Contradictions & celebrations: 150 years of united Italy

This week guest blogger is Anneliese Rabl, a writer who has been living in Italy for many years and through experience has come to understand and celebrate the deep contradictions which are embedded in Italian culture and people . Anneliese’s beautifully explained piece, details why there is still a reason to celebrate 150 years of a united Italy even with all the contradictions!

I wasn’t sure whether to write an article about this delicate subject or not. Am I the right person to write it? Straniera (for Italians a foreigner  will always remain a “stranger”), female and Northern European. However, life has provided me with a fair quantity of courage and the subject was too inviting!

So, unification? What on earth does this mean and who will be celebrating it? If we consider that Italians have been the leading population from the 3rd century B.C. until far into the 18th century, bringing art, culture and science to about two thirds of the worldwide population, the “unification of Italy” sounds strange. How could this creative and genial population fit into a mere twenty-one regions? The destruction of the Roman Empire, the occupation from other nations during history as well as political interests are the deeper reason for this decision. The Italians, from centuries of experience,  agreed more or less willingly (Alto Adige excepted), to unification as long as it would not touch their private sphere too closely.

Even if Italians accept their land as a collective, in each single citizen lives a pronounced individual who will always do what he wants, but not necessarily always what his homeland expects him to do. And the more the homeland insists, the more he won’t do it. Italians, in fact, love and hate their country with the same intensity.

These contradictions led to a remarkable mix of strong patriotism and sense of community, maintaining however a  powerful individualism taken to extremes. Italians know about the high quality of life they are enjoying every single day but they do not seem to appreciate it. In fact, often they  import inferior food from  other countries but would fight passionately  to defend “their” typical Italian products in front of the universe if a none Italian producer would dare some imitation.

They are proud of their Ferrari’s, Lamborghini’s and Alfa Romeo’s, but  buy BMW, Mercedes, Porsche or Volkswagen. They are aware of the excellence of Italian fashion, however  wear clothes from international chains.  They are enthusiastic about the unique beauty of their country but go on holiday abroad. They are ashamed to be Italians and would rather leave the country and live somewhere else. However, for the unification celebration, supermarkets sold five thousand Italian flags in two hours!

Italians are conscious about the contradictory world they are living in: half of Italy is politically right, the other left. Northern Italy would like to split from the South. Half of the population believes in progress , the other half are deep-rooted traditionalists. They know that other languages like English, French or German exist, but stick firmly to their mother tongue as the only language to communicate in. And they would invite you to return to your country if you  dare to make a contradictory statement. In the end, it’s a miracle that Italy managed to stay together for one thousand eight hundred and thirty seven months.

Personally, I think that the Italians are not celebrating the unification of the country. They celebrate the unique, passionate, stubborn, patriotic, generous and warmhearted nation that they are. And that’s what we love it and them for!

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