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Italian regionalism or `Padanian' nationalism - the political project of the Lega Nord in Italian politics

Benito Giordano
School of Geography, University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PL, UK


The resurgence of regionalist political parties has had a considerable, though variable, impact on contemporary European politics in recent decades and there are numerous examples of such parties across Europe. In Italy, there are several regionalist parties, however, it is the emergence in the last 15 years or so, of the Northern League (Lega Nord) (LN) political party, in the North of Italy, which has given a new impetus to debates about the significance of regionalism in Italy as well as across Europe. This paper discusses the different approaches to defining regionalism as well as the common features and driving forces of contemporary political regionalist projects. It then focuses upon the political discourses of the LN in order to discuss the ways in which the party resembles other regionalist projects, while having certain key, distinct and rather unique differences. This is because the LN's political project is not based in an area that has historic claims to nationhood. Instead, the LN has attempted to invent an ethnicity for the North of Italy (or `Padania') in order to justify its political claims for the protection of the economic interests of the region. `Padania' (which is the Latin term which refers to the basin of the River Po), has never `existed' as an administrative or political unit but the LN has attempted to construct (and invent) a geography and a history in order to justify its territorial and political claims.

Author Keywords: Italy; Lega Nord; Regionalism; `Padania'

Article Outline

1. Introduction
2. Understanding contemporary regionalism
3. The political project of the Lega Nord
3.1. The political discourses of the LN
3.1.1. Anti-Southern Italian discourses
3.1.2. Anti-State discourses
3.1.3. From federalism to secession
4. The `Padanian' nationalist project of the LN
5. Conclusion

1. Introduction

During 1990s, the debates about the resurgence of political regionalism in Europe have become particularly prevalent. One reason for this has been the fact that in several European countries, regionalist political parties have made significant electoral gains in recent years. This paper focuses upon Italy, which is one of the countries in which there has been a significant resurgence of regionalism over the last 10 years or so. Political regionalism is not a new phenomenon in Italy and there have been a number of examples of regionalist political parties during the history of the Italian Republic. However, it is the rise to political prominence of the Northern League (Lega Nord) (LN) political party in Italian politics, which has brought to the fore questions about Italian national unity and identity. The party has articulated a new, and politically more contentious `Northern question', which is superimposed upon the long-standing `Southern question' in Italy (Diamanti, 1996a).

The LN's demands for greater regional autonomy are part of a wider trend amongst regionalist parties in Europe. However, it would be a mistake to assume that all versions of contemporary European regionalism have exactly the same driving forces. Clearly regionalist political parties and movements form a heterogeneous category in terms of their structures and specificities of demands (Rokkan & Urwin, 1982, p. 426). On the other hand, there are certain features, components and driving forces, which are common to the majority of contemporary regionalist political parties. This paper firstly considers some of the different ways of defining contemporary regionalism and then discusses the key components, which are relatively common to the majority of regionalist political projects. Secondly, the paper analyses the main political discourses of the LN in order to illustrate the ways in which the LN shares some of the common features of contemporary political regionalist projects but yet has certain distinct and unique differences. It is these differences that make the party's political project important in the context of debates about European regionalism.

The key difference between the LN's political project and the majority of other regionalist political parties is the fact that it is not based in an area that has historic claims to nationhood. Instead, the LN has attempted to invent an ethnicity for the North of Italy in order to justify its political claims for the protection of the economic interests of the region. The LN rejects the concept of the Italian national-state and wants to create a separate state called `Padania'1, which encompasses the regions of North and Central Italy. However, `Padania' has never existed geographically or historically but the LN has attempted to construct (and invent) a geography and a history in order to justify its territorial and political claims.

The rise of the LN in Italy, therefore, raises a number of questions not only about the nature of contemporary regionalism but also about understanding contemporary conceptions of regional (and national) political identities. Firstly, the LN has shown that with the use of modern technology as well as its mix of cultural symbolism and graphic political propaganda it is possible to deliberately invent the existence of a new political identity (for `Padania') complete with its own myths, symbols and rendering of history for the North of Italy (Agnew & Brusa, 1999, p. 123). Indeed, in the space of a couple of years the LN has created a sense of `Padanian' identity whereas attempts to create a sense of national Italian identity have taken 130 years (and are still very much ongoing).

Secondly, the invention of `Padania' shows that political identities are more malleable or subject to revision than most social scientists and historians have tended to acknowledge (Agnew & Brusa, 1999, p. 126). Indeed, as Agnew and Brusa (1999, p. 126) point out "what is remarkable in the case of Northern Italy today is that we can see before our eyes the attempted invention of an identity that has had no prior existence". However, the invention of a `Padanian' identity does not mean that all other identities are being replaced or superseded in Northern Italy. In fact, it illustrates the way that a `new' political identity can appeal in a complementary rather than competing way with other political identities at other scales. In Italy, both local and national identities have co-existed for decades and the creation of a new `Padanian' political identity does not mean that `old' affiliations disappear ( Agnew & Brusa, 1999, p. 128).

In summary, the LN's political regionalist project, which is premised upon its attempt to invent a place called `Padania' shows the extent to which things have changed since the last round of nation-state building in the nineteenth century when a number of European nation-states were created (Agnew & Brusa, 1999, p. 123). As the next section discusses, there are certain common features and driving forces behind the resurgence of contemporary regionalism, however, quite clearly the example of `Padania' ensures that the LN remains quite unique in comparison to the majority of other regionalist political projects within Europe.

2. Understanding contemporary regionalism

It is important not to over-dramatise the importance and strength of regionalist or nationalist movements in contemporary Europe; however, there has been an upsurge of such parties striving for greater political autonomy in recent decades. The fundamental question is why is this resurgence occurring in contemporary European nation-states at the end of the twentieth century when it was assumed that the phenomenon would fade with the processes of modernisation. In the 1950s and 1960s there was general consensus amongst academics and policy makers alike that the processes of industrialisation and urbanisation associated with post-war economic growth would eradicate the potent force of regionalism and nationalism.

