Montecitorio 17/03/2011

Statement of Italian President Giorgio Napolitano at the joint Session of Parliament on the opening of celebrations of the 150th anniversary of Italian Unity

Your Excellencies the Former Presidents of the Italian Republic, Your Excellency the President of the Senate,
Your Excellency the President of the Chamber of Deputies,
Mr Prime Minister, Your Honour the President of the Constitutional Court, Honourable Members of Parliament,
Honourable Representatives of Italian Regions, Provinces and Municipalities, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I feel I must extend my greetings and my thanks to all those of you here who accepted the invitation to celebrate and commemorate the 150th anniversary of Italian unity: and I wish also to thank all the Italians whom I had occasion to meet or who expressed their sincere feelings and thoughts in the messages they sent me, and further to thank all the public entities and private individuals and organizations who organized a large number of initiatives all over the country. They include elected bodies and public administrations; Regions, Provinces and, above all, municipalities; and also mayors, particularly those representing small Communes, confirming that the latter are the institutions with the oldest and deepest-rooted historical tradition, the heart of democratic self-government and of any autonomous arrangement.

They include schools too, whose teachers and heads have expressed the depth of their feelings for the values of national unity while stimulating and noting the attention and interest of many of their students; prestigious cultural associations active at national level, Universities and local Associations that keep our history alive in the thousand places where it unfolded; and also publishing houses, newspapers and radio and television, particularly public broadcasting. Thank you all. Thanks to those of who gave their support in the inter-ministerial Committee and in the Board of Trustees and especially to its Chairman. We may well be satisfied at this deployment of initiatives and contributions which will extend far beyond today's event. And we may be proud too of the unprecedented way in which so many people everywhere have rediscovered our symbols - the tricolour flag, the national anthem and the melodies of the Risorgimento.

Therefore, a large number of people appreciated and shared the conviction which inspired us. I shall formulate it as follows: the memory of the events which led to the birth of Italy as a unified nation and the consideration of how far we have come since may prove of great help in the difficult phase this country is living through today - a period of deep and relentless change in international affairs. Those memories can be most helpful in producing the collective responses that we most need: pride and confidence; critical awareness of the problems still to be resolved and of the new challenges to be faced; a sense of mission and of national unity. That is the spirit in which we approached the celebrations of the 150th anniversary.

Pride and confidence above all. Let us not be afraid of drawing such a lesson from the history of the Risorgimento! Let us not allow ourselves to be paralyzed by the fear of rhetoric: all we need to do to avoid it is to rely on the evidence of facts that speak for themselves. The unification of Italy represented an extraordinary historical achievement because of the conditions under which it was accomplished, of the characteristics and the importance it assumed and of the success it obtained, a success which exceeded most expectations and rewarded the hopes of the boldest. How was that result seen by the world? Let us re-read the letter which the Prime Minister sent that historic day, 17 March 1861, to Emanuele Tapparelli D'Azeglio, head of the Italian Legation in London: "The National Parliament has just voted and the King has approved the law by virtue of which His Majesty Victor Emmanuel II assumes the title of King of Italy for himself and his successors. Constitutional legality has thus consecrated the work of justice and reparation which has returned Italy unto itself. From this day on, Italy loudly proclaims its existence to the world. The right she had of being independent and free, and which she upheld on battlefields and in Councils, she solemnly proclaims today."

Cavour's words reflected his emotion and his pride for this accomplishment: and they are sentiments which we can still identify with today. The centuries-old voyage of the Italian idea had come to its destination. That guiding ideal, long promoted through masterworks of language, literature and culture, had grown stronger in the age of the French and Napoleonic Revolution and in the following decades when it was able to draw support and muster fighting forces, inspire calls for freedom and revolutionary movements and finally find acceptance in the years that proved decisive in the development of the movement for unity up to its final conclusion in 1861. However legitimate and illuminating, no debate - concerning the darker aspects, the contradictions and the tensions which marked that movement - can overshadow the basic fact of the historic leap forward which the birth of our national State constituted for all Italians and for the populations of all parts of the country, from both North and South, who united. That was what brought us into the modern age and removed the barriers that had stood in the way.

