Italy. The regional elections in Sicily in November aroused strong fears and expectations before the impending parliamentary elections in spring 2018. The result was a resounding victory for right-wing populists, and a stinging defeat for the ruling Socialist Democratic Party (PD). According to Countryaah.com, the election result led to the 81-year-old former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi now taking up the political scene again. With the right-wing coalition in first place in the elections in Sicily and the establishment-critical Five-Star Movement in second place, the ruling party became the big loser.
The election loss came despite the country’s economy being in better condition than for many years. Growth was significantly greater than expected and it also brightened in the labor market. In addition, the state succeeded in rescuing three of the country’s distressed banks, thereby alleviating the world’s concern for the financial sector in the eurozone’s third largest economy.
But Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni and his finance minister, the internationally renowned economist Pier Carlo Padoan, do not appear to reap the rewards of economic success. During the year, the ruling party also lost land in prosperous and traditionally red regions of central Italy, such as Tuscany. The reason is believed to be the hundreds of thousands of migrants who have reached Italy across the Mediterranean from Libya in recent years.
The widespread concern over migration did not appear to have subsided, despite the fact that the number of migrants crossing the sea decreased drastically in the second half of the year following a very large influx in the first six months. The reversal came in late summer after Italy’s interior minister visited Libya and made a series of more or less controversial deals with the country’s chaotic leadership. An agreement with the government recognized by the UN in the capital Tripoli meant that Italy offered cooperation with the Libyan coastguard and made patrol boats available. Italy must also have made deals with clan leaders in the southern parts of Libya to stop them smuggling human trafficking operations into the Sahara desert.
To the extent that the right turn of the Italian electorate is due to migration policy, the result of the government’s actions does not appear to have reached the public consciousness of judging the success of the anti-xenophobic party Lega Nord, which achieved good results in former red regions in central Italy during the year.
Most indicate that the right bloc that won the important regional elections in Sicily in November will be cemented in a tripartite coalition ahead of the 2018 parliamentary elections. The three parties, in addition to Lega Nord, are Silvio Berlusconi’s party Forza Italia (Heja Italy) and the nationalist Italy’s brothers with roots in neo-fascism.
During the year, it seems unlikely that Silvio Berlusconi is back on the political scene. Berlusconi was forced to resign as prime minister in 2011, after Italy was plunged into a financial crisis that posed a threat to the entire euro zone. Subsequently, the 81-year-old media billionaire has been investigated for corruption crimes, underwent extensive cardiac surgery and performed community service after being convicted of tax offenses. The verdict means that Berlusconi cannot stand in political elections himself. However, he is a party leader for Forza Italia and is thus considered to have a considerable influence in the new right-wing bloc.
The party that came second after the right-wing coalition in the November elections in Sicily was the Five Star Movement (M5S). The party emerged eight years ago as a wild movement fueled by comedian and blogger Beppe Grillo. The colorful founder is still included as a figurehead, but in the fall a formal party leader was appointed for the 2018 parliamentary elections. By Italian standards, Luigi Di Maio, with his more than 30 years, is extremely young at the post, but the party also appeals mainly to young voters. M5S preferably communicates via the internet and has made the contempt for the institutions a brand. However, this year’s election of a formal party leader is one of many signs that the movement is turning into something similar to a regular party.
The sigh of relief that went through the corridors of Brussels after the elections in the Netherlands and Germany, where the extreme parties received less support than expected, was followed by concerns during the year that a large and important EU country like Italy could soon be ruled by populists.
Etruscans and Greeks
Historical time in Italy can be said to begin with the dominant cultural influence of two peoples: the Etruscans and the Greeks.
The core area of the Etruscans was Etruria, north and west of Tiber; later (500 AD) they expanded north toward Posletta and south to Campania before being forced back, including after the defeat in the battle with the Greeks at Cumae in 474.
The Greeks built from around 750 BCE. numerous colonies in Sicily and the coast of southern Italy, including Kyme (Cumae), Neapolis, Poseidonia (Paestum), Rhegion, Lokroi, Kroton, Sybaris, Taras (Tarentum), Syracuse, Zankle or Messana, Gela and Akragas (Agrigentum). The colonies were an important cultural impetus for hundreds of years, directly and indirectly via the Etruscans. Of foreigners who later settled in Italy, mention the Gauls or Celts, who settled on Posletta after the year 400, where they drove back the Etruscans.
The Roman Empire
According to tradition, the city of Rome was founded in 753 BCE, and is therefore old with the oldest Greek colonies; a small community of Latin and Sabine peasants. Italy’s history from the 300s can be written as the story of Roman expansion and is covered in the articles on Rome and the Roman Empire. In a couple of hundred years from approx. 400 to approx. 200 had Rome gained effective control over Italy and Sicily.
