Aso Agace (EN-DE-KU)
M. Ali Aslan (EN- TR)
Andreas Buro (English)
Lili Charoeva
Mirella Galletti (English)
Lotta Hedström (English)
Keya Izol (English)
Ilhan Kizilhan (English)
Nina Larsson (English)
Kendal Nezan (EN)
André Poupart (EN)
Khaled Salih (English)
Pierre SERNE
Mozaffar Shafeie (English)
Harry Schute (English)- (كوردي) Ephrem-Isa YOUSIF
Eva Weil
Section PRESSE
Nina Larsson tillbaka från Irak
Lotta Hedström
Nina Larsson är på väg till Kurdistan

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Democratisation of the Middle East

Problems & Perspectives

19-20 November 2005
Organized by : Kurdish Institute of Paris in partnership with Kurdistan Minister of Culture
Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government, Erbil - Kurdistan

sponsored by the French Ministry of Foreign Afffairs

The Italian way to democracy

By Mirella Galletti (*)

It is amazing to see how much Kurdistan and Italy have similar societies and values, where local loyalties too often take precedence over central power. In the 17th century, Pietro Della Valle compared the conditions of Kurdistan with those of Italy: “They [the Kurds] obey different Princes, the majority of whom are from hereditary dynasties, who recognise the Turk or the Persian as suzerains according to the circumstances of time and place. Nevertheless, the most important are free, and all of them are more or less powerful. There may be one who owns ten or twelve thousand horses, like the Prince of Bitlis, whom I saw in Constantinople. The most powerful will not be vassals; they are under the protection of one of the two kings and occasionally change flags, if it is to their advantage, just as some of our lords in Italy do” (Della Valle, 1667: II, 9).

Coming to more recent periods, what happens when a parliamentary democratic constitution is imposed on an underdeveloped society? The answer is not without relevance in the present days. Italy provides an interesting early “case history”.

Modern Italy became a nation-state belatedly on March 17, 1861, when most of the states of the peninsula were united under king Victor Emmanuel II of the Savoy dynasty, which ruled over Sardinia and Piedmont. Northern Italy’s rulers extended parliamentary constitutional system on the whole of Italy, over the more developed as well as the underdeveloped southern regions. The constitution was intended to cover under one blanket the very different traditions and societies of the former states. It was a unity imposed from above. Italy had the appearance of a Western European parliamentary state.

The main issue at the time of the Risorgimento was how to reconcile and integrate in the best possible way so many different people and cultures, with a long history of Italian city-states, and whether to introduce a system of administrative centralisation or decentralisation.

Regional inequalities were inevitable in a country with the historical antecedents and geographical diversity of Italy, but efforts to reduce them were seen as a must, especially since provincial sentiment and local loyalties too often took precedence over the sense of national identity.

In those days different peoples cohexisted with very different political-historical experiences. Only 2.5% of the population knew Italian at the time of Unification (De Mauro, 1963: 43). The most pressing agenda for the Italian ruling class at the time was how to 'harmonise' regional differences.

In terms of regional policy and regional development, the issue was how to achieve a redistribution of resources in favour of the poorer and less developed southern regions of Italy.

The diversity of Italy's component regions as well as growing resentment in the country against Piedmontisation convinced that some measures of devolution ought to be granted. In this, as in other instances, the Liberal Governments of Italy genuinely professed certain ideals but in practice had to introduce something totally different when faced with the reality of Italian society and politics.

It became clear that centrifugal forces, particularly in Southern Italy, could jeopardise the newly unified kingdom. There was the danger that Italy might fall apart if a uniform administrative system was not quickly imposed on the whole kingdom' (Mack Smith, 1985: 263).

Furthermore, a highly centralized administration was devised and a rigid prefectorial system was introduced along Napoleonic lines. The whole country was divided into provinces, each governed by a prefect who became the representative of executive power at local and provincial level, yet remaining responsible to the minister of the interior. Politicians skilled in political deals dominated the oligarchic parliamentary system from 1860 to 1914.

On the other hand the particular condition of recently united Italy have to be taken into account. It had a strong tradition of local loyalties. Central government was regarded as an alien force. The difficulty of building bridges between the political oligarchy of those who ruled and the mass of the people was great. In a country so divided into factions and regional rivalries as well as so backward, it can be argued that the firm establishment of unity and the solid progress achieved were in themselves a notable success. Today, after more than 140 years of political unity, a much higher degree of homogeneity has been achieved, but many problems remain.

Establishing the Regions

After the Second World War a new Italian nation emerged from the disaster of fascism and war. In June 1946 a popular election abolished the monarchy in favor of a Republic.

