Sesto Calende, Italy
Until we arrived in Sesto Calende, a small town in Italy’s Lombardy region, we knew nothing about the forthcoming referendum on 22 October seeking greater autonomy from Rome for the region. We were, though, well aware of the planned referendum in the Spanish province of Catalonia which has been attracting international headlines.
The reasons for the difference are not difficult to fathom. The referendum in Catalonia – which may or may not be held on 1 October – is about independence from the Spanish state, based on the idea of Catalonia as a distinct nation with its own language and culture. This has so frightened the government in Madrid that they went to court seeking to have referendum declared illegal, and won. Since then the national government has been using a variety of methods to enforce the court judgement, including the use of police to seize stockpiled ballot boxes and papers, threatening the arrest of public officials and closing down websites.
Here in Lombardy things could not be more different. The regional administration have made it very clear that they are not seeking independence. Language, culture and nationhood don’t really figure. What they want is greater “autonomy” about what happens to the region’s taxes. Many people in the prosperous north resent the taxes they generate being transferred by Rome to the south, often perceived as indolent. And the national government, unlike its Spanish counterpart, appears to be treating the Lombardy referendum with indifference. Our friends here say there has been minimal national media coverage, and the regional administration has been running an extensive poster campaign – often on public transport – to drum up interest.
It will be interesting to see which approach delivers results in the long term.