It was thought that the diffusion of industrialisation and technology from the central core of states would encourage the spread of the centre's universalist values, erode regional languages and promote the development of central state bureaucratic systems. In spite of inevitable opposition to these processes from certain sectors of society, which Lipset (1975) calls `revolts against modernity', the outcome would be the development of relatively homogenous nation-states. Clearly, this has not been the case because marked regional economic differences persist ¯¯ along with distinct languages, cultures and identities ¯¯ in the majority of nation-states, and in particular in those states which are the most industrially and economically advanced ( Keating, 1996, p. 43-44).

The crucial question is what exactly does the term regionalism signify? Clearly, regionalism can be understood in different ways, such as a threat to, or protest against the State, carrying dangers of exclusion, fragmentation, and/or separatism, or alternatively as a mechanism for modifying State authority with the aim of gaining greater autonomy (Jones & Keating, 1995, p. 9). In addition, a key question to ask is whether regionalism is a new political perspective, a temporary phenomenon, or a serious and lasting consequence of and challenge to the deficiencies of the nation-state and hence a new form of modernity ( Hueglin, 1986, p. 440). In some cases, regionalism can be understood as a socio-political project with aspirations to restore past ethnic and cultural identities and autonomies. In other cases, regionalism can be seen as an invention of the present, often being based upon distorted histories and contemporary claims to specific ethnic identities. On other occasions regionalism combines both of these factors in order to gain legitimacy. Keating (1996, p. 53) argues that:

for the most part, the peripheral nationalisms [or regionalisms] of developed western societies represent attempts to come to terms with the changing constellation of power and to reconstitute politics on a territorial basis which is legitimised historically but which can be used to confront contemporary political and economic realities.
It is not possible to construct a single model or theory explaining all the different cases of regionalism (Jones & Keating, 1995, p. 9). In addition, regionalisms differ in their character as well as their strength, depending on the conditions in particular local societies and the impact on them of national and international forces ( Keating, 1988). Furthermore, although it is the resurgence of regionalism in recent decades that is of most interest it is important not to forget that regionalism is one of the oldest problems which exists in Europe.

Bearing in mind these issues, it is useful to differentiate between two categories of regionalism. Separating out the diversity of contemporary manifestations of regionalism into broad categories allows the phenomenon to be more easily understood and analysed. Although the categories are by no means the only ones that could be used, they are useful because they allow distinctions to be made between the various types of regionalism. The categories used here are `institutional' and `autonomist' regionalism. The former relates more to the processes of `regionalisation' which have taken place within and between European states, whereas the latter refers to the forms of minority, separatist and ethnic regionalisms which have gained increasing exposure in recent decades. Also, it must be pointed out that the two categories are not mutually exclusive because there are often many links between the two, for example, often the processes of regionalisation within a state develop into, and provide legitimisation for, forms of `autonomist' regionalism.

In the 1960s, many European states adopted regional development policies as an extension of schemes of national and sectoral planning. These schemes were justified on both political and economic grounds; firstly, because it was argued that such schemes would facilitate development in peripheral regions and so ultimately enhance national output. In political terms, it was another way of legitimising state power by providing financial and infrastructural support to peripheral regions, which in turn (it was hoped) would translate into support for central political authority from the periphery (Keating, 1996). There are several examples of such regional schemes across Europe, for example, in Italy, the Cassa per il Mezzogiorno (the `Fund for the South') was set up to provide aid and assistance to the Italian South in order to promote its socio-economic development.

The overall results of these regional development schemes were variable; in some European countries the outcome was a fair degree of regional economic convergence, however, in others divergence between the periphery and the core remained marked. Consequently, over time regional development became increasingly politicised and conflicts developed between central governments and peripheral regions, mainly because in certain countries such regions had gained a greater degree of power. The consequence was that certain peripheral regions were becoming more assertive in a variety of ways, in order to gain greater funds and assistance from central government. However, in certain peripheral regions the demands placed upon the centre went much further than simple financial support; in some cases, new social forces emerged and historical claims for regional and national distinctiveness were reasserted (Keating, 1996). Thus, in certain cases the processes of regionalisation have helped to legitimise and give scope to the emergence of forms of autonomist and ethnic regionalism, which have asserted different kinds of pressures and demands upon central governments.

Ohmae (1995, p. 5), on the other hand, formulates an economic-institutional definition of regionalism. He uses the term `region states', to define those entities that may lie entirely within or across the borders of a nation-state but have very little to do with ethnic or nationalistic identities. According to Ohmae, what defines `region states' is not the location of their political borders but the fact that they are the right size and scale to be the true, `natural' business units in today's global economy. Ohmae (1995) argues that the nation-state is increasingly a nostalgic fiction and it makes even less sense today, for example, than it did a few years ago to speak of Italy or Russia or China as single economic units. Instead, these countries are made up of a combination of different territories, which have vastly different economic needs and roles within the global economy ( Ohmae, 1995, p. 12). In particular, in relation to Italy, Ohmae (1995, p. 16) poses the question:

