Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Venice Votes on Independence from Italy This Week; Separatists Prepare Declaration, Transfer of Authority

It is a year for separatist referenda.  Scotland will hold its vote on separation from the United Kingdom on September 18th.  Catalonia, in Spain, will follow suit on December 18th—allowing the separatist government there a full three months to learn from any Scottish mistakes or successes.  Three days ago, on March 16th, the whole global order was called into question as the newly declared Republic of Crimea voted on cutting its ties to Ukraine and joining Russia.  Not to be outdone, the people of Veneto (in Italian, Veneta), the administrative region of which Venice is the capital, on the same day Crimeans went to the polls, began voting on whether to secede from the Italian Republic.

The seven provinces that form Veneto are in northeastern Italy.
An online referendum is now underway, by which Venetians can log in and answer the question, “Do you want Veneto to ­become an independent and sovereign federal republic?”  The vote is organized by Gianluca Busato, a member of the separatist party Venetian Independence (Indipendenza Veneta, or I.V.).  Busato claims that, even though it will be non-binding, it is supported by many local governments and will be “a call to arms.”  The results are to be announced on March 21st.

Gianluca Busato says, “Vote sì!
Claims of the popularity of independence in Veneto range from 65% to 80%.  Interestingly enough, the phenomenon of Venetian nationalism is distinct from the Northern League (Lega Nord) movement, which for decades has pushed vocally for all of northern Italy, including Venice, to secede as an independent country called Padania (named for the Po River).  The League’s high water mark was its junior membership in Silvio Berlusconi’s ruling coalition until the Euro Zone crisis brought down the Berlusconi and kicked the League out of government too.  In the late 1980s, members of the Veneto League (Ligo Veneta, or L.V.), a branch of Lega Nord, broke away and founded a separate movement to revive the Most Serene Republic of Venice (Serenissima Repubblica di Venezia), which for about a millennium was one of Europe’s most significant economic and naval powers and a major cultural center, until the Hapsburgs and Napoleon Bonaparte dismantled it in the late 18th century.  These L.V. members, in the jargon of Italian separatist politics, are a species of “Venetist” called “Serenissimists,” as distinct from the Northern League’s “Padanists.”  They went so far as to found a provisional Venetian government, calling into question the legality of the 1866 referendum which incorporated Veneto into the new Kingdom of Italy during the Risorgimento.  In a 1997 publicity stunt, a group of Serenissimists “invaded” the iconic St. Mark’s Plaza in Venice with an elaborately and patriotically decorated military tank.

The Northern League’s Umberto Bossi tried but failed
to coax Venetians toward Padanism.
The more serious and mainstream L.V. is much more popular and in fact is Veneto’s ruling party.  Veneto’s president, Luca Zaia, is the L.V. party leader.  Lega Nord, which is far more right-wing and has been buffeted lately by corruption scandals and outcries over racist, anti-immigrant comments by its politicians, has far fewer supporters in this part of the north; they got 10.5% of the vote in the 2013 regional elections, to L.V.’s 35%.  Ironically, it is Venice that Lega Nord envisions as the capital of a future Padania, rather than Turin or Milan, two more natural choices, which are Lega Nord strongholds.  The choice of Venice is probably a vain attempt to shore up support for Padanism in the northeast.

Veneto’s president, Luca Zaia, demonstrating what he’d like to do to Italy
However, the current referendum’s backers, I.V., are a far smaller splinter group which is very libertarian in its orientation.  I.V. got only 1.1% in the 2013 elections.  This despite the fact that they had organized a large independence rally in Venice the previous year (reported at the time in this blog), which culminated in the delivery to the regional government, by gondola, of a declaration of independence.

Fringe I.V. may be, and non-binding the referendum may be, but one I.V. spokesman, Lodovico Pizzati, sounds very serious when he discusses its implications. “If there is a majority yes vote,” he told a reporter, “we have scholars drawing up a declaration of independence and there are businesses in the region who say they will begin paying taxes to local authorities instead of to Rome.”  The new state is to be called the Republic of Veneto (Repubblica Veneta).  Pizzati is a World Bank economist who currently lives in California.  Another I.V. member, Raffaele Serafini, told media, “Venetians not only want out of Italy, but we also want out of the euro, the E.U. and NATO.”  This view is distinct from the pro-Brussels separatist sentiment found in Scotland or Catalonia, but it is not clear if most Venetans share Serafini’s views.  If so, then one of the obstacles to Scottish separatists reaching a majority—fear of ejection from the E.U.—is one which Venetists don’t need to worry about.

Lodovico Pizzati in St. Mark’s Plaza in 2012
Veneto’s nearly 5 million people are about a twelfth of Italy’s population.  Nonetheless, it constitutes about a tenth of Italy’s gross domestic product (G.D.P.), and separatists point out that a Republic of Veneto would be Europe’s seventh-strongest economy.  As in many of Italy’s administrative regions, Veneto’s dialect of Italian is increasingly referred to as a separate language.

Venetian flags mingle with Lombard and Padanian ones at a rally.
As Zaia put it, “The push for independence comes from the people.  It is a democratic request born of Rome’s indifference.  If Barcelona [i.e., Catalonia] gets independence, Veneto could adopt the same method and get it too.  We have knocked politely on the door of federalism, but it did not open.  Now we will break down the door.”

[For those who are wondering, yes, this blog is tied in with a forthcoming book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas to be published by Auslander and Fox under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements, Independence Struggles, Breakaway Republics, Rebel Provinces, Pseudostates, Puppet States, Tribal Fiefdoms, Micronations, and Do-It-Yourself Countries, from Chiapas to Chechnya and Tibet to Texas.  Look for it some time in mid 2014.  I will be keeping readers posted of further publication news.]

Lega Nord’s vision of the future is different from that of Venetists and Serenissimists.
Related articles from this blog:
“The World’s 21 Sexiest Separatists” (including Lega Nord’s Renzo Bossi) (April 2012)

1 comment:

  1. just a note for your translation:
    Veneto (name of region) in italian language is VENETO too and not "Veneta" as you wrote.
    "Veneta" in english language is translated as "venet-ian" so:
    Repubblica veneta = Venetian Republic
    Republic of Veneto = Repubblica del Veneto

    You maybe can find a false friend:
    Veneziana = Venician
    in some english books, there is a bit of confusion and use "venetian" as "veneziana"/"Venician"
    ("Venice" in italian is "Venezia")

    Nice blog!
    Congrats from Reggio Emilia, Italy

    (P.S.: Here is born pour national flag in January 7th, 1797 and we'are proud of it as of our nation. Non Padanism will pass! ;) )


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