Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Vetta d'Italia

At an elevation of 2911 metres, the summit of Vetta d’Italia stands at the northernmost extremity of present-day Italy on its border with Austria. The mountain’s name – which translates into English as ‘Peak of Italy’ - has been in use since 1905, when it was christened thus by Ettore Tolomei, an Italian nationalist, who claimed to have made its first ascent. However, this was no mere peak-bagging exercise: Tolomei was standing on the great Alpine divide, extending a thousand and one hundred kilometres, from Nice in the west to Rijeka in the east, which marked what he believed were the limits of the Italian realm. Today, this might not seem entirely implausible: after all, the current boundaries of Italy follow this crescent-shaped watershed – more or less – all the way from the Ligurian to the Adriatic coast.
Significantly however, up until 1905 the mountain had never had an Italian name. It had always been known as Klockerkarkopf and lay at the centre of the County of Tyrol which extended 70 km northwards to Bavaria and 120 km southwards to Trentino. It was very much part of the German-speaking world and formed part of the Hapsburg Austro-Hungarian Empire. In fact, the very first ascent of the Klockerkarkopf was documented as having been achieved 9 years previously by two Austrian climbers, Franz Hofer and Fritz Kögl. At the turn of the 20th century, Italian linguistic and cultural influence in the region was almost non-existent: 90% of the population in that part of Tyrol south of the Alpine watershed was German-speaking, the remaining 10% being divided almost equally between Italian and Ladin speakers. 
Since the time that Italy became united in 1866, a movement known as Italian irredentism had evolved whose aim was to annex territories which were deemed to be ‘Italian’, however flimsy these claims may have been. The irredentists set their sights on areas such as the County of Nice, Corsica, Ticino, Dalmatia and Malta, but also all the territory that extended as far north as Vetta d’Italia and the continental divide. Tolomei was one of the most fervent advocates of this territorial expansion. 
When Archduke Franz-Ferdinand, the heir presumptive to the Austro-Hungarian throne was assassinated in Sarajevo a hundred years ago, it sparked off a chain of events that led to the Great War of 1914-18 and ultimately to the break-up of the Hapsburg Empire. Initially, Italy entered the war on the side of the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire). As part of a strategy to get the Kingdom of Italy to change sides, in 1915 a secret pact known as the Treaty of London was signed by the Triple Entente (United Kingdom, France and Russia) which pledged that Italy would, on cessation of hostilities, “obtain Cisalpine Tyrol with its geographical and natural frontier (the Brenner frontier)”.  
In the intervening years between his ascent of the Klockerkarkopf and the start of the First World War, Tolomei had been hard at work developing arguments for the Italian annexation of the southern half of Tyrol. Even before 1915 Tolomei had conceived a plan to Italianise its place names. By 1916 he had published the Prontuario dei nomi locali dell'Alto Adige, a translation into Italian of over 10,000 names for villages, hamlets and geographical features in the region, the vast majority of which had hitherto had only German toponyms. But to add real substance to his pretensions for Italian expropriation of the region, he presented this list as the ‘re-Italianisation’ of names which, he claimed, had been Germanized not many generations before. Legend has it that Woodrow Wilson, the American president, was so convinced by these claims that this was one of the key determining factors in the future of the territory.
In 1919, after the war had ended, the Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye was signed by the victorious Allies (including Italy) on the one hand, and by the remnants of the Austro-Hungarian powers on the other. Significant territorial losses were suffered by Austria, not least the southern German-speaking half of the County of Tyrol south of the Brenner Pass, known as South Tyrol (German: Süd-Tirol). The promises made in the Treaty of London had been kept.
When South Tyrol was ceded to Italy in 1919, self-determination and the preservation of linguistic and cultural institutions were still firmly on the agenda. In 1921, free and democratic elections were held, with the Deutscher Verband winning close to 90% of the votes in the newly formed Provincia di Venezia Tridentina. Nevertheless, events were overtaken in 1922 when the fascists came to power in Rome. One of the first actions of the new government was to withdraw the special privileges that had been given to the South Tyrolese and an Italianisation programme for the region was started in earnest by none other than Ettore Tolomei. This went much further than the ‘mere’ Italianisation of place names and included 32 measures, such as the introduction of Italian as the official language, dismissal of German-speaking officials, the use of Italian only in trials and courts and the establishment of Italian-only schools throughout the region. An assimilation programme was introduced by Mussolini who established an industrial zone on the outskirts of the capital of South Tyrol, Bozen/Bolzano, which led to the influx of thousands of Italians into the region. By 1939, their numbers had risen to 25% of the overall population.