what sense does it make, for example, to think of Italy as a coherent economic entity within the EU? There is no `average Italy'. There is no large social group or economic group precisely at the midpoint represented by such averages no constituency specially advantaged by ¯¯ and, therefore, eager to support ¯¯ split-the-difference political compromises. There is, instead, an industrial north and a rural south, which are vastly different in their ability to contribute and their need to receive. In economic terms, there is simply no justification for treating Italy as a single-interest entity.
This is certainly a provocative statement, even if it is somewhat generalised in its view of the Italian economy. It exemplifies Ohmae's economic focus on regionalism. Thus, in an ever increasingly globalised economy, Ohmae (1995, p. 80) argues that it is geographical units like Northern Italy; Baden Würtemberg; Wales; San Diego/Tijuana; Hong Kong/southern China; the Silicon Valley/Bay Area in California, which more accurately constitute the territorial dividing lines of the world map. These dividing lines are based purely on economic status and strength within the global economy and are not political units (Ohmae, 1995, p. 89). However, Ohmae somewhat over simplifies the case for economic regionalism not least because the economic units he quotes are not complete homogenous units but actually contain a significant degree of internal economic differences themselves. Moreover, Ohmae's view of regionalism is (pre)conditioned by his economic liberalism and preoccupation with deregulation and `hollowing out' as an economic project. In addition, Ohmae makes no mention of ethnicity and cultural difference and their impacts upon regionalism, which are complicating factors.

Conversely, `autonomist' regionalism, which is the second broad category is more directly related to issues of ethnicity, culture and identity and is precisely the form of regionalism which has gained the most attention in recent years. This is especially the case with the resurgence of regional political movements such as the LN in Italy. The complexity of this form of regionalism is related to the fact that it borders on what might also be termed `nationalism'. Both regionalism and nationalism are very closely related especially when linguistic or cultural characteristics define a particular region and there is also a regional political movement striving for greater autonomy (Kellas, 1991, p. 87). Indeed, some writers treat nationalism and regionalism as the same subject, and it is certainly very difficult to draw a line between them in some countries. For example, Keating (1988) uses the term `regional nationalism' to describe regional political movements. This has the advantage of rooting these movements in territory, and distinguishing them from non-territorial movements for self-government ( Keating, 1996, p. 54).

Other commentators utilise other terms to define examples of `autonomist' regionalism, such as `stateless nations', `separatists' and `secessionists', which is testimony to the complexity of the issue. Both Piccone (1991, p. 8) andBiorcio (1993, p. 43) use the term `regional populism' as another way of defining contemporary regionalism. They argue that since the end of the 1980s there has been a resurgence of regional populism in the more industrialised European countries and new populist political organisations have come from many ideological directions. One element of this growth has been in political movements seeking regional autonomy such as the LN in Italy, or the Flemish Vlaams Blok (Biorcio, 1993, p. 44/45). Piccone (1991, p. 8) argues that new populist political formations, such as the LN in Northern Italy, which is the paradigmatic expression of this phenomenon, warrant careful scrutiny precisely because within the context of contemporary societal transformations, they articulate the same democratic spirit that gave rise to the original American Constitution and the Swiss Confederation.

The difficulty in defining regionalism is quite apparent. However, in spite of this there are certain common components, which are fundamental to the majority of regionalist political movements, which vary according to the specific geographical, political, socio-economic and cultural contexts of each of the different regionalist political projects. The three most important components are the views and opinions of the central state, another is the identification with some piece of territory as a source of regional and political identity and another is the development of some kind of group identity (Rokkan & Urwin, 1982, p. 427).

The first of these components relates to the reaction against what is perceived as inefficient state centrality, which has fuelled a number of regionalist tensions and problems. Indeed, Miglio (1991-92, p. 41) claims that:

from Canada to what was Yugoslavia, from Belgium to the ex-Soviet Union, the unitary State is increasingly in crisis because its `static nature' and its size can no longer satisfy the various needs of its citizens by coercively homogenising them. These needs multiply and particularise relentlessly and to a hitherto unknown extent, giving birth once again to micro-nations as the appropriate natural locations in which to find recognition and satisfaction. Consequently, an entire phase of the history of the modern State ¯¯ from the seventeenth through to the twentieth century ¯¯ is coming to an end. No longer may the State be considered an imposing entity which will always endure, unitary and immobile, across the centuries as a trans-historical reference point.
The reaction against state centralism seems to be a common theme amongst the rhetoric of regional political movements. This is mainly because of the concentration of political authority and resources at the centre, which has hindered the development of sufficient power to the regions away from the centre. Thus, the centralism of the modern state has, in certain cases, engendered the perception of geopolitical distance, socio-cultural difference, and socio-economic dependence between certain regions and the central state (Hueglin, 1986, p. 448).

Secondly, the importance of territory is paramount for regional political movements, and any group that is not territorially concentrated will find it much more difficult to mobilise support (Rokkan & Urwin, 1982, p. 427). One of the reasons for the significance of territory relates to the processes of economic globalisation and the increasing recognition that territory is an important element in economic adaptation. The key point is that what matters politically is not so much the changes in the global economy as their impact in particular places ( Keating, 1996, p. 48). Therefore, territory is an important resource for regional political mobilisation but also as a rhetorical tool in regionalist projects in relation to the processes of globalisation.

The third crucial element in the mobilisation of support for contemporary regionalist claims is the (re)creation of some form of `group' identity. Indeed, more or less all contemporary regional movements lay claim to some form of group identity (Rokkan & Urwin, 1982, p. 428). What constitutes a `group' identity is variable; for some regional movements' ethnicity, language and a common heritage form the basis of the group identity. Political mobilisation is easier where there is linguistic distinctiveness because language is a key political resource for any regional movement and one which easily leads to potential conflict ( Rokkan & Urwin, 1982, p. 428). de Saussure (1974) asserts, in relation to the issue of identity in language, that it is wholly a function of difference. This difference is defined not by the positive content of language but negatively, by relation to others. The precise characteristic is in being what the others are not ( de Saussure, 1974, p. 117). On the other hand, language is not the only factor upon which a regional sense of `identity' is built; there are in fact a range of other factors which constitute a sense of identity, the most notable being religion. However, it is apparent that whatever factor constitutes group identity the main factor is that it is really difference which is constitutive of identity ( Morley & Robins, 1995, p. 45).

