FinnishNews decided to meet with the Deputy Mayor of one of the smaller municipalities in the Dolomites in northern Italy. His name is not published because he requested to have a low profile like the rest of the councillors working part-time to run the small municipality.
The municipality has less than 2000 residents and is part of the Bolzano Region, the main entity of regional government. The municipality is basically dependent on tourism and farming and making sure that the basic needs of the permanent residents are properly catered for.
The Region is responsible for paying for all basic infrastructure, while the municipality is responsible for the planning and implementation of maintenance and investments that are agreed with the Region.
The Deputy mayor outlined the region’s history in an attempt to explain why the Region is now solidly successful. In fact it shares many similarities with Finland in that big neighbours have sought to take them over in past centuries. There is a clear determination, as in Finland, to succeed by working hard in an open economy.
Culturally they are close to Germany/Austria through language and culture, even though the Italians have made many attempts to pry them away from the two former empires.
South Tyrol was part of the German Nation until 1363, when it became united with the Habsburg dynasty. It was part of Austria for centuries, except for a period during the Napoleonic wars, after which it came under the jurisdiction of the Austrian Empire again in 1814.
Given its geographic location south of the Alps, and despite having a majority German-speaking, Austrian-oriented population, it was often the subject of Italian calls for absorption into Italy. During the First World War Italy secured parts of South Tyrol under Treaty of London and Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye in September 1919 from the German-aligned Austro-Hungarian Empire.
With the rise to power of Mussolini in Italy in 1922 came a strong desire for the Italianization, which essentially sought the elimination of the German language. However, when World War II started, Italy and Nazi Germany agreed to force South Tyroleans to emigrate into the Greater Germanic Reich or accept the terms of their Italianization.
This resulted in 86% of South Tyroleans resettling in German territories. Most of them returned to their homes after the war. Linguistic reforms were instituted following the Italy’s Fascist regime’s overthrow in 1945, restoring most of the basic rights of South Tyroleans that had been previously revoked.
South Tyrol was granted the status of an autonomous area by an agreement between the Government of Italy and local officials in 1972, which entailed a greater level of self-government in the province; the extent of which was a topic of heated debate until a final agreement between the governments of Austria and Italy in the 1992.
They secured many privileges; for example, only 10% of the taxes paid in South Tyrol goes to the Italian central government.
The earliest post-war activism for South Tyrol’s removal from Italy can be found in small scale bombings of Italian infrastructure and fascist monuments between the mid-1950s and 1961. The most notable of these incidents was the Night of Fire on June 12, 1961, in which a large electrical supply unit was destroyed via explosives. Other small incidents followed with a series of bombings and ambushes on carabinieri and other security forces up until 1967.
The deputy mayor described how members of his family had worked their way from very modest means to now successful owners of large hotels. It was no mean feat to have established such magnificent places in just five decades starting in the mid 1970’s. He mentioned that his father was a teacher and tailor before he started a small two room B&B tourist home for German visitors! That later turned into a big and well established hotel, with father becoming the mayor for 15 years!
The deputy mayor, is now an active businessman with an office in Bolzano who helps the region’s SMEs expand and grow. He never-the-less spoke warmly about the importance of farmers being at the heart of the municipality. They remain in their large stone and wood houses with massive barns for cows right in the centre of town! The odours from cow dung pits is quite noticeable when you pass by the farm on your way to the local cheese shop or wine bar!
The mayor, who was asked for an interview but declined because his English is too weak, is one of these farmers. Such work on the mountain side is no easy thing. The slopes are steep and high. Cutting hay, caring for cattle and forest land is really tough work that requires strong muscles, plenty of stamina and deep pockets.
The deputy mayor pointed out that there is no unemployment in the region. In fact, like Finland, they are now very dependent on securing skilled immigrants for their economy – the service sector, healthcare, forestry and wood-working and metal working.
They receive huge numbers of visitors in the summer, autumn and winter but want to keep a balance between locals who should account for 60% those living there and no more than 40% of foreigners. They do not want to see their economy inundated by tourists who would destroy the natural beauty of the region and strain infrastructure, so they have imposed restrictions on real estate ownership.
Your correspondent asked why are you a deputy mayor… he replied, with a warm smile, “I took the job because we need, first and foremost, to keep the residents satisfied so that they can benefit in a good way from our strengths as a region. We have jointly owned ski-lifts, excellent public transport – trains and buses, well maintained roads and hiking paths, good schools and healthcare centres, and an excellent community spirit without having big outside companies ruining things. Every restaurant and hotel offer local products from farms and vineyards. I am just trying to give back for what I have received here!”