Photo by Samuel Clara on Unsplash


South Tyrol, the northernmost province in Italy, is characterised by a territorial autonomy and a peaceful cohabitation of German, Italian and Ladin language groups. Due to the existence of linguistic minorities, the Autonomous Province of Bolzano/Bozen – as a part of the Autonomous Region Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol- is part of one of the five Autonomous regions with special statute in Italy. Over time, the Autonomous Region received a significant number of competences, which devolved to the two Autonomous Provinces of Bolzano/Bozen and Trentino.

Today, the South Tyrolean autonomy model is considered one of the most successful power-sharing arrangements in the world, thanks to its far-reaching autonomous powers and its implementation mechanism.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, South Tyrol was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until later being annexed by Italy following the 1919 Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye. Following the Fascists rise to power in 1922, South Tyrol underwent an intensive ‘Italianisation’ process. This included the prohibition of German language schools, and the 1939 ‘Option Agreement’ between Mussolini and Hitler, which gave German speakers the choice of either relocating to the Greater German Reich or staying in South Tyrol with the constraint of being Italianised. After WW II, the ‘Gruber–De Gasperi Agreement’ (1946) between Italy and Austria guaranteed autonomous legislative and executive powers and regulations to safeguard the German minority.

After an unsatisfying First Autonomy Statute in 1948, the political negotiations were accompanied by bomb attacks from the mid-1950s to the end of the 1960s. In 1972, the Second Autonomy Statute was enacted. The Second Autonomy Statute transferred most of the legislative and administrative powers from the Autonomous Region Trentino-Alto Adige/South Tyrol to the Autonomous Province of Bolzano/Bozen. The Statute is still in place today and is considered the basis for South Tyrol’s autonomy.

Legally speaking, the Autonomy Statute of 1972 has constitutional rank and therefore ordinary law can neither interfere with, nor change the provisions within the Statute. The Statute has been implemented mainly by so-called ‘enactment decrees’ elaborated by special commissions and bilateral negotiations with the State. Special procedures, cooperation mechanisms and financial autonomy guarantee the wide range of autonomous and administrative powers of South Tyrol.

South Tyrol’s autonomy arrangement is designed to regulate the balance of power between South Tyrol’s language groups with language equality measures, reserved positions, executive proportionality, public service employment proportionality and public funding proportionality.

To guarantee this proportionality system, a ‘declaration or affiliation to a language group’ is needed to determine the number of people in the province who primarily speak each official language. Furthermore, a ‘personal declaration’ is supposed to be made by anyone who applies for a position subject to language group reservation or proportionality rules, such as public or political posts. People who do not want to be affiliated to any of the three official language groups can declare themselves as ‘other’ but to exercise their personal rights, they still must choose to be ‘affiliated’ to one of the three official language groups. Therefore the affiliation ‘other’ mainly has symbolic power.

South Tyrol’s linguistic equality is evident as Italian and German speaking citizens have the right to use their own language within public administration as well as in court. Similarly, Ladin citizens have the right to use the Ladin language in Ladin valleys.

South Tyrol also has a variety of media (TV, Radio, newspapers) in both the German and Italian language. The European Association of Newspapers in Minority and Regional Languages (Midas), an association representing minority newspapers, has its headquarters in South Tyrol.

South Tyrol’s school system is divided and based on monolingual instruction in German or Italian. The Ladin school model however, focuses on an almost equal education in the three languages (Ladin, German, Italian). Each school department is under the political control of each language group. However, parents can freely choose the school type for their children.

The main political institutions in South Tyrol are the provincial council,  the provincial government and  the provincial president.

The provincial council, consisting of 35 members, each elected for 5 years, constitutes the legislative body of South Tyrol. The provincial government is the executive body and implements the laws passed by the council. Its composition must reflect the number of the language groups represented in the council. The president represents the province.

Today, South Tyrol is considered as a successful example for conflict-regulation and is studied by local and international researchers. Several factors have contributed to this, but the most important is its power-sharing, which transformed past conflicts into peaceful cohabitation by desecuritising/normalising the relationship between its language groups.

Being aware of the strengths and weaknesses of the South Tyrolean model has led to a culmination of experience and knowledge regarding minority protection and autonomy, which today can be shared with other realities.

In case you need further information, further readings or would like to learn more on our training activities, feel free to contact us.

Wir. Noi. Nëus. – South Tyrol’s Autonomy and Minority Protection

This 10-minute video describes South Tyrol’s long journey from a threatened minority region to an autonomous province characterised by strong self-government and seen as a worldwide model for minority protection. The video pays particular attention to explaining the individual mechanisms that make it possible for the three language groups to live peacefully together. It is available in six languages (German, Italian, English, Arabic, Mandarin and Russian) with subtitles on our YouTube channel “Autonomy Experience”.


Autonomy Experience, together with the Vereinigte Bühnen Bozen and the Institute for Contemporary History of the University of Innsbruck, has created the podcast “Option. Stimmen der Erinnerung. Le Opzioni in Alto Adige Südtirol.”

Option means having a choice. Having options in life is usually perceived positively. For South Tyrol, however “the Option” is one of the darkest chapters in history. The population was faced with an almost impossible decision: to “stay” and thus to choose their place of residence and home – however, with the prospect of giving up the German-speaking identity or “opting” for the German Empire in order to preserve the mother tongue and traditions, but losing South Tyrol as home.

In the podcast, South Tyrolean contemporary witnesses give insights into their emotional world and tell first-hand about their memories. “The Option” is also illustrated by selected experts in the podcast.

The podcast is in German and Italian.