Schlesinger (1987, p. 235) also offers a useful perspective in relation to identity formulation. He argues that:

identity is as much about exclusion as it is about inclusion, and the critical factor for defining the ethnic group therefore becomes the social boundary which defines the group with respect to other groups... not the cultural reality within those borders.
How the `group identity' is formulated and maintained is also a key issue. Clearly, `group identity' is not abstract but is a matter of the relative power of different groups to define a particular identity, and their abilities to mobilise different definitions through their control of cultural institutions (Morley & Robins, 1995, p. 47). Consequently, it is the dominant cultural groups that can sustain a particular identity through the control of state institutions. Hobsbawn and Ranger (1983) refer to this as the `invention of tradition', arguing that tradition is a malleable concept which can be modified over time from generation to generation. In addition, Wright (1985) argues that tradition is very much a matter of present-day politics, and that powerful institutions function to select particular values from the past, and to mobilise them in contemporary practices. It is precisely through such mechanisms of cultural reproduction that a particular version of the `collective memory', and thus a particular sense of regional (or national) identity, is produced and sustained over time ( Morley & Robins, 1995, p. 47)

Understanding precisely the ways in which regions, or territories emerge, is the focus of the work of Paasi (1986) who defines a series of abstractions to make visible how regions originate, continue to exist and how they maybe transformed in the course of regional transformation ( MacLeod, 1998). According to Paasi (1986), a region represents the condensation of a complex history of economic, political and social processes into a specific cultural image. The way in which the image of a region is crystallised, Paasi (1986, p. 121) argues, is a socio-spatial process whereby the territorial unit emerges as a part of the spatial structure of a society and becomes established and clearly identified in different spheres of social action and social consciousness. This process of regional institutionalisation comprises four stages, which are inter-dependent and only distinguishable from each other analytically ( PaasiPaasiPaasi and Paasi).

The first stage in the process of regionalisation concerns the `assumption of territorial awareness and shape'. Through the localised sedimentation of economic, political and cultural practices and conventions, a territory assumes a bounded shape in the collective consciousness and also becomes identified as a distinct unit in the spatial structure of society (MacLeod & Jones, 1999). Paasi (1997, pp. 42¯43) claims that in order to undertake this first stage in the institutionalisation process:

...power-holding actors in a territory (or outside it) define and symbolise the spatial and social limits of membership and create the discourses and practices for inclusion and exclusion [to the extent that] territorial shaping refers not only to the creation of boundaries but also to their representation, to their roles both as social institutions and symbols of territory.
The second stage in Paasi's regionalisation process is the `formation of the conceptual or symbolic shape'. This involves the use of certain territorial and cultural symbols (such as flags, cartographies, monuments, memorabilia) in order to establish a group solidarity and help to demarcate the territorial unit concerned. In particular, the naming of a region, or territory, is of vital importance in formulating a regional consciousness (Paasi, 1996). The third stage concerns the `emergence of institutions', which involves the establishment of more formal vehicles such as education, law and the media, alongside local or regional politics, economics, administration and culture ( MacLeod, 1998). Such institutions and organisations provide an `effective means of reproducing the material and mental existence of the territories' in question ( Paasi, 1991, p. 246). Indeed, for Paasi it is the institutions of a territory, which eventually become the most important factors in the macro-reproduction of the region and regional consciousness ( Paasi, 1986). The fourth and final stage is the `establishment' of a region in the spatial structure and social consciousness of society so that it assumes the form of an institutionalised `terriorial unit' ( Paasi, 1991, p. 247).

Undoubtedly, Paasi's emphasis on region building as an active, on-going process, which is rich in political strategy and cultural expression is a helpful one. Moreover, his focus upon the institutionalisation of regional formation is an important one that clearly resonates with the LN's attempts to invent a region, or territory called `Padania'. However, the important issue in the Italian case, as well as elsewhere, is what transforms a territorial base and a group identity (however this may be defined), into a regionalist political response. It is clear that resources, such as linguistic identity, only constitute a potential for regionalism (Rokkan & Urwin, 1982, p. 429). Clearly, one important catalyst is economic change, which can create conflicts between different regional groups and in turn it is conflict which can make regional political mobilisation more potent in certain circumstances ( Rokkan & Urwin, 1982, p. 428).

There are two contrasting scenarios in which economic conflicts may cause regionalist tendencies. Firstly, it may well be a question of inconsistency between economic strength and/or potential and cultural status. Secondly, a potentially significant regional territorial challenge, in contemporary Europe, comes from those regions with a superior economic status. It is from these regions, such as Northern Italy, Catalonia or Flanders, that the resurgence of regionalism has been the most pronounced in recent years. Furthermore, such demands for greater autonomy present central governments with new challenges precisely because of the economic superiority of such regions, which have the economic power to counterbalance the political resources of the centre (Rokkan & Urwin, 1982, p. 429).

The prevalence of economic catalysts in mobilising territorial and regional claims and conflicts should not be under-estimated. Although economic change in the broadest sense may be necessary, it is not solely sufficient, but when combined with a cultural and ethnic base regional political mobilisation becomes a serious threat (Rokkan & Urwin, 1982, p. 430). This is even more the case when a regionalist movement has a degree of institutional and political power at the local or regional level. This gives the regionalist party greater capacity for financial and bureaucratic decision making and also to gain recognition both nationally and internationally ( Keating, 1996, p. 54).

