In his contribution to Irish Studies in International Affairs, Vol. 1, No. 3 (1982) A. E. Alcock says,
Two points need to be made about the De-Gasperi-Gruber Agreement. First, if it restored to the individual South Tyrolese the right to their German cultural identity by providing German-language schools, the use of the German language in public offices, and the restoration of German family names that had been Italianised, there was nothing about the restoration of the German character of their South Tyrol homeland. Second, the Autonomy Statute of 1948 issued in fulfillment of the De Gasperi-Gruber Agreement was designed specifically to ensure that the cultural, economic and social development of the South Tyrolese remained in Italian and not in South Tyrolese hands.
This was achieved in three ways. The first was quite simply not to endow the Province of Bolzano, and a South Tyrolese majority in the population that would presumably be reflected in the Provincial Parliament, with any meaningful powers of self-government, and certainly none regarding the economic development of the Province.
Second, the Province was placed with that of Trento within the framework of a Region Trentino-Alto Adige (the Italian name for South Tyrol). It was the Region that possessed not only more powers but also the most important powers, including those related to agriculture, industrial development and tourism. Control of these sectors lay with the Regional Parliament, but since the Province of Trento was more populous than Bolzano, and since Trento was 99 percent and Bolzano (by now) 33 percent Italian, the Regional Parliament was dominated by an Italian majority in a ratio of 7:3 which could be relied upon to see that the South Tyrolese did not get out of hand.
Third, since Italy was a centralized state, with a devolved system of government, rather than a federal state, central government approval had to be given to Regional and Provincial legislation before these could take effect. This approval might also require the prior issue of so-called ‘Executive Measures’, decrees having the force of law, approved by the Cabinet, whose function was to coordinate the legislative and administrative powers of the Regions and Provinces with those of the State, including defining their respective spheres of interest in regard to the matter in question.
It is understandable then why the German-speaking people of South Tyrol came to hate their oppressors. Such obstacles eventually led to acts of terrorism, with allegations that Austria had a hand in them. The problems became so severe that in 1960 Austria took the matter up with the United Nations, resulting in UN General Assembly resolution 1497 in October of that year urging Austria and Italy to come to the table and work out their differences, based upon the 1946 Paris agreement.
UN efforts were largely considered a failure because acts of terrorism continued. It wasn’t until 1971 that the issue was resolved with a new treaty between Austria and Italy, which stipulated that disputes in South Tyrol would be taken before the International Court of Justice in the Hague. Greater autonomy was given to South Tyrol as well. That agreement has survived until today and is believed to be largely successful. Major acts of terror ended, although there remained an undercurrent of resistance through which the people of that province began small efforts, such as changing street signs, to restore a sense of their culture. Perhaps the current effort to bring about self-determination has limited probabilities of success today, but things could change if the Italians become desperate to resolve their economic issues within the Eurozone and attempt to impose additional taxes upon South Tyrol.
South Tyrol’s difficulties with a foreign culture bear many similarities to Kashmir, and Kashmiris must remain alert to efforts by India to impose political, economic and social solutions that encourage and sustain measures that oppose Kashmir’s best interests. As stated, South Tyrol shares with Kashmir a long tradition of fighting for self determination, and it has become a default fall-back position whenever there’s trouble. Kashmir has also “enjoyed,” shall we say, a certain fiction called autonomy, which has proven to be an empty shell layed by a dinosaur whose legitimacy as ruler was established by colonial dictates, not the will of the people. The people of Kashmir have made it clear that they intend to be the master of their destiny through self-determination. Both disputes are clear evidence of how the leaders of great powers invariably plant the seeds to future conflict and war by not doing the right thing in the beginning but instead ignoring the will of certain groups of people and imposing solutions that are contrary to historic cultural and linguistic ties. Through both, the resentment and anger of those affected has lived on and on. It was British Viceroy, Lord Mountbatten who awarded the district of Gurdaspur to India without which there was absolutely no connectivity between India and Kashmir. It offered the only viable route to Kashmir for the invading army of India in 1947, thus creating the problem of Kashmir.
Like South Tyrol in respect to Europe, Kashmir is also the largest producer of apples in South Asia. Kashmir has forestry, saffron, paper mâché, untapped minerals and above all the natural beauty that could attract millions of tourists from all over the world and make it sustainable country. Kashmir will only blossom, however, when it is free to choose its own destiny and permitted to develop its great resources on its own terms without interference from any country who would bleed off its wealth to satisfy greed and imperialist desires with no benefit to the Kashmiris themselves. Kashmir has a soul, a sense of individuality, and a long history of a bond among all who live there. It will never be satisfied with less than the opportunity to claim its own identity.
Dr. Fai is the Secretary General, World Kashmir Awareness Forum. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org