Venetian nationalism (also Venetism, from the Venetian/Italian name, Venetismo) is an ideology and a regionalist movement demanding more autonomy, or even independence from Italy, for Veneto, and promoting the re-discovery the Republic of Venice's heritage, traditions, culture and language. Venetists consider Veneto to be a nation distinct from Italy and often refuse the validity of the result of the referendum with which Veneto (or, better, Venetia, see below) was united with Italy in 1866.
Some Venetists, as the Venetian National Party, propose a re-edition of that referendum and campaign for the independence of Venetia, a country that would be composed of all the territories of the historical Venetian Republic, covering the current Veneto, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, some Provinces of Lombardy (Brescia, Bergamo, Cremona and Mantua), and a portion of Trentino.
Although it usually refers to the whole Venetian autonomist movement, the term "Venetism" is sometimes used to identify specifically the very Venetists who refuse the concept of Padania, a proposed state by Lega Nord, of which Liga Veneta (the most successful Venetist party so far) is the "national" section in Veneto, while Albert Gardin, a pro-independence publisher who supports the boycott of Italian elections, considers "Venetism" as a "partisan concept, that is part of the Italian political system (Venetists, as Socialists, Communists, PD or PdL, etc.)".
The constitution of Veneto Region cites the "Venetian people" and UNESCO gives to Venetian language the status of not endangered language, as it is usually spoken in Veneto, part of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, part of Croatia, Rio Grande do Sul and Santa Catarina in Brazil; and Chipilo, Puebla in Mexico.
In 2007 Veneto recognized Venetian as official language of the region, alongside Italian, instituted an official website for standard Venetian and proclaimed a yearly "Day of the Venetian People" (Festa del Popolo Veneto) on 25 March, anniversary of the foundation of Venice.
While support for a federal system, as opposed to a centrally administered State, receives widespread consensus in Veneto, support for independence is less favoured. One poll estimated that 52.4% of Padanians north of the Po river consider secession advantageous (vantaggiosa), and 23.2% both advantageous and convenient (auspicabile). Another poll estimated that about 20% Padanians (18.3% in North-West Italy, 27.4% in North-East Italy) support secession in case Italy is not reformed into a federal State. However, according to a more recent poll (January 2010), 45% of Northeners and 52% of Venetians (including Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Trentino support the independence of Padania and, thus, in the case of Venetians of Veneto.
The Venetian Most Serene Republic existed from 697 to 1797 for exactly 1,100 years and was the first modern republic of the world. After having defeated the Republic of Genoa, it was the most powerful Mediterranean maritime power and, at its height, extended its rule from large parts of the Po Valley to parts of current Slovenia, Croatia and Greece. Venice was the most powerful state of the Western world in the 15th and 16th centuries. In 1797, after a long decline, Napoleon traded what remained of the Republic to Austria in exchange of other lands. In 1848 Venetians, led by Daniele Manin, rebelled against Austrian rule and proclaimed an independent Venetian Republic. Manin, who opposed the proposed unification by some Venetians with the Kingdom of Sardinia, resigned but returned to lead again the opposition against Vienna in 1849.
Venetia was annexed to Italy in 1866, five years after the Italian unification and the creation of the Kingdom of Italy under the House of Savoy in 1861. The unification of Veneto with Italy was the result of the so-called Third War of Independence and a plebiscite held on held on 21 and 22 October 1866. In the peace treaty signed in Vienna, it was written that the annexation of Venetia would have become effective only after a referendum to let the Venetian people express their will about being annexed or not to the Kingdom of Italy. Historians suggest that the referendum in Venetia was held under military pressure, as a mere 0.01% of voters (69 out of more than 642,000 ballots) voted against the annexation and was ultimately rigged.
The Kingdom of Italy adopted Tuscan language, which became standard Italian, as official language. Venetians largely rejected that and continued to speak with their own Venetian language. Linguistic nationalism started soon to be part of Venetian culture and during the last decades of the 19th century there were also some revolts against Southern Italian immigrants. However, Veneto was so poor that many Venetians emigrated too toward the Americas, especially Brazil and Argentina (nationalists claim that three millions left their homeland from 1870 and 1910), without losing their national heritage so that, even today, many Venetian descendants in Latin America speak Venetian.