In the 1990s, in the context of the emerging new world (dis)order, the resurgence of regionalism within (and outside) the EU is a challenge to governments at every scale. However, there is no easy and straightforward answer to the question of why there has been a resurgence of regionalism in recent decades. The rest of the paper focuses upon the situation in Italy, which is one example within the EU where serious questions have been raised about the existing structure of government and society. The specific socio-political, economic and cultural situation is in many respects different from the majority of other countries in the EU. However, examining the reasons for this resurgence of regionalism in Italy is important in understanding the different manifestations of regionalism elsewhere in Europe.

The regionalist resurgence in Italy is based upon the rise in political prominence of the LN since the beginning of the 1990s. The LN's political project is based upon some of the factors which are more common to regionalist political parties across Europe. For example, the party has articulated a strong anti-State rhetoric and has also attempted to formulate a `group' identity for the people of Northern Italy (or `Padania'). However, as the next section explores the LN's attempts to invent a new territorial space, and hence identity, for the people of Northern Italy based upon a place called `Padania', is clearly a relatively unique and new strategy amongst regionalist political parties.

3. The political project of the Lega Nord

Accounting for the rise of the LN is a complicated task. The party has benefited from (and been implicated in) the transformations which have altered the face of Italian politics, economy and society during the last decade or so (Giordano, 1998). Italian citizens were becoming increasingly resentful at emerging economic and political problems. This was especially the case in the North of the country, where there were widespread fears that the years of `economic boom' were coming to an end. In the midst of this scenario, the LN was successful because it was able to exploit the problems facing the people of the North of Italy as well as interpret and modify their concerns for its own political advancement. The enduring political stance of the LN is that it is the South of Italy (and especially Rome) which is the cause for all that is wrong with Italian society and politics. The LN argues that the North and its citizens are penalised by a corrupt, bureaucratic and wasteful central State that is biased towards the South of Italy and Southern Italians ( Giordano, 1998).

The LN was created in 1991, out of the amalgamation of several `regional Leagues' in Northern Italy, the main two being the Lombard League and the Venetian League. These separate `regional Leagues' stressed ethno-regional, linguistic and cultural differences as a way of gaining electoral support, however, this proved to be problematic for a number of reasons (Agnew, 1995). The leader of the LN, Umberto Bossi (who was the charismatic leader of the Lombard League) changed the political strategy of the LN away from an emphasis on ethno-regionalism to endorse a federalist stance. Underpinning the LN's federal project was the assumption that within Italy there were in fact three distinct and separate `societies', the North, Centre and South, which were largely defined by socio-economic differences. The LN used the territorial reference to the `North' as an effective way of representing and integrating the problems and protests of the diverse social sectors within the North of Italy. This allowed the `North' to be counterposed against `Rome', the central State institutions, traditional political parties and also the exclusion of the South from the North of Italy ( Giordano, 1999a).

The 1992 national election in Italy confirmed the success of the LN's federal rhetoric when it gained three million votes, which was 8.7% of the national electorate and meant that the party had 81 elected representatives in the Italian Parliament (55 Deputies and 24 Senators). In Lombardy, the party gained over 23% of the vote (which meant that it was only 1% behind the Christian Democrat (DC) party) and 18% in Veneto (where other autonomist parties won a further 8%) (Diamanti, 1996b, p. 119). Significantly, the support for the LN also expanded into other areas of Northern Italy, most notably in the autonomous regions of Friuli¯Venezia¯Giulia and Trentino Alto¯Adige as well as further south into Emilia¯Romagna ( Diamanti, 1995).

Between 1992 and 1994 there was increasing political instability within Italy as a result of the corruption scandals that became known as tangentopoli (`kick-back city') that involved most of the major political parties and in particular the DC party. Subsequently, the whole political system was thrown into turmoil. Diamanti (1995, p. 90) explains that the chief beneficiary of these changes was the LN, which gained support throughout the North of Italy. It was during this period that the political rhetoric of the LN was modified as Bossi aimed to make the LN a mainstream, national political force, which was able to fill the hiatus left by the decline of the traditional parties.

The LN became part of the centre¯right government coalition, which gained a majority in the 1994 national Italian election. This coalition was called Polo per la libertà (or Freedom Pole) and was led by Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia (FI) (or `Go Italy') party as well as the neo-fascist Alleanza Nazionale2 (AN) party. However, the entry onto the Italian political scene of the FI party effectively took centre stage away from the LN. Although the LN gained 8.4% of the national vote, which was only a decline of 0.3% from 1992, its vote had in fact stagnated or declined in all the regions of Northern Italy. The party lost support in the areas where it had not managed to gain a significant base of support, most notably in Central Italy; also those areas where it had gained higher levels of support more recently, for example, in the main metropolitan areas of Northern Italy, especially in Milan (but also in Liguria and Trentino) ( Giordano, 1999b).

It quickly became clear that the LN's attempt to become a political force at the national scale was completely flawed. The party suffered badly within the governing alliance with Berlusconi because, besides undermining the LN's support from the inside, his party was able to acquire external support, by appealing to social groups who were hostile to the LN, above all in the South (Diamanti, 1996b, p. 123). Moreover, the LN found itself indirectly allied to the neo-fascist AN party, which favoured a strong central Italian State and no regional autonomy. Thus, in 1995 after a continued decline in its electoral support, the LN abandoned its role in government in order to redefine its role within the general framework of the Italian political system ( Biorcio, 1997, p. 37).

Most recently, the LN has rejected it federalist rhetoric in favour of the hard-line discourse of secession and independence of `Padania' from the rest of Italy (Biorcio, 1997). The national Italian election of April 1996 was the first opportunity that the party had to test its newly formulated hard-line secessionist discourse. The party entered the election on its own without making any electoral pacts and Bossi presented the vote for the LN as a hypothetical referendum in which the people of the North were voting for the `independence' of the North, whilst also voting against the Left and Right `poles' in Italian politics ( Bull & Newell, 1996, p. 632). The main line of Bossi's argument was that the two main coalitions were basically the same because they simply wanted to maintain traditional socio-economic and political structures within Italy ( Diamanti, 1996a, p. 82).

