My Tuscan vacation gave me a few more clues as to why Italy is the way it is and why really it is not as united as it could be.
First of all I believe that Italy is a relatively young country, in the sense that the unification of the country only really began with Garibaldi. And Garibaldi’s exploits happened relatively recently and when all is said and done, did not really create one single united unit. Then there was Mussolini, who, although he did lots of bad, did attempt to make the country more united. He did not really succeed, fortunately, which is just as well because his vision of unity was that of a dictatorial fascist state. Although even now, there are people who yearn for a return to Mussolini’s idea of a united Italy. I know this because we met some people who make an annual pilgrimage to the celebrations of the man’s death, as though his passing were something of a loss for Italy. In part I can understand such people and it could be said that basically they just want Italy to be one single united unit.
Other things I learnt while chatting and overhearing Italians while on holiday were some of the possible reasons for the lack of unity in Italy. I’ll explain. As some will know, Italy is littered with hilltop towns and villages. The reasons for the high locations of these population centres were twofold. Logically, a hilltop town was easier to defend, but also, and maybe not so obviously, these locations allowed people to avoid the malaria ridden swamps which dominated much of central Italy until quite recently. Indeed, as I understand, Mussolini actually instigated a process of ‘bonificazione’, that is eliminating lowland swamps and thus eradicating the malaria problem. Just think what it was like before the swamps were drained.
Communications between individual towns would have been difficult to say the least, and this is probably why these small isolated units almost became tiny countries in their own rights. An enormously strong sense of community developed in these outposts and they became self-reliant just about to the point of independence. Certainly their inhabitants did not feel Italian, with their local dialects and traditions. Hence the reluctance, even today, of many Italians to feel one hundred percent Italian, and the wish of such people to maintain strong ties with their places of origin. This is something which still obstructs the true unity of the country, in my opinion. Yes, there is a north-south divide in the UK, but it is nothing like the ocean-sized gap which exists between north-south and to an extent central Italy.
Will the country ever become fully united? Not with the current crop of politicians, I fear. You almost wonder whether an new Mussolini could emerge and attempt a form of unification through indoctrination, as is generally the way with dictators. I believe, and really hope, that the chance of such a thing happening is quite slim. However, hearing Umberto Bossi’s virtual calls to arms the other day, does make you think. Nope, silly idea. It could not happen in modern Italy, even though it has to be said that one of the reasons why Italy maintains two similar police forces is supposed to be to reduce the likelihood of a coup occurring.
Change, if it happens at all, happens at walking pace in the Living Museum. At least I am starting to understand why Italians are so individualistic.
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