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Italy, a divided country, celebrates 150 years of unity. PDF Print E-mail
Mar 20, 2011 at 12:25 PM
Image So there were fireworks, fighter jet planes leaving tri-color streaks across the skies, a solemn ceremony at the tomb of the unknown soldier at Piazza Venezia, impassioned speeches by Italian president Giorgio Napolitano, sound and light shows, exhibitions - and even, at least in here in the capital - a smattering of flags displayed from Roman windows.

And then there was a lot of bickering, a lot of harsh words, with most MPs and other officials from the periodically autonomist Northern League party boycotting the celebrations. Not to mention the opponents of Silvio Berlusconi who chorused "resign, resign" while the prime minister, for once keeping a low profile, accompanied the 85-year old Napolitano on the various stops of this past Thursday's celebrations. Celebrations, it must be admitted, that were just a teeny bit forced and which for many Italians was simply another chance to do their favorite thing and go away for a long, if possibly undeserved, holiday.

So what else is new? Italians - or at least the residents of this gloriously beautiful country, have always argued among themselves. There was violent infighting among the leaders of the Roman Republic, culminating in Julius Caesar's murder. During the Renaissance, Guelfs and Ghibellines were at each others throats. And indeed historians tell us that Count Cavour, Giuseppe Mazzini and Giuseppe Garibaldi, the three major figures of the Italian "Risorgimento", or unification process, were continually at odds with one another and agreed on very little.

The first part of the 20th century was characterized by hatred between Fascists and anti-fascists. After the Second World War there was more of that and then decades of arguing between Christian Democrats and Communists. Now we've for the pro Berlusconi and the anti Berlusconi groups, not to mention the anti-Italy Northern Leaguers who just happen to have three cabinet ministers in Berlusconi's very Italian government but at the same time say they don't want to have anything to do with "Rome ladra", theiving Rome.

As the French say, "plus ça change....."

Other countries, of course, have their own divisions. In the U.S., there was a terrible civil war and today there are the red states and the blue states. Spain went through an incredibly bloody civil war in the 1930s and still suffers from violence by would-be separatists. France had its own bloody revolution and a terrible wartime experience when it was over run by the Nazis. Britain had Northern Ireland. But somehow the citizens of these countries seem to share more of a common identity than than so the Italians.

Which is a shame, since this country with its 8000 cities and villages, its remarkably diverse and beautiful geography, its Roman and Christian history, its magnificent churches and monuments, and the artists, scientists, explorers who have appeared through most of its centuries of civilization have left a legacy that does, despite everything, offer a lot to be proud of.

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