Category Archives: Heimat

A SLAPP in the mountains

South Tyrol, an autonomous region in Northeastern Italy where German and Italian languages co-exist, is best known for its spectacular mountain peaks and lush vineyards. Tourists flock to it in increasingly record numbers for its ski and hiking trails, its bike paths and thermal baths, and its food offer that ranges from gourmet pizzas to traditional Knödel. 

The diversity of this offer never translated into the media landscape, long dominated by the mighty Athesia publishing house. Still, a variety of voices existed until, little by little, Athesia morphed into a regional monopoly so powerful that, its critics say, is threatening the very essence of democracy: pluralism and freedom of the press. Many in this idyllic region now fear that Athesia’s recent legal action against the small independent news portal is a sign that its intolerance versus any kind of criticisms has reached dangerous levels.

Athesia currently controls about 80% of all regional media and advertising business in Italian and German, both official languages in South Tyrol. It publishes the most important newspapers, operates news portals, radio stations, as well as bookstores in all major towns.

It is joined at the hip with the Südtiroler Volkspartei (SVP, the people’s party), which has ruled South Tyrol since 1945. Athesia’s CEO Michl Ebner (70) has been an SVP politician for most of his life, sitting in the Italian and European Parliaments for a combined 30+ years. He has been president of the local Chamber of Commerce for the past 15 years (and currently running for a fourth term). His brother Toni has been the publisher of the largest-circulation  Athesia newspaper, the ubiquitous Dolomiten, since 1995.

Only a handful of non-Athesia media (in whatever form or language) have survived Athesia’s insatiable appetite. One of them is the news portal Salto, which was founded ten years ago by the independent Demos 2.0 cooperative. With its online and bilingual format (journalists and columnists publish in their own language, without translation), Salto clearly caters to an audience that has come to value pluralism not only in terms of languages but also of political, cultural and social views; this readership is open to criticizing a political system which seems impervious to change even as the climate crisis (to name just one topic) questions a local economy largely based on intensive agriculture and over tourism. 

The success of the portal, with around 30,000 regular users and subscribers, and the lively conversations in its community and commentary sections, are a testament to its importance as a much-needed space for healthy discussion and open exchange of ideas.

Compared to Athesia’s media empire, its readership remains relatively small. But through unmatched investigative journalism and newsworthy scoops, Salto has also acquired a reputation of fierce independence, as it takes its job as watchdog of the local mighty and powerful seriously. Inevitably, they include the dominant political party and publisher but, for Athesia, this seems to be an intolerable affront. 

So much so that it has taken the unprecedented step of accusing Salto of “media stalking:” on February 9, 2023, Salto’s publishers were sued by Athesia for alleged defamation. In the claim, which has raised alarm bells throughout the region and has been reported in national and international media, Athesia’s lawyers list 58 articles published on between 2018 and 2022, which, they write, are proof of a “continuous and pressing smear campaign” against the Athesia Group and the Ebner family. 

The stories, some of which are opinion pieces, report political and economic events surrounding Athesia, the Chamber of Commerce (chaired by Michl Ebner), and the media monopoly in the Trentino-South Tyrol region. They include interviews with local politicians, journalists or consumer advocates, who look critically at the activities of the Athesia publishing house.

The indictment lists only the titles and publication dates, without any detailed reasons for the alleged misconduct, or any indication of false allegations, misstating of facts etc. The authors of the stories are accused of “media stalking” and the crime of “slanderous insinuations of collusion with political parties and public administration.”

For this alleged “persistent and urgent defamation campaign” Athesia’s lawyers ask for a fine of 150,000 euros, which the publisher intends to donate to charity.

Salto publisher Max Benedikter and editor Fabio Gobbato believe that “the claim for damages is an attempt to prevent the publication of critical news and investigative research.” They also see clear signs of a classic SLAPP lawsuit (strategic lawsuit against public participation) “by which an overbearing media company wants to eliminate an inconvenient competitor. It involves silencing a critical media outlet.”

They vow to “not give up on continuing to carry out, promote and enable independent and critical journalism – the founding principles of”

While Athesia’s journalists and media outlets continue to offer a deafening silence on the issue, the lawsuit has struck a chord in local civil society, in what seems to be the straw that broke the camel’s back. 

An appeal penned by a local historian has now been signed by over 1.200 people, representing concerned citizens, politicians, teachers, students, union representatives, and activists, many of whom believe – or at least hope – that the media giant’s latest action will backfire. As the German newspaper FAZ noted,  the fight against the young David did not end well for the giant Goliath.

Italy Reconnects

A wonderful hike in spectacular weather offered a much-needed sense of optimism about the future. The landscape unveiled by the Great Reopening ain’t pretty. But last Sunday, the focus was only the beauty and the clear air we were breathing – for the first time in weeks our lungs did not seem afraid of whatever was coming in. 

The bus and the cablecar rides were strage, as they are these days. But once up up on the mountain, where there are no tourists not yen even many hikers, it does not take long to reconnect with your happier self.

And I have reconnected with many other things, habits, and people since the lockdown ended.

