Negotiating historical heritage and current political challenges in Italy



Dr. Davide Papotti in Lindsay Auditorium at DU. [Photo by Siobhan Stocks-Lyons]

On May 10, 2016, Dr. Davide Papotti, professor of geography in the Humanities School at the University of Parma delivered a speech entitled “History of Italy: negotiating historical heritage and current political challenges” in the Lindsay Auditorium at the University of Denver.

In addition to Papotti’s work as a professor at the University of Parma, he is a well-known scholar in the fields of Italian geography, the relationship of geography and literature, and the immigration and multiculturalism in Italy.

In attendance were many students from the media and Italian departments at the University of Denver, fellow scholars, businessmen, and people who live in the Denver area that were interested in an evening of Italian culture.

Before the unification of Italy in 1861, Italy was merely a geographical expression that lacked any type of political significance. From a political standpoint, Italy is a relatively new country. One of Papotti’s opening statements was a quote that depicted Italy’s long road to achieveing political significance in the world.

“There was a gap of at least 600 years between the consolidation of language and the consolidation of the state,” Papotti said.  A quote from Massimo D’Azeglio followed that read, “we have made Italy, now we must make Italians.”

The process of Italy’s unification was completed in 1871 with the industrial development of Italian provinces that appeared in great part due to the unification of the nation as a whole.

Regional identities in different parts of the country were established as Italy continued to grow and progress as a nation and the constitutional referendum of 1946 was the start of the republic in Italy.

In order for a constitution to be applied to the nation, regional borders had to be defined. Using statistical entities, mirroring pre-existing boundaries and using electoral districts was how the nation developed the regional entities. It has been 70 years since the regions were solidified.

The republic was composed of municipalities, provinces, metropolitan cities, regions, and the state. Each component held their own status, powers, and functions in accordance with the principles of the constitution.

The 110 provinces created under the republic proved to be the weakest political entities and were looked upon as useless.

After establishing some insight into the unification and later the development of separate regions in Italy, Papotti went on to speak about what those regional boundaries define.

“The regions are unbalanced. The region of Lombardy has a population of 9.1 million people,” Papotti said. “The population is not equally spread out.”

The population of Lombardy is equivalent to three smaller Italian regions combined.

The metropolitan areas consisting of cities such as Florence, Rome, Naples, and Milan hold much greater population than the Italian mountain regions. Economically, there are sharp differences between the North and the South. Northern Italy, where many of the metropolitan cities lie, has proven to be increasingly more affluent than southern Italy.

Currently, Italy is going through a devolution process with the transfer of power moving from the central state to regional governments in the fields of health services, local police, and fiscal policies.

Due to the fragmentation of the nation of Italy and the myriad of municipalities and regions, attempts to stay a unified nation hasn’t been successful despite the success of collaborations between municipalities in regards to certain services.

One member in the audience saw that Italy as a nation, despite having multiple separate regions is still unified in ways and asked Papotti for an explanation as to how Italy has managed to keep some of its unification.

“The economic boom of the 50’s and 60’s really worked to unify the country,” Papotti said. “Italy went from being one of the poorest to one of the top ten in the world. When things go well, the glue that holds a nation together works well.”

Papotti ended by sharing with the audience that he hopes the decisions made by the Prime Minister of Italy will be successful given the current economic situation in his country.








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