Yesterday was a holiday, but you may be asking yourself, “why”?
A non-Catholic holiday is a rarity, and April 25 is one of three -- festive in some ways and full of tension in others. It’s about “liberation” and “resistance” -- a day to celebrate the birthday of Italian democracy and its rediscovered national independence. So why is it also full of tension? Italy is an old world yet young county and April 25th underlines the second. Although it achieved unification in 1860 (adding Rome in 1870), April 25, 1945 marks the beginning of Italy as a truly independent, democratic state, only 62 ago, and the wounds that were inflicted to reach this milestone are still not completely closed, opening annually to ooze for the occasion.
The Resistance (i partigiani) fought against the Fascist state (la Repubblica di Salò after September 8, 1943) and finally won out as Italy finished off WWII, with the support of the allies, on the “right” side. The political left and right come to arms on this day. The extreme left doesn’t like how the left in general has moved center stage. The right has its skeletons in the closet that it has locked away as it also moves center stage. But on this day, everyone is forced to remember and assess and judge and this can lead to demonstrations in piazza and lots of noise. It is never a tranquil day with picnics in the park.
President Napolitano spent the holiday on the island of Cefalonia in the Ionian Sea with his Greek counterpart. 9,600 out of 12,000 Italian soldiers were killed by Nazi forces on this idyllic island in the Fall of 1943. The two forces had only the day before been on the same side, but the tide turned, Italy joined the Allies and the Nazis attacked their new enemy. We visited this island a few summers ago and you still get a very real sense of this history and the blood shed on these pristine shores.
Prime Minister Romano Prodi (of the political left) back in Rome acknowledged that Italy “is on the road to political reconciliation, even if we still need more time.”
The Mayor of Milan, Letizia Moratti (of the political right), got a round of applause as she finished her intervention in the Piazza Duomo, “Long live free Milan, long live the Republic, long live Italy and…… long live the Resistance.” Maybe the time for political reconciliation is not so far off.