Is it necessary to recall the conditions Italians were living in before unity? Let us do so in the words of Giuseppe Mazzini - 1845: "We have no flag of our own, no political name, no voice among the nations of Europe; we have no common centre, no common accord and no common market. We lie dismembered in eight States independent the one from the other... Eight customs boundaries... divide our material interests and hamper our progress... eight different monetary systems, eight kinds of weights and measures, of civil, commercial and penal law and of administrations make us strangers one to the other". Those eight states, Mazzini continued, were governed despotically, with "one of them - containing almost a quarter of the Italian population - belonging to a foreign country, to Austria". Yet Mazzini did not doubt that an Italian nation existed and that instead of there being "five, four or three Italian nations" there was "one Italy".

Thus what drove masses of patriots - aristocrats, bourgeois, workers and common people, the educated and the uneducated, monarchists and republicans - to join the battle for national unity was an awareness of their fundamental interests and pressing common needs together with an unquenchable thirst for freedom and independence. Theirs were hard, bloody battles in which young and very young people fought with magnificent idealism, heroically prepared to sacrifice themselves and to perform feats of bravery for all that they might be doomed to failure. It is right that we should once more be honouring their memory today and recalling the events and people involved, starting with the anniversary last May of the Redshirts' expedition and concluding with the tribute we paid this morning to the places and to the extraordinary figures of the glorious Roman Republic of 1849.

The events of the Risorgimento are a source of deep and continuing pride for Italy and for Italians for many reasons, and it is enough here to note just a few. First of all, there was the supreme skill of Cavour's political leadership. It enabled subjectively and objectively different people and factions sometimes in open conflict to join together in pursuing a single, concrete and decisive goal. Secondly there was the emergence in society, especially among urban dwellers and in Italian cities, of rich and perhaps unexpected reserves - in terms of idealism, political sensibility and human resources - reflected in the energy of the volunteers who became an active and essential component of the movement for Unity. The presence of such resources also explains increased support for the movement not only from small groups of intellectuals but from significant segments of society, thanks also to the spread of new forms of communication and information.

And lastly I should like to underline the exceptional stature of the principal figures of the Risorgimento, of the individuals who inspired and took part in the movement for unity. They make up a formidable gallery of talents and personalities - with the female characters neither appreciated nor studied enough until recently - of intellectuals and men of action. Starting with the most famous of them: consider not only the imprint left in history but the legacy which students and the general public can draw on today with renewed zeal, of the unsurpassable myth of Giuseppe Garibaldi, an epic famous throughout the world, and certainly not an artificially constructed legend. Or consider also the different but equally important legacies left by Cavour, Mazzini and Cattaneo. We know that the protagonists of the Risorgimento disagreed and fought each other: but each understood the importance of the contribution the others had to make towards achieving what was considered a common objective, even though that may not have sufficed to resolve fundamental differences that were a source of continuing bitterness. I have mentioned the leading actors but many other names - among the moderates and in the catholic-liberal and democratic camps - could be put forward as evidence of an extraordinary flowering of personalities who left a striking mark in the political arena, in civil society and in public administration.

Such powerful motives for Italian pride are confirmed by the tributes paid at the time and subsequently offered from abroad by leading political and cultural figures of other countries: they recognized the importance for Europe of the birth of a United Italy and the impact which it had on other national movements that emerged in the last few decades of the XIXth Century and subsequently. Nor can we forget the European dimension of Cavour's vision and political work and the significant presence, in the baggage of ideals of the Risorgimento, of the noble utopia of the United States of Europe.

As the 150th anniversary approaching, debate broke out in Italy once more both concerning the limits of, and the pressures brought to bear on, the process of unification and on the most controversial decisions taken after Unification. Ignoring such questions and glossing over the critical and negative aspects of the course followed before and after 1860-61 would certainly amount to giving in to the temptation of painting history in rosy tints and of bowing to the blandishments of rhetoric.

But certain sensationalistic simplifications are misleading: like, for example, imagining the movement for unity coming to a halt at the border of a hypothetical Kingdom of Upper Italy, as opposed to the broader and more inclusive vision of a united Italy, which corresponded to the ideal of the movement for nationhood (something Cavour well understood, as Rosario Romeo has taught us) - a vision and a goal which Garibaldi's exploit, the Redshirts' Expedition, made irresistible. Unity could only be brought about by paying the price for a series of pre-existing limitations such as the absence from public life of the peasant class, which is to say of the great majority of the population then. It meant having to bear the weight of a potentially explosive social problem. Unity could only come about under the aegis of the most advanced state in the Italian peninsula, one that was liberally-oriented and open and receptive to the Italian cause and its combatants: i.e. under the mantle of the Savoy dynasty and of Piedmont's moderate political class, embodied by Cavour. That was the objective condition which Garibaldi, albeit a democrat and a republican, recognized with good-hearted realism with his "Italy and Victor Emmanuel". And while the firefight between Garibaldi's followers and the Royal Army on the Aspromonte mountains remains a painful memory of the bitter differences that marked the process of unification, what appears strange is today's tendency for people to be scandalized at "discovering" how the military battles fought for Unity were obviously also battles between Italians, in the same way as in all the countries where national movements for liberty and independence arose.

