Cabbages and Kings, I: Independence Day on the Po

September 15th, the day of liberty for Independent Padania, dawns fair and warm.  I hurry into the center of Olginate--a small village, now suburbanized like so much of Lombardia--where I board a bus with the the local leghisti.  My host is Giulio de Capitani, a local counselor and the nephew of my old friends, Giuditta and Giuseppe Podesta.  

 There are two or three "Pulman" buses just from Olginate, and we rendez-vous with the other delegations from Lecco at the Abbey of Pontida, the site of the famous Lombard "giuramento" (oath).  Waiting for the stragglers, some of the young bucks leave the bus to spray paint Lega slogans on a cement wall.  They have obviously done this before.  While one stands with the paint can hidden in the grass, the two others split up, taking positions where they can watch for policeman, and in the 15-20 minutes it takes to complete their art work (they go over and over, always darkening and thickening the letters), the alert is given several times.  

It is an impressive motorcade: dozens of buses and who knows how many automobiles, all from the province of Lecco.  When we hit the autostrada, we catch sight of other motorcades headed toward their designated sites on "dio Po" outside of Cremona, a city made famous by its violin-makers.  Today, another chapter in Italian history is being written, as thousands gather from all over this part of Lombardia, to celebrate the birth of Padania.  The newspapers and radio are already reporting that the Festa d'Independenza is a failure: only 10,000 are said to have turned out all over the North.  I don't know about other places, but here, in the mile-long space between two bridges, the fields and paths along the shore are crowded with members of the Lega Nord from one small area, the province of Lecco.  

It would be easy to get lost in the crowd, but de Capitani--a successful architect and admired local figure--takes charge of the idiot foreigner, and in the course of the day I shake hands with what seem to be dozens of mayors, councilors, and even a member or two of the Italian parliament.  The mayor of Colico, a town at the Northeast corner of Lago di Como, tells me that in mystical ceremonies like today's Padania is returning to its Celtic and pre-Christian roots.  His statement is something of a paradox, since the mayor looks 100 % German and speaks Italian with the emphatic precision of the Italian Swiss.  After discoursing on the mysteries of trees and rivers, he adds that he, like most of his friends in the Lega, is a good Catholic who would like to see the church recover its former moral, though not political authority.

The day before, a friend of mine told me, "Go down to the Po with the Lega: they'll all be eating polenta (corn meal mush) and getting drunk."  I only meet one man (from Lecco) a little the worse for wine.  He is very happy and tells me over and over how the government, which he denounces in terms too richly obscene for me to understand, has cheated him of his pension.  When a friend tries to hush him up for fear of offending a foreigner, the old guy explains that Lombards don't engage in long, florid speeches like the Sicilians.  They prefer words that are earthy: firm, round, and strong-smelling.  "Like cheese?"  I ask hopefully.  "I was thinking of caca."  I told him I preferred cheese. 

We sneak off for lunch at a nearby restaurant with Alberto Maria Bosisio, member of parliament and one of the brightest and most polished leaders of the Lega I have run into.  He and the other well-to-do leghisti who have filled up the restaurant are living contradiction of the story I have heard repeatedly, that the middle-classes who joined the Lega in the early 90's departed after Bossi's ribaltone that overturned the Berlusconi government.  In a heated but friendly conversation with other leghisti, Bosision draws a precise line between defense of the North against the invasion of southern mafiosi, government officials, and welfare dependents, on the one hand, and a general hatred of southern Italians, on the other.

In the media there have been predictions of violence, but the nearest approach to trouble comes in the restaurant, as a group of leghisti complain about the service to the obviously Sicilian proprietor, who treats them to a tongue-lashing of an eloquence undreamed of by Lombards.  Our waiter, just as obviously of Southern background, though he speaks without the accent, tells us he is sympathetic to the Lega's demand for home rule.  From all that I can tell, Sicilian businessmen have nothing to fear from the Lega, and some of them would welcome any effort to drive the Mafia back to Sicily.

Back on the bank of the Po, the people are eating grilled sausages and peacefully waiting for the live hook-up with Venice, where the "leader" of the Lega Nord, Umberto Bossi, will make his solemn declaration of independence.  

For the "Senatur," today has been a long time in coming.  For the past two years--indeed, throughout its existence--the Lega has been demanding political reform and a deconsolidation of power.  Exasperated by the slow pace--actually, no pace--of reform, and despairing of any progress toward a federal constitution, Bossi began hinting last fall that it was time to secede.  In the spring, he made his threats explicit, and today--at the end of three days of symbolic demonstrations, including a mystical ceremony of carrying a vial of water from the source of the Po all the way to the mouth--the Lega is ready. 

