemony of the party’s ideology (Schmidtke 1996). In this respect, we should highlight the fact that, as part of the compensatory package, more than 90 percent of the tax revenue generated in South Tyrol is then returned to the province and that 70% of the budget is spent on the fixed costs of the ‘hypertrophic’ public sector which provides ethnically differentiated goods and services. This translates into a tremendous amount of financial backing for the party’s essential purpose of preserving the status quo by avoiding conflict through compromises rather than through integration. Akin to Suzanna Reiss’ (Chapter Four) trenchant analysis in Canada, South Tyrol’s provincial government budgetary provision for 2008 has allocated 380,000 euros (~ US $575,000) to cultural investments such as the concert of the folk music band Kastelruther Spatzen and a folk music festival to be held next year.
It is small wonder that given this almost embarrassing ‘liberality’, which benefits all ethnic groups, albeit not equally, open interethnic conflicts only resurface during times of economic and political crisis and are instead silenced in periods of economic expansion (Obkircher 2006). Still, a social system in which resources are distributed among ethnic groups according to their numerical size is more likely to succumb to envy and greed; because if one group obtains more goods and prestige, the other groups will correspondingly perceive themselves as losing worth. It can only work when the cake is large enough for all to share, and nobody knows what the future has in store for Italy and Europe (Wakenhut 1999).
Viewed in this light, one has to admit that the modernizing process in South Tyrol has, at least contingently, deepened the ethnic rift, instead of bridging it, possibly because ethnicity is vague enough a concept that it can be used to forge consensus around shared material interests, while concealing ulterior motives that might actually be contrary to the public interest. I do not believe that multiculturalism is necessarily bound to be “a formula for manufacturing conflict” (Barry 2001), but the fact remains that South Tyrolean identity politics is premised on a victim status that has outlasted its usefulness, and now prevents local people from accustoming themselves to hold multiple, fluid, hybrid identities and affiliations.
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