Takin’ It To The Sicilian Streets

by Gary Drake | Mar 29, 2014

Sicilian March for Independence

indipendenceOn Sunday, March 30, hundreds marched in Palermo from the Statua della Liberta’ to Piazza Politeama in support of making Sicily an independent nation. This movement is moving in part as a response to the ongoing economic crisis, but is not necessarily a new idea. Don’t forget bandito Salvatore Giuliano fought for Sicilian independence in the years right after the war (and even wanted Sicily to become the USA’s 51st state). The movement then was really headed by statesman Finocchiaro Aprile who, even before the Allieds disembarked to liberate Sicily in 1943, had been reaching out to America and England to support his program for independence. Once the war ended he formed EVIS: Eserciti Volontario per l’Indipendenza della Sicilia, which, for better or worse depending on who you ask, couldn’t stem the tide of  war-weary Sicily remaining in the so-called unified Italy.

Now let’s remember, the Allies worked with Lucky Luciano and local mafiosi to liberate Sicily during the war and to kick out the fascists and nazis.  The mafia, as you might guess, doesn’t act altruistically, so in return for the favor they cemented their power in post-war Sicily, delivering votes in Italian national and local elections for the powerhouse Christian Democrat party—all of this with the support in one way or another of the USA, to whom keeping down the Communist Party in Italy was the only thing that mattered, even if it meant an (unofficial?) alliance between the mafia and the Italian Government, which I dare say has yet to be fully eradicated. The President of the Region of Sicily during the time I bought my house here less than a decade ago is currently sitting in a jail cell due to his mafia favors.  As one marcher told me yesterday, “Sicily has been robbed three times since the days of The Leopard, (read: the days of Italian unification): once by Garibaldi and the Piedmontesi, once by the Mafia, and now by Rome.”

I won’t pretend to know the nuances of either the good or bad arguments nowadays for Sicilian Independence, but living here it’s easy to understand the sentiment. I remember the 150th Anniversary of Unification in 2011 which was played out with parades and other acts of Italian patriotism nationwide, including a visit by Italian President Napolitano to my neighboring town of Calatafimi. In those same days, African boat people were arriving by the hundreds in Sicily and we were told by at least one Italian member of Parliament, “That’s a Sicilian problem.” Huh? What happened to a unified Italy? This must be what Sicilians mean when they say they feel abandoned by the State.

indipendence1Marchers took to the streets of Palermo March 30th waving their Sicilian flags, the by now classic red and yellow flag with the famous trinacria in the middle. This flag first came into use during the famous Sicilian Vespers in 1282 when the locals revolted against the French rule of Charles of Anjou, and I think only in 2000 did it become an official flag of the Autonomous Region of Sicily, approved for use on official Sicilian buildings, schools, etc. Beyond the well-represented flag, the marchers held banners reading things like, loosely translated, “Self-determination and Sovereignty for the Sicilian people,” “Sicily must become what Sicilians want” and “A non-sovereign Sicily is destined to die.” The marchers were unified in their complaint that Sicily sends more money to Rome than they get in return. Others spoke of Sicilians wanting back control of their own natural wonders and resources, including the staples: grain, oranges, and olive oil: too much control from Rome makes it difficult for the Sicilians to profit from their own resources and work. And the independence movement is also a reply to straight-forward racism and xenophobia promoted by some northern politicos who want northern Italy to kick southern Italy out of Italy, keeping in mind that to these people southern Italy is anything south of Verona!

(How all these factions put everything aside and unite as one to support the Italian National soccer team in the World Cup remains an unexplained mystery and miracle.)

Not all necessarily believe independence will ever come, but they are reaching for the stars in hopes of making enough noise to get some respect for the island. I won’t sugarcoat the attendance count, primarly because the number of people who didn’t show up might be more important. Did they not show up because they don’t believe in the cause or because they believe in it but have given up or, worse of all, because they don’t think about these things at all? Regardless, organizer Santo Trovato commented on his Facebook page that more important than the quantity of marchers was the high quality of the marchers. For me what was interesting was the number of marchers who were from other independence movements. Yes, we live in a world full of secessionist movements. Those representing separatist movements from the Italian regions of Veneto and Sardegna were there, flags waving, as well as from the Catalan Separatist Movement. (Quebec separatists might have been too busy with a return of baseball to Montreal, at least for a practice game, to make the trip to Sicily.) I found it amazing: Separatist movements joining together—an interesting phenomenon. Instead of imagining like John Lennon that “there’s no countries,” I wonder what would happen if all the separatist movements formed one utopian state?!