With the rise of the Third Reich and the annexation of Austria by Germany (Die Anschluss), Hitler surprisingly did nothing to assuage the concerns of the German-speaking population of South Tyrol and he made a pact with Mussolini in which they were given the “option” of either leaving their 1300-year homeland to resettle in the Reich, or staying and accepting complete assimilation (=Italianisation). And although 80% opted to leave, most of them returned at the end of the Second World War.   
The South Tyrolese had hoped that the borders would be redrawn at the end of the Second World War and the region returned to Austrian control, but this was heavily contested by Italy in the negotiations that followed. Ultimately, it was agreed that South Tyrol would be given much greater autonomy within Italy. Amongst other things German speakers were granted the right to elementary and secondary teaching in their mother-tongue. The degree of self-government was limited however, not least by the fact that South Tyrol became conjoined with Province of Trentino to the south to form the Region of Trentino-Alto-Adige, with Italian being the majority language of the combined provinces. With regard to education, for instance, German schools were obliged to make Italian-language teaching compulsory, but not the other way round. And Italian remained the de jure language of public office.   
In 1972 a new autonomy agreement was signed which virtually severed the administrative links between South Tyrol and Trentino. The province would be given a greater degree of self-determination within the region and Austria would not interfere in its internal affairs. Nowadays, South Tyrol - in terms of GDP per capita - is one of the richest provinces of Italy. The majority of its citizens are quite happy to enjoy the special status they have with Rome rather than waste their time demanding a return to Austria. An importnat bone of contention today remains the language however. Whilst 60% of the province's current population have German as their mother tongue, the vast majority of Italian speakers in the region are concentrated in the major urban centres such as Bozen/Bolzano and Meran/Merano. This means that cultural and linguistic fabric of South Tyrol is still overwhelmingly ‘German’.
Surprisingly however, the topographical names for settlements and geographical features which - to all intents and purposes - have been German for a thousand years or so are still not officially recognised, but simply ‘tolerated’. Only Italian place names are accepted by the authorities, this having been laid down in law by decrees in 1923 and 1940. For the greater part, these Italianised place names date only as far back as the time of Tolomei, the inventor of ‘Alto Adige’, whose contrived contention was that since the Italians were the direct descendants of the Romans who conquered the region in the first century BC, it was only right for Italian names to hold precedence. So today, the hundreds of thousands of tourists crossing the Brenner every summer might be forgiven for thinking that they had entered a truly ‘mixed’ language region.
Of course, sizeable settlements (such as Bozen/Bolzano, Brixen/Bressanone, Meran/Merano), major lines of communication (Eisacktal/Val d’Isarco, Pustertal/Val Pusteria), and prominent geographical features (Die Drei Zinnen/Tre Cime di Lavaredo, Rosengarten/Catinaccio) would have always had their Italian equivalents. The vast majority of Tolomei’s Italianised toponyms however, were simply made up or given a literal translation. Villages, isolated valleys and mountain peaks (including Vetta d’Italia) which had been untouched by Italian culture suddenly found themselves with an Italian name.
Take Bletterbach, for example. In Italian the name is Rio delle Foglie or ‘river of leaves’, since ‘leaves’ is a direct translation of Blätter, the German equivalent. However, Bletterbach has nothing to do with leaves: the hydronym (river name) comprises the Tyrolean verb ‘plettern’, which means to flow swiftly’. The example here is just one of countless which are highlighted on toponomastik.com, a site which lays bare the illogicality of Tolomei’s Prontuario.
Since the mid-nineties there has been a movement in South Tyrol to redress the balance. The aim of the Arbeitsgruppe der Vereine für Ortsnamengebung – a mix of German-speaking community-based and cultural organisations – has been to repeal the decrees of 1923 and 1940 which stipulate that Tolomei’s Prontuario is the only valid register of place names in the province. What the Arbeitsgruppe wants is for toponyms to reflect the historical character of the places they represent. This means that place names should only be bilingual where there is a truly bilingual community with a significant linguistic minority. It is based on a internationally recognised system which is applied in bilingual regions throughout Europe, such as Catalonia, Wales, Belgium and Friesland.
Be that as it may, the movement has only met with limited success. One organisation that supports the initiative, the Alpenverein Südtirol (Alpine club), has been replacing waymarking signs for hikers in mountain areas to reflect the local and historic toponomy. But this has led to counter-protests, since Italian-only speakers - so the argument goes - might conceivably get lost in the hills because the names on the signposts no longer tally with the names on the topographic maps.
As it happens, Rome seems dead set against making any concessions. As far as the government is concerned, Tolomei’s Prontuario dei nomi locali dell'Alto Adige remains the toponymic be-all and end-all for South Tyrol and any challenge to demean Italian national integrity is likely to fall on deaf ears - at least for the time being.

