Berlusconism, ‘Padania’, inequalities: should we celebrate 150 years of Italy? | Iris Nadolny
Berlusconism, ‘Padania’, inequalities: should we celebrate 150 years of Italy? Print
Iris Nadolny   
Berlusconism, ‘Padania’, inequalities: should we celebrate 150 years of Italy? | Iris Nadolny On the 17th of March 1861, Victor-Emmanuel II was proclaimed king of Italy. 150 years later, the question of knowing whether Italian unification should be celebrated or not has sparked lively debates. The Italian government only decided to make the 17th March a public holiday in 2011.

Lega Nord (‘Northern League’, Italian political party) Ministers voted against it. This was not surprising as the party’s main objective is to obtain the independence of Padania, Northern Italy. Emma Marcegaglia, president of Confindustria, the Italian employer’s federation, had argued that considering the country’s economic situation, the Italians cannot afford to work one day less.

Boycott of the North vs boycott of South
The 150th anniversary of the Italy’s unification has been passionately celebrated with concerts, conferences and exhibitions in almost every town and city in Italy. However, there are a few exceptions. For example, Luis Durnwalder of the SVP (the South Tyrolean People’s Party) and president of the north-eastern Bolzano-Bozen region in Italy has refused to participate to the festivities: ‘We feel like an Austrian minority and we have not chosen to be a part of Italy,’ he says.
However, the opponents of the festivities do not just live in Northern Italy. Independence movements are also found in the South, such as the Comitati per le due Sicilie (Committee of the two Sicilies), a name recalling the Bourbon kingdom and an organisation which does not hesitate to talk about 150 years of colonialism by the North. They are against Italian unification, and they wave the Two Sicilies banner. Their argument is that unification, known as Risorgimento (the resurgence) in Italy, has been carried out against their will and in a cruel manner. In general, the unification process is described as a ‘revolution from above’, or even sometimes as ‘illegal invasion’ or as ‘massacres’ brought about in the south of the peninsula. Moreover, it is surprising to note that at the time of unification, the vast majority of Italians did not even speak Italian. They spoke dialects or regional languages remain very important till today. The expansion of the Italian language was greatly encouraged by television.

Food, family, local attachment
Basil, mozzarella and tomatoes: the only three ingredients required to make Italians agree.
According to a report entitled The Italians and the State, 88% of those questioned considered the process of national unification to be positive or rather positive. In addition, a recent survey revealed that the leftwing are slightly more excited about 17th March than the right. However, even if the majority of Italians believe that it is right to celebrate Italian unification, they are not really into it. According to the sociologist Maria Grazia Ruggerini, 17th March will not differ a lot from other days even if it is important to celebrate it and not give in to the corporatist claims of the Lega Nord. Thus, she recommends a ‘critical holiday’ giving people the chance to take a fresh look at the Risorgimento elements that have not been fully accepted.
Apart from quests for regional independence, the reluctance towards celebration shows that Italian identity is still not obvious. ‘Apart from major holidays and football matches, I do not feel truly Italian,’ says Ilaria, a student whose identity is rooted in Salento, in south eastern Apulia region. The characteristics of a typical Italian, says Ilaria, are the way they dress, speak and their spontaneity. According to Ilvo Diamanti, founder and president of Demos, an institute carrying research on Italian society, there are additional qualities such as the ‘way Italians organise themselves, their attachment to family and to their land.’ One of the factors that make Italians proud of their country is their culture especially their cuisine. This is also the case of those who are not patriotic at all.

Italy exists, Italians do not
The decision to make 17 March a public holiday has highlighted divisions within the Italian government. However, these divisions remain minimal in relation to the clear divide between supporters and opponents of Berlusconi. During a protest against the violence in Libya, held outside parliament in Rome on 24 February, a speaker called for the Italians to follow the example of the recent revolutions in the Arabic world. However, despite Italy’s hope in Prime minister Silvio Berlusconi dropping 30% this year, the possibilities for a revolution remain quite low. A million people, mostly women gathered to protests on the 13th of February. This showed another division in Italy, namely men vs women. With the slogan ‘now or never’, female protesters denounced the male chauvinism embodied in Berlusconism. There are plenty of connotations behind the expression bunga bunga.
The north-south division is not only highlighted by the ideological conflict between different independence movements – it also reveals unacceptable economic differences. These differences give rise to the widespread stereotype that the north is rich and ‘egoistic’ and the south is poor and a real ‘burden’ for the north. Today, in this atmosphere of turbulent commemorations, one thing is sure: if Italian unity does not create unanimity, the regional wealth of the country could not be more vivid. The words of Italian statesman Massimo d’Azeglio are valid: ‘We have made Italy. Now we must make Italians.’ Yet these words were uttered 150 years ago.

Iris Nadolny
Article originally published in French on Babelmed.
Translated into English by Hannah Keet for Café