But beyond simplistic arguments and artificial polemics it is more worthwhile to turn to the most recent thinking and debate on the decisions taken immediately after unification by the governing forces of the new nation. Seriously critical studies are to be found on the subject: but none of them can avoid starting out from an objective historical assessment of the situation in pre-Unity Italy - the conditions inherited by the new Government and national Parliament. Italy's leaders were faced with the absolute necessity of enabling the new-born State to survive and develop, a priority that could not but take precedence over a more considered and far-sighted examination of the options available. That was certainly the case as regarded the choice between centralization, providing continuity and uniformity vis-à-vis the State of Piedmont on the one hand and - if not federalism - decentralization with forms of autonomy and self-government at regional level on the other. The question was aptly summed up by Gaetano Salvemini, a great historian who was also a prominent critic, and his words remain valid today. "Between 1860 and 1870, those governing Italy," he wrote, "found themselves having to face formidable difficulties". What mattered at the time - according to Salvemini - was creating "a political and administrative system capable of satisfying Italy's need for independence and national unity". And so, through errors no less grave than the difficulties to be overcome, "a Cyclopean work" - to use the historian's words once more - "was accomplished. Out of seven armies, one was created. The first lines of the national rail network were laid down. A merciless tax system was created to sustain growing public expenditure and to pay the interest on debts...Relations between the State and the Church were renewed completely."

And banditry was eradicated in southern Italy - a vital necessity in order to ward off the danger of Ancien Régime reactions and the disintegration of the nation, which costed the savage repression used against the savagery of the bandits and, in the longer term, reinforced the tendency amongst southerners to view the State with hostility and detachment - an attitude which was increasingly to take hold in the Mezzogiorno.
We have good reason to admire the way we built ourselves into a nation considering the dramatic problems existing at the time and the "Cyclopean work" of unification served as the basis for a national market and our modern economic and civil development. We may also find reason to be proud of what came into being and started to be built 150 years ago, and cause for confidence in the traditions which we maintain as Italians. But at the same time we can achieve full critical awareness of the problems which Italy had, and still has, to reckon with. They included institutional and political problems and weaknesses which - in the decades that followed Unity - were to have a decisive effect on the travails of the State and of Italian society, and which led, after the First World War, to a deep crisis that was violently settled under the iron fist of fascism. Equally this had to do with problems and weaknesses of a structural, social and civil kind.

The former problems are the ones which now appear to us to have been given - during the past century - more appropriate solutions. I refer to the State's renewal as a democracy, the great event crowning Italy's liberation from totalitarian dictatorship and from the new form of bondage which the country was forced into by the fascist war and the defeat that brought it to an end. It was made possible by the emergence of forces hardened in the fight against fascism and German occupation who were joined in the Resistance by large numbers of soldiers remaining faithful to their oath. This liberation culminated in the exceptional cultural and idealistic climate and in the strong atmosphere of fellowship - stronger than any historical or ideological differences - in the Constituent Assembly.

The Constitution approved in December 1947 finally gave shape to a new design of the State founded on a system of principles and guarantees to which the Republic's system of government always remained bound, despite the foreseeable way it developed in practice. As explicitly stated in the Ruini report on the draft Constitution, "the deepest innovation" consisted in designing the State along autonomous bases in accordance with the fundamental principle of Article 5 which linked the unity and indivisibility of the Republic to the recognition and the promotion of autonomous local bodies, i.e. Regions, Provinces and Communes, as set out in the second part of the Charter. The Ruini report was equally explicit in presenting that innovation as correcting the centralization that was established when Italy was united.

The following several decades, which evidenced the delays, gaps and distortions involved in implementing that principle and those constitutional norms, led ten years ago to the revision of Title V of the Charter. And it is no coincidence that it should have been the only reform of the Constitution to be approved by Parliament, confirmed by electors and given concrete application by successive governments of varying political persuasions. In essence it amounted to reinstating the federalist ideal which was presented in varying forms but failed to find acceptance in the development and dénouement of the movement for Italian Unity. In the aftermath of Unity even the moderate plans for autonomy drafted by the Government were swept aside by prevailing fears and preoccupations. That also goes for the brief period Cavour had left to live, notwithstanding his reiterated opposition to the principle of centralization - although he was not in favour of federalism either.

