AIPH35 — Public History and Borders
A province of two dictatorships and its public memory revisited (by Giorgio Mezzalira & Hannes Obermair)
The Bolzano region (South Tyrol) ranks among those, not so frequent, territories that shared two dictatorships, the Italian fascism and the German nazism as well. As it happens, the so-called "Ventennio", lasting from 1922 to 1943, has been replaced by two years of Nazi rule (1943-1945), and both totalitarian periods were actively forged by the local elites even during the forced Italianization perpetrated by the Fascists first, and the darkest moments of the Nazi genocide later. Both fascisms partly went hand in hand, and to some extent competed against each other. This double-bind-situation led in 1939 to the South Tyrol Option Agreement between Hitler and Mussolini as an attempt to solve the conflicting claims between German and Italian nationalism over the territory by means of racist biopolitics. The population were given the "option" of either emigrating to Nazi Germany (of which Austria was a part after the 1938 Anschluss) or remaining in Fascist Italy and being forcibly integrated into the mainstream Italian culture, losing their language and cultural heritage; a large majority opted to move to Germany. This very peculiar background initially led in the aftermath of World War II to some very biased elaborations which only in recents years have been replaced by more balanced and reflected accounts. The traditional historiography on the above mentioned topics was basically ethnocentric and could not live up to the remnants of the totalitarian periods which over a long period remained identitarian symbols. Only during the last decade, there have been various attempts to cope with the fascist and nazi legacy within the public space. For instance, the remaining outer perimeter of the former Bolzano's Nazi concentration camp has been preserved and transformed into a memorial, along with two other memory sites dedicated to the inmates of the camp and their hard time. Also the still existing Monument to Victory, erected in 1926-28 on direct order of the Italian dictator Mussolini, has only recently been used as the site of a comprehensive permanent exhibition, dealing with the fascist and nazi period. In 2016, the initiative has been granted a special commendation by the Judging Panel of the European Museum of the Year Award which pointed out that "the exhibition reintegrates a controversial monument, which has long served as the focal point of battles over politics, culture, and regional identity," adding that "the project is a highly courageous and professional initiative to promote humanism, tolerance and democracy."
Similarly to the Monument to Victory, and as a sort of extension of the there installed exhibition, in 2017 also the monumental fascist bas-relief still existing on the front of the former Casa Littoria palace of Bozen-Bolzano underwent a historical-artistic intervention which now displays a quotation of the famous antifascist philosopher Hannah Arendt. While these important goals have been almost recently achieved, it still remains to assess, whether and how the South Tyrolean historic and didactic experience could be further improved by new elements aiming at an ongoing and long term transformation of public perception and appreciation of 20th century history.
On 25 June 2016, Austria's President Heinz Fischer and his wife Margit Fischer paid an official visit to the permanent exhibition displayed in the Monument to Victory.
The permanent exhibition within the Monument to Victory has been granted one of the Special Commendations of the EMYA-Price 2016!
From the statement of the International Jury: "The exhibition reintegrates a controversial monument, which has long served as the focal point of battles over politics, culture, and regional identity. The project is a highly courageous and professional initiative to promote humanism, tolerance and democracy."
The European Museum Forum has revealed the 49 nominees for the European Museum of the Year Award 2016, and the BZ '18-'45-Exhibition is among them!
Conference at the University of Hildesheim (Germany), January 12, 2015