The best: a visit (or three!) to the hairdresser (which, for the next pandemic, should be deemed essential business); a cup of coffee and a lovely conversation in the sun-drenched town square, where all bars are back in business and the rows of empty chairs you saw in earlier pictures are now welcoming a few customers; and, very basically and very simply, ice cream (yes, I know, it’s now called gelato).

Significantly, the city’s Saturday morning market is back, and with it Bolzano’s quintessential weekend ritual of strolling through produce stands to get your week’s worth of bread, fruit and vegetables from local producers, usually followed by a long aperitivo with friends.

I had the last in-person aperitivo with friends on the Saturday before the lockdown, when we knew what was inevitably coming but we didn’t know what was coming. So it seemed only fit to celebrate in the same place – there is enough space in the open-air cafés to do so safely…. But no, it does not feel the same, with masks + distance, but the memory of what this Saturday morning ritual means is too strong to keep away. That, and a good Hugo, of course….

On top of this, local indicators continue to show great improvements – only a handful of new infections over the past week; no new hospitalizations; Rt at 0.45; ICUs in the low single digits for the past two weeks or so…. Three weeks after the end of the lockdown, it looks like we are managing to keep infections down! Of course, caution is the word, but a little anxious optimism is warranted, and we should rightly be proud and enjoy the things we missed dearly during the Great Lockdown. At least until we open up our borders, welcome tourists back, and increase the contagion curve all over again! (But let’s hope not!)

We are, for sure, enjoying our well-earned #Fase2. But, as I said, it ain’t pretty. The economic and social losses are growing, and will only increase with the looming disaster of the summer tourism season, whose impact on Italy is hard to quantify.

The hardest part for me are the significant changes to our social life – the constant physical distance, no hugs, no handshakes. It’s hard for extroverts! You can’t embrace friends you haven’t seen in months because of the pandemic, yet this is precisely why you want a bearhug when you finally meet again!

And yes, we must wear the masks, but just how annoying and depressing it is to hide so much of who you are, and not “seeing” the others, including all the clues that help you navigate any social situation better than a thousand words?

So I shudder when I hear catchphrases like “this is our new normal“- there’s nothing normal about it! This cohabitation with SARS-CoV-2 feels like a forced marriage which will impose profound changes to our way of life. For how long? Who knows. During the lockdown we had one clear, collective goal: flatten the curve, protect the healthcare system and its ICUs, learn as much as possible about the virus so as to eradicate it as soon as possible.

I miss that clarity. I miss the hope we had that things would magically change for the better (Andrà tutto bene!) The awareness that this was only wishful thinking and we should have known better is depressing. 

I therefore expect that much more ice cream and many more hikes will be needed to endure this arranged marriage with the virus. I will indulge in both!

But will need more to survive the time between now and the divorce from SARS-CoV2 (because divorcing this thing we will!) We need to think a bit harder about how to do things differently. Change does not magically happens – not even during a pandemic – and the hard work is just beginning. But first, will try a few new flavors!

May The 4th Be With Italy

And so, today, we switched back on. Not every shop or every profession, but several million Italians are back in business and at their desks. 

Our cities have been slowly coming back to life for the he past couple of weeks, and today they eventually lost that unique, almost sacred look of meaningful emptiness that we will miss while also celebrating its demise. 

I was a bit emotional when I greeted the owners of the kebab shop and the pizzeria around the corner who reopened today, albeit for takeaway only. It was like seeing a long-lost friend, somebody you thought you might never meet again, a collateral damage of the pandemic, who will hopefully weather the storm of the new economic and social normal. Which looks much scarier than the lockdown now!

Gone are statements like Everything will change! Everything is the same – but uglier, with masks, gloves, queues in front of every shop and supermarket, long lines to get on a bus, no place to enjoy live culture or art, dreadful financial prospects for many family and businesses, and, still, very much unreal.

And yet, every key indicator (contagion, ICUs occupancy, deaths) shows that we hammered that freakin’ curve, that the lockdown did reach its goal. We did it. We managed what looked so difficult. And so we must now with some confidence wade into a new uncertainty – en masse, with byzantine rules about whom we are allowed to visit, and very much unsure about what will happen when cases will rise again, or if a second wave hits, and with no sense of the herculean task ahead of changing a whole educational system in just a matter of months…

So, for now, the known unknowns – the real contagion rate and the number of asymptomatic cases – mandate a very cautious approach. 

And the lack of a systematic and well-communicated tracing, testing, and treatment protocol suggests that isolation and social distancing is, for those who can afford it, still the most sensible and responsible way forward  – especially if I want to keep visiting my parents (they are still ok!).

Plus, with schools closed and telework still mandatory, we can keep on with our very limited but comfortable schedule – Alex is whizzing through his online exams and Anna through her online classes, as if that’s what they have been doing for their education all along.

On the plus side, we do get to enjoy walks and bike rides. We are having a stunningly beautiful spring weather.  And as we all know, hope springs eternal!


The sign of my neighborhood kebab joint, owned by a Kurdish refugee family. Was glad to see them reopen today, and am looking forward to their fabulous kebabs.

