We’ve already talked about the relations between southern and northern Italians and the political message based on racism, propagated by the party called Lega Nord. One of this party’s statements, at the peak of its popularity at the end of 1990s, recalled the “Celtic origin” of northern Italians, in order to stimulate a sort of “Po-valley nationalism”.
History shows that the people who inhabit the Italian peninsula share different ancestors, due to their proximity both to continental Europe (for northern Italy) and to the Mediterranean area (for southern Italy). But the existence of Italy itself is a demonstration that it is actually possible to bring together several different peoples that would never have thought of being together, and this can serve as an example for the current divided EU.
One may think that Italy is a homogenous nation or, better still, that its population is homogenous. In 1991, non-Italian citizens living in Italy accounted for no more than 0.6%. In 2001 they represented 2.3% of the population. In 2011, 6.8%. Yes, this integration of an increasing number of “new Italians” (as many, currently, love to call the long-domiciled foreigners in Italy and their Italian-born children) is not always easy and intolerance may grow. But extreme actions are very rare: there is no Geert Wilders in Italy, there are no political parties based on anti-immigration sentiments. This may also be because such programmes sound suspiciously fascistic, and in Italy any kind of revival of a fascist party is against the Constitution. Of course, extremist parties that try to survive within the confines of the law, do exist. But they do not gather much support. The largest one is Lega Nord, which has the support of around 4% of Italian voters.
This is the current situation. But it has not always been like this. Italy was one of the last, among the biggest European countries, to become a nation-state. That happened in 1861 (and was only completed ten years later), through a war promoted by the Kingdom of Sardinia. Until then, the Italian peninsula was divided into several states, including the kingdom of the Two Sicilies, the Papal state, the kingdom of Sardinia and a lot of small duchies, grand-duchies, kingdoms of medieval heritage. These differences are still alive and visible today: if you move from one place in Italy to another, even within small distances, you can find different dialects, traditions, even food. In this aspect, I think that Italy is one of the most heterogeneous countries in Europe.
But we’re all Italians, sharing a common language and values, citizens of one of the biggest countries in Europe that would never have experienced its post-WWII development had it stayed divided into grand-duchies. And everyone would acknowledge this.
Of course, as I said in the beginning, part of the unification (annexation of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies thanks to the popular “Mille expedition”) was undertaken through violence and this cannot be a model. But there were also some states that voluntarily decided (through plebiscites) to hand over sovereignty, to join the kingdom of Italy in order to pursue the values of a stronger, more united state. And this has to be a model for Europe today: a united Italy was enough to cope with the rest of the world in the XIX century, but for the globalized world a truly united Europe, in which European states and citizens have to believe in order to hand over some sovereignty, is necessary.
This will not be easy, but if it was possible to unite the fragmented people of the Italian peninsula, it will be possible to unite Europeans, the necessary condition to advance towards a united Europe. As Massimo d’Azeglio said, “We have made Italy. Now we must make Italians.” Adapting this to current needs, let’s say: “We have to complete Europe. We must make Europeans.”