Before the election it was predicted that the vote for the LN would be lower than the 1994 level. In the weeks preceding the election the LN's vote was estimated generously at 20 Deputies and less than 10 Senators (Scaramozzino, 1996). The main reason was that it was thought that the majority electoral system would leave little space for those parties running alone in the election. The outcome of the election was a somewhat surprising result for the LN because the party actually realised the highest percentage vote in its history. The result was greater than any pre-election estimates and guaranteed the LN a strong presence in the Italian Parliament, with over 90 Parliamentarians and about 4 million votes, which was 10.1% of the electorate. This was the electoral high point in the short but intense political history of the LN, which actually re-launched the party and meant that it regained its position as one of the most important forces within Italian politics ( Diamanti, 1996a, pp. 81-85).

The result of the 1996 election showed that rather than widening its support across `Padania', the LN's support actually deepened in its original political heartlands. This is an enduring feature of the electoral geography of the party in that it seems unable to spread its political support. Moreover, the result shows that the LN remains strongest in the provincial areas of Northern Italy rather than the main metropolitan centres such as Milan, Venice, Turin, Genoa and Bologna. Therefore, rather than being in control of `Padania', the electoral consensus of the LN is concentrated in a well-defined area that Diamanti (1996a) calls `pedemontania'. This covers part of the north-east of Northern Italy, from Udine and Pordenone to the provinces of Belluno, Vicenza and Treviso (where the Venetian League first gained its first electoral success) to the provinces of Brescia, Bergamo, Sondrio, Como and Varese in Lombardy, and finally to the province of Cuneo in Piemonte. This is an area which is relatively socio-economically homogeneous, based upon a concentration of small and medium sized firms, which in the last 20 years has become the so-called industrialised or `opulent' periphery of Northern Italy ( Allum & Diamanti, 1996, p. 152).

The endorsement by the LN of its discourse of `Padania' and its secession from the rest of Italy is clearly an attempt to forge a new political (as well as ethnic or cultural) identity for the supporters of the LN, as well as the people of the North of Italy (Agnew & Brusa, 1999). `Padania' theoretically came into being when it was declared sovereign and independent on 15 September 1996. This was carried out with a well-publicised party demonstration that took place along the River Po, in Northern Italy, which for the LN represents the `lifeblood' of `Padania' ( Biorcio, 1999). The LN has even developed a separate Constitution for `Padania' and the party has recently changed its name to the `Northern League for the Independence of `Padania' (Lega Nord per l'indipendenza della Padania)' (Biorcio, 1997). The LN's recent shift in emphasis to the secession of `Padania' shows how the party is continuing to try to differentiate itself from the other Italian political parties and recreate its anti-system image ( Biorcio, 1999). However, this radical shift in the political discourse of the LN means that the future political intentions of the LN must be seriously questioned.

3.1. The political discourses of the LN

The LN has developed into an important political force in Italy, with a distinct style of politics, which is based upon the charisma and aggressive image of the party leader, Umberto Bossi, as well as the use of cultural symbolism, graphic political propaganda and a whole set of slogans new to Italian politics (Giordano, 1999a). The political rhetoric of the party has changed and modified throughout its short history, but the fundamentals of its project have remained based upon three essential elements. These are hostility towards Southern Italians, the central Italian State as well as the articulation of an (alleged) Northern Italian (or `Padanian') ethnicity and identity ( Agnew and Diamanti).

The flexibility of the party to modify its rhetoric, as well as the way it communicates its political messages in order to take advantage of the political situation, have been crucial to the success of the party (Giordano, 1999a). However, the dominant discourses of the LN have been modified over time, according to the changing political situation in Italy, but it is apparent that three themes have been consistent throughout the history of the party. Consequently, the fundamental reasons why people support the LN have remained more or less the same since the initial development of the `regional Leagues' in the 1980s ( Diamanti, 1995).

3.1.1. Anti-Southern Italian discourses

The LN has articulated a strong anti-Southern Italian discourse that is the fundamental element in its political project. This has allowed the party to develop a hard-line and controversial image for itself as well as articulate a socio-cultural identity for the North itself using the `South' as the `other'. Undoubtedly, the LN utilises existing stereotypes of the Italian South in its discourses when in fact it is clear that many of these are anachronistic, inaccurate and misleading. It is the LN's ability to politically represent as well as reproduce such anti-Southern sentiment in the North of Italy, which has been the main reason for the growth of the party. However, this has also caused problems for the LN in certain areas because it is often viewed as being racist and against Italian national unity.

The anti-Southern sentiment is a recurrent theme throughout the whole of the LN's political project, although it is manifested in a variety of different ways. The most prevalent way that it is articulated is what the LN terms as the `cultural' differences between the North and South of Italy. According to the LN, the economic differences between North and South are ascribed to the alleged contrasts in culture, mentality and attitude on the part of the majority of people in the South of Italy. The LN claims that the society of the North of Italy is structured in a different way and the value systems and culture of the people of the North is different, if not superior to those of the South. For the LN, the economic differences between the North and South of Italy are attributed to the alleged cultural differences and mentality between the people of the two regions. The South is consistently portrayed by the LN as an area in which the people have no real desire to work and are only interested in claiming state benefits whereas the North of Italy, the LN argues, has a strong work ethic, which explains the dynamism of the economy. Although this clearly misses the real and full explanation for the socio-economic differences between the North and South of Italy, it is a powerful discourse for the party and one which is seen as a correct interpretation by a good deal of supporters and activists of the party. For example, as a LN local councillor argued:

