Palazzo del Quirinale 02/06/2011

Toast by the President of the Republic Giorgio Napolitano at the State Dinner on the occasion of the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Unification of Italy

Mr Presidents,
Your Royal Highnesses,
Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am certain that I speak for all Italians in expressing my deepest gratitude to you for the mark of friendship and esteem you have shown our nation and our people by accepting the invitation to be here today in Rome to celebrate the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the Unification of Italy.
That we wished to celebrate it with you is above all because the birth of the Italian nation state in 1861 marked a milestone in the history of national and freedom movements in Europe and in the evolution of the balance of power within the continent. Hence the importance at international level of a unified Italy: an importance that was to become more and more evident, reaching a peak in the second half of last century. Indeed, from that moment on, Italy has played its part and assumed its responsibilities within the international community, in particular as a founder country, along with its main neighbors, of an integrated and united Europe.

This is the achievement recognized in the kind words - for which I sincerely thank him - spoken by the Secretary General of the United Nations, the organization whose principles and rules represent for us the ultimate frame of reference. And allow me to say that we see the warmth with which you have all participated in today's celebration, despite your busy schedules of international engagements, as an echo of a universal fondness for our country.
Such fondness is inspired by the Italian people's best human qualities, the vigour with which they have overcome the most difficult tests history has put them to; it is a fondness inspired by an interest in, not to say an admiration for, the historical, cultural, artistic and indeed natural heritage that characterizes Italy and which has always held and continues to hold an appeal the world over. The legacy of civilization from ancient Rome; the message of Christianity; the splendor of the Renaissance; the succession over the centuries of extraordinary figures - poets, scientists, and artists; and the flourishing of a common language and culture long before Italy became politically unified into a nation-state: these are what nourished the idea of Italy, giving rise, early in the nineteenth century, to that struggle for unification, that process of trial and error, of heroic sacrifices, and far-sighted political action that took the name of Risorgimento and which achieved its hard-fought goal one hundred and fifty years ago.

I would like you to know that we are aware of the incomparable value of the historical heritage of which - in all modesty - we are heirs as Italians, and therefore of the responsibility that befalls us to prove ourselves worthy custodians and successors. In doing so, we should never forget the wider horizons, well beyond our borders, that have inspired the minds that are most highly representative of Italian genius. Dante Alighieri wrote of himself, in the early fourteenth century: "We who love Florence so much that for that love we suffer unjust exile, we have the world as our fatherland just as the fish the sea ".

In the one hundred and fifty years since the day of national unification, Italy has made a long and arduous journey. At this solemn anniversary, we have tried to look back on it with a critical eye, drawing from it a clear understanding, a feeling of pride and confidence. Italy has gone through some dramatic changes, especially since its rebirth as a democracy, regaining freedom, unity and independence after two decades of fascist dictatorship and the tragedy of the Second World War. We have - by becoming a Republic - founded a renewed civil society upon the solid foundation of the far-sighted principles embodied in the 1948 Constitution. Thanks to an extraordinary collective effort of reconstruction, we not only rose up from the ruins of a disastrous war, but transformed and developed rapidly into one of the world's leading industrialized countries.

And yet, we started out one hundred and fifty hears ago, from a state of severe backwardness. Quite a few of you - Distinguished Guests - know all too well about the flood of Italian emigration: over the course of a century, more than twenty-five million Italians fled this country of ours, which was unable for a long time after unification to offer its sons any hope of work. They emigrated to other parts of Europe and to the New World, on the other side of the ocean. In just the last twenty years or so, Italy has become instead a country of immigration, to the extent that foreigners now account for seven per cent of the population, marking the latest transformation of the Italian economy and society.

Yes, we have come a long way and made extraordinary leaps forward: but we must not underestimate the gravity of the fundamental problems that still weigh upon us, the contradictions yet to be resolved, the persistent tension and imbalances in the country's economic and social fabric. We must not underestimate the scope of the new challenges Italy now faces, in an era of radical and constant changes to the global situation. These are challenges that lie not only before our country but also before the united Europe and the whole of the international community: challenges that we must face up to and overcome together. Well, Italy will play its part: so that the causes of peace, of human rights, of democracy, and of a balanced, equitable and sustainable global economic and social development can be taken forward. We do not hide our difficulties, but I am sure that you - Mr Presidents, Your Royal Highnesses, Distinguished Guests - you are able to see our commitment in a spirit of friendship and trust. With the friendship to which your presence here today bears witness, and with the trust that Italy deserves given the long course of its history as a democratic country, and as a responsible subject of the European, Atlantic and international community.