Commentary. The schools are required to defend the unity of the country, just as much as they are necessary for those who want to divide up the country and build a separatist culture.

The classroom is the testing ground for Italian unity

We’ve finally seen open conflict break out at the Palazzo Chigi on the issue of differentiated autonomy. The draft texts published by ROARS probably made a great contribution to sparking the current firestorm. They are even worse than what one would have imagined, and their release finally renders moot all the hypocritical claims of a lack of awareness of what the draft actually contains. It was a truly intolerable feeling: knowing that vital decisions for the future of the country are barreling ahead unstoppable because of petty horse-trading on much less important matters—or, even worse, because of politicians’ obsessive attachment to their seats.

As far as we know, the conflict broke out regarding the school system—and rightly so. This is, first and foremost, due to the fact that it is an issue that speaks to both the fans and the critics of differentiated autonomy. We still need a cultural foundation, both for unity and for separation. The underlying culture will determine the attractiveness and durability of either model. The schools are required to defend the unity of the country, just as much as they are necessary for those who want to divide up the country and build a separatist culture. There are a few lessons that we can learn from the Catalan experience in this regard.

It might be that the issue of the schools proves insuperable—we can only hope so. The school system should be taken off the table altogether. But it will not be easy to get Bussetti to change course, after he went all-in and squandered his reputation as Minister in the process. Just as he was signing the agreement with the teachers’ unions on April 24, he was underhandedly setting up a hyper-regionalization of the school system in the draft agreement—on the Trentino-Alto Adige model, according to Bussetti himself. One wonders how the M5S actually allowed this to proceed, although it was represented at the undersecretary level. However, even an eleventh-hour repentance is better than nothing.

Another roadblock, as it turns out, is the distribution of the resources. We will see if new developments come up in this regard. For now, however, many have testified—as part of hearings, in addition to Ministers Tria, Viesti, Giannola, Guerra, Cerniglia themselves—to the fact that the mechanism described in the draft agreement makes it impossible to avoid an unjust and irreversible privilege for the three separatist regions, and likewise impossible to arrive at a balanced distribution of resources while paying heed to the needs of each region, to solidarity and to territorial cohesion. The latest statement to this effect came from Alberto Zanardi, from the Parliamentary Budget Office (an independent, non-politicized technical body), who, at a hearing on July 10, added his own negative verdict to the negative evaluation of the Department for Legal and Legislative Affairs in the memo sent to Prime Minister Conte.

Even more obstacles are looming large: how could it be justified to assign to regional governments the infrastructure and public works—such as highways—that were built over time with money from all Italians? Not to mention the side effect of an additional drain of resources away from the South, because of the fact that the North has more infrastructure to start with. And what would be left of an Italian state which would be rendered unable to pursue any policies of national development and rebalancing of inequalities?

The conflict that has broken out might be a good opportunity to return this notion of “differentiated autonomy” to the path marked out by an honest reading of Article 116, paragraph 3 of the Constitution, putting an end to the endless appetite for secession of the leading economic regions, and scaling back their demands to within the limits of an autonomy that would be reasonable, take limited forms and apply only in particular conditions.

Enough with the sleight-of-hand tactics trying to split up the country by concealing their aims and attempting to push a draft law through a Parliament cowed into submission. Italy has already gone through the difficult experience of a secessionist Padania. Let’s avoid the over-the-top sequel of a separatist “Great North.” 

Thus, we are holding on to the hope that the war at Palazzo Chigi is not fake news or mere political theater. An old Italian proverb says, “If they’re roses, they will bloom.” Or wither and die, as the case may be.

Subscribe to our newsletter

Your weekly briefing of progressive news.

You have Successfully Subscribed!