Strange things are happening in Europe, as the West’s political landscape shifts in the wake of the war in Ukraine. In the latest head-scratcher, a prominent academic historian and separatist libertarian activist in northern Italy is praising the Kremlin-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine, saying the “people’s republics” of Donetsk and Luhansk are legitimate states whose election results this week ought to be respected.
Paolo Bernardini, a Genoa-born professor of history at the University of Insubrica in Como, is known in academic circles for prolific work on the history of Jewry in Europe. In politics, he is better known as co-founder of Veneto Independence (Indipendenza Veneta), a group seeking to separate the autonomous Veneto region—including its capital, Venice—from the Italian Republic and restore the historic Most Serene Republic of Venice, as outlined in Bernardini’s 2011 book Minima Libertaria. For centuries, the republic was the premier naval power in the Mediterranean. Many Venetian regionalists assert its absorption into the unified Kingdom of Italy in the mid nineteenth century was illegitimate.
Speaking a few days ago to Russia’s state-controlled news agency R.I.A. Novosti, Bernardini said, “The real and effective independence of the D.P.R. [Donetsk People’s Republic] and the L.P.R. [Luhansk People’s Republic] may create a new balance of power in the former [sic] Ukraine, and peaceful relations among the various parts of the region, including the D.P.R., L.P.R., Crimea, and what will be left of Ukraine. A number of small states in fiscal competition one with the other would re-launch a region full of economic potential.” Of course, this view ignores the fact that President Vladimir Putin’s not-very-covert military invasion of Ukraine has destabilized the entire world order and ushered in a new Cold War, with everyone wondering how far he will go in swallowing up his neighbor, which was ruled from Moscow for centuries until it gained independence with the implosion of the Soviet Union in 1991. The D.P.R. and L.P.R. were declared independent states this spring by shady right-wing paramilitary rebel armies financed, supplied, and even staffed by the Russian military, with the overt desire for eventual annexation to the Russian Federation, along the lines of Crimea, which Russia had brutally invaded and annexed weeks earlier. Western European countries and the United States have offered only token resistance to Putin’s expansion. Ukraine is not in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), so NATO member states are not obligated to defend it.
|This week’s voting in Donetsk.|
The peace signs do not seem to be intended ironically.
|Venetist demonstrators fly the Catalan flag as well to show|
their—at times far too indiscriminate—support for separatists abroad.
|A separatist rally in northern Italy morphs into a saint’s procession for|
beloved fellow Muslim-basher Vladimir Putin.
|Lega Nord, Republic of Venice, and Russian flags mingle at a League rally in Milan|
(along with flags of the former Duchy of Milan, also used by the “eco-nationalist” Insubria movement).
|Hungary’s Jobbik political party has all the trappings.|
|The Basque parliament now recognizes the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.|
|Grozny in 1995. This is how Putin reacts to separatists when they’re not Russians.|
[You can read more about Venice, Padania, and many other separatist and new-nation movements, both famous and obscure, in my new book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas just published by Litwin Books under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements and Aspirant Nations, from Abkhazia to Zanzibar. The book, which contains 46 maps and 554 flags (or, more accurately, 554 flag images), is available for order now on Amazon. Meanwhile, please “like” the book (even if you haven’t read it yet) on Facebook and see this interview for more information on the book.]