We listen to a series of speakers from other independence movements--Basques and Catalonians from Spain, a Fleming from Belgium--and the crowd has a good time with their mispronounced Italian.  Finally, Bossi begins to speak in an uncharacteristically solemn voice and announces the indpendence of Padania and the Constitutional principles on which his new nation will be based.   To American ears, Bossi speaks with the voice of 1787.

On the way home, after all the flags have flown, the sausages eaten, and the Grand March from Aida (the national anthem) played a dozen times, I feel a little like the hapless couple at the end of The Graduate (screenplay by longtime  reader, the late Calder Willingham):  After independence, what?  The Press has made much of Bossi's defense force the "camicce verdi" (green shirts), but these are men of all ages, unarmed and not particularly dangerous looking.  The only violence comes when, a few days later, the number two man in the party, Roberto Maroni, is beaten up by the police in his office.  Maroni is a particularly strange object for police brutality: he is not only well-liked by his political enemies, but for a brief time he even served as Minister of the Interior, a post which gave him control over the national police. 

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Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming is president of the Fleming Foundation. He is the author of six books, including The Morality of Everyday Life and The Politics of Human Nature, as well as many articles and columns for newspapers, magazines,and learned journals. He holds a Ph.D. in Classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a B.A. in Greek from the College of Charleston. He served as editor of Chronicles: a Magazine of American Culture from 1984 to 2015 and president of The Rockford Institute from 1997-2014. In a previous life he taught classics at several colleges and served as a school headmaster in South Carolina

12 Responses

  1. William Shofner says:

    Ah, if only the South had today a leader such as Umberto Bossi to lead her back onto the pathway of secession, then her sons and daughters could cakewalk through the streets of New Orleans, Richmond and Memphis rather than tearfully watch savages ripped down monuments honoring her past struggle to achieve divine independence. (Got an ideas here, Tom?)

  2. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    Bossi was not so much an original mind (though some of his metaphors and arguments were brilliant) as a man who could share and exemplify the resentments of a large number of people. Southerners have been content to acquiesce in their own subjugation. It started in the New South movement, and the crisis was reached in the 1960s. In 1968 Wallace carried five Southern states but not the Carolinas, Virginia, or Tennessee. No Southerner would again make so threatening a challenge, and with each decade the accommodationist sentiment has grown stronger. The Uncle Gradys are not an overwhelming majority. Southern political movements have resorted to conspiracy theories, abusive rhetoric, and an overall suicide strategy that has wasted the time of the people sucked into them. I don’t recall Southern political leaders calling for steps to prevent the massive migration of Northern aliens into Southern states, where they spend much of their time whining about how they are not appreciated and how much better things were done in the overtaxed Northeast.

  3. Sam Dickson says:

    Comrade Fleming is happily schizophrenic. Parallelling Cowper’s hymn (“There is a wideness in God’s mercy..”) there’s a wideness in Dr. Fleming’s simultaneous love for Sicilians and North Italians. Who can claim he doesn’t believe in diversity? His own mind is an example of diversity!

    Dr. Fleming remarked, “they’ll all be eating polenta (corn meal mush).” As I like to tell my chic, sophisticated friends, “If you call grits ‘polenta’, you can charge $6.00 for it in a swanky restaurant.”

    As much as my instinctive sympathies lies with the Lombard descendants of the Germans I can’t help but with that these Italians (and Americnan Southerners too) would focus on the main game.

    The threat to Lombardy right now is not Neapolitans and Sicilians just as the threat to Southerners right now is not New England Puritans.

    Just as it is in Ireland, both in Eire and in British Ulster. My distant cousins in Ballymony think it’s still the 1690s and that the Pope and his minions are the danger just as the Republicans are fixated on Cromwell and William of Orange. Both sides focus on this family quarrel as the mosques and Hindu temples rise above the churches.

    I’m so mean that I can’t help but pick at friend Fleming by quoting a remark by a leader of the Risorgimento:

    “Primo facciamo l’Italia. Dopo faremo gli Italiani.” (“First we create Italy. Then we create the Italians.”)

    Got to rush off now. Got to get in my bomb shelter before the artillery rounds slam home from Italy and Tom corrects my garbled Italian!

    The threat to all Europeans whereever we find outselves is Third World immigration. I wish White people really were superior but their dusky competitors from all over the world seem to be a lot smarter than we are. They get it. We don’t.

  4. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    Wes, I might add–though you already know this very well–that the Lega Nord helped to form the outlook of the League of the South in the early days. I repeatedly made the argument that we should follow them in becoming, first, a cultural movement, but very quickly the movement fell into the hands of people who thought we could win a few elections and it would be 1861 again. I warned them, to no avail, that if the South were independent in 1990s, the leaders would be Clinton, Gore, and Gingrich. I well remember being accosted at meetings by aspiring Bubbas in bib overalls–they would have been chewing a hayseed if they had ever come within spitting distance of a hayfield–telling me Southerners didn’t need to study the classics because “We have our own culture,” by which they meant the commercial pop music being generated by Nashville factories.