The administrative decentralisation was once again seriously considered. One of the reasons for this was a general agreement that Fascism's rise to power had been made easier by the centralistic character of the Italian Liberal State. A more balanced division of power would prevent the recurrence of an authoritarian solution. Another powerful motive-force was the climate of reforms prevalent after the war, which led to a widespread consensus that the reconstruction of the Italian political system ought to take place along new democratic lines.

It is important to point out that Italy has never had a revolution in its long history and usually ruling politicians seek to “absorb” potential troublemakers into the existing political system.

The end-result was that the Italian Constitution, formally introduced on 1st January 1948, established the regions as administrative entities with limited legislative powers. The regions were attributed legislative initiatives complementary to or within the framework of national legislation. The 1948 Constitution provided for the establishment of twenty regions, of which five were granted 'special autonomy' (or 'Statute', equivalent to a region's constitution) and the remaining fifteen 'ordinary autonomy' (or Statute).

In this, as in other fields, the Italian Constitution was not applied for several years. The Statutes of four of the five special regions (Sicily, Sardinia, Valle d'Aosta and Trentino Alto Adige) were approved in February 1948; the fifth special region, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, was established in 1963. There were specific political reasons why these regions received favourable treatment, namely the fact that they included considerable ethnic minorities (French-speaking Val d’Aosta, the largely German-speaking Alto Adige, partially Slav hinterland of Trieste) or had shown separatist tendencies (Sicily and Sardinia).

The regional self-government proved to be only moderately successful. This was notably so in Sicily where there was a tragic refusal to confront the mafia. To a lesser degree it was true in the Trentino/Alto Adige (South-Tyrol) where a demand by the German-speaking element for even more self-determination was sometimes backed by acts of terrorism.

There are two bilingual regions in Italy: that is, where the use of Italian is on par with either French, as in the Aosta Valley, or German, as in Trentino Alto Adige. In the Aosta Valley the special statute of 1948 allowed for the parity of French and Italian in public documents, in schools and in civil life. The German-speaking minority in Italy inhabits a large area of Trentino Alto Adige where both Italian and German are recognized as the official language.

After the Second World War the German-speaking people were granted special rights. But the statutory order was delayed over and over again, while more and more Italians were encouraged to relocate to South Tyrol, with the aim of creating an Italian majority.

As a consequence the late 1950s and especially 1960s saw the rise of anti-Italian terrorism for an Austrian South Tyrol. This terrorism led the Italian central government to reconsider the situation, so attaining some progress towards establishing self-government for South Tyroleans.

Today, South Tyrol enjoys a high degree of autonomy. Public jobs are assigned by ethnic quotas, and require proficiency in both Italian and German, with the aim of protecting the local labor market from immigration. Despite this imperfect cohabitation, starting in the 1980's there has been an increasing demand, especially amonst the youth, of overcoming ethnic divisions. However, South Tyrolean society is still to some extent segmented across ethnic lines: each resident must declare his or her ethnic group at the census (choosing amongst Italian, German or Ladin).

We Italians discovered that the South Tyrol question was over when in September 1991 the mummy of Ötzi the Iceman was discovered near the border between Austria and Italy. The sensational aspect is the age of the Iceman; he is about 5300 years old. This is one of the oldest human beings in the world. Austria claimed the mummy, and Italian authorities agreed. But Southern Tyroleans asserted that Ötzi was located inside the Italian territory. Both Northern Austrian and Southern Italian Tyroleans vindicated the mummy. Rome and Wien were obliged to control the border area and verified that Ötzi had been found in the Italian soil. Now he is on display at the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bozen-Bolzano.

The Regions since 1970

By the late 1960s, however, the old centralized system was visibly breaking down. The demands for regional government were taken into account only after the relevant political and economic events and social changes of the 1960s.

These changes, and above all the development of an increasingly democratic and pluralistic society with new social and interest groups emerging, provoked the citizens in asking for power-sharing.

The creation of the regions in 1970 was the response to this new social and political pressure. Great hopes were held at the time regarding the regenerating effect administrative decentralisation would have upon the Italian system of government, which by then had shown itself unable to implement radical reforms. After a century of centralized government, Italy became a “regional State”. It was an astonishing transformation. In addition to the five existing “special regions”, there were to be fifteen “ordinary regions” throughout the land, each with its own elected council and its own powers to pass law “within the framework of national legislation” in many domains.

The regions were institutionalised as real centres of policy-making' (Nanetti, 1988: 81). The decrees gave the regions control over 25% of the entire national budget (Putnam, Leonardi and Nanetti, 1985: 80). It should be noted, however, that the financial autonomy of the fifteen ordinary regions is very limited. Greater financial autonomy is attributed to the five regions with special Statute, although only in exceptional cases do they have the power to impose their own taxes.

Have the regions found popular favour? Have they commanded attention and established democratic roots?

