So, is Venice going to secede from Italy?

Secession always seems to be an issue somewhere around the world at some point, even in the good ol’ United States. It makes perfect sense: the “big man” (government) vs. “small man” (individual citizens/cities) narrative has become pretty dramatic in the past decade, especially around issues of privacy and broader relevance (most decisions about what constitutes a state or a country were made well before anyone currently on the Earth was alive). The newest idea is in Venice, which also makes sense — considering they were an independent city-state for about 1,000 years previously in their existence. 89 percent of all online ballots cast in a recent election — featuring unique digital IDs — called for independence from Italy. Here’s a basic breakdown of the situation, via The Atlantic:

Today, however, the circumstances surrounding secessionist efforts in Veneto have changed. Europe’s economic malaise has strengthened secessionist movements across the continent. The region’s GDP still hasn’t returned to 2007 levels after plummeting by almost 10 percent at the height of the European debt crisis and Great Recession. During this period, 85,000 Venetians lost their jobs and roughly 8,000 businesses disappeared in the region. Financial insecurity and chronic joblessness have led to a 40-percent spike in Italy’s suicide rate, especially in the wealthier northeast.

Compounding these economic woes is the powerlessness of Venetians to address them. Unlike Scotland and Catalonia, which already possess relatively strong regional governments, Italy’s regions have limited legislative autonomy and little hope of obtaining more. The Italian electorate already rejected constitutional reforms that would have devolved more powers to the regions in a 2006 referendum, fearing the effect such a change would have on national unity. (Veneto was one of only two regions in which a majority of voters supported the reforms.) Now, a recent pact by Italy’s political leaders will curb regional powers even further to save money.

Get this, too: if Venice went independent, it would rank 7th in all of Europe in per-capita GDP.

Now, this is all a broadly complex issue. First off, it was based on an online (i.e. “for the younger people”) poll, so it’s not necessarily representative of broader trends — and by no means is it binding. Could the issue bubble up and we see some more demonstrations and an eventual tipping point? Of course — although it doesn’t seem like something that would be global news, say, tomorrow (I could be wrong about this).

Another interesting factor: again, the determinants of what makes “a city” or “a state” or “a nation” pre-date almost everyone on Earth (some exceptions, i.e. post-Cold War Russia, parts of Africa, etc.) When governments become detached from parts of their governing area, but are still responsible for them because of things that happened in the 1700s or before, at what point does it not make sense anymore? I’m not suggesting that everybody rise up globally and redefine their boundaries; we need some stability, for sure. But governments and their policies aren’t likely to fall in lockstep with the most disenfranchised of citizens anytime soon, so aside from its disruptive nature and logistical outcomes (i.e. redrawing of maps, etc.), is secession that bad of a thing? Rather, I guess… it’s not a bad topic, right? If it draws attention to the reasons why it became a topic in the first place? Ultimately what every human wants is to be heard; to feel like what they’re saying and feeling and experiencing matters. So … if secession leads to that idea, even if nothing actually happens, that’s good, right? (I think so.)

Should also be noted that late-1300s Venice is often held up as a global example of how a society can crumble when they put ideas in place to limit social mobility. There’s also the broader issue that Venice is sinking five times faster than the world originally thought, so if independence is an essential for them, the window in which it can be accomplished is shrinking.

By the way, there’s quite a few active separatist movements in Europe right now — Crimea obviously drawing the most attention, and Venice maybe somewhere in the 2/3 slot —  and even more around the world.

Ted Bauer