My Empty City

I went downtown yesterday, for the first time in six weeks. A few more shops have opened, and I needed a replacement for SodaStream (the one thing I missed during isolation!) So I was allowed to venture outside the 400m-limit currently imposed in my town for simple walks (a doubling from the initial 200m!)

Click here to share my walk… Enjoy!

It was a beautiful, melancholic walk through Bolzano’s quiet streets. It’s hot – as is normal now, we moved straight from winter into summer. Normally it would be difficult to move around in the city’s most narrow streets, as it would be the peak tourism season, before the crowds choose the mountains’ cool weather over our sizzling summer. Looking at all the empty outdoor tables I wondered if we will be able to welcome back visitors in a different way. Safer, for sure – this is what everybody is talking about. Tourism is too important for us and for Italy not to take this very seriously. But we cannot think only about how to limit its infection rates when we think about reopening tourism – we could also use this tragedy to think about how to limit overcrowding, exploiting nature to the point of no return, emptying the souls of our wonderful towns..

The pictures of my walk … here you can share it

Non sprecare risorse e non sprecare fiducia

A proposito degli scaldacollo comprati dalla Provincia

In una terra dove ogni abitante nasce praticamente dotato di sciarpa, e chiunque passa qui in inverno se ne procura subito una, la distribuzione di scaldacolli pagati con i soldi pubblici ha suscitato molte perplessità.

Forse l’intenzione era buona: sappiamo ormai che coprirsi la bocca quando si esce è sicuramente da raccomandare, visto l’alto numero di asintomatici tra di noi. Dobbiamo comportarci tutti come se fossimo portatori sani (perché potremmo non avere mai sintomi, o potremmo avere i primi sintomi domani, mettendo a rischio ogni nostro contatto già oggi).

In Italia abbiamo passato settimane a discutere sull’utilità delle mascherine (la stessa identica discussione che si ripete oggi in altri paesi): serve, non serve, serve solo a chi è ammalato o ai ai medici…. La realtà è che, se ce ne fossero abbastanza, le dovremmo mettere tutti – non per proteggerci (per quello devono essere molto tecnologiche), ma per proteggere gli altri dalle nostre goccioline potenzialmente infette. Un altro tassello nella grande tela della responsabilità che, fino al vaccino, sarà l’unica arma per fermare il contagio.

Quindi l’invito a coprirsi la faccia, ripetuto incessantemente dal Landeshauptman Arno Kompatscher e dall’assessore provinciale alla sanità Thomas Widmann in tutte le conferenze stampa quotidiane della Giunta, è senz’altro appropriato, e deve continuare. Usate la sciarpe, le bandane, gli scaldacollo che avete in casa, hanno esortato, indossandone uno anche loro. Un ottimo esempio che, fin qui, andava benissimo.

Ma spendere 450mila euro (il prezzo confermato dal direttore dell’Azienda Sanitaria Florian Zerzer secondo l’Alto Adige del 23 marzo) per una spesa assolutamente non necessaria in un momento in cui i soldi pubblici servono per tenere in vita le persone e l’economia (e serviranno per un lungo periodo) è un grave errore – di strategia e di percezione.

È importante però che errori come quello degli scaldacollo non vengano ripetuti, affinché le risorse finanziare e umane si concentrino su quello che è imperativo fare e affinché continui la fiducia nelle istituzioni, il collante che terrà insieme la fondamentale risposta sociale alla pandemia.

Di strategia, perché si usano risorse che potevano essere usate meglio e perché, oltre ai soldi, è stato speso tempo per cercarle, farle arrivare, distribuirle. E di percezione, perché sembra che la Giunta si occupi di cose inutili, senza pensare alle conseguenze (la gente che esce di casa apposta per prenderle), con l’aggravante che le bandane sono state acquistate da una ditta di proprietà dei cugini dell’assessore Widmann. Le critiche vengono rigettate come attacchi alla lotta contro la pandemia. “Lasciateci lavorare,” dice Widmann.

Nelle scorse settimane molti politici e imprenditori locali si erano scagliati contro la Germania che allertava della presenza di focolai di coronavirus nelle nostre località sciistiche.

Così come erano ampiamente legittimi gli allarmi della Germania, interrogarsi sulla validità di questo costosissimo acquisto è giustificato. Non si critica per il gusto di farlo, ma per aiutare a migliorare il tiro in corso d’opera. 

Ora è il momento di lavorare insieme e andare avanti. Dobbiamo riconoscere che il LH e tutti gli assessori stanno facendo sforzi sovrumani per arginare la marea del virus, e dobbiamo tutti sostenere questo sforzo, insieme a quello degli eroi in prima linea – infermieri, medici, tutto il personale ospedaliero. 

È importante però che errori come quello degli scaldacollo non vengano ripetuti, affinché le risorse finanziare e umane si concentrino su quello che è imperativo fare e affinché continui la fiducia nelle istituzioni, il collante che terrà insieme la fondamentale risposta sociale alla pandemia.

Nella conferenza stampa del 23 marzo, il Presidente Kompatscher con una mascherina, lascando allo scaldacollo il compito dato dal suo nome