The Spanish regions of the Basque country and Catalonia have been actively seeking independence. And if you consider the ISIS goal of restoring the Moorish caliphate of Al-Andalus, Spain seems more like a Thanksgiving turkey these days ready to be carved. But like Italy, Spain must never be balkanized. Over two thousand years of Italic blood and treasure have been sacrificed for Spanish unity. And today, any precedent – either in Spain or anywhere in Europe – that encourages regional secession can negatively affect Italian unity.
Of Italy’s twenty regions, one has been a sore spot much like the Spanish experience – Alto Adige. Nestled in the Alps between the regions of Lombardy and Veneto, Alto Adige was the last piece of Roman Italy to rejoin modern Italy. It was acquired by the military victory over Austro-Hungary in 1918, but with it came the South Tyrol, a German-speaking province of Austria. That connection has spelled trouble since Fascist days.
Mussolini was well on the way to Italianizing the South Tyrol, first by suppressing the German language and planting Italian colonies, and later by convincing Hitler to accept Austrian deportees into his Reich. However, by 1939 when Italy begged off joining Hitler’s Polish war, the Fuhrer began dragging his feet in the South Tyrol. By 1943, when Mussolini was overthrown, Hitler absorbed the province as well as half of northeastern Italy.
Because Germany and Italy both lost the war, Alto Adige remained an Italian region with German and Italian as official languages. But by 1960, with ethnic frictions and the formation of a German-speaking terrorist group, the UN was brought in to mediate the conflict. Today, Alto Adige is split into the provinces of Trentino (Italian-speaking) and South Tyrol (German-speaking) each with very generous autonomy. In fact, any disputes in the South Tyrol must now be settled by the International Court at The Hague or through the European Union. The South Tyrolians consider themselves Austrians and resent any of their tax money going to the Italian Mezzogiorno. But unlike Scotland or Catalonia, South Tyrol would prefer rejoining Austria to independence.
Italy’s sacrifices in the First World War – 650,000 war dead – gained it nothing except Alto Adige. After the war Italians described it as a “Mutilated Victory.” If they only knew! So too the Italian sacrifices in Spain.
Both Spain and France are considered our Latin cousins for a reason. Both owe their unity and culture to the Italic people. While it took Julius Caesar only six years to subdue Gaul, Spain required some 200 years of bitter fighting – from the Second Punic War in 218 B.C. to the final victories of Augustus in 13 B.C. Both these countries became Latin with the massive influx of Italic colonists – the most famous being the city of Italica in southern Spain, birthplace of great Emperors Trajan and Hadrian.
If we were to add in the contributions of Christopher Columbus in making Spain a world power, we would better understand the debt a united Spain owes the Italic people.
Even the controversial Spanish Civil War (1935-1939) can be properly viewed as a struggle to save traditional Spain. And it was Italy’s intervention that helped save it from dismemberment and a Communist takeover. Many left-leaning academics only believe Fascism crushed democracy in that war. The reality was that a Communism takeover was prevented. It cost Italy some 4,000 soldiers killed and $4.7 billion in Italian treasure. Leftist volunteer George Orwell narrowly escaped a purge by Communists intent on subverting the Republic. That harrowing experience inspired him to write Animal Farm and 1984. Would Spain have been Stalin’s first conquest without Italy’s aid? Suffice it to say, when Francisco Franco finally entered Madrid, all of Spain’s gold had been shipped to Moscow.
Italians and Spaniards share a long history. As we would never welcome a fragmented Italy, neither can we rejoice in Spain split asunder. -JLM