June 2 marks the Festa della Repubblica – Feast of the Republic – in Italy. The day commemorates a 1946 referendum in which the Italian people voted to decide their form of government — monarchy or republic — in a tense and chaotic climate following the end of Fascism and the Second World War. Though controversy about irregularities in counting the votes were numerous, Italy was declared a republic. After 85 years of reign the monarchy ended, and the members of the House of Savoy were exiled.
To celebrate the Festa della Repubblica, a grand military parade is held in Rome, presided over by the President of the Republic, currently Giorgio Napolitano. The Prime Minister (currently Silvio Berlusconi) and other public figures will be in attendance.
Giorgio Napolitano called for national unity on this day, but Italy feels anything but united. Political squabbles are continuous, scandals and muckraking a daily occurrence, and political parties with vastly different points of view struggle to form a coalition based on keeping themselves in power rather than offering a coherent agenda for the country. Umberto Bossi, the founder of the Lega Nord political party and a member of parliament, has often called for northern Italian regions to secede from Italy. Current legislation under discussion aims to silence journalists, while proposing limits to wiretapping that opponents say will benefit criminals, and magistrates are threatening to go on strike in protest.
I see a country in a fragile state of balance, and have the sense that Italians are scrambling in a free for all to grab what they can before the current government falls. Though this is hardly new, it is still painfully sad. During my 22 years in Italy, the only time Italy felt truly united was in 2006, when it won the soccer World Cup. At least for a few weeks the citizens of Italy were all proud to be Italian.
All that said, I’ll be celebrating just the same, with the hope that fervently believing in the Republic is the first step to actually having one. Viva l’Italia!