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Controversy mars onset of Unity celebrations PDF Print E-mail
May 07, 2010 at 04:25 PM
Giuseppe Garibaldi

Exactly 150 years ago (plus two days), Giuseppe Garibaldi - the Italian general and patriot - set sail from in Northern Italy with 1162 armed volunteers on his way to Sicily where he planned to take advantage of local uprisings in Messina and Palermo to take Sicily from the Neapolitans and consign it to Savoy monarch, Victor Emanuel, of Piedmont as a first step in the conquest of the Italian South first and, eventually, Rome. It was here, during the battle of Calatafimi, that he was said to have pronounced to his lieutenant, Nino Bixio, the famous words, "Here either we make Italy, or we die".

Garibaldi did not die and many of his one thousand red shirts survived but despite a series of new battles and wars during the 1860s, it was not until September 20, 1870 when Piedmontese crack infantry troops breached Rome's Porta Pia gate to defeat Vatican and French forces that Italy was truly unified.

But for today's Italians, a unified Italy was born on May 5, 1860 and the celebrations that are to last through next year were set off on Wednesday with a moving speech by Italian President Giorgio Napolitano on the premises of a well-known Genoa high-tech company, Ansaldo.

This being Italy, however, there had to be complications and these came when, earlier in the week, Roberto Calderone, a cabinet minister hailing from the ranks of the Northern League, which at times has espoused patriotic alliance to a northern area they have dubbed, Padania, rather than to Italy said that unification meant nothing to the Lega and should not be celebrated. This led to several days of intense debates in the press and to a sharp retort by Napolitano. But despite the fact that much regionalism still exists here, it was interesting to note that most of the Italians queried - north, center and south - agreed that there was indeed something important to commemorate.

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