International research on ethnic groups with a strong South Tyrolean reference
The statutory objective of the South Tyrolean Institute of Ethnic Groups is to devote itself to the widest possible scientific treatment of the ethnic group issue and, in particular, to the rights of ethnic groups in Europe, and this with a holistic, interdisciplinary and at the same time practice-oriented approach.
The Institute currently has approximately 70 members. The majority of them represent a broad spectrum of economic, social, and cultural interests and opinions in South Tyrol. In addition, there are also members from outside of South Tyrol who support the objectives of the Institute. The Autonomous Region of Trentino-South Tyrol joined in 1996 (until 2015), in 1997 the Union Generela di Ladins dles Dolomites (General Union of Dolomite Ladins) which is the umbrella organization of Dolomite Ladins, and in 2016 the European Academy of Bolzano (EURAC Research) became members. In these occasions, the membership was expanded to also include organizations.
The SVI operates an avowedly applied science. In other words: science for us is a means to an end in order to "make a difference" in terms of cultural and legal policy, to make a contribution to the cultural-linguistic preservation of the two ethnic groups (German-speaking and Ladin) in South Tyrol, namely based on informative and argumentative foundations and in contact with decision-makers, and also to solve the ethnic group question in Europe. This requires a direct coupling of theory and practice.
The SVI benefits from its more than 50 years of existence in achieving his objectives. Accordingly, it was able to gain direct experience already during the first South Tyrolean autonomy and during the implementation of the second South Tyrolean autonomy and since the mid-1980s to build up a dense network of scientific relations in Europe. In addition it has a rich potential of valuable contacts with important representatives of the ethnic groups on the affected side and many decision makers in particular at the head of minority organizations, but also in international bodies (such as the Council of Europe, the EU, the OSCE, the UN).
The concrete objective of the SVI is based on a clear content-based concept, which is based on many years of direct experience with South Tyrol's autonomy. Ultimately, it is about making South Tyrol's advantage of experience available to other ethnic groups in Europe and, conversely, making the experiences of other European ethnic groups in South Tyrol known, thereby contributing to the national and international stability of South Tyrol's autonomy.
All three of these factors allow the SVI to work with a high level of flexibility and efficiency despite (or because) of its relatively small organizational structure.
DEVELOPMENT OF THE INSTITUTE
The South Tyrolean Institute of Ethnic Groups (SVI) was founded in 1960 under the name “South Tyrolean Economic and Social Institute” with the purpose of researching the economic and social difficulties faced by the German and Ladin-speaking ethnic groups in South Tyrol and supplying practical solutions. The Institute fulfilled this founding goal for three decades.
In the course of this time, the Institute has, of course, also undergone a change in content. Treating economic and social matters was not possible without simultaneously dealing with the cultural, educational, and ecological conditions in South Tyrol, as well as with the legal preconditions of autonomy.
Because of the fact that while the second autonomy for South Tyrol was being built up, several special institutions for basic economic and social concerns came into existence (such as the Institute for Business Support, the Institute for Economic Research, the Institute for Labor Support, the Ecological Institute, etc.), the Institute has been able to dedicate itself more and more to a comprehensive way of examining South Tyrol's society as a whole and its linguistic groups. The South Tyrolean Institute of Ethnic Groups thus developed gradually out of the South Tyrolean Economic and Social Institute, no longer focussing only on partial aspects but, rather, on the overall matter of three linguistic groups in South Tyrol living together.
When the question of nationalities once again became acute with greater vehemence after the changes in Europe in 1990, the continent’s attention suddenly turned to South Tyrol. Out of a negative conflict, which was threatening to degenerate into the use of violence, a positive resolution of the conflict was achieved through political negotiations, making possible the peaceful cohabitation of the three linguistic groups in South Tyrol with the help of the Second Autonomy Statute. Against this background, the Institute found itself increasingly in demand from outside of South Tyrol as a partner in dialogue, in order to convey the historic experience of South Tyrol in a scholarly, objective manner to those who were interested in solutions to similar problems. The demand of this sort for the Institute is enormous. In fact, in Europe there are over 350 national or ethnic minorities with, in total, a population of 107 million (which corresponds to one seventh of all Europeans!), of which many want to take advantage of the potential of South Tyrol's experience and its head start in the field. The Institute has taken on this challenge in solidarity with the destiny of many sorely afflicted ethnic groups, but also as a sign of gratitude for the many selfless acts of assistance, which South Tyrol was able to receive from outside the province during difficult times.
The Institute also took these developments into account when, in 1995, it expanded its mission statement in its bylaws to the effect of wanting to make a constructive contribution, in the spirit of solidarity, to the solution of the problems of ethnic minorities in Europe through research, exchanges of experience, and international cooperation. As a final step, in 1996 the name of the Institute was changed to the South Tyrolean Institute of Ethnic Groups, thereby also dropping the original restriction of the mission statement to only economic and social problems, which had been overtaken by development, in favor of the collective problems in the matter of ethnic groups in South Tyrol.
In the period between 1961 and 2013, the activities of the Institute were significantly influenced by its then director, the economics and social scientist Prof. Christoph Pan, both in terms of the economic and social concerns of the South Tyrolean ethnic groups and, from 1989, in terms of ethnic group issues in South Tyrol and in Europe. Prof. Pan worked as a university teacher at the Universities of Salzburg and Innsbruck. Due to his scientific expertise, he is one of the most renowned minority experts in Europe and as such has received several international awards.
In October 2013, the director of the institute, Prof. Pan, handed over the scientific management of the SVI in younger hands. His successor was Prof. Paul Videsott (Professor of Romance Philology / Ladinistics at the Free University of Bolzano). With the appointment of a linguist and Ladin as new head of the Institute, the SVI consciously focused fur the content on the Ladin question and methodically on applied linguistics in the broadest sense. At the same time, the small communities, whose share in the total number of European ethnic groups is over 80% and whose existence is particularly endangered, have come under the spotlight of scientific attention.