Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Italy's Mason-Dixon Line

Their leaders have names such as Durnwalder, Klotz, Widmann, and Mair.   Their neighbours include Swiss, Germans and Austrians.  And at the moment a good many of them are wondering why they should be saddled with the financial burden of remaining within cash-strapped Italy.

There has long been a secessionist movement in the northern Italian province of South Tyrol.   The southern border with the rest of Italy is called, by der Spiegel, Italy's Mason-Dixon line.  The Tyroleans are the south's rich cousins and they're less than happy about having to pick up their share of Rome's budget mess.

Now work is underway to prepare a draft constitution for the Free State of South Tyrol.

Pollsters have noticed that separatist arguments are gaining traction, especially among young South Tyroleans. Their share of the membership of the Libertarian Party and South Tyrolean Freedom is growing significantly. The province is experiencing a general shift to the right, says political scientist Günther Pallaver.

While 90 percent of South Tyroleans identified with a limited autonomy status in the 1970s, this share has dropped to about 60 percent today, says Pallaver. "We are dealing with conflicts that could become even more severe in the future." According to Pallaver, South Tyrol's German-speaking voters are moving more and more to the right, and it's conceivable that lawmakers with the relatively tame South Tyrol People's Party (SVP) in the Italian parliament could be joined by representatives of parties less interested in compromise.

After having served 22 years as governor, Luis Durnwalder, known as "State Luis" and "the eternal Durni," finds this notion horrifying. "South Tyrol also has to do its part to overcome the crisis," he says, after a meeting with Prime Minister Monti in Rome. "We are still traveling on the same ship as Italy. The only difference is that we South Tyroleans are first-class passengers."

Could Italy fracture along a north-south divide?  It's an interesting question in the context of a European Union that is experiencing a similar dynamic over the Euro crisis with Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal in trouble.   There has been some speculation that the impacts of climate change, already hard felt in the Mediterranean EU countries,  could also trigger a north-south split.

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