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Italy to celebrate 150th anniversary - but not all approve PDF Print E-mail
Feb 21, 2011 at 06:30 PM
Image After weeks of to-ing and fro-ing, the Italian government has finally decided to declare March 17th an official holiday to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Italian unity which falls this year. But the issue is still fraught with controversy and dissent. Several members of the government say that giving Italians another day off in a time of economic crisis makes no sense, especially as the festivities will also leave a dent in the Italian budget. Most have come round to supporting the Cabinet's decision but not the ministers who belong to the autonomist Northern League.

The idea for a celebration, which has been talked about for the last two years, is backed strongly by Italian president Giorgio Napolitano who, convinced that Italians need to have greater pride in their common history, reportedly had sent out invitations to dozens of other heads of state and government even before the Cabinet finally got around to approving it.

One of the major opponents of the holiday is Roberto Calderoni, the Minister of Simplification, who is a member of the Northern League, the powerful smaller party which favors what it terms fiscal federalism as part of a desire for greater autonomy for the Italian north and which is responsible for keeping Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in power during the ongoing "Ruby"scandal.

Two weeks ago, Luis Durnwalder, governor of the province of Bolzano-Bozen near the Austrian border, said the province, which is semi-autonomous and has a German-speaking majority, would not be joining in the celebrations.

But yesterday, the Italian mayor of Bolzano, Liugi Spagnolli, went on television to say that his city nevertheless would be fully participating in the festivities. He criticized Durnwalder for his uncooperative attitude and said it was not likely to help relations between the two different ethnic groups.

On March 17, 1861, in Turin, King Victor Emanuel II of the Kingdom of Savoy and Sardinia , officially assumed the title of King of Italy for himself and his heirs, "By the will of God and the country", he said, adding "Long live the Kingdom of Italy". The formation of Italy as a state, rather than as just an ethnic grouping or nation (in 1815 at the Congress of Vienna, the Austrian diplomat, Count Metternich disparagingly called Italy "just an expression" rather than a nation) was made possible by the defeat of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies in the Italian South by Giuseppe Garibaldi and his Red Shirts allied with the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia.

Of course, Italy did not truly become united until 1870 when Piedmontese troups entered Rome, thereby defeating the Pope who at the time still controlled much of central Italy including most of the modern Italian regions of Romagna, Marche, Umbria and Lazio. But 1861 is considered the date of the country's real birth.

A vast number of celebrations are planned thoughout the country, with some 400 sites named as "historic places", including - in Rome - the Janiculum Park near which some of the most important battles against the Pope and his French supporters were waged. Statues and other monuments are to be restored, and several new museums will be opened.

Three major exhibitions are planed in Turin and Rome, not to mention smaller shows elsewhere in the country. Various conventions that are planned will be allowed to use the 150th anniversary logo. A website planned for later this year will provide schools with texts and multimedia material. And the worldwide network of Italian Culture Institutes will be holding exhibitions and conferences.

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