"Three things are important to us: the parity of the German and Italian languages before the courts, the ethnic representation system in the public sector and the provision of mother language television programs" says Mr. Bruno Hosp, the South Tyrol Provincial Minister for Culture and Science of the German and Ladin ethnic groups, and his Italian colleague, Luigi Cigolla, Minister for the Italian group, agrees. Furthermore, over 90% of the tax revenue generated in the Province is returned by the Italian government to the Province, and spending within the region is controlled by the locally elected parliament. South Tyroleans receive different color identity cards than those of other Italians and the street signs and other public communications are bilingual.
In addition, the United Nations plays an important role for the South Tyrol autonomy. They made available legal mechanisms to the South Tyrolese to ensure Italy complies with international treaties affecting the region, and require that Italy consult formally or informally with other members of the UN and the European Union before taking any action which may affect regional autonomy. The result is that the Italians cannot forbid the use of German (as they did under fascism in the 1920s) and cannot create economic projects to persuade Italian speakers to come to the provinces thereby possibly weakening the minority culture. Italy must, moreover, consult with other states and abide by treaties signed with the minority groups or risk alienation by the European Union which is something that neither country can afford for economic reasons. The former member of the European Parliament Ria Oomen-Rujiten from the Netherlands represents the opinion of many other international politicians and experts - among them representatives of the Chechens and the Dalai Lama, who not only came to study this model for Tibetan autonomy purposes, but sent his collaborators for in-depth studies for a longer period and is among the leaders of different countries who seek systemic counselling from South Tyrol. She contends that "South Tyrol, after a violent past of ethnic division, today is the best example for the peaceful co-existence of different ethnic groups which we have in Europe."
The success of the South Tyrol model, in contrast to the devastation that has accompanied other ethnic conflicts, reveals that it is a good example of autonomous integrated regional organization between different cultural and ethnic groups on a micro-scale. Can these arrangements be copied and succeed in Iraq, or at least help as an inspiration and orientation for the co-existence of the three bigger ethnic groups with the eight smaller ones?
The best solution in Iraq, as it can be seen today, will be federalization between the three bigger ethnic groups with regional autonomies following the South Tyrol model for the smaller ethnic groups. But you could also think of some basic aspects from the South Tyrol model taken for the whole of Iraq, such as differentiated regional tax autonomy, distribution of money according to percentages of ethnic population, guarantees for ethnic representation in the local and state parliaments and systematic cultural cross-border cooperation as an alternative to ethnic separatism. Furthermore, in areas with a high interdependence of different ethnic groups, it may be wise to install parallel cultural and school administrations, and give national and international guarantees for cultural autonomy. Concerning all these proposals, the South Tyrol autonomy should not be seen as a model to copy, but as an example of concrete success that can help to find appropriate, original local solutions in Iraq according to the practical needs of every single situation.
As many observers point out, the American democracy model of the "melting pot" alone may indeed not be prepared best for dealing with the "deep", complex ethnic divisions we find in current Iraq. Maybe it warrants to try cooperation from the European experience. The South Tyrol model is one option. The US administration should study it. In the end - there is nothing to loose, only to win.
Roland Benedikter teaches political and cultural science at the University of Innsbruck and Milan.