• Italy's news in English

Why Italy might not exist in five years

Published: 07 Apr 2014 11:00 GMT+02:00
Updated: 07 Apr 2014 13:24 GMT+02:00

For many foreigners, Italy seems to have a strong, unified identity. But its language, food culture, religion and history often blind the outsider to the fact that many Italians themselves fail to identify with the Italian state - and many are so disillusioned that they would like to break away from it altogether.

The polls tell their own story: an unofficial online referendum in Veneto - the region around Venice - saw 89 percent vote for separation from Italy. Two opinion polls in March put support for independence at 51 and 54 percent. Compare this to Scotland, where not a single poll has shown a majority for separation from the UK, and the seriousness of the challenge for Italy becomes clear. And the Venetians are not alone - Lombardy, Sicily and Sardinia all have significant independence movements.

Despite this, many ordinary people in other parts of Italy are dismissive about the various regions' pushes for independence.

“It’s all talk, talk, talk,” Massimo, who lives in Rome and works for a telecoms firm, tells The Local.

“We’ve seen it all before, especially in times of crisis, and especially with the Venetians: they seem to forget how much the rest of Italy actually helps them."

Giovanni, an engineer from the northern Italian city of Padua, agrees: “It’s totally crazy, but it’s always been the same in Italy.”

But despite facing this kind of scepticism, those pushing for independence believe they have a solid case.

In Sardinia, which has one of the highest unemployment rates in Italy, people are so disillusioned that some are only half-jokingly demanding to be made part of Switzerland, while last week Sicilian campaigners, waving banners in solidarity with their separatist counterparts, marched for independence in Palermo.

The separatists have so far been peaceful, although events in Venice almost took a violent turn last Wednesday when 24 activists allegedly plotted to ‘liberate’ St Mark’s Square with a homemade tank.

Italy only became a united country in 1861, and regional identities have remained strong ever since. Now, the lacklustre economy and huge public debt have combined with unease at the appointment of a second unelected government to further undermine the Italian state's credibility. This has given moves for regional independence fresh impetus, Giovanni Roversi, who heads up Pro Lombardy Independence, tells The Local.

“Matteo Renzi [Italy’s new prime minister], is like all the others,” he says.

“He didn’t get voted in…and I don’t think he’ll do much. The change of government has made us even more determined to take this forward.”

A similar vote to the one in Veneto is planned in Lombardy, although a date is yet to be set.

People have had enough of public money being wasted, Roversi says.

“The main problem is that Lombardy pays much more tax compared to other regions and it doesn’t get the services to match.”

Ironically, he says some of the fiercest opponents of independence are the region’s politicians. Last week, 64 regional councillors were accused of squandering €2.14 million worth of public funds on everything from premium wine and caviar to jars of Nutella and placing bets.

READ MORE HERE: Politicians 'wasted €2m' on fine wine and caviar

“Some politicians are worried about who will pay for their ice-creams,” he jokes.

He’s only in his late 20s, but Roversi harks back to an era before 1861, the year Italy was unified, as a model for his region’s democracy. Despite this he insists the plan is very much “focussed on the future”.

“Italy has always been a divided country,” he says.

“But what we want is for people to vote like they did before, for their towns, economy and politics…we want them to be able to vote for themselves and not things they can’t change.”

He also looks to neigbouring Switzerland for inspiration as it’s a country he says Lombardians “feel close to”. But unlike the Swiss, who recently voted to limited mass immigration, Lombardy’s plan will include “fully integrating” the region’s large number of foreigners, Roversi says.

“It’s not that we want to put borders up for people, we just need to be organized differently.”

Paolo Luca Bernardini, a professor of early modern European history at the University of Insubria in Como who helped organize the Veneto poll, tells The Local that “almost everywhere in Italy, there’s a strong desire to push the clock of history to before 1861”.

He firmly believes that in just four or five years' time, “Italy will be very similar to how it was before unification.”

Italy’s demise will mainly be triggered by the collapse of its bloated pension system, he adds.

