HUI 216 - Unit 1, topics 2-3
"I'm Italian, you're Italian..."

Andrea Fedi

1.2 Unification

[Notes] — The process of national unification, in the case of Italy, has been quite slow, compared to other European countries, such as Spain, France or England.

  • "Italy is a geographical expression" is a famous statement by the Prince of Metternich, Austria's Prime Minister. It was made in 1849, when Austria controlled almost all of the Italian northeast.

The monarchy

[Notes] — In 1861, after an initial, partial unification of Italy, the Kings of the House of Savoia, or Savoy gave the Italian nation a highly centralized government, afraid as they were that any kind of federal structure might weaken the newly created political entity.

  • The Savoys firmly believed that federalism could not produce the result of bringing the various Italian communities together over a 'politically reasonable' period of time.
  • They did not really believe that Italy was a cultural and historic project, with strong and well-developed roots in Italian society.

Dreaming of Italy

[Notes] — Italy's national identity, its values, the very idea of Italy as one society, with one sentiment, shared projects for the future, common traditions and customs, seemed real only in the minds and in the works of Italian writers and artists (painters, sculptors or musicians).

  • Since the Middle Ages the idea of Italy as a unified country had been at the center of a cultural project promoted and debated by intellectuals, with virtually no grounding in the political realities of the time.
  • Often, historical reality appeared to contradict that dream, offering scenes of war and violence among Italians, major disagreements on political and social issues.

The battle of Lissa

[Notes] — During the naval battle of Lissa (1866), the young Italian fleet, equipped also with ships built based on American models, suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the fleet of the Austrian empire, whose ships were manned mostly by sailors from Venice, Trieste and Istria, under the orders of German-speaking officers, who issued some of the orders in Venetian.

  • Rather than being a heroic (albeit tragic) page in the history of the liberation of Italy from the foreign oppressors, as Italian propaganda has claimed for more than a century, this battle can be seen as another case of "Italians" willing to fight against other "Italians": their common identity, apparently, was not much of an issue.

Taking sides: Summer '43

[Notes] — In July 1943, during World War II, the Allies invaded Sicily. During the rest of the summer 1943, Mussolini was removed from power and arrested, and Italy left its alliance with Germany and Japan to take the side of the Western Allies. The German army, after September 8, 1943, occupied most of Italy, and supported the reconstitution of a fascist Republicab government based in Salò, in the Italian Northeast. Salò is the name of the town on the Garda lake where the headquarters of the new fascist government were located.

Civil War (1943-45)

[Notes] — For a year and half the fascist army of the Republic of Salò fought with the Germans against Italian partisans, were responsible for the deportation to Germany of many Italian civilians (interned in concentration camp, or forced to work for the war effort). Towards the end of the war the Fascists of the RSI (Repubblica Sociale Italian) were also engaged in battle against units of the re-created Italian army, deployed under Allied command. During this period, Fascist propaganda emphasized the issue of nationalism, insisting on the ideas of freedom (keeping Italy independent and free from foreign influences), and race (keeping the Italian race pure, preserving the Italian way of life and its traditional values, customs, etc.). It was a Civil War of sorts, with significant casualties on both sides, and long-lasting social and cultural scars.

Civil War ideologies

[Notes] —

Via Rasella (Mar. 1944)

[Notes] — Rome, still under German occupation, was proclaimed "open city" in order to protect from destruction its artistic treasures. In March 1944, while Americans where fighting their way out of the shores of Anzio, south of Rome, Italian partisans placed a large amount of explosive inside a street-sweeper's cart in Via Rasella (Rome), killing 32 German soldiers on the spot. They belonged to the German police regiment "Bozen" (= Bolzano, a city in northern Italy), and most of them were Italian citizens. They were South Tyroleans, i.e. Italians from Alto Adige, an area close to the Italian border with Austria, where German today is still the first language. The Germans retaliated the next day, executing 335 persons (Jews and other Italians held in Rome's prisons), in the Ardeatine Caves, near the city.

1.3 The word 'Italia'

[Notes] — "La parola Italia" ("The word Italy") was the title of a conference held in Florence in February of 2001. Prominent Italian scholars, writers and politicians participated and read papers. Giuliano Amato, Italy's Prime Minister at that time, said on that occasion that ideals such as State and Nation lack prestige in Italy.

  • Patriotism and nationalism were weakened by the events of 1943-45, according to the papers of Catholic intellectual Pietro Scoppola, and of writer Enzo Siciliano (and former president of RAI, the state-owned Italian TV). Patriotism, the defense of the homeland and the advancement of society as a whole were the key ideas of fascist propaganda, between 1943 and 1945. On the other side, Communist and the Catholic partisans framed their military actions within cultures where the very idea of nation was less important than values such as international cooperation, solidarity, and respect for human rights across all borders.

'Italia': Education

[Notes] — Tullio De Mauro, former Minister of Education, remarked that 95% of Italians can now speak standard Italian fairly well. However, 49% of them only have the equivalent of a 5th grade education. These are mostly older adults, who grew up in rural areas or whose education was interrupted by the dramatic events of the World War II (the percentage of Italians with a 5th grade education or less was down to 26.6% in 2006, according to Istat).

Italia: Multiple identities

[Notes] — Other scholars, during the conference, remarked that Italy has a weak identity, and a polycentric profile. Each Italian has a multiple identity: local, regional and national. This may be the reason why many Italians, initially, were strong supporters of the European Union (EU). This also explains why so many support the idea of granting some political rights to legal immigrants, even before they acquire Italian citizenship.

The End