As the regions acquired more powers, regional élites were forming and governing on regional lines. The local politicians naturally enlisted the help of local pressure-groups. Trade unionists, businessmen, self-appointed experts and spokesmen, all found that their voices were taken into due consideration. By the late 1970s “co-involvement” was clearly well advanced. Voluntary groups were included in regional and national legislation. And they were many efforts at inducing “participation”. The reasons for this are varied and have been traced back to different levels of economic development, uneven distribution of resources, historical traditions and, more recently, different degrees of 'civic-ness', measured in terms of active participation in democratic and political associations, trust and solidarity, community values and political equality (Putnam, 1993: 86-120).

However, the regions’ essential task was to reconcile people to the State, not to supersede it; to help the central State become more efficient, not to dismantle it. Italy was not a federal State. The regions had limited powers, subordinate to the central government. The old unitary State remained in control of much of the national budget.

All these issues bring back to prominence of the Italian “Southern Question”.

Regional policy and regional development

In the 1990s, the revival of federalist/ethnic sentiments has taken place at a time when Italy has reached a high degree of cultural homogeneity, not least from a linguistic point of view. Apart from minority ethnic groups, linguistic unification is now an accomplished reality.

In addition, socio-economic development remains uneven. The North/South divide is, as we shall see, still highly relevant, but there are also differences between the other regions.

The Italian Regional Question centres around the under-development of the South, and both regional policy and regional development schemes have been characterized by the need to solve this basic North/South divide. In the 1950s the Italian State made a much more decisive attempt to develop the Southern economy. The Cassa per il Mezzogiorno was established, with the function of undertaking 'extraordinary interventions'. In the intentions of the legislators the Cassa was to be a public body with its own legal status, under the responsability of the Minister for the Mezzogiorno, subject to government control.

The poor results achieved were due to lack of co-ordination and planning, excessive bureaucracy and sheer corruption, excessive centralisation. After the creation of the regions in the 1970s pressure mounted for delegating some or all of the powers of the Central Agency to the regions.. The Cassa was finally abolished in 1984, and in 1986 extraordinary powers were given to the regions in what constituted another major policy shift. It was felt that if regional governments were left to formulate and implement their own plans, intervention would be far more effective as the regions were more familiar with local conditions, needs and resources.

This law has incurred severe criticism. The system was not modified from then on.

Regionalism as a political force

In June 1990 a new Law on local government (Law No. 142) was passed, with two primary objectives. The first objective was to reduce clientelism and encourage local governments' accountability to their electors, mainly through greater participation by ordinary citizens ( via referenda, petitions or proposals - Art. 6), access to information (Art. 7) and the creation of a 'difensore civico' or guarantor of impartiality and good administration (Art. 8). The second objective was to regulate relations between the three tiers of government, central, regional and local. Greater importance was attributed to the regions.

The trend of the Italian people appears to have turned in favour of the regions, in protest against the bad administration of the central government.

The question is, will a federal State or a more radical form of regionalism promote or hinder the cause of national harmonisation? Would it simply represent the triumph of the new 'selfishness' of the richest regions, or could it also be considered as a step forward for the least developed ones?

More than thirty five years of regional policy and regional development have left the south at best modernised but certainly not developed. There now seems to be a growing consensus that there must be an end to indiscriminate subsidies and politically-motivated, centrally-controlled transfers of money from the Northern to the Southern regions.

Italian regionalism within the context of Europe

Italy was a founder member of the European Community and the Italian population has consistently showed firm support for European integration. European unity is not a political issue in the country.

With economic ties across Europe becoming stronger, the idea of a federal Europe may acquire a new legitimacy. Indeed, the Maastricht Treaty contains clauses which hint at the possible establishment of a Federal Europe of the Regions. Yet a federal solution is at present not at all popular with most European peoples, as poll after poll have shown. Italy in this respect may well represent the odd man out, although one suspects that the pro-Europeanism of most Italians has little to do with perceived inter-regional and trans-national social and economic homogeneity and a lot to do with a distrust of central Government, that is the same distrust which has turned Italians into supporters of a radical new form of regionalism. As The Economist recently pointed out: “Italy was an enthusiastic signatory of the Maastricht Treaty in December 1991, not just because it has always been Europhilic but because the Maastricht requirements of economic and monetary convergence would impose the discipline that Italy's governments normally fail to find on their own” (The Economist, 26 June 1993, p. 21).

A radical and effective reform of the country's political system and the establishment of a strong and authoritative executive may yet re-establish the credibility of the Italian nation-state in the eyes of its citizens. Just as the mood of Italians appears to be oscillating between an extreme form of regionalism and revived nationalism, so the country's attitude towards Europe and its assessment of the merits of a federal, as opposed to a confederal, Europe seem to suffer from a general state of mistrust.


In conclusion, after having analysed the building of Italy, I point out that in the last half of the century the main threat to Italian democracy comes from increasing violence and political terrorism.