Important for the Roman administration and for the Romanization of Italy – which, however, never became complete – was the road network: in 312 the main road along the coast to the south, Via Appia, was begun, later Via Latina followed through the interior of the country and further branches from these roads (Via Popilia, Traiana, Salaria, Valeria); In 299, the main road to the north, Via Flaminia, was started, later Via Aemilia and other roads (Via Postumia, Clodia, Cassia, Aurelia, Aemilia Scauri, Julia Augusta).
The conquered peoples of Italy were called by the Romans allies. Politically, the Romans ruled Italy after the “divide and rule” motto, concluding separate agreements and giving the federal covenants and individuals alternating status and civil rights. The Allies had internal self-government, but could not pursue their own foreign policy. The inhabitants had to do war service for Rome. Rome also controlled Italy by constructing Roman settlements, colonies, and by annexing land during the conquest wars and the Second Punic War (218–201 BCE). Only through the bloody covenant war in 91-88 BCE. could the Roman allies fight against ordinary civil law; after the inhabitants of Posletta (Gallia cisalpina) had also become Roman citizensCaesar, Italy can be regarded as a unified state with local autonomy.
Emperor Augustus divided Italy into eleven regions: Campania and Lazio, Apulia and Calabria, Lucania and Bruttium, Samnium, Picenum, Umbria, Etruria, Aemilia, Liguria, Venetia and Histria and Gallia transpadana. The division was modified by Diocletian. With Constantinople’s foundation in 330, Italy lost importance as the core country of the kingdom; the Alemans ravaged in 270, Alaric in 410; and in 476 Romulus Augustulus, the last emperor of the Western Roman Empire, was deposed by the German Odovaker. Goths domination led to Italy again won significance, but the country was suffering under Byzantine reconquest wars in 535-555 and in 568, the country was split into a Byzantine part of the south and a langobarderrike in the north. The latter retained the name Italy.
Odovaker’s rule in 476–493 was uncertain. He relied on Germanic rental troops and paid them with land; otherwise he probably tried to preserve the late Roman social order. But the kingdom became smaller. The Visigoths took Gallia to the Alps, and the Roman colonists at the Danube returned to Italy. In Sicily, however, the vandals managed to push back.
The Ostrogoths (East Goths), under Theoderik, on the other hand, invaded Northern Italy, and lived there under their own laws, so that Italy became a kind of dual state. Theodoric interfered with Roman society as little as possible and allowed the Senate to pass.
The Goths were the soldiers of the kingdom, and so it became a distinction between civilian Roman society and a military Gothic. The soldiers got land, and it looks like they usually got one-third, while the old landowners got two-thirds. Theoderik succeeded in creating peace and order in the country, but it is clear that his rule has been felt as a foreign rule forced on the people. Moreover, the Ostrogoths were Aryans, and this increased the contradictions between the Catholic Romans and the Ostrogothic conquerors. Discontent came to political expression through Theoderik’s struggle with the Catholic Church. This dispute was closely linked to his foreign policy. Theodoric, like Odovaker, recognized the East Roman emperor as supreme, but he nevertheless had great plans of his own.
The Theodoric would gather a number of Germanic tribes under his rule, and had a long success with this policy. On the one hand, he achieved diplomatic connections and through marriage between his own family and the various chiefs, and on the other hand, his foreign policy built on the power his army and army capabilities gave him.
Theodoric connected the entire circle of Germanic peoples around Italy from North Africa to the Danube. But on two points this expansionary policy was based on resistance forces that together became too strong for him. One was the Franks, and the other the Austro-Roman Empire which looked threatened by the growing strength of the Ostrogoths.
Under Chlodvig, the Franks pursued the same ruthless expansionist policy as Theoderik, which led to clashes. The Emperor of Byzantium exploited this conflict and supported the Franks. Moreover, in around 520 they succeeded in overcoming the contradictions between the Catholic Church in the east and the west, and this agreement gave Theoderik’s Catholic subjects in Italy a basis in Byzantium which also gained political significance. The Emperor struck hard on the Aryans, while Theoderik supported them and demanded that the Emperor withdraw his precautions. The emperor refused, and the tension increased.
Theoderic ruthlessly exterminated all who were suspected of opposing him in understanding with the Emperor, and he died in 526, in the midst of preparations for war against the Vandals, which the Emperor had succeeded in pulling over to his side. The centerpiece of the kingdom of the Ostrogoths was Northern Italy, and Theoderik himself was buried in Ravenna, where his mausoleum stands to this day.
After Theoderik’s death, the emperor of Byzantium gradually gained a stronger and stronger grip on Italy. From Sicily, the emperor’s army commander Belisarius ruled all over the country, and a final erection on the part of the Ostrogoths was defeated in 553 by another imperial army commander, Narses.