Overseas Perspectives    
by Sandra Giovanna Giacomazzi 

La Padania - Mythical Republic of Northern Italy

For those Americans who were planning a future trip to northern Italy:  Relax, you probably won’t have to get a special Visa for what Umberto Bossi had hoped would be the newfound republic of La Padania.  I don’t imagine very many readers were worried about it, but Italian journalists around the world seemed to think that everyone was as concerned about Italy splitting in two as the Italian government was.

Last Sunday during the Bosnian election proceedings, obviously trying to force an analogy between the civil war that ripped apart the former Yugoslavia and the threat that Bossi’s separatists pose to the national unity of Italy, a journalist from the state television station, Rai, asked Bosnians what they thought about Mr. Bossi and his separatist Northern League party.  They received the disappointing response that no one had even heard of him.

The journalist from Turin’s “La Stampa” got more satisfaction from her questioning of John F. Kennedy, Jr. on the matter.  According to the interviewer, after confessing that Bossi is the Italian politician that he finds to be the most striking, calling him a curious and intriguing personality, Kennedy had to clarify that his interest was purely journalistic and that he did not in any way share or condone Bossi’s ideas.  Evidently his point wasn’t made with whoever is in charge of writing the headlines since the article was headed by the title:  Kennedy Jr. “I, seduced by Bossi.”  Quotation marks and all!  That probably made the journalist who interviewed him cringe as much as it would have Kennedy!

Who is Umberto Bossi and why do his constituents of the Northern League want to separate?  This movement is most unique in that it doesn’t call upon any century old nationalistic, ethnic, or religious claims for unity.  Although the regions of Italy were once city-states and many still retain their regional culture, dialects, and culinary specialties, a strong sense of national unity still runs along the entire length of the peninsula.  Notwithstanding a certain amount of geographical racism expressed by the productive north towards the impoverished south, no one until Bossi had ever seriously raised the question of dividing the country in two.

Even Bossi isn’t sure where to draw the line between his hypothetical division of north and south.  This weekend’s theatrical demonstration took place all along the Val Padana from Piedmont to Veneto on the river Po, which gives its name to the Valley and to the mythical new nation that Bossi has baptized the Padania.  However, the Po River divides many regions in half.  And even some of the regions well below the Po, share much more with northern prosperity than they do with southern desperation.

Residents of the northern regions were called upon to come down to the riverside last Sunday to cast their ballot for a peaceful separation from Rome and the founding of a new republic.  The demonstrations received a much poorer turnout than expected.  The numbers who showed up for the counter-demonstrations in favor of national unity were better organized and can boast a more numerous turnout.

In the Northern League’s more sensible days they preached a form of federalism that would allow more tax money to remain at the source, instead of disappearing into the bottomless pit in Rome to be divided among the vulture-like politicians instead of going to the public projects for which it was intended.  They even borrowed some of their slogan rhetoric from the American Revolution, expostulating against “taxation without representation.”  In this respect, their gripes were certainly legitimate.  And although Umberto Bossi’s uncouth manners have always turned many people off, the aftermath of the Clean Hands trials left a political vacuum that left the terrain ripe for the Northern League to gather an impressive number of votes for its cause in the last two general elections.
The Northern League had its best opportunity to put its words into action during the Berlusconi government.  Having won the elections in March 1994 as a coalition partner with Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and the right-wing National Alliance party, the Northern League had acquired all of five ministries in the new government, not to mention the honor when their young Irene Pivetti was elected president of the lower house.

However, like many revolutionaries, Bossi was good at the criticism and demolition of old institutions, but less adept at constructing new ones.  He betrayed his own coalition partners, without which his party would never have gained such important positions in the power structure, and brought down Berlusconi’s government.  This caused a governmental crisis which lasted a year and a half with the “technocrat” Dini at the helms of an “interim” government which lasted longer than the elected government!

During the last elections in April of this year, the League was forced to go it on their own.  After his about face betrayal of Berlusconi, nobody in his right mind was willing to form a coalition with Bossi, no matter how strong his numbers were.

After this weekend’s demonstrations the left wing government is promising to dedicate more attention to the issue of federalism.  However, if Bossi keeps up with his demented rhetoric, insulting journalists and expelling the most moderate members of his ranks from his own party, including Irene Pivetti, he may cause the league to disintegrate before the government has the chance to examine any of their more serious and feasible demands.

September 1996

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