After 1969 until early 1980s the country was torn apart by hundreds of minor and a few major terrorist attacks. Revolutionaries on both Left and Right wings were trying to destabilize the country. Hundreds of people were kidnapped for money or else as a means of social revenge and intimidation. The Red Brigades and other groups were hoping to attract mass support and win a share of power through revolution, and they never obtained much popular backing. Terrorism was won by the reaction of the public and a succession of laws offering lenient penalties to any pentiti who might repent and co-operate with the authorities. Almost immediately this produced positive results (Mack Smith, 1997: 462). Democracy won without special emergency measures and granting the basic principles of citizens’ freedom.

Last but not least, I point out the historical and religious links between Rome and Kirkuk, of which people are not aware. For example, in Rome, Saint Anastasius’s head has been venerated since 7th century A.D. Saint Anastasius was a Persian monk, martyred in Kirkuk in 628. The martyr's mortal remains were brought back in triumph to Jerusalem, where they arrived on November 2, 631. By the middle of the seventh century (probably already by 645), the head of Anastasius was being venerated in Rome. The monastery of “ad Aquas Salvias”, where the relic of St. Anastasius was kept and venerated, soon became an honored place of pilgrimage (Franklin – Meyvaert, 1982: 373-400).

  • Bagnasco, A. (1977), Tre Italie. La problematica territoriale dello sviluppo italiano, Bologna, Il Mulino.
  • Clark, M. (1996), Modern Italy 1871-1995, London and New York, Longman.
  • De Mauro, T. (1963), Storia linguistica dell'Italia unita , Bari, Laterza.
  • Della Valle, P. (1667), Viaggi di Pietro della Valle il Pellegrino descritti da lui medesimo in lettere familiari, Venetia, Paolo Baglioni, vols. 4.
  • Flusin, B. (1992), Saint Anastase le Perse et l’histoire de la Palestine au début du VIIe siècle, Paris, CNRS, vols. 2.
  • Franklin, C.V. – Meyvaert, P. (1982), “Has Bede's Version of the “Passio S. Anastasii” come down to us in “BHL” 408?”, Analecta Bollandiana, vol. 100, 1982, 373-400.
  • Mack Smith, D. (1985), Cavour, London, Methuen.
  • Mack Smith, D. (1997), Modern Italy. A Political History, New Haven and London, Yale University Press.
  • Mack Smith, D. (ed.) (1968), The Making of Italy, New York, Harper and Row.
  • Nanetti, R. (1988), Growth and Territorial Policies. The Italian Model of Social Capitalism, London and New York, Pinter.
  • Putnam, R. D. (with R. Leonardi and R. Nanetti) (1993), Making Democracy Work. Civic Traditions in Modern Italy, Princeton, New Jersey, Princeton University Press.
  • Putnam, R. D., R. Leonardi and R. Nanetti (1985), La pianta e le radici, Bologna, Il Mulino.

Linguistic minorities in Italy

Apart from standard Italian and regional variations, a number of truly different languages exist. In the north, the province of Bolzano (or Bozen in German) is almost entirely German-speaking; the area was awarded to Italy following the First World War and its defeat of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Pockets of German speakers also persist in other north-western Italian regions - a remnant of the old Austrian influence on this area of Italy. About 300,000 Italians speak German as their first language and indeed identify themselves as ethnic Austrians. Some 120,000 people live in the Valle D'Aosta region, where a Franco-Provençal dialect very similar to French called Patois is spoken. About 80,000 Slovene-speakers live in the north-eastern region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia near the border with Slovenia. Some 40,000 Ladin-speakers (Ladin is a descendant of Latin and possibly the closest living relative to the ancient tongue) also live in the Trentino-Alto Adige region and in the Veneto region. A very large community of some 700,000 people in Friuli speak Friulian - a romance language too distinct from Italian to be considered the same language.

In the Molise region of central-south Italy some 4,000 people speak Serbo-Croatian - these are the descendants of a group of people who migrated from the Balkans in the late Middle Ages.

Scattered across Southern Italy there are about 30,000 Greek-speakers - considered to be the last surviving traces of the region's Greek heritage. Some 15,000 Catalan speakers reside around the area of Alghero in the north-west corner of Sardinia -, a legacy of the Aragonese invasion in 14th century. Other migrations, like that of the Albanians who fled the Turkish invasion of the 15th century, led to the establishment of "Tosca": a variety of Albanian that continues to be the native tongue for many of the inhabitants of Molise and Calabria. Around 100,000 people in Southern Italy and in central Sicily speak Albanian.

Finally, the largest group of non-Italian speakers (some 1.6 million people) are the ones who speak Sardinian - a romance language which evolved quite independently from Italian.

(*) Historienne, Italie