Monday, 5 May 2014

Farewell Eredivisie

After 41 years in the top flight, my local football team, Roda JC Kerkrade, was relegated to the second tier of Dutch football last weekend. With it the province of Limburg disappears from the Eredivisie soccer map. The article below, which I have translated into English, recently appeared in the national daily newspaper, NRC Handelsblad: 

Roda relegated:  Football in Limburg and the battle to survive 
When the Netherlands was powered by coal, Limburg had more than enough money to spend on football. The relegation of Roda JC now means that the province is no longer represented in the Dutch Eredivisie. NRC correspondent, Paul van der Steen, gives us a potted history. 

The fifties
In the early fifties, the Dutch football association (KNVB) was determined to keep the sport an amateur one. Players who went abroad for money met with disfavour. In 1954, the Geleen-based businessman, Gied Joosten, defied the ban and founded the first professional football team in the Netherlands, Fortuna ’54. It was a side of local talent, augmented by top players who had been lured back from abroad, including, Cor van der Hart (from Lille), and goalkeeper, Frans de Munck (1 FC Cologne), nicknamed the ‘Black Panther’. The club from Geleen would later attract Bram Appel (from Lausanne) and Faas Wilkes (who had previously played for Inter Milan and FC Torino).
At the time, the Dutch economy ran on coal and the coalmining regions of Limburg were amongst the most prosperous in the country. Joosten became chairman of the NBVB, an alternative football association that represented professionals. It wasn’t long before the KNVB realised that the tide of professional football could no longer be turned and the rival associations merged. Fortuna ’54 never achieved a position higher than second place in the newly formed Eredivisie, but this was primarily due to their congested fixture list, since the club had a proclivity for accepting lucrative offers to play against top European opposition. 

The sixties 
 In the mid-1960s, the Dutch Minister of Economic Affairs, Joop den Uyl came to Heerlen to announce to the world that the coalmines in Limburg would be phased out. There was no future in coal and South Limburg would have to reinvent itself.
This was no less true of the Limburg football clubs during the decade. Kerkrade-based club, Rapid JC, finished bottom of the league in 1962 and merged with local rivals, Roda Sport, who were then playing in the second tier. In the following season, the club that now represented the Oostelijke Mijnstreek (Heerlen, Kerkrade, Landgraaf) in Dutch football was relegated to the second division. It was only in the early seventies that the team from Kerkrade managed to gain promotion back to the top flight – and this is where they have stayed ever since.
In the Westelijke Mijnstreek (Sittard and Geleen), Fortuna ’54 (seventeenth) and Sittardia (eighteenth) reached their lowest ebb in the 1967-68 season. Both teams, in financial disarray, were relegated. As a result, they decided to join forces and form a new club, Fortuna Sittard. Because the Rotterdam-based club, Xerxes/DHC, went bust, Fortuna Sittard was allowed to play in the first division, only to be relegated again the next season. Fortuna Sittard only returned to the top flight again in 1982. 

