“Little Democracies”: The Disunification of Italy

I’ve been sent on a fool’s errand: to explain Italian politics.  As those of you who have spent extended periods of time in the “Mediterranean boot” know, this is a challenging task.  Understanding it requires doggedness—and a bit of masochism, too—given the internecine struggles for power and influence, the political divisions, intrigue, and tensions that go back centuries, and the sheer complexity of the country’s legislative and regulatory system.

At the core of this errand is the desire to understand the importance of a pair of successful referendums in northern Italy, both seeking greater “economic devolution.”   Held on October 22 in the wealthy northern regions of Lombardy and Veneto, they were dismissed by some as the fancies of regional extremists; others suggested they were a way for the right-wing Lega Nord (Northern League)—the party that dominates regional politics and which promoted the referendums—to jump-start its nationwide campaign ahead of the country’s March general elections.

Taking place a mere three weeks after Catalonia’s own troubling, at times violent, referendum on secession (illegal under Spain’s constitution), much international attention was focused on the Italian referendums.  In fact, various groups in Lombardy and Veneto, as well as in the province of Südtirol, supported the Catalonia...

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