Italy: soon to break-up?

As a town declares independence from Italy, is fragmentation a possibility?

Cobbled together by Garibaldi and others from 1815 to 1861, Italy could be viewed as a fairly modern concept. The peninsular didn't completely unite, as the existence of San Marino and the Vatican still demonstrates. But this month a small town declared independence from Italy.  Filettino - population 550 - is issuing its own currency in protest at Italian amalgamation rules which demand it be absorbed into a neighbouring municipality. Mayor Luca Sellari has had his face printed on Fiorito banknotes. 

His little town lies 70 km east of Rome and in 1921 had 2,842 people but has suffered steady decline ever since. Perhaps the independence declaration and notoriety will reverse its fortunes. Filettino "seeks to become another tax-free zone like Monte Carlo" reported Al Jazeera. As the Italian economy staggers its way through the debt crisis, with budget cuts of US$64bn soon likely, such an innovative idea might provide the financial freedom needed to bolster Filettino as it leaps into the unknown. 

All local Ruritanian nonesense, you might exclaim. And you'd be right.  However, Filettino follows an eccentric tradition. Other would-be secessionists have formed what have been euphemistically termed Microstates:

Hutt River Principality escaped from Western Australia in 1970 after a local farmer argued with the federal government in Canberra about draconian wheat production quotas. Leonard Casley has now declared himself Prince Leonard I of Hutt.  It has a population of 30, an area of 75 sq km (lying about 500 km north of Perth) and issues the Hutt River Dollar conveniently tied 1:1 to the Aussie. Despite being left in peace by the Australian establishment and, after a dispute, being exempt from Aussie taxes, this mini-nation is unrecognised by any country save other microstates. The EU declared in a 2008 memo that Hutt River passports were "fantasy" documents that didn't warrant a visa. Fantasy or not, HRP has granted citizenship to as many as 18,000 overseas-based individuals and is able to offer international consular services by HRP-titled expatriates.

Saugette, a 40 sq km chunk of France broke off in 1947. A fiefdom of the Pourchet family, the current President is Georgette, third to have held the post. Her father Georges, a local hotelier, created the republic of eleven municalities purely as a joke.  On his death, her mother Gabrielle succeeded and took the role more seriously - appointing a prime minister, twelve ambassadors and 300 honorary citizenships. A song in the local dialect has been declared the anthem, a bank note issued and postal services recognised by the French (who appear to have a bemused and benign attitude towards this place in Provence).

Transnistria, a contraband-smuggling Russian-leaning strip of Romanian-speaking Moldova broke away de facto in 1990. Population 518,700, area 4,163 sq km, currency (surprise, surprise) the Transnistrian ruble. This is the most serious attempt at the creation of a country and fought a war with Moldova to impose its claim.  Other than the Georgian breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, no nation recognises Transnistria.  However, Russia stations troops there, as they do in the two secessionist Georgian states. Its future may be uncertain, but its territorial integrity remains intact, and Moldovan jurisdiction doesn't extend across the Dniester River which separates the breakaway state from rump Moldova. 

Uzupis, an arty suburb of Vilnius, seceeded from Lithuania in 1997 to issue its own currency, install a president, and build a mammoth statue of an angel on a big pole to celebrate its freedom. 

Whangamomona not so near New Plymouth in New Zealand.  I stumbled across it after driving over the twisty and lengthy Forgotten World Highway from Lake Taupo to Taranaki. This sleepy hamlet, with a hotel and a few houses, took exception to being removed from Taranaki and plonked in Manawatu. Aside several roadside hoardings, you'd never know that this place declared itself a republic in 1989 and now doesn't recognise New Zealand jurisdiction over its territory. Get your passport stamped at the pub.

The principality of Sealand, a 0.5 sq km abandoned former British sea fort, has a population of just three. It declared its independence from the UK in 1967.

Irritated by attempts to shift the population of Sweden away from the north to the cities of the south, Jamtland was founded in 1963.  It is a part-serious, semi-humourous attempt by 130,000 people living in 49,000 sq km to establish a republic within the Kingdom of Sweden to protect their distinct way of northern life, sandwiched between Norway and Sweden.

As Filettino prints its Fiorito notes and issues its coinage, it might have done itself a favour, for the Eurozone's debt crisis has now engulfed Italy. There's recent uncertainty about the Euro's future viabilty. The Filettians intend to peg the Fiorito at two to the Euro for the moment, but tomorrow it could be linked to any chosen currency. For now, according a BBC report, "the new Principality of Filettino - complete with coat of arms and website - is suddenly enjoying international fame. TV stations from as far afield as Russia have been running news features about Filettino. After all, the mayor says, Italy was once made up of dozens of principalities and dukedoms. As he says, the landlocked republic of San Marino still manages to survive, so why not Filettino?"  

Why not indeed. But I doubt the secession of Filettino will signal the break-up of Italy just yet.

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1 comment:

  1. Excuses for being cynical but I think this is just another publicity stunt....Possibly to boost tourism!!!