• 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
Roma ace loses UAE deal for chopper request
Gervinho's deal with the UAE club was reportedly worth €13 million. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

Roma ace loses UAE deal for chopper request

Requests by Gervinho for a helicopter and a private beach as part of the deal that would take him from Roma to Al-Jazira were described as 'obscene' by the Emirati club, according to reports on Tuesday. READ  

Greece crisis
Italy 'out of firing line' of Greek crisis fallout: PM
Premier Matteo Renzi said that Italy's structural reforms had placed the country "out of the firing line" of the Greek debt crisis fallout. Photo: Thiery Charler/AFP

Italy 'out of firing line' of Greek crisis fallout: PM

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said on Tuesday that structural reforms already undertaken by Rome had placed the country "out of the firing line" of the Greek debt crisis fallout. READ  

Animal activists call for Palio ban after horse dies
Horses run around the makeshift racetrack. Fabio Muzzi / AFP

Animal activists call for Palio ban after horse dies

Animal rights groups have called for Italy's most famous horse race, the Palio di Siena, to be banned after the death of a horse during a warm-up heat. READ  

Migrant crisis
Italy starts to recover 800 bodies from shipwreck
Migrant arrivals in Italy so far this year have hit more than 69,000. Photo: Alfonso Di Vincenzo/AFP

Italy starts to recover 800 bodies from shipwreck

The Italian navy on Monday said it had begun efforts to recover the bodies of some 800 migrants killed in a shipwreck in the Mediterranean in April, as authorities rescued another 4,400 people making the dangerous sea journey to Europe. READ  

Greece crisis
'Greek referendum is a vote on euro': Renzi
Italian premier Matteo Renzi (L) with Greek counterpart Alexis Tsipras. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

'Greek referendum is a vote on euro': Renzi

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said on Monday that Greeks will be effectively voting on whether to stay in the euro in Sunday's referendum on bailout conditions set by the country's creditors. READ  

Migrant crisis
French court approves border controls with Italy
A migrant sleeps in Ventimiglia on the French-Italian border. Photo: Jean-Christophe Magnenet/AFP

French court approves border controls with Italy

France's top administrative court said on Monday that border controls on migrants at the Italian frontier were legal and did not violate the Schengen agreement that created Europe's passport-free zone. READ  

Serie A
Bertolacci completes AC Milan move
IItaly international midfielder Andrea Bertolacci joined AC Milan on Monday. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini|AFP

Bertolacci completes AC Milan move

Italy international midfielder Andrea Bertolacci said he can't wait to be part of AC Milan's "important project" after officially joining the fallen Serie A giants from Roma on Monday. READ  

Catania chief admits match-fixing: prosecutor
Catania club president Antonino Pulvirenti. Photo: MArcello Paternostro

Catania chief admits match-fixing: prosecutor

A match-fixing scandal in Italy that has rocked Catania took a new twist on Monday when the Serie B club's president admitted to buying the results of five league games in a bid to "save the club". READ  

Thief drugs tourist's coffee with sedative
The tourist's coffee had been drugged with benziodiazepines, a class of psychoactive drugs sometimes used as a sedative. Photo: Michelle Tribe

Thief drugs tourist's coffee with sedative

A Japanese tourist and his wife were robbed in central Naples after a man offered him a coffee spiked with a sedative, Italian media has reported. READ  

Greece crisis
Italy does not fear Greek contagion: Padoan
Italian Finance Minister Pier Carlo Padoan (R) and Greece's Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis. Photo: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP

Italy does not fear Greek contagion: Padoan

Italy’s finance minister on Monday played down the threat of Italy being hit by the fallout from market instability linked to the Greek crisis. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
National
Italy raises terror alert after attacks
National
Sardinia's poor give all to refugees
National
A beginner's guide to aperitivo in Italy
Fake Italian restaurant tops TripAdvisor ranking
National
Canton of Ticino threatens closing Italy border to asylum seekers
National
Italian grandfather, 91, completes middle school
Gallery
IN PICTURES: Is this Italy's most violent sport?
National
Italy smashes record for tallest Lego tower
Travel
Dark tourism: Italy's creepiest attractions
National
Italo-American cuisine mocked on Facebook
National
Italy's immigrants send billions back home
National
Why Italians aren’t having more babies
National
The pros and cons of being an au pair in Italy
French people told to stop scoffing Nutella in order to save planet
National
Italy: we'll hurt Europe over migrant crisis
Top that! Italy snatches pizza title from Spain
Travel
Most liveable cities: five neglected Italian gems
Bupa
Sponsored Article
Healthcare: 9 questions every expat should ask
Politics
Berlusconi and Putin: an enduring love
National
Italy has fourth highest petrol costs in world
Features
Six bizarre health tips Italian grans swear by
Turning away migrants 'heartless': Sicily mayor
National
Italy okays proton therapy in cancer case
Nuns stuck in lift for three nights 'drank urine'
Five insane ways EU money was blown in Italy
Yes, it's still a crime to insult Italy's president
National
Nine in ten Italians don't like Roma: survey
National
VIDEO: €619 fine for nuns' Italy beach photo trip
Politics
VIDEO: Mattarella meets Britain's Queen
National
VIDEO: Rome police help ducks cross busy road
National
Tide turning in Italy over gay marriage
National
Italian court tells veggie mum: feed your son meat
National
7 ways Italian culture will change your life
National
Italian town sets new Tiramisù record
National
US finds Pompeii frescoes robbed in 1950s
Travel
10 things to do in Milan when you visit Expo
National
Producer warns of global Prosecco shortage
IN PICTURES: Berlusconi joins Instagram
National
Italy starts to show the strains of migrant influx
Migrant gets permit for saving drowning woman
Features
Rude Italian terms that just don’t translate
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

3,501
jobs available