  5. William Shofner says:

    Indeed; culture first, then politics. Gramsci was right: victory comes to those who make the long march thru the institutions. The Left has already made that march. The Right has not yet answered the bugle call for assembly. With organizations like the Abbeville Institute (founded by our old friend and former League of the South member, Prof. Don Livingston), Southerners are recapturing their ancient culture. Is it too late? Well, as long as we have soldiers in the field, there is hope…I hope.

  6. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    I’ll let Lorenz Hart answer my friend Sam:
    Johnny could only sing one note
    And the note he sang was this
    Poor Johnny one note sang out with gusto
    And just overlorded the place
    Poor Johnny one note, yelled willy nilly
    Until he was blue in the face
    For holding one note was his ace
    Couldn’t hear the brass
    Couldn’t hear the drum
    He was in a class, by himself, by gum
    Poor Johnny one note got in Aida
    Indeed a great chance to be brave
    He took his one note, howled like the north wind
    Brought forth wind that made critics rave
    While Verdi turned ’round in his grave
    Couldn’t hear the flute
    Or the big trombone
    Every one was mute, Johnny stood alone

    The trouble with one-note ideologies is that, like the stopped clock, they are right twice a day but only twice. The trouble for the Lombards and Venetians and Piemontesi is not Third World immigration, which, by the way, they strenuously and militantly opposed–despite misrepresentation in the press–nor the Sicilians, which the Leghisti also recognized, e.g. in the poster I have with the picture of a disgruntled hen having her eggs stolen: The Lombard hen lays an egg that is stolen in Sicily but cooked in Rome. It is precisely the Jacobin Italian state (Bossi once referred to the flag as la drappa jacobina) that permitted the waves of Albanians and North Africans to roll over Italy, and the Jacobin state, and its partners in crime in the EU that are destroying all Italy. The American parallels, when I pointed them out, drew the ire of The Nation. I must have been on the right track.

    There are no minority problems in the West that are not caused by the Quisling supine majority. During the last border crisis, Central American leaders said openly that Biden had invited them in. They quite rightly resent the double-game played by Americans. We invite them in, exploit their cheap labor, hire their crooked votes, and then think we have hte right to whine about the d-mned Mexicans. Pure hypocrisy!

  7. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    I might add that nationalists, like my good friend Sam, are inevitably attracted by state builders like Lincoln and Cavour. Metternich’s famous remark that Italy was only a geographical expression, while serving the interest of the Dual Monarchy, was true then and to a great extent is still true. I once had lunch with a wealthy Neapolitan prince whose family had restored their fortunes in banking. He hated the Lega. “You know what? They think I’m a n-gger! So what, I’d rather be a
    n-gger than one of those Polentoni.”

  8. Michael Strenk says:

    I had read in the nineties that the native Italian mafias were on the run from the Albanians. The Albanians, it was said, and I’ve heard plenty on this about all to the Eastern European mafias here in the U.S., were willing, indeed eager, to commit horrendous acts of violence that were completely unnecessary to their immediate goals. Of course, the Sicilians had Toto Rina, who engaged in similar activity, but he was already locked-up.

  9. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    The Albanians did give a lot of trouble to Italian crime lords, though from what I could gather it was more in central and northern Italy. In Brindisi, I heard, the locals pushed back hard. There is only one Mafia, and it is Sicilian. The Albanians were distinguished by an insane level of violence for petty gains; they seemed to lack the strategic sense of the Mafia, Camorra, and ‘Ndrangheta, which all were intermeshed with politicians. Toto Riina was certainly tough, but he was also a strategist who worked handed in glove with the Democristiani. I don’t know what’s going on these days, but I don’t believe the Albanians made serious inroads in Sicily. I’ll check with our man in Palermo.

  10. Dot says:

    Did anyone ever see the 1972 movie, The Godfather starring Marlon Brando? If you didn’t, you need to. I believe you can get it on u-tube.

  11. Harry Colin says:

    In keeping with the Italian theme here, the very thought of an independent South with Clinton, Gore and Gingrich at its head sent me to the Brioschi.

    Dot, I could probably quote the Godfather, line-by-line! A ridiculous thought, but reflective of the number of times I’ve watched it.

  12. William Shofner says:

    Mr. Colin, almost daily, when we respond to Tom’s intriguing columns, aren’t we violating a vital maxim of the Godfather: “Never tell anybody outside the family what you’re thinking”? Well, I don’t see the violation….because we are all “family” here, capisce?