“In Italy, almost half the population is on a pension…And in four to five years' time, when pensions are not being paid and when four million civil servants get a massive reduction in salary, this will be the end.”

Like Roversi, he says Italians have long been deprived of democracy.

“What we’re fighting for is to bring back the full meaning of democracy in Italy; we don’t elect our prime ministers anymore.”

“Nobody trusts this government,” he adds, and with a bleak economic outlook weighing down on them, “people are desperate.”

“Even today, I read about a young man who killed himself out of desperation…there have been about 160 suicides in little over a year.”

Bernardini visualizes a  ‘Republic of Veneto’ that would be better able to manage public spending and the widespread problem of corruption as well as make politicians more accountable.

Others beg to differ. Pietro Piccinetti is a businessman from Veneto and the founder of Comitato per il NO, a group fighting against breaking up Italy.

As the chief executive of Pordedonne Fiera, a conference and exhibition company in Veneto, he has had to lay off hundreds of staff due to the crisis, so he can relate to the frustrations with the state being felt by those calling for independence.

But he says fragmentation “is not the right path for Italy” and could set the economy back even further.

“It’s emotional, everyone is unhappy and there are a lot of anxieties…the crisis has very much destroyed the socio-economic fabric,” he tells The Local.

“But we can’t revert back 200 years. The right path is to have a federal state, with regions helping each other…solidarity is part of our culture.”

He adds that a fragmented Italy could also tarnish the country’s image abroad.

“We are global and if we want to be credible at an international level, we need to stand together.”

“People abroad love the Italian lifestyle, they love Italian products…we are ‘made in Italy’ not ‘made in Veneto’. Any division is anti-historical, it’s unusual and it’s uneconomical."

Despite wanting to split from Rome, most of the separatists visualize their regions as still being part of the EU.

Part of the vision for Veneto is for its fiscal policies "to be negotiated with Brussels", Bernardini says.

But with the European Commission warning that breakaway states would have to apply afresh for EU membership, such things may not be certain. Whatever the outcome, disillusion with the state of Italy means the independence movements will be around for a long time to come.

Don't miss a story about Italy - Join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Angela Giuffrida (angela.giuffrida@thelocal.com)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
How to stay clean while floating in space
Cristoforetti demonstrates how astronauts wash in the International Space Station bathroom. Photo: European Space Agency/YouTube

How to stay clean while floating in space

Ever wondered how you wash, shampoo your hair or even clip your nails in space? All these questions are answered in a virtual tour of the International Space Station bathroom by Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti. READ  

Rolex issues slap on the wrist for Italian PM
A demonstrator throws a smoke bomb to police in downtown Milan, during a demonstration against the Universal Exposition Expo Milano 2015. Photo: AFP

Rolex issues slap on the wrist for Italian PM

Rolex has accused Matteo Renzi of damaging its brand after the Italian Prime Minister described protestors who ran amok in Milan last week as spoilt brats with a penchant for the Swiss company's luxury watches. READ  

Palestinian club thrives under Italian coach
Ahli Al-Khalil football club's coach, Italian Stefano Cusin (C) leads a training session. Photo: Hazem Bader/AFP

Palestinian club thrives under Italian coach

A Palestinian football club from the southern West Bank is hoping that the turnaround led by a new coach from Italy could see it reaching a top pan-Asian championship. READ  

Migrant crisis
More migrants arrive as backlash gathers force
Rescued migrants wait to disembark off the Italian Guardia Costiera vessel Fiorillo at the Sicilian harbour of Catania, on April 24th, 2015. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

More migrants arrive as backlash gathers force

Italy's financial and customs police said on Wednesday they had rescued 98 starving migrants who had been drifting in the Mediterranean for two days without food or water. READ  

Love-letter pair plot epic Venice gondola ride
The pair will deliver the love letter by gondola. Gondolier photo: Shutterstock

Love-letter pair plot epic Venice gondola ride

An Italian swimming champion and an Austrian rowing enthusiast have set themselves the unusual task of rowing hundreds of kilometres down the River Po in a gondola to deliver a letter on behalf of a love-struck friend. READ  