The mentality of the people of the North is distinct to that of the South. In the North there is a strong work ethic which could be described as almost Calvinistic in nature. In spite of the high levels of taxation and the burden of the South, Lombardy is still one of the wealthiest regions within the European Union (EU). However, the South of Italy has a `Mediterranean' work ethic, which is based on corruption, a reliance on state transfers and a more relaxed attitude towards work.3
In addition, the LN argues that the Italian State has undergone a process of `Southernisation' since its creation, which means that Italian identity is actually a `Southern Italian' identity. Consequently, the anti-Southern rhetoric of the party is based upon a rejection of this `Italian identity', which allows the party to justify the idea of a different and separate `Northern Italian' (or indeed `Padanian') identity. This is in fact a vague concept that is defined more by `what it is not' rather than any specific geo-cultural features. Primarily, it is constructed out of the contrast with, and rejection of, an `Italian' identity that the LN sees as artificial and based upon `Southern' values and attitudes. Secondly, history and heritage are used to express the difference between the North and South of Italy. The LN claims that the North and its people have different origins, traditions, and culture that are distinct to those of the South and the LN tries to (re)construct an awareness of these issues, which it sees as having been lost with the creation of the Italian national-state. As a LN supporter explained when asked about her reasons for supporting the party:
Italy does not only have marked economic but also strong cultural differences and it is quite similar to the former Yugoslavia because it has different ethnic minorities, languages and cultures. It is the people of the North, that form the ethnic minority and it is the Southerners that constitute the majority. At school we are not taught our own language, culture and history, which is wrong. It is only because of the LN that people are realising these injustices and want to learn more about their own culture and roots.4
The protection of the North of Italy, its economy as well as its socio-cultural identity from what it is portrayed as the Southern Italian `other' is a fundamental discourse of the party. However, the party also stresses the importance of maintaining the social and cultural integrity of the North of Italy in the face of increasing immigration of people from outside the EU. According to the LN, the local culture and well-being of certain areas of the North of Italy is under threat not only from Southern immigration but also more recently from the influx of extracomunitari.5 The LN argues that because of this foreign in-migration the stable cultural communities of the North are being threatened. This is especially the case for those migrants from Africa and the Magreb, who are deemed less likely, by the LN, to be able to integrate into the culture and society of Northern Italy. For example, Bossi and Vimercati wrote:
I am convinced that the extracomunitari who originate from certain parts of the world, particularly Arabs from the Middle East and Magrebians, do not have the least intention of integrating and accepting our customs (Bossi & Vimercati, 1992, p. 149).
Bossi is also quoted as stating that:
the cultural differences are too much [between Italians and Third World immigrants]. The difference in skin colour is detrimental to social peace. Imagine if your street, your public square, was inhabited by people different from you, you would not feel part of your own world (Bossi, 1990).
According to the LN, foreign immigration has created a whole set of new problems for such areas, which further threaten their cultural homogeneity and social cohesion. As a LN local councillor explained:
The problem is that the extracomunitari often enter Italy illegally and cannot gain legal employment so they often they get involved in crime, drugs and prostitution. The people are not racist but the problem is that the immigrants are coming at a time when the Italian economy is in trouble and so there are not enough jobs for all the Italians, let alone the foreigners.6
The strong anti-Southern stance of the LN has allowed the party to develop a hard-line and controversial image and enabled it to use the `South' as the metaphor for all the socio-economic problems of Italy. In using the `South' as the `other' the LN has managed to articulate a socio-cultural identity for the North itself. As Cento Bull (1996, p. 174) argues the LN utilises a racist ideology which is based on cultural rather than biological differentialism. This process of racialisation is accompanied by a racist subtext, in which negatively evaluated characteristics are attributed to the `other'. For LN, the `other' is portrayed as Southern Italians, who are attributed with a negatively evaluated culture, which can be summed up using the term mafiosità. In addition, according to the LN, extracomunitari form a second and potentially threatening cultural `other' (Cento Bull, 1996, p. 175).

Furthermore, Cento Bull (1996, p. 177) argues the LN has managed to articulate ex novo a sense of identity for the North of Italy and especially Lombardy, which is built around a core set of cultural characteristics such as a strong work ethic, entrepreneurship, a spirit of sacrifice, a high propensity to saving, trust and solidarity and law abidance. This is referred to by the LN as a form of `Lombard neo-Calvinism', however, this identity only became significant when it was contrasted to the alleged cultural traits of the South of Italy, which Bossi claimed were in direct contrast to those of the North.

The articulation of the South as an `other' by the LN puts it at the centre of the political debate within Italy. However, as Davis (1996) argues the `South' cannot be easily defined and it is increasingly difficult to refer to it as either an undifferentiated or a coherent economic or cultural region. The LN clearly ignores this as it consistently treats the South as a coherent unit, which of course is erroneous but one that suits the rhetoric of the party. Davis (1996) poses the question whether it perhaps make more sense to view the Italian South or Mezzogiorno not as something that really existed, but as a `construct' or `artefact', as a series of images and perceptions, which were prejudiced by Northern perceptions. Undoubtedly, the LN utilises existing stereotypes of the Italian South in its political rhetoric when in fact it is clear that many of these are anachronistic, inaccurate and misleading. It is such rhetoric which has fuelled the growth of the party and gained so much interest amongst diverse social groups across the North of Italy.

