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Italy’s Ladin minority win boundary fight

November 2, 2007

By Guy Dinmore in Rome, Published: November 2 2007

The Ladins, an ancient people with an endangered language living in the valleys of Italy’s most exclusive ski resort, have won the first round of a long battle to reunite their minority, and enjoy a better tax regime.

In a referendum last weekend, residents of three localities – Cortina d’Ampezzo, Livinallongo del Col di Lana and Colle Santa Lucia – voted overwhelmingly to change their administrative boundaries and transfer from one region to another.

Representatives of the 40,000-strong community in the Dolomites see the move as righting a wrong inflicted by the Fascist regime in 1927, which in its forced Italianisation campaign split the five valleys of the Ladins among different administrations.

“It was divide et impera [divide and rule],” commented David Lardschneider with some irony.

Ladin – not to be confused with the Judaeo-Spanish Ladino – is a neo-Latin language that came out of the conquest by Roman legions of the Rhaetian people of the Alps 2,000 years ago. Germanic tribes drove them into their valley enclaves 500 years later.

By voting for divorce from Veneto to join the neighbouring region of Trentino-Alto Adige, called South Tyrol by the German-speaking majority there, the Ladins of Cortina will have more rights as a minority in schools, public office and use of language.

The Italian-speaking elite who maintain their luxury second homes in Cortina – “the pearl of the Dolomites” that hosted the 1958 winter Olympics – as well as Hollywood stars and minor European royals, are not amused by the prospect, however.

Still, despite their fears of a change in tone if Cortina is opened up for mass tourism, not enough turned up to vote to defeat the referendum.

Mr Lardschneider, who works for La Usc di Ladins (The Voice of Ladins), a weekly newspaper with a circulation of 4,000, said the tax issue was a less important factor.

As an autonomous region, Trentino-Alto Adige is allowed by Rome to keep a higher percentage of its tax revenues, which support local development.

Property laws also favour locals. Mr Lardschneider said the “aborigines” of the Alps were leaving Cortina as they could no longer afford to buy a home.

A long and tricky legal path lies ahead. Changing boundaries requires approval by the national parliament. The governor of Veneto is fiercely opposed.

Cortina is not alone in its desire to move, and a centralist Rome fears an avalanche of similar cases. The rightwing opposition is divided over the issue, although strong support comes from the Northern League, which formerly campaigned for northern Italy’s secession and now seeks a stronger federal system.

“We are in favour of the principle of self-determination. People can choose to stay where they want inside Italian territory,” said Roberto Maroni, a senior Northern League parliamentarian and former minister.

Both sides are warning they will take their case to Brussels.

“The first mountain is climbed, but we have many more to go,” says Mr Lardschneider.

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