ROME – Many separatist movements in Europe have resorted to various violent terrorist acts since the second half of the twentieth century. From the 1960’s onwards, bombs and death were the order of the day in regions like Northern Ireland, Corsica (France), South Tyrol (Italy), and the Basque country (Spain).
Indeed, the specter of violent separatism has reared its head again in Spain. The Basque terrorist organization ETA has ended its truce with the Spanish government, and, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of its founding, placed bombs in the town of Burgos and on the island of Majorca. Fortunately, elsewhere in Europe, reason seems to prevail nowadays and the resort to violence has been curtailed.
But that does not mean the end of separatism. Italy, for example, is under constant threat of cultural and economic separatism, albeit in a peaceful way. Silvio Berlusconi's ally in government, the Lega Nord (Northern League), is continuously conjuring up schemes to embarrass the national government with threats to the concept of national unity.
The Lega Nord, led by the charismatic Umberto Bossi, holds the decisive votes in Parliament to keep the Berlusconi government afloat. It uses this power to blackmail the government into introducing measures which discriminate between citizens of Italy’s north and south.
Exponents of the Northern League, such as MEP Mario Borghezio, MP Roberto Cota, and Senator Federico Bricolo, are well known for their xenophobic statements in Parliament, particularly against those from non-EU countries. But their chauvinism does not stop there: they constantly propose measures to discriminate between northern Italian citizens from Veneto or Lombardy and southerners from Naples, Calabria, or Sicily.
During this summer of “separatist” folly, the first proposal concerned the appointment of headmasters of schools in the Veneto region: the local councilors in the province of Vicenza approved a measure to reserve all headmaster posts in the province for northern Italian teachers.
At the end of July, another Lega Nord MP, Paola Goisis, proposed in Parliament that teachers from Italy’s south should not be allowed to teach in northern schools unless they are well versed in the history, traditions, and dialects of the area where the school is located. The Italian Minister for Education, Mariastella Gelmini, agreed to discuss the proposal.
The third attack on Italian unity launched at the beginning of August by the President of the Lega Nord group in the Senate, Federico Bricolo, who proposed adding a proviso to Article 12 of the Italian Constitution whereby the flags and anthems of the different regions would be officially recognized on an equal footing with the national anthem and flag.
The Lega Nord’s latest provocation is its proposal that state employees receive different salaries for the same job, depending on whether they live in the north or the south. Agriculture Minister Luca Zaia has gone so far as to argue that relating salaries to the cost of living in different regions will force the south to be self-sufficient and stop relying on help from the north.
This proposal seems to have found a certain degree of support from Berlusconi, though he would likely be the only one in the country to agree with it. The trade unions, employers’ associations, all opposition political parties, and even many of Berlusconi’s own MPs have united against what they consider to be an aberration.
Zaia’s vivid imagination does not stop there: he has now proposed that popular Italian TV series be dubbed or subtitled in the local dialect! And Berlusconi, consumed as he is with defending his difficult position as the main protagonist in a seemingly endless soap opera of sex scandals, is not capable of reining in such blatant provocations on the part of the Lega Nord.
The result is that Berlusconi’s supposed allies such as former Minister Gianfranco Micciche and current Governor of Sicily Raffaele Lombardo, are seriously thinking of setting up a “Party of the South” to ensure that Italy’s southern regions have enough clout to withstand the Lega Nord’s onslaught.
Whether such plans materialize remains to be seen. What seems certain is that, unlike in Spain, Italy’s separatist movements are gaining ground through a bloodless revolution. Mao was wrong: political blackmail seems to be a more effective tool than the barrel of a gun.