Italian Sesquicentennial

Giuseppe Garibaldi, the Italian Risorgimento hero.


This year (2011) is the sesquicentennial year (150th anniversary) of the unification of Italy.  Celebrations and commemorative events are being planned by Italian communities across the world, so, if you live in a city with a notable Italian presence, you may want to be on the lookout for such events.

Most thinking Italians will be aware of a couple of bittersweet ironical twists attending to these celebrations.  First, in the last couple of decades, the Italian polity has witnessed the rise of centrifugal forces which have tended to break up the country.  The fact that Northern and Southern Italy are separated by a deep cultural divide is undeniable: there are many in Italy who would like to realign the political reality to reflect these divisions.  The celebration of the anniversary of the unification, never a significant anniversary before in Italy, serves to combat these centrifugal tendencies.

The second irony is historical.  The “unification of Italy” refers, more specifically, to the annexation of the southern half of the country to the former Kingdom of Sardinia, ruled by the house of  Savoy.  This followed the storied exploit of Garibaldi and his Mille in 1860.  There were two main drivers that led to this outcome: first, a historical momentum towards unification that had been gathering since the Napoleonic era; second, an exaggerated sense of the “oppression” suffered by southern peoples at the hands of the ruling Bourbon dynasty, perceived as illiberal and backwards.  Unfortunately, the new Savoy rulers turned out (the granting of the Constitution notwithstanding) as oppressive and exploitative as the Bourbons, and many of Southern Italy’s modern ills can be traced to the self-serving methods employed by the Northerners as they took power in the South.

Nevertheless, today’s reality is a unified Italy, and, regardless of the vicissitudes of history, no thinking Italian will argue that there exists a better alternative.  For all its problems Italy is a strong, rich country that has made, and continues to make, significant contributions to the world.  The problems WILL be resolved, the future WILL be better than the past, and this year all Italians WILL celebrate the 150th anniversary of the unification!

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