Veneto Region Autonomy: People Need Change But Everything Stalled - Author

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The Veneto region in Northern Italy has been striving for greater autonomy for years. For the region, which includes Venice, this is not just a political issue, but, above all, an issue of historical identity.

The result of a 2017 referendum on autonomy revived the hopes of the region’s residents that strengthened under the League - 5 Star government in June last year. However, with the current government crisis, the outcome of which is still unclear, the possibility of a decision on autonomy in the short-term seems to be up in the air.

The President of the Veneto region Luca Zaia, who invested a lot of energy in the autonomy project, has launched an appeal in support of residents' expectations: “A new government will decide on autonomy by November”. To understand what these expectations are based on, Sputnik spoke to Edoardo Rubini, author of numerous publications on the history of Venetians and the Venetian Republic, president of “Europa Veneta”, a member of the “Veneto-Russia” Association, and the “Independent Veneto Committee”.

Edoardo Rubini: Venetians have always considered themselves a separate nation. With its 14 centuries of history, the Venetian Republic is considered by many historians as the longest-lived parliamentary republic that ever existed. There was not a single official decree abolishing it. In 1796-1797 it was occupied by the army of Napoleon, and even under the Treaty of Campo Formio (Trattato di Campoformio) the Venetian territories were transferred to Austria as a sovereign state, which during the Congress of Vienna in 1815, was transformed into the Kingdom of Lombardy–Venetia. In 1848-49 Venetians again formed a new independent Venetian Republic under the leadership of Daniele Manin, who was hostile not only to Vienna, but also to the Kingdom of Sardinia (ruled from Piedmont). In 1866, after a plebiscite, which did not guarantee freedom of choice, a decree was issued according to which the entire Venetian region was annexed to the Italian kingdom.

Sputnik: Italy did not recognise the history of Veneto?

Edoardo Rubini: To this day, Italian state institutions pretend that there were no Venetians at all, and systematically deny their history. However, after the fall of fascism and the adoption of a new constitution in 1948, Venetians were partially compensated for the loss of their freedom: the Veneto region was created. Today we want Veneto schools to teach students our thousand-year history.

In 1971, the Statute of Veneto was adopted recognising that the self-government of the Venetian people be implemented in forms corresponding to the regions history. By the 1980s, the leaders of the region Carlo Bernini (Christian Democratic Party) and Umberto Carraro (Italian Socialist Party) began to formulate proposals on the special autonomous status of the region, given that Veneto was at a huge disadvantage over being surrounded by two regions with special status: Friuli-Venezia-Giulia and Trentino-Alto-Adige. In 2001, the centre-left government amended Article 116 of the Constitution, introducing the principle of “differentiated autonomy”, thus trying to contain the draft proposal on introducing autonomy by then-League party leader Umberto Bossi.

High Taxes and Low Government Investment

Sputnik: Why don't Venetians accept the current situation?

Edoardo Rubini: Facts speak for themselves. In Sicily, for example, since it is an autonomy, there are 82,000 civil servants, more than in Piedmont (37,000) and Veneto (43,000) combined, although the population of Sicily is 5.057 million, which is equal to the population of Veneto alone.

There are also specific cases. There are about 600 foresters in Veneto, and about 28,000 in Sicily. In Veneto, there's 465,000 hectares of forest, in Sicily, according to recent estimates, there are only a few more.

Another example: the cash flow received by the Province of Bolzano (South Tyrol) for the restoration of tourist attractions, infrastructure development, promoting the region as a whole, the construction sector and much more. This allows you to increase salaries, while in Belluno (Belluno, a province in the Veneto region) they do not receive the same aid because the region does not have similar resources. Enterprises in our regions often become the victims of insatiable Italian tax authorities and are forced to close; so our region is becoming poorer. And let's not forget that the amount of taxes paid by the citizens of Veneto that is spent outside the region today amounts to 15.4 billion euros.

Sputnik: What will happen to Veneto if the region does not get the coveted autonomy?

Edoardo Rubini: I am an administrative official and work in the region. It is known that in the last decades a plan was prepared in Rome with the goal of reducing the powers of local autonomies in order to transfer them to transnational corporations. And first of all, drastic cuts in spending on the regions contribute to their decline: this is the destiny that they have in store for us.

Sputnik: Are you in favour of autonomy or the independence of Veneto? What do Venetians themselves want?

Edoardo Rubini: I am a lawyer by profession, I am well aware of the difference between autonomy and independence. Venetians care about the essence. It doesn’t matter whether we will need to demand full independence or only true autonomy in order to gain more freedom. It is important that Venetians receive the authority to govern their territory. During the 2017 referendum, the current head of the region Luca Zaia won with the slogan “Masters of our house” (Padroni in casa nostra), and the turnout then exceeded all possible expectations, almost two and a half million people cast their votes, in total 98.1% spoke in favor of autonomy.

Significance of the 2017 Referendum

Sputnik: In your opinion, why, despite such a successful referendum, in practice everything remained the same? What was the mistake?

Edoardo Rubini: At that time, the Northern League (Lega Nord, now - League) was leading the fight for autonomy. The statements made by politicians in those months hid one simple truth: some wanted regional autonomy, while others feared it. Small groups of oligarchs defend consolidated privileges (Roman bureaucracy, trade union and industrial organisations, judicial associations, banking, international corporations, Italian newspapers, and influential businessman from the South).

Obviously, such a reform can only take place with the full mobilisation of all the citizens of our region. And since Rome has always wanted to take away and never wanted to give anything, the only message that would have allowed President Zaia to carry out reforms was: “Dear government, if you do not approve the text of the preliminary agreement between the state and the region, the whole of Veneto will protest for its future”. People need change but everything stalled. Each idea has its leader, but Zaia does not seem to be very enthusiastic about playing this role. For now he prefers to make changes only at the institutional level through contacts between a few of his employees, disregarding the opinion of the people in the region. So he loses, and the situation remains the same. I studied history and I can say that any political revolution in the name of the people succeeds only if the people play a major role in it.

Sputnik: The government is now in crisis, and with such a political situation the prospects for real autonomy of the region seem illusive. What do you think?

Edoardo Rubini: This is a huge disappointment. Some say to be patient, but philosophy here does not help. And those who are looking forward to the future government of Matteo Salvini and Giorgia Meloni should remember that the head of the party Brothers of Italy (Fratelli d’Italia) had spoken out for the boycott of the referendum on autonomy on 22 October 2017. And in order to approve the requirements of Veneto, politicians must reach an agreement that has not yet happened.

The views and opinions expressed by the speaker do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

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