And as we celebrate the anniversary of Unity today we find public attention intent on verifying the conditions under which a move towards federalism - not only in the financial field - could give greater autonomy and powers to regional and local institutions, renewing and strengthening the foundations of national unity. That sort of strengthening, and not its opposite, is the real goal to be pursued.

Besides, in our history and in our world vision, the world unity goes hand in hand with other words like: plurality, diversity, solidarity, subsidiarity.
As regards the problems and structural, social and civil weaknesses I mentioned and which we inherited among the other things left undone in the process of unification and which have come down to us today, the problem that lies at the heart of our national worries and responsibilities is the gap between North and South and the situation of the Mezzogiorno. That is the issue where adequate responses are least forthcoming. One difficulty has to do with the attempts and efforts undertaken repeatedly over the decades of Italy as a Republic - initiatives that while not fruitless have never yielded conclusive results; another involves the loss of the awareness of the potential held out by the Mezzogiorno for the country's overall development - a potential which it would be fatal for everyone not to see fulfilled.

In addressing that crucial question it is worth heeding my appeals to make the 150th anniversary of the Unity of Italy an occasion for a profound critical reflection and for what I have termed "a collective examination of conscience". No part of the country can be absolved from undertaking such self-appraisal while it is also essential that the governing classes and the citizens of the Mezzogiorno should also engage in a serious reflection on their own conduct.

Social issues, the problems of inequality and injustice - of various phenomena which heavily penalize a part of our society - existing in Italy today, often and in no small measure have to do with the Mezzogiorno, but this has to be seen in its overall national profile and weight. Here too there are hangovers from and ancient faults to be taken into account, starting with the chronic absence of any possibility of employment which, in times gone by, and even after the birth of the Republic, turned Italy into a country of massive emigration: a country which today has to live with the complex phenomenon of migratory pressure, of immigrant workers and of the need to integrate them into society. Without fear of over-simplifying the social problem, I say that it should be seen above all in terms of the dramatic lack of any chance of employment for a significant part of the younger generations and of the impossibility for them to fulfill their individual potential.

And there is no doubt that the answer lies, generally speaking, in bringing increased quality and dynamism to our economic development, with employers and organized labour - both of whom have over more than a century, undergone deep and radical transformations - called on to play a leading role today, just as they have at every stage in the construction, reconstruction and growth of the national economy.

But it is certainly not my intention to list all of the challenges awaiting us. I should like us, however, to be able to share the conviction that they represent real challenges which, however demanding and difficult, require a great spirit of sacrifice and innovation together with a new and realistic vision of the general interest. We can find the resources of confidence we need in considering how we overcame the many difficult trials that arose in the course of our history and in setting about the consolidation of the fundamental reference points we need in our future.

After Unity, Italy successfully overcame an extraordinarily difficult and important problem by gradually resolving its conflict with the Catholic Church. After 1861 the objective of complete national unity was pursued and achieved in various ways including the third War of Independence of 1866 and with the conclusion of the First World War of 1915-18. An irremissible objective was that of making Rome the capital of the new-born Italian nation within a reasonable period. And as every attempt at negotiation failed, Rome's military occupation inevitably brought about a conflict with the Papacy and the Church. But a solution was sought with intelligence, moderation and a capacity for mediation as the Liberal-governed State showed with the Guarantee Law passed in 1871. This approach - after the Lateran Pacts were underwritten in 1929 and then integrated into the Constitution - led in recent times to the revision of the Concordat. On Italy's side, the objective was to preserve the lay status of the State together with freedom of religion and the gradual elimination of any separation and opposition between lay people and Catholics in social and public life.

The same end and the same goal were pursued and fully guaranteed under the Constitution of Italy as a Republic and increasingly became part of a highly constructive relationship, a "collaboration for the promotion of man and the good of the country" that included recognition of the social and public role of the Catholic Church and, together, guarantees of religious pluralism. That relationship today represents one of our mainstays in consolidating national cohesiveness and unity, as was demonstrated in very eloquent terms by the message sent to me on the occasion of this anniversary by Pope Benedict XVI, for which I thank him. The message ably recalled Christianity's fundamental contribution in shaping Italy's identity over the centuries as well as in involving leading Catholic figures in the creation of a unified State, as well as the contribution of the Catholics and of their school of thought to drafting the Constitution and their subsequent role in the country's political, social and civil life.