Percursors of the Venetist movement were both left-wing and right-wing. In 1920 a Venetian Socialist and Republican newspaper, La Riscossa, expoused the need for a "united elective governorate with autonomous and competent technical and administrative organs" as an alternative to the "central political rule". Soon after Italico Corradino Cappellotto, a member of the Chamber of Deputies for the Italian People's Party, launched the first Venetist party forth of the 1921 general election. This party, named Lion of Saint Mark, won 6.1% of the votes in the Province of Treviso.
After the takeover of Benito Mussolini, who, among other things, banned the teaching of Venetian language in schools, the rise of Fascism, the World War II and the birth of the Republic of Italy, Venetist ideas lost ground, in an era in which the "myth of the indivisibility and the unity" of the country was strong even in Veneto. However the campaign of Mussolini to eradicate regional languages was largely unsuccessful in Veneto, which soon became a stronghold of the Christian Democracy party due to the leading role of the Catholic Church in the region.
Since 1919 Venetia plus the newly annexed territories from Austria, which included Trentino and South Tyrol, were called the Three Venices (Tre Venezie, whereof Triveneto): Venezia Euganea (the current Veneto plus large parts of Friuli), Venezia Giulia (the eastern part of current Friuli-Venezia Giulia) and Venezia Tridentina (Trentino and South Tyrol). However, under the Constitution of Italy adopted in 1948, only Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol and Friuli-Venezia Giulia were granted of the status of special-statute autonomous region and the connected privileges, mainly fiscal autonomy. Hence, the proposals by some groups of unifying Veneto with the two regions cited above or giving also Veneto a similar statute.
Venetist ideas had a comeback in the 1960s, when the Venetian Regionalist Autonomist Movement campaigned for the institution of the ordinary regions (including Veneto), prefigured by the Italian Constitution. The ordinary regions were finally instituted by 1970. Since the 1970s Veneto experienced a dramatic economic boom thanks to a new production model based on small enterprises. The high burden of taxes and bureaucracy, associated with the increasing frustration with the inefficient and overstaffed Italian government in Rome, that continued to channel Northern taxes as massive development aid to the corrupt and backward Southern regions, was the key element, along with linguistic and historical claims, that led to the formation of Liga Veneta in 1980.
Prominent Venetists include Goffredo Parise, Franco Rocchetta (founder of Liga Veneta), Ettore Beggiato (who wrote a book titled: "1866: the big trick", 1866: la grande truffa), Sabino Acquaviva (who perfaced the book of Beggiato), Fabio Padovan, Giampaolo Borsetto, Ivone Cacciavillani, Fabrizio Comencini, Gian Paolo Gobbo, Manuela Dal Lago, Luca Zaia, Flavio Tosi, Giorgio Vido, Giorgio Panto, Patrik Riondato, Loris Palmerini, and, to some extent, Giancarlo Galan, Massimo Cacciari and Mario Rigoni Stern.
In November 2009 the Corriere del Veneto, the regional edition of the Corriere della Sera in Veneto, published a broad overview of what it described as "Venetist galaxy". The newspaper counted around 20 notable Venetist organizations: along the four major Venetist parties (Liga Veneta–Lega Nord, Liga Veneta Repubblica, North-East Project and Venetian National Party), a large variety of minor political parties, movements, cultural associations and trade unions were listed. The most significant of these need a further treatment.
The European Federalist Free Entrepreneurs was formed in 1994 by a group of venetist entrepreneurs (among them Fabio Padovan and Diego Cancian) who demanded fiscal federalism and autonomy for Veneto, as an answer to what they called "the fiscal and bureaucratic oppression" by the Italian State, perceived as centralist and distant from the interests and the rights of the "Venetian People". In particular, they decided to organize themselves as a trade union, saying that they were the most oppressed workers in Italy.
A prominent Venetist cultural association is Raixe Venete (Venetian Roots), which organizes every year the well-known Festa dei Veneti in Cittadella and whose website is translated in several languages. The association has strong links with independentists from all over Europe and especially from the Basque Country. In Cittadella, in occasion of the Festa dei Veneti, Venetists of every political colour, politicians of different political parties (including non-Venetist, both right and left), Venetist associations, actors, comedians, flag-wavers, musicians (notably including Herman Medrano) and rock bands, and many people meet at the beginning of September every year. In November 2009 Raixe Venete organized a demonstration in Venice in support of the teaching of Venetian in schools: a wide range of people took part, from Roberto Ciambetti, leader of Liga Veneta–Lega Nord in the Regional Council of Veneto, to Luca Casarini, a former far-left anti-globalization activist and leader of the Tute Bianche in Veneto.
