“Why should we be surprised Italy is falling apart? With dozens of languages and a hastily made union, it was barely a real country to begin with….
“It took four centuries for the seven kingdoms of Anglo-Saxon England to finally become one in the 10th, yet nearly all the territories of the seven states that made up 19th-century Italy were molded together in less than two years, between the summer of 1859 and the spring of 1861. The pope was stripped of most of his dominions, the Bourbon dynasty was exiled from Naples, the dukes of central Italy lost their thrones, and the kings of Piedmont became monarchs of Italy. At the time, the speed of Italian unification was regarded as a kind of miracle, a magnificent example of a patriotic people uniting and rising up to eject foreign oppressors and home-bred tyrants.
“However, the patriotic movement that achieved Italian unification was numerically small — consisting largely of young middle-class men from the north — and would have had no chance of success without foreign help. A French army expelled the Austrians from Lombardy in 1859; a Prussian victory enabled the new Italian state to acquire Venice in 1866.
“In the rest of Italy, the Risorgimento (or Resurgence) wars were not so much struggles of unity and liberation as a succession of civil wars. Giuseppe Garibaldi, who had made his name as a soldier in South America, fought heroically with his red-shirted volunteers in Sicily and Naples in 1860, but their campaigns were in essence a conquest by northern Italians of southern Italians, followed by the imposition of northern laws on the southern state known as the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. Yet the southern city of Naples did not feel liberated — only 80 citizens of Italy’s largest city volunteered to fight for Garibaldi — and its people soon became embittered that the city had exchanged its role as the 600-year-old capital of an independent kingdom for the status of a provincial center. Today, its status remains reduced, and southern GDP is barely half what it is in the regions of the north….
“When you ask citizens of, for example, Pisa how they identify themselves, they are likely to answer first as Pisans, then as Tuscans, and only after as Italians or Europeans. As many Italians cheerfully admit, their sense of belonging to the same nation becomes apparent only during the World Cup, when the Azzurri, the members of the national soccer team, are playing well….”
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