Friday, January 27, 2012

Umberto Bossi’s “Republic of Padania” Expands into Central Europe

A month ago, I listed Padania—the new state some Italians want to create in the northern third of their country—as number eight among “Ten Separatist Movements to Watch in 2012.”  The party pushing this idea, the Lega Nord per l’Indipendenza della Padania—called Lega Nord (Northern League) for short—is not just any minor separatist movement.  It is the main political party in Italy’s large Veneto region (which includes Venice) and is the second-largest in Lombardy, which contains Milan and nearly 10 million people.  Italy’s fractious coalition politics allowed the League to become a junior partner in the Milanese media mogul Silvio Berlusconi’s center-right coalition government in 2008.  The League’s flamboyant and confrontational leader, Umberto Bossi, became Prime Minister Berlusconi’s Minister for Federal Forms, pushing the agenda of, if not necessarily independence, at least a much more federal system, with much more power devolved to the regions.

The proposed borders of an independent Padania

Then, in 2011, the European debt crisis spread from Greece to Italy and brought down the Berlusconi government.  The new prime minister, Mario Monti, a shy economist and technocrat beholden to European Union institutions, left the Northern League out of his new coalition—despite the fact that Monti, like Bossi, is a Lombard.  The League saw this as a stinging betrayal.  In my earlier post, I predicted that sudden marginalization after having tasted the highest echelons of government would galvanize the Northern League’s separatist spirit.  What I didn’t predict was that this fall from power would push Bossi, a former Communist from Lombardy, over the edge.

Umberto Bossi

Bossi had long called for Italy’s more prosperous, more industrialized, and culturally less Mediterranean northern regions—Emilia-Romagna, Friuli-Venezia-Giulia, Liguria, Lombardy, Piedmont, Trentino-Alto-Adige, Val d’Aosta, Veneto—to secede as Padania.  But after being forced out of government the League now asks all party members to pledge allegiance to the cause of Padanian secession.

And now media are reporting that at a conference last month Bossi unveiled his plans for a future Padania to be the heart of a new, greater Central European state that would also include Switzerland, Austria, Bavaria, and France’s Savoy region.  Bossi unveiled a map of this new superstate, colored in by his equally flamboyant son, Renzo Bossi.  Has the Northern League gone crazy?

Imperial Lombard cartographer
and apple-fallen-not-far-from-tree Renzo Bossi

It would be one thing if Bossi saw this Greater Padania as part of an integrated Europe, but Bossi over the years has become as Euro-skeptical as Margaret Thatcher.  The League laments northern Italy’s embeddedness in a Euro zone that allows inefficient and corrupt cultures like those of Greece, southern Italy, and Portugal to drag down the industrialized north.  And, make no mistake, Bossi thinks Italy is northern Europe.  Bossi, who spent more than ten years as a Member of European Parliament, now calls the E.U. both “fascist” and “Stalinist” and would like to take Padania out of it.  Now, it seems, he would like to punch an even larger hole in the middle of Europe.

Padania’s flag

Just to take the example of Switzerland—which, unlike other parts of the Greater Padania on Bossi’s fantasy map, is not in the E.U.—the idea that German-speaking Swiss would consent to be a province within a country ruled from Venice where Italian would be the predominant language is not only highly unlikely but rolling-on-the-floor laughable.  Switzerland is not only one of the Europe’s most xenophobic countries, but most of its xenophobia is directed eastward and, especially, southward (even though Italian is one of Switzerland’s national languages, spoken in the border canton of Ticino).  The Swiss do not see much distinction between northern and southern Italy and certainly do not regard Lombards, Ligurians, and Venetians as fellow ... Aryans-or-whatever, blond though some of them may be.  Much the same could be said of Austrian attitudes toward Italy, despite the fact that there is a very large community of German-speakers in the South Tyrol region of northeastern Italy.  (That region also has a large vibrant linguistic minority of Friulians, speaking a variety of the Rhaeto-Romanic language also in use on a much smaller scale in southeastern Switzerland, where it is called Romansch.)

Do you think the folks who made this poster
would swear allegiance to an Italian-run government?

As for Savoy, there are historical resonances Bossi is building on: the medieval Duchy of Savoy had its capital in Turin and extended to the Mediterranean; then the region was made part of the Kingdom of Sicily (later Sardinia), until France absorbed it for the first time during the French Revolution.  Sardinia seized it back after Napoleon’s fall, but then Napoleon III negotiated its return to France in 1858 in a secret deal that Savoyard activists today still recall bitterly.  Culturally and historically, then, Savoy is arguably half Italian already.  But Bavaria (which has its own marginal separatist movement)—that is hard to picture.

The medieval Duchy of Savoy

Bossi’s pipe dream envisions a Lombardy that is at the heart of a new Mitteleuropa, embracing those parts of Germany that are the least Nordic—the southern, Alpine region of the Alemannic dialects.  One could be forgiven for detecting a whiff of Axis geography in all of this; after all, Adolf Hitler was from Austria, Berchtesgaden was right on the Austro-Bavarian border, and Benito Mussolini was from Emilia–Romagna and emigrated to Switzerland as a young man—etc. etc.  In fact, though, what Bossi’s map shows more than anything else is a revived (but modified) Holy Roman Empire.  And just guess who would be Emperor.

Mario Monti—and the circumstances of recent political history—had already temporarily marginalized the Northern League.  But with this kind of talk, Umberto Bossi will marginalize it permanently.

(P.S.: I have had trouble finding a clear image of Renzo Bossi’s map.  The closest I can find is the following map (see below), from an “Anthrocivitas” forum thread on the subject.  If any readers find a more reliably genuine or better-resolution image for this map, please let me know!  And please help me understand how Bossi plans to redraw these other borders.  What is that I see there?  Southeast England plus Saxony and the Low Countries??  A restored East Germany??  A Viking reannexation of the Scottish Highlands??)

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