South Tyroleans will be able to cast their votes on self-determination in an unofficial referendum next Autumn. The vote is currently being prepared by South Tyrolean Freedom, a party that strives for secession of South Tyrol from Italy. Citizens will be able to choose if they want to cast their votes directly in a ballot box or either through internet or SMS. An electronic system has been prepared so that votes are controlled and no one can vote twice.
Nationalia has spoken to South Tyrolean Freedom leader Eva Klotz, who says that next Autumn's popular referendum has similarities with the ones held in Catalonia between 2009 and 2011, but also differences. The referendum question is one of them: citizens will be asked if they agree to "exercise the right of self-determination in order to freely decide the future of South Tyrol".It will be a similar question to the one that was used in a popular referendum that was held in South Tyrol's Ahrntal in 2011.
Thus, unlike the Catalan case, no direct question on independence will be asked, because South Tyroleans who want secession from Italy have two different views on the future: some of them want the establishment of a sovereign South Tyrol, while others prefer reunification with Austria.
According to Klotz, this is also because "it is still unknown what can be accomplished earlier. Maybe the door will be open earlier to unity with Austria than to full independence". One way or another, Klotz says that this is an issue of "grassroots democracy", and argues that the unofficial referendum will help in advancing the debate on self-determination.
Self-governing province with special status
South Tyrol is currently a semi-autonomous province in the north of Italy. It has its own parliament and government, and the majority language there, German, enjoys official status. The territory had belonged to Austria for centuries, but in 1919 it was annexed by Italy following the defeat of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in World War I.
The autonomous government has always been in the hands of pro-autonomy Popular Party of South Tyrol (SVP, German acronym), which holds an overall majority in the South Tyrolean assembly.
But opinion polls predict that SVP could lose the overall majority in next October 27 election. Pro-Italy Democratic Party and Greens could progress, as could also do anti-immigration secessionist The Libertarians.
Klotz considers that SVP could see itself compelled to move towards self-determination positions if they lose many votes to secessionist parties.
Poll says majority of South Tyroleans favor separation from Italy
In order to prove that there is really a case for self-determination, the Working Group for Self-determination has commissioned a survey on the issue to Austrian research institute Karmazin. According to it, 54% of South Tyroleans having German and Ladin as mother tongue wish secession from Italy, while 26% would reject it. 20% do not express an opinion. A similar study was done some months ago, but that time among South Tyroleans who have Italian as mother language. According to the results, 78% of them would reject secession while 22% would support it. But if the social and political scenario in Italy worsened, the latter figure could jump to 30%, the survey shows.
Given that South Tyroleans with German and Ladin as mother tongue outnumber by roughly 3 to 1 those with Italian as their mother tongue, it emerges that, altogether, approximately 46% of citizens in the Alpine territory would support separation from Italy, 39% would reject it and 15% do not know.
(Picture: a South Tyrolean Freedom poster which reads "South Tyrol is not Italy", in Meran.)