‘The word “Italy” is a geographical expression, a description which is useful shorthand, but has none of the political significance the efforts of the revolutionary ideologues try to put on it’. So wrote that famous protector of European monarchism, Prince Clemens von Metternich, to the Austrian ambassador to France in April 1847.
Such a statement is far from a cruel one. Italian unity is a thought that is no less comfortable now than it was at the time the Red Shirts were storming Austrian positions under the guidance of that nationalist adventurer Guiseppe Garibaldi. This idea of national unity is even stranger given current calls by many for the north, most prominently the Lombard League, to secede. To be fair, this is hardly new (the League has been promoting this line for 20 years), but it seemed comedic given the sight of Silvio Berlusconi, trying to work, with much effort, a distinctly displeased crowd attending a ceremony to mark the 150th anniversary of Italian unification.
Always someone to make a fuss about certain occasions, Berlusconi decided that Italy should have the day off, 150 years after the day Victor Emanuel II came to the throne of a confused ensemble of city-states and entities. He might well have wished he had had the day off himself, as the trial approaches over his alleged payment for under-age sex. As he keeps piping on, in both chamber and out of chamber, the Italian leader feels beleaguered, barraged by allegations of impropriety wherever he stands.
Such an occasion was no excuse not to dabble in some humour. That national aberration known as the Italian flag came out across the country, as if allowed to roam around after a period of dusty incarceration. The ‘joke of the day’, as the paper Corriere Della Sera noted, was that the Tricolore was spotted on the balcony of the headquarters of the Northern League. How odd indeed (hence a joke), that the League premises would feature the flag in the first place. Oh, what fun it was to see the flag that day. After a brief period of fluttering (till noon), the offensive symbol was removed. ‘It was obviously a college prank,’ claimed national secretary Carlo Piatti.
There are those in various parts of Italy who hold little love for the herculean efforts that led to re-unification. Luis Durnwalder, president of South Tyrol, feels a heavy heart that the province remains part of Italy. ‘German speakers have nothing to celebrate. In 1919 we were not asked if we wanted to become part of Italy and for this reason we don’t take part in the celebrations’ (The Telegraph, Mar 17). Given that international relations consists of heavy bullying, finely-tuned pimping and much prostitution, it’s a wonder Durnwalder should even care.
In what became something of a spat, Maurizio Paniz, an MP the ruling People of Freedom Party considered the reaction gravely insulting to the rest of Italy. Others considered it an act of disenfranchisement to Italian speakers. Another prank (more real, and more tangible), would be to remove the bronze statue of Mussolini outside the courthouse in the provincial capital Bolzano. Durnwalder is seriously considering doing it himself.
One does not go to Italy to find unity, but its absence. Efforts to patch this reality up are doomed to fail. The richness of the country lies in its marked divisions that crisscross the country. Forget Berlusconi’s efforts at finding the solid whole, for whole is panoramic. Let it continue to be this most remarkable of geographical expressions, and mark its anniversary in appropriately sensuous and disorderly fashion.