While Catalonia continues to pursue complete autonomy from Spain, some in South Tyrol are aiming to return to their cultural roots in Austria. Concurrently, the Austrian chancellor wants Austria to remain in the European Union. What do each of these developments have in common? In this article, we’ll examine each situation and then tie them together. We begin with Catalonia.
We have been covering the Catalan independence movement in previous articles1 2 3 4. To recap, Catalonia is one of 17 autonomous regions recognized by the Spanish national government. It has deep roots in the 12th century Principality of Catalonia.5 With the ratification of the 1978 Spanish Constitution,6 Catalonia became a political entity of Spain. Now the wealthiest region of Spain,7 its people have decided to reclaim their sovereignty.
On October 1 the Catalonians held a referendum on the question of independence, in which 92% voted in favor. On October 26 Catalan president Carles Puigdemont ruled out a “snap election” proposed by Madrid. (A “snap election” is an off-cycle election held in order to constitute a new government.) The Madrid motive was likely to stack the Catalan Parliament with pro-unity members. The following day, October 27, the Catalonia Parliament voted to leave Spain and become an independent nation. In response, the Spanish Senate voted to invoke Article 155 of the Constitution, which reads in part:
If a Self-governing Community does not fulfill the obligations imposed upon it by the Constitution or other laws, … the Government, after having lodged a complaint with the President of the Self-governing Community and failed to receive satisfaction therefore, may, following approval granted by the overall majority of the Senate, take all measures necessary to compel the Community to meet said obligations, …
The “obligation” of the “Community” of Catalonia, as interpreted by the Spanish Senate, is found in Article 2 of the Constitution:
The Constitution is based on the indissoluble unity of the Spanish Nation, the common and indivisible homeland of all Spaniards; …
The supreme law of Spain is like the line in the Eagles song “Hotel California:” “You can check-out any time you like, but you can never leave!”
On October 28 Puigdemont was removed from office by Madrid. He fled to Brussels to avoid arrest by Spanish authorities. Madrid scheduled an election for December 21 to elect a new Catalonian president and parliament. This should be interesting because the pro-independence parties and candidates will be on the ballot. Now let’s consider South Tyrol.
South Tyrol—also known by its Italian translation “Alto Adige”—is the northernmost region of Italy. It became part of the Austrian Empire in 1814.8 By 1866 Italian irredentism blossomed, a movement to reunify all territory on the Italian peninsula. The 1919 Treaty of St. Germain gave South Tyrol and Trentino to Italy.9 When Benito Mussolini came to power in 1922, a move to “Italianize” the peninsula grew. By World War II, Italy and Germany cooperated in the Italianization of South Tyrol by resettling nearly 90% of its German-speaking citizens into German territory. After the war most of these people later returned to South Tyrol. By 1945, at the conclusion of World War II, Italy restored dual language use and restored most of the rights of local governance. The 1972 Autonomy Statute granted South Tyrol the status of an autonomous area.10 Finally, in 1992 South Tyrol became a self-governing province.
Not surprisingly, after faltering steps over decades to gain greater autonomy, today South Tyrol continues to have a pro-independence party, Suedtiroler Freiheit (South-Tyrolean Freedom Party).11 12 However, rather than aiming for complete autonomy, the party wants to leave Italy to re-join Austria. Yet, most Tyroleans are happy with the current power sharing arrangement with Italy. It remains to be seen whether or not the trend toward peaceful co-existence will continue.
In part two of this article, we will turn our attention to Austria itself and close with some observations on the commonalities of all three political movements.
1 Ryan Thorson, “Basque Turns Out For Catalonian Independence,” TexianPartisan.com, 8/16/17, https://texianpartisan.com/basque-turns-catalonian-independence/
2 Andrew Piziali, “Catalonia Referendum Lessons,” TexianPartisan.com, 10/9/17, https://texianpartisan.com/catalonia-referendum-lessons/
3 Jeff Thomason, “Stossel: Let People Go Their Own Way,” TexianPartisan.com, 10/24/17, https://texianpartisan.com/stossel-let-people-go-way/
4 Ryan Thorson, “Catalan and Texas Independence,” TexianPartisan.com, 10/31/17, https://texianpartisan.com/3052-2/
5 “Principality of Catalonia,” Wikipedia.org, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Principality_of_Catalonia
6 “Constitution of Spain,” Constitute, 2011, https://www.constituteproject.org/constitution/Spain_2011?lang=en
7 Frank Jacobs, “What an Independent Catalonia Would Do to the Map of Spain,” BigThink.com, 10/4/17, http://bigthink.com/strange-maps/what-an-independent-catalonia-will-do-to-the-map-of-spain
9 Leonid Bershidsky, “Italy Knows How to Solve Catalonia’s Problem,” Bloomberg, 10/12/17, https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2017-10-12/italy-knows-how-to-solve-catalonia-s-problem
10 Stephen J. Larin and Marc Roggla, “South Tyrol is a Success Story at a Difficult Time For Majority-Minority Relations,” Open Democracy, 10/14/17, https://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/stephen-j-larin-marc-r-ggla/south-tyrol-is-success-story-at-difficult-time-for-ma
11 Bethany Bell, “Why an Italian Row Over Place Names Is Dredging Up Memories of Fascism,” BBC News, 5/1/17, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-39641760
12 South-Tyrolean Freedom Movement, http://www.suedtiroler-freiheit.com/south-tyrolean-freedom-movement/