Wednesday, 16 March 2011
Happy 150th Birthday Italy
I know it's Saint Patrick's Day today, but it is also the birthday of another famously Catholic country - Italy.
Given the country's torturous route to it's current status as a united Republic, the exact date is a moot point, but on 17th March 1861 the first Italian parliament, which had met for the first time the previous month, declared Victor Emmanuel II King of Italy. The boundaries of the state still hadn't been finalised, and in 1861 Rome wasn't even part of the country, although that didn't stop it becoming the capital.
Unification was a triumph for Giueppe Garibaldi, namesake of the famous biscuit. Clad in his Nottingham Forest football kit, the former resident of South Shields had defeated the Neapolitans (despite the names it was a real battle and not an episode of Ready, Steady, Cook) and then triumphantly marched the length of Italy. 'Marched' here is actually a bit of a euphemism as he did the last bit by train, but he was a first rate chap Garibaldi so lets not take too much away from him.
It had been a long time coming, but Italy had finally become a second rate, first rate power. It then went on to be a second rate colonial power (loosing heavily to the Ethiopians), a second rate combatant in the First World War, (loosing a lot to the Austrians), a second rate fascist state (loosing to us and the Greeks) - one German captured in 1943 was supposed to have said "next time it's your turn to have the Italians" - and finally a second rate member of the EU, joining us in being not quite as important as the French and Germans.
Not that it matters much. The food, opera, women, football, style, cars, weather, architecture and certainly the political scandals are definitely first rate, so I guess they can't really grumble, and if Italy is really just a rich industrial country welded onto a poor rural one, at least it is holding together better than Belgium. Or the UK.
Happy birthday Italy.