Many are the hurdles we have overcome and many are the high points experienced in the course of our history, and they can give us the confidence we need to help us face the challenges of today and those lying in the future ! Looking back on just one period, the one that followed Italy's defeat and collapse in 1943, the Resistance and the birth of the Republic, the memory of an abyss of destruction and of a general retreat which we might understandably have viewed insurmountable is still vivid in the minds of the people who, as youngsters like me, lived through that crucial moment.

And yet Italy found the political skills to avert the risks of separatism and of the amputation of part of her national territory and managed to get back on her feet. The first, perhaps truest "miracle" was that of reconstruction and then - despite bitter ideological political and social disputes - the spectacular progress, exceeding all forecasts, of an Italian economy whose bases has been laid in the country's first 50 years. Italy then became part of the group of most industrialized and advanced countries in the world - a group which she joined and still remains a member of thanks to the greatest historical innovation it was able to participate in from the 1950s onwards: European integration. This became, and remains the fundamental basis for Italy's increased involvement in the wider transatlantic and international community. Our wholehearted, unreserved, assertive and propulsive participation in a United Europe remains the biggest chance we have of rising to the challenges, the opportunities and the problems of globalization.

We have had to clear equally dangerous and difficult hurdles in postwar Italy both as regards defence and the consolidation of our democratic institutions. I refer to devious and corrosive perils as well as to violent and generalized attacks - like terrorism and bombings - which it was not simple to counter and which we only succeeded in defeating thanks to our solid foundations in the Constitution and to the strength of the many forms of our democratic participation in social and political life. They are the same resources as we increasingly use against a phenomenon that remains devastating - organized crime.

In all of those cases an essential element which contributed to final success was the strong unifying force present in the country - something that would have been unthinkable without a national identity which all accepted. Vital components of this, our Italian identity, are language and culture and the historical, artistic and natural heritage we hold. They should never be forgotten and therein, perhaps, resides the principal secret of the attraction and the goodwill which Italy arouses in the world. I am also referring here to works produced by Italian culture and art in more recent times: I would only mention the success of our great, particular musical tradition all over the world or the contribution of the best of Italian cinema as a window on reality and in transmitting the image of our country everywhere.

But the primary component of national identity is above all the sentiment of patriotism, a sentiment which emerged and re-emerged among Italians in the course of events that were often divisive or proved misleading. To have - after fascism - rediscovered that value and to uphold it cannot be confused with any sort of concession to nationalism. We have known the evils of, and paid the price for, the arrogance of nationalism with its aggressive approach towards other peoples and its degeneration into racism. But it is something we freed ourselves of, as did all of the peoples who joined together in a Europe without borders, a Europe of peace and cooperation. And therefore no reluctance is justifiable, no reluctance can hold us back from demonstrating - we owe it to all those who work under the tricolour flag and risk their lives with international missions - our national pride, our attachment to our land of Italy and to all the noble and vital things our country has expressed in the course of its long history. And we shall best be able to express our national pride if every one of us can at the same time remain humble in fulfilling their public duties and in serving the State and its citizens at every level.

Finally there is nothing amiss with linking patriotism with the Constitution as I did in this Chamber on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the Charter of 1948. A charter which to this day represents the valid basis for our living together and offers - together with provisions that can be modified through our joint efforts - a body of principles and values with which we can all identify because they make the idea of a homeland tangible, enriching and open to the future and because they map out the great regulatory framework of the freely-held battles and competitions we wage in the political, social and civil arenas.

The celebrations of our 150th anniversary will therefore help spread and increase the sense of our country's mission and of its unity. As appears all the more necessary the more clear-sightedly we look at the world around us, with its promises of a better, more just future and with all its uncertainties, including the mysterious and terrible events which nature can bring about. We shall - in this wide, open sea - overcome the trials that await us as we have done at crucial moments in the past, because today we still hold great reserves of human and moral resources. But we shall succeed on one condition: that the strong bond that holds us together as a nation is able to work again and that it is neither eroded nor dissolved by short-sighted partisan politics and by a general loss of the sense of limits and responsibility. I do not know when or how that will come about. I trust it will. Let us all accept, deep down, that our common salvation and our common progress depend on it.