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Why Not Everyone is Celebrating Italian Unification

March 17, 2011
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Besides being St. Patrick’s Day, today marks a milestone in Italian history as the country turns 150 years old.  While many Italians will be celebrating the day, the day has also highlighted that Italy remains divided with some wishing that their region (especially in the North) would secede from Italy.  NPR ran a this morning that explains both why some richer northerners want to split from the poorer south, but also examines the fact that some Italians have become more patriotic in recent years a backlash to this secessionist movement.

The main point being that northern Italy is one of the richest places in Europe, and a large economic divide remains between northern and southern Italy.  For instance, according to the latest Eurostat data, the Northwest and Northeast regions of Italy had GDPs per capita of €31,800 and €31,300 respectfully (which are 126% and 124% of the EU average), while the Central region was €29,300 per capita (116%).  On the other hand, Southern Italy’s GDP per capita is €17,400 (merely 69%) and the Islands (Sicily and Sardinia) are only a little richer with a per capita GDP of €17,600 (69%).  As a result, parties such as the Northern League argue that the North would be better off without the South, as the South is being subsidized by tax revenue from the North.

The BBC also looked into this issue, but taking a much more historical perspective, pointing out that Italy was a rather late starter in the race to create nation-states.  Besides the fact that other European countries such as France, the United Kingdom, and Russia already had strong central governments before modern Italy came into being, it is also important to note that northern Italy spent a lot of time under foreign control.  For instance, Venice was lost its independence in 1797 when it was captured by Napoleon, and then was controlled by Austria from 1814 until 1866, when it joined Italy.  In fact, while Italians are celebrating the creation of Italy in 1861, with the unification of southern and northern Italy, the last portion of the Italian Peninsula to become part of Italy was Rome in 1870.  As a result, there are many different factors that play a part in the identity of Italy.

**The Economist has created a short movie explaining the differences between Northern and Southern Italy, which is available at http://www.economist.com/blogs/multimedia/2011/03/italys_divisions.

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