Italians 'exploited' on Australian farms
Many Italians are reportedly being treated like slaves on Italian farms. Man fruit-picking on a farm in Australia: Shutterstock

Italians 'exploited' on Australian farms

Many young Italians who travel to Australia on temporary working holiday visas are reported to be working in “slave-like” conditions on the country’s farms. READ  

Migrant crisis
'EU must protect rights of deported migrants'
One of six makeshift boats filled with migrants spotted by an Italian Navy ship near Lampedusa, on February 5th, 2014. Photo: Italian Navy/AFP

'EU must protect rights of deported migrants'

The EU border control agency Frontex must do more to protect the rights of thousands of deported migrants, the EU ombudsman said on Wednesday amid a surge of people landing on Europe's southern shores. READ  

Italy in World War II
Forgotten resistance: Italian freedom fighters
On the fringes of resistance. Photo: Istituto per la Storia della Resistenza e Storia Contemporanea

Forgotten resistance: Italian freedom fighters

Most people are acquainted with at least the basic facts about the French Resistance. There are copious popular books, plays and films, and of course, the much-loved BBC comedy ‘Allo 'Allo. But few are quite so well versed on another resistance movement that played out in Europe towards the end of World War II. READ  

Migrant crisis
Italian navy chief shuns Australian migrant policy
Italian naval officers stand in front of rescued migrants onboard the Italian Navy vessel Bettica. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

Italian navy chief shuns Australian migrant policy

An Italian navy chief on Tuesday poured cold water on suggestions Europe should adopt Australia's policy of turning back migrant boats to end the current crisis in the Mediterranean. READ  

Italian economy
Five reasons why Italy is on the up
Italy's economy is on the path to growth. Italy economy photo: Shutterstock

Five reasons why Italy is on the up

Italy’s economy is finally showing signs of recovery after falling back into recession last summer. With the help of Christian Shultz, a senior economist at Berenberg Economics, The Local has put together some of the reasons why. READ  

Italy approves radical new electoral law
Italian astronaut has first espresso in space
Life's better in Italy, say expat mums
Ten must-see places within reach of Rome
Are Italians becoming boozier than the Brits?
Brits in Italy could face health 'black hole'
Top ten problems of growing up multilingual
VIDEO: Mario Draghi suffers anti-ECB confetti attack
How to live in Italy without speaking Italian
Revealed: the Italians who worship Mussolini
My Italian habits that foreigners just don’t get
Illnesses that only seem to strike Italians
Did the Pope reject France's envoy to the Vatican because he was gay?
Ferrara lawyers want crucifixes back in court
'Italy’s probably the worst place for business'
Ten ways Italians celebrate Easter
'I don’t see signs of a turn in the economy'
Business & Money
Ten 'Italian' firms that aren't actually Italian
Why are Italians such crazy drivers?
Pompeii Villa boosts Italy heritage hopes
'I want Knox extradited if verdict upheld': lawyer
Seven ways to get tongue-tied in Italian
Scientists reconstruct DNA from fascist sperm
Italian police: 'Isis flag' was jacket in tree
Furore over Naples nude nun billboard
Berlusconi: Two decades of courtroom saga
Italy's C-section rate among Europe's highest
Rome bans Ben Hur filming at ancient site
Why Libya is ringing alarm bells in Italy
How Islamic college plan has split Italian town
James Bond's best Italian moments
Purrfect catch: Italian twins land giant catfish
VIDEO: Massive sinkhole opens up in Naples
Italians 'don't love' their language
In pictures: Italians mock Isis on Twitter
Could Isis terrorists really invade Italy?
EU to increase migrant aid to Italy
Lampedusa: Tiny Italian island swamped by migrant tide
Italy sells off Mussolini buildings to raise cash
Italians are Europe's most reckless drivers
Why flirty Italians still don't do online dating
Top 10: the most romantic places to propose in Italy
Top 10: your favourite Italian words
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se

jobs available