Hiking Against the Mafia

20140323_141135Two Sundays ago, I hiked (marched) with many Castellammaresi in memory of Sicilians killed by the mafia. The hike was through local territory the government has confiscated from the mafia and was sponsored by Libera, Castello Libero and CAI di Castellammare. Guest Speaker: the “other” Borsellino, Antonella, daughter of honest Palermo businessman Giuseppe Borsellino who refused all mafia extortion attempts. His son, Antonella’s brother, was killed by the mafia in April of 1992, and after Giuseppe turned in the names of the mafiosi responsible, he too was killed, in December, ’92. That year, 1992, was a watershed year as the mafia was in a state of war with the Italian government, and was the year they killed both of the heavyweight mafia-fighting magistrates Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino. It wasn’t the killings that made it wathershed but rather Sicilians deciding enough is enough. They took to the streets, publicly protesting against the mafia and asking the state to liberate the island of this menace. What has transpired since then would require another article to tell, but I’m pretty sure before 1992 you wouldn’t find a public anti-mafia march in Castellammare del golfo.

In addition to the two protests I write of, there are many others, even daily. In fact, at the same time some were marching for Sicilian independence in one part of Palermo, others had organized a protest against austerity measures at the Regional headquarters on the other side of town. The day after, a group of unemployed homeless human beings staged a sit-in and hunger strike at Palermo’s City Hall—hmm, they took their real and present hunger and turned it into a weapon! And there are continuous protests against the USA’s construction in Niscemi of the gigantic ultra-high frequency U.S. Naval Radio Transmitter satellite called MOUS (Mobile User Objective System)—situated right next to not only a peaceful small town but also a protected natural reserve. When in Sicily, you will see “No MOUS” buttons and banners all over. In conncection with No MOUS, you may also see some graffiti suggestions like “America, Get Out!”, (referring to the satellite, of course, not me!).

So Sicilians are on the march. There have been very few days I’ve spent in Palermo in which I haven’t run into a protest, be it political, labor, or scolastic. Not all protestors think protesting will change the world, but they care enough to want the issues made known and to keep the pressure on.  And they also know that all major changes in the world started modestly. The anti-mafia movement started simply enough a generation ago with Palermo families hanging bedsheets from their balconies with the word “Basta!” (Enough!) written on them. So they know change takes time and Ghandi/Mandella-like patience. Santo Trovato, again the organizer of the Independence march, wrote he felt good about the movement because he feels it’s delivering on Ghandi’s pillars of change: “First they ingore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”

Gary Drake
Gary Drake
Gary Drake is American freelance writer who lives year-round in Castellammare del Golfo, Sicily. Gary has lived in several big American cites and spent time in Milan before settling in Sicily. He is the author of "Silent Bell" "Digital Lives" "Daily News of Sicily" and "Conversation With A Settler". Gary's pastimes include, among many things, Palermo soccer, baseball, Dylan, Sicilian history, philosophy, and discussing the meaning of life with the wise sages that gather at the coffee shops of Castellammare del golfo.

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  1. I enjoyed reading this article, as a newcomer to Sicily it is interesting to hear that some in this beautiful island think along the lines of those in my home country, Scotland. The centralisation for economic reasons will only prevail when it is perceived to be fair to all. When the balance is out of kilter then the disquiet begins. Scotland has waited many years, with building resentment, to get to the vote in September and I think it will be a close run, whichever side wins. From my limited time here so far, I am struck by how much of the Sicilian values and attitudes remind me of Scotland, 20 or 30 years ago.

  2. I think Yoko Ono also reads Times of Sicily as she sent out a tweet seemingly in response to my John Lennon comment.

    Yoko tweeted:
    1 April 73: John & I created this imaginary world #Nutopia a country that exists in all of us. Surrender to Peace.imaginepeace.com/archives/10573

  3. da più di 150 anni siamo una colonia italiana: 1866 la rivolta del sette e mezzo, fine ottocento la rivolta dei fasci siciliani, 1944-1946 l’e.v.i.s. di antonio canepa e la conquista del nostro statuto speciale mai applicato dallo stato italiano con l’aiuto dei politici siciliani corrotti e venduti. e ora di dire basta! questa finta nazione chiamata italia, nata a fine ottocento, a noi siciliani non è mai servita a niente!
    La Sicilia indipendente? Potrebbe anche essere una buona idea; anzi una ottima idea. Peccato, però, che i siciliani non abbiano nemmeno un centesimo della educazione civica dei sud tirolesi, fondamento di ogni convivenza, liberta’ ed autonomia.
    Noi siciliani non possiamo neanche aspirare ad arrivare alla profondità culturale del suo pensiero e alla incommensurabile civiltà non ci proviamo proprio, siamo troppo lontani.

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