The seventies 
Two contemporaries, both called Willy, were amongst the best footballers that Limburg ever produced. Willy Dullens, born in Sittard in 1945, was proclaimed footballer of the year in 1966, and that as a second division player. Johan Cruijff once said that, from a technical point of view, he perhaps had more footballing talent than himself. However, Dullens' career was ended in 1968 by a knee injury.
Willy Brokamp (born 1946) came from Kerkrade and from an early age he had been targeted by a number of major Dutch clubs. Nevertheless, for a long time he chose to play for MVV Maastricht, where he was able to combine his football with running a cafe on the main square there, the Vrijthof. In 1973, Brokamp won the golden boot award in the Dutch first division and the next year plumped for a move to Ajax. The Limburger, who was not picked for the World Cup squad in 1974, supposedly because of an attitude problem, had a taste for the night life in Amsterdam too. Against the wishes of his employers, he moved into an apartment on the Leidseplein, in the capital’s entertainment district. In the two seasons he spent with Ajax he scored a total of twenty goals. He later spent another two seasons with MVV. 

The eighties 
VVV Venlo fans too have had their ups and downs over the decades: they won the cup in 1959, finished third in the first division two years later, experienced relegation to the second and third division, whilst also having intermittent periods in the top flight. A few years ago, these fans could have been excused for thinking that their stay in the top tier of Dutch football would be extended, thanks to the signing of Japanese hotshot, Keisuke Honda, and there were plans for the development of a new, larger stadium on the banks of the River Maas.
The proposals were shelved however, and VVV stayed in De Koel, the ground where the club had enjoyed their most recent glory years. Twice – in 1986-87 and 1987-88 - they finished fifth, with players such as Stan Valkx and Remy Reinierse. Top clubs would arrive at De Koel quaking in their boots. In those two seasons Feyenoord lost 2-0 and 3-0, and Ajax 3-1 and 3-0. The trainer of VVV at the time, Jan Reker, kept a log of players’ penalty habits (known ‘Reker’s little book’) and so helped contribute to the international success of goalkeeper Hans van Breukelen with PSV (European Cup) and the Dutch national team (European Championship). 

The nineties 
These were the last golden years for professional football in Limburg. With the Nigerian striker, Tijjani Babangidam, and a string of local players (including Eric van der Luer, Maurice Graef, Mark Luijpers and Ger Senden), Roda JC – under the management of Huub Stevens - finished second in the 1994-95 season. The club also won the Dutch cup in 1997 and 2000.
In the same year that Roda JC finished runners-up, Fortuna Sittard took the second division title. In the years that followed, Fortuna enjoyed a stable period in the top flight. Their best season was in 1997-98 when they were ranked seventh in the table. The squad that year was full of talented young players, such as Kevin Hofland, Fernando Ricksen, Patrick Paauwe, Wilfred Bouma and Mark van Bommel.
In the season that followed, when Fortuna finished tenth, the coach who would eventually lead the Dutch team to the 2010 World Cup final made his management debut with Fortuna in the first division: Bert van Marwijk. 

The noughties 
Roda JC had two narrow escapes in the end-of-season play-offs, managing to stave off relegation in 2009 and 2013. This season there was no miracle and the club went down in the last game of the season without even securing a place in the relegation play-offs.

Many fans will look back at the sacking of their trainer Ruud Brood in mid-December on account his ‘disappointing results’. Under Brood, the Kerkrade-based club accumulated eighteen points and under the leadership of his successor, the young and inexperienced Jon Dahl Tomasson, just eleven.
Others will point to the constant unrest within the club, for example, the discontent surrounding the performance of managing director, Marcel van den Bunder, or the unfulfilled promises of a cash injection by Roda’s former sugar daddy, Nol Hendriks.
For the first time in the history of professional football in the Netherlands, the likelihood is that there will be no place at the top table of Dutch football for a team from Limburg next season. The chances of VVV or Fortuna Sittard advancing from the promotion play-offs in the second division are slim. MVV, which scrapped its youth set-up this year, missed out on qualification for these play-offs. And, in addition to the poor performances on the field, all four clubs are fighting a constant battle to keep their finances afloat.

It’s clearly not a good time for football in Limburg.

The original Dutch article can be found here.
Other articles on Roda JC that have appeared in this blog: