VENICE: A Venetian republic may yet will itself back into being

The National:

With more than 60 million people, it is the fourth most populous country in the European Union and should be a stable democracy, yet Italy has always seemed a political basket case.

That is perhaps why so many people in diverse regions want out of the state – or at least want far greater autonomy for their people.

It is a fact which is not that surprising when you consider that the modern Republic of Italy will celebrate only its 70th anniversary on January 1 next year. Before that the Kingdom of Italy dates only from the 1860s, and apart from the Papal States, the last area to be incorporated into the Kingdom was Venezia, better known as Veneto, the region around one of the world’s most historic cities, Venice.

Veneto is chief among the potential separatists at the moment and, just three years ago, an online plebiscite – privately funded as the Italian government would not sanction it – voted Yes to independence, with 2.36 million voters in the Vento region taking part, of which 89 per cent voted Yes.

You may not have read about it at the time, because it was held in March, 2014, and The National did not exist then. Instead the BBC, for example, gave it less coverage than they did for Venice’s decision two months ago to banish giant cruise liners from the lagoon on which the city stands.

Despite the possibilities of voter corruption, the plebiscite was declared legitimate the following March by international observers and Gianluca Busato, the leading figure in the Venezia independence movement, said at the time: “With the final report signed and delivered in Venice on March 28, 2015, the Commission of International Observers has legitimated the referendum committee to act internationally without limitation to its action, permitting and authorising to establish any form of relationship with states and intergovernmental organisations in order to recognise referendum results and therefore the full independence of the Venetian Republic, respecting the right of self-determination of the Venetian people.

“Finally, until proven otherwise, no other can today legally represent Veneto internationally regarding its full and legitimate political independence.”

That was a declaration that meant a lot in Venice but little in Rome. But the referendum which really has catapulted Venice towards greater autonomy took place last December when Prime Minister Matteo Renzi decisively lost his Italian constitutional reform referendum which would have seen the Republic’s Senate transformed and given him more power.

Busato said at the time: “The No comes out as a resounding failure not only for the figure of the former prime minister and his leadership, but for the whole centralist policy of the Italian state.”

Busato added: “Venetia has entered a deep crisis because of the public and fiscal oppression coming from the Italian state which has been able to destroy any residual goodwill to operate and to undertake, qualities that have trademarked our land ever since.”

Now the Italian government has challenged Busato and his desire for Venetian independence by sanctioning an “autonomy” referendum to be held on October 22.

The President of the Veneto region, Luca Zaia, acted in April after the Constitutional Court of Italy authorised referenda, but only on greater autonomy for the region.

The question to be asked on October 22 is: “Do you want the Region of Veneto to be granted further and special forms and conditions of autonomy?” On the face of it, the answer will be an overwhelming Yes.

Busato wants to go much further, however.

He said yesterday: “On October 22, they want you to vote for the utopia of autonomy in Veneto, an illusion that you will be granted by the Italian parliament. Every other day you can actively activate for the full independence of Veneto.”

Greater powers promised if people don’t vote for independence. Wonder where we have heard that before?


SARDINIA: Lifelong activist Salvatore Meloni starved himself to death in a Sardinian jail

The National:

The name of Salvatore Meloni will mean very little to people outside of Italy, but early last month, the man known to many Italians as "Doddore" died in hospital in Cagliari, capital of the island of Sardinia.

Meloni had been a lifelong campaigner for Sardinian independence and he starved himself to death at the age of 74 while in prison for tax offences – he had simply refused to pay taxes to what he called “the foreign country” that is Italy.

Meloni, a former truck driver, had once spent time in jail for conspiring with Colonel Gaddafi of Libya to declare Sardinia an independent republic. In 2008, in order to promote Sardinian independence, he attempted to create a "micro-nation" called the Republic of Maluentu after taking control of the small barren islet of Mal Di Ventre – Maluentu is Sardinian for Mal di Ventre.

Meloni said he was following the lead of separatist movements in Kosovo, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, declaring Maluentu to be an independent state as part of the Sardinian independence movement.

He declared himself president, set up an official residence in a blue plastic tent, boasted the island was tax-free, and claimed to have more than 300 interested in moving to Maluentu, which was previously a meeting place for the Indipendèntzia Repùbrica de Sardigna, iRS, or Independence Republic of Sardinia.

Five years ago Meloni and five others were convicted of the illegal seizure of the island which was owned by British entrepreneur John Miller. Meloni was sentenced to 20 months in prison.

He was back in jail for more tax offences when he went on hunger strike and died.

His death briefly united in mourning the Sardinian independence movement which has been riven over many years by splits and faction-fighting.

There is an almost bewildering list of parties claiming to be fighting for greater autonomy or independence, but mostly they campaign for the right of self-determination for Sardinians, something the Italian government resists.

At the last regional election, the Sardinian Action Party won the biggest share of the vote by a so-called Sardist party, with the IRS performing dismally and taking less than one per cent of the popular vote.

There are clear differences between parties, too, across the political spectrum.

It was to Edinburgh University that the Universty of Cagliari turned to ensure an objective view of the demand for independence on the island five years ago. Their joint research found that 41 per cent of Sardinians would favour independence while 46 per cent wanted greater autonomy.

Various polls down the years have shown there is demand for either independence or greater autonomy, but the Sardist parties haven’t been able to agree on a way forward.

One recent idea was that Sardinia could become a canton of Switzerland, but it was not taken too seriously. Now, though, there does indeed appear to be the chance of greater unity among the Sardist parties, thanks to the October 22 referenda in Lombardy and Veneto.

The current President of the Sardinian region is Francesco Pigliaru, and he has been at the centre of a dispute over whether Sardinia, like Veneto and Lombardy, should have a referendum, only this time on independence.

Reform party coordinator Pietrino Fois said: “Pigliaru has the opportunity to take the lead and be really the president of all the Sardinians. If he does not want to do so, we will continue without him, along with all those who will want to join us because this is the mother of all battles for Sardinians.”

Attilio Dedoni, party regional adviser, said: “Thanks to the referendums in the two richest regions of Italy we have the opportunity to bring this theme to the attention of the national public that sees the island as a vacation paradise but has no real understanding of its suffering.”


LOMBARDY: Italy's rich Lombardy region could do well on its own

The National:

Lombardy may be just one of the 20 administrative regions of Italy, but with 10 million people and Milan as its capital, Lombardy in the north of Italy is the most populous, most industrious and richest of all the regions.

Were it to secede from Italy, Lombardy could do very well on its own, but full independence is not on offer in the referendum which will take place on October 22, the same date as the plebiscite in Veneto on the same issue.

For this ancient kingdom, which later became the Duchy of Milan before becoming part of the Kingdom of Italy in 1859, is being asked if it wants to enjoy the special status that five regions of Italy already enjoy.

It would mean the devolution of considerable powers to the regional government – but some people want to go further and have full independence for Lombardy.

The Pro Lombardia Indipenzia (PLI) party is a member of the European Free Alliance and its slogan is “Lombardy Next State of Europe”. They look to Scotland to see how we will cope if, after Brexit and an independence vote, Scotland has to rejoin the EU.

Meanwhile, the Party is campaigning for a Yes vote in the referendum which was called by regional President Roberto Maroni, leader of the Northern League which seeks autonomy or independence for the whole of Northern Italy.

A PLI spokesperson said: “We believe it is in the interest of the Lombards to vote Yes in the October 22 referendum.

“We know perfectly well that even in case of victory of Yes, nothing will change in Lombardy. “We can say with absolute certainty that this referendum will not lead to autonomy in Lombardy. But it will create a real political debate about the condition of Lombardy within the Italian state.

“A debate that will not only involve political forces but also civil society. And it will allow the Lombards to understand how it is not possible to obtain any significant concession if the representatives of our community are dumb and dissimilar autonomists such as the North League and the junta of President Maroni.

“We believe that a Yes to the referendum is an important step to make Rome understand that the Lombards want a different treatment, they want self-government while retaining resources and powers in their own territory.

“But we believe that any negotiations that the junta and the Lombard Regional Council will have to do with the government of Rome need the involvement of the Lombard independents and Lombardia independence.”