Another notable association is named Venetians Movement, which was founded in 2006 by Patrik Riondato. It presents itself as a cross-party political movement which aims to promote independence regardless of individual political positions such as left or right, in a democratic and nonviolent way, even if recently it took part to the founding of the Party of the Venetians, a coalition of Venetist parties ranging from the centre-right to the far-left. Other three leading although small groups are the self-proclaimed Venetian Most Serene Government (Veneto Serenissimo Governo) led by Luigi Faccia and late Giuseppe Segato, Self-Government of the Venetian People led by Loris Palmerini and Venetian State of Vittorio Selmo.
Among the other associations, is worth of mention the Milizia Veneta (Venetian Militia), in practice a corp of people who perform historic representations of the Venetian army (including flag-raising at the Festa dei Veneti).
The first Venetist party in Veneto was Lion of Saint Mark, active between 1921 and 1924. Then, in the 1960s, the Venetian Regionalist Autonomist Movement was active, but it was more a cultural association than a political party. In fact the first organized Venetist parties were started only after the institution of Veneto as Region and the direct election of the Regional Council in 1970.
Some parties campaign for federal reform, others for autonomy or a special statute for Veneto, others for an autonomous North-East region covering Veneto, Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol, finally some campaign for an independent Venetian state.
Since the late 1970s many Venetist parties were founded in Veneto, covering all the ideologic spectrum:
During the night between 8 and 9 May 1997 a group of armed Venetist separatists, the so-called Serenissimi, "attacked" Piazza San Marco and the St Mark's Campanile in Venice in order to proclaim the "independence of Veneto". After eight hours barred in the Campanile, the Carabinieri entered and arrested the group. The members of the group, including the two leaders of the Venetian Most Serene Government (Veneto Serenissimo Governo), Luigi Faccia and Giuseppe Segato, who did not take part to the action, were all jailed and processed. The effort, which was more symbolic than anything else, was criticized by Umberto Bossi and Roberto Maroni, leaders of Lega Nord, at that time proponents of the independence of Padania, while it was praised by Gianfranco Miglio, a former senator of the League who was then elected as an independent for the centre-right Pole of Freedoms.
The Serenissimi soon became a sort of "heroes" for many Venetists and the tank with which they reached Piazza San Marco on that night is usually an exhibit at the yearly Festa dei Veneti and at other rallies of that kind, also outside Veneto. Segato was a candidate of Liga Veneta Repubblica in the 2001 general election and came short of election to the Italian Senate, having received 9.8% of the vote in the constituency of Schio. Representatives from most political parties in Veneto, including centre-left figures, defended the Serenissimi: Claudio Rizzato of the Democrats of the Left even praised the "noble ideals" of the group, while Massimo Cacciari and Green Gianfranco Bettin campaigned for the pardon to those in jail, along with Liga Veneta and the regional section of Forza Italia. Some of them are not embarrassed in taking part to a rally, the Festa dei Veneti, in which the tanko is exposed. More recently also leading members of the League, including Bossi and Roberto Calderoli, praised them and another leghista, Roberto Castelli, when minister of Justice in 2003, proposed a pardon for Faccia who was still in jail, unsuccessfully as Faccia refused it.
In November 2009 a group of separatists who called themselves "Self-Government of the Venetian People" (not to be confused with the association with the same name led by Loris Palmerini, see above) were prosecuted with the charge of having built a paramilitary organization. The Italian police seized arms and uniforms of the so-called Polisia Veneta (Venetian Police) in the headquarters of the group in Treviso. According to the police, the group had planned an aggression to Luca Zaia, a leading member of Liga Veneta–Lega Nord, during the Festa dei Veneti of 2009, because he would have betrayed Venetist ideals by accepting to become minister of Agricolture in Berlusconi IV Cabinet. However the attack did not take place also because Zaia failed to show up in Cittadella on that occasion. The day after Zaia declared: "Maybe those people confuse Venetism with something different. Being a Venetist, for me, means defending our heritage, promote the language and the literature of this region".