3.1.2. Anti-State discourses

Another important factor in the growth of the LN, as Diamanti (1995, p. 67) argues, was the feeling of mistrust and intolerance towards the traditional Italian parties and State institutions. It is the alleged inefficiency of State institutions and the burden that these place upon the Northern economy, which the LN has utilised as an important part of its political project. In particular, the LN is extremely critical of the central Italian State and its fiscal system, which it alleges is iniquitous and harmful to the `productive North' of Italy ( Diamanti, 1996a). The LN argues that it is the high levels of bureaucracy and taxation and the problems of the burgeoning public sector deficit, which are compromising the economic health of the North of Italy. Consequently, there is widespread hostility towards the central Italian State amongst the supporters and activists of the LN. As an ex-LN Deputy in the Italian Parliament explained:
The main problem is that State bureaucracy is too slow and inefficient, which means that public services are generally poor; the massive tax burden imposed upon Northern business reduces economic dynamism and places a strain on the driving force of the Italian economy. There is a massive feeling of discontent towards these economic problems and there is the general belief that Italian politicians cannot manage the economy.7
The LN is also very critical of the traditional Italian political parties, which it argues are the cause of the political and institutional problems in Italy as well as the malfunctioning of the Italian State institutions. For the LN, the problem of the Italian State and the traditional political parties is that they are Southern biased and are controlled and run by people from the South of Italy. Consequently, the LN claims that the North of Italy is denied an adequate number of Northern civil servants and politicians. The result, according to the LN, is the undermining of the economic dynamism of the North of Italy. As a LN councillor in the commune of Varese explained:
The problems that the North of Italy is undergoing are basically due to a form of colonialism, whereby the South exploits the North in various ways. For example, there is the massive State bureaucracy system that has been created to provide jobs for Southerners in exchange for their political support that penalises the people of the North of Italy.8
The alleged socio-economic and political problems and tensions of the Italian State cause the LN to challenge the legitimacy of existing institutional, political and economic structures within Italy. Furthermore, the LN rejects the concept of the Italian national-state on the grounds that it:
constitutes an arrangement that always belongs more to the past. It is, broadly speaking, too small to respond to issues in the sphere of economy and the environment; on the other hand, it is too big to respond to the demands of politics at the local level and especially in recognising proper identity (Lega Nord, 1996, p. 40).
According to the LN, the need for Italy to remain a single nation-state is becoming less and less necessary. This is mainly because Italy is unable to meet the demands of a global economy and the cultural, regional, and socio-economic divisions within the country have become too great. As one LN party activist explained:
The legitimacy of the North funding the South has now gone because the state has continued to give to the South but this has constrained economic dynamism in the North and the people of the South have become reliant on state transfers and so a welfare culture has developed.9
This leads to scepticism, on the part of the LN, towards the historical process of unification within Italy and the party also challenges the institutional structures and system of governance within Italy as well as the very existence of the Italian State itself.

3.1.3. From federalism to secession

The LN claims that the only way to solve the problems of the Italian State is to fundamentally change its socio-economic, institutional and political structures. However, the LN has changed and modified its proposals for the precise ways in which the Italian State should be restructured. By far the most important element of the LN's political project was that of federalism, which was significant because 10 or 15 years ago the suggestion of creating a federal state in Italy was relatively unheard of. However, the LN managed to change this and successfully put the issue of federalism onto the political agenda of most of the mainstream political parties in Italy.

The development of the LN's federalist stance in the early 1990s was bolstered after the signing of the Maastricht Treaty as well as the growing recognition of the competitive pressures facing Italy from the EU and from the workings of the global economy. In its most sophisticated form the LN proposed a `two speed' Italian economy based upon a federal structure, which the party argued would allow the economy of the North of Italy to be unshackled from the state dependent, welfare-oriented economy of the South of the country. The party argued that this would allow the two economies to be able to move at the pace appropriate to their means (Farrell & Levy, 1996).

The LN argues that the Italian economy, with its public sector deficit, relatively high levels of unemployment and taxation, will not be able to remain within the limits set for the European Single Currency. The party argues that this would be a disastrous situation for the economic competitiveness of the North of Italy and would indeed threaten the unity of Italy. Moreover, the LN argues that the processes of globalisation render the state-mediated `equilibrium' between the North and South of Italy as obsolete. For the LN, the contemporary situation is unlike that of 20 years ago when the resources that the North gave to the South returned back to the North because the people of the South of Italy bought products that were `Made in Padania'. Instead, today, the LN claims that the resources that are transferred from the North to the South of Italy no longer return back. Within a global market place the Southern consumers buy the cheapest products so the whole North¯South equilibrium is breaking down (Lega Nord, 1997). The LN has used `globalisation' and framed it, in simple terms, as a threat to the continued success of the Northern Italian economy. This has come at a time when the majority of Northern Italian citizens are increasingly concerned about the future security of their relatively high standard of living.

The LN's political vision of the future is for the North of Italy within a closely integrated EU, which would be beneficial for several reasons. Primarily, for the LN, a federal Europe is the only way forward for Europe because it would decrease the power of the central Italian State, give greater power to Brussels and facilitate greater regional autonomy. Within this European federal structure, the LN is in favour of the creation of a `Europe of Regions', which would not only transfer greater power to the regions but also allow the self-determination of the people of the North of Italy. A senior LN party official explained the LN's vision of Europe:

The main project of the LN is to be in a united and federal Europe. Instead of using the term a `Europe of the Regions' I prefer to use the term a `Europe of peoples', where each `nation' would have its own government. The Maastricht Treaty does not go far enough to allow the self-determination of the peoples of Europe. Instead, the LN's vision of Europe is one in which every `nation' is represented so that there would be `Padania', Scotland, Wales, Catalonia, the Basque country and so on. All these `nations' would be represented and linked by a federal structure; for example, `Padania' would have closer links to Brussels and London rather than Rome.10
The LN uses the ideal of an integrated Europe and a `Europe of the regions' as a way of legitimising its political project (Agnew & Brusa, 1999, p. 123). In addition, the LN has vested globalisation with a political role and value, using it to justify itself and its own political project of secession. Thus, the LN claims that it is the only force in Italian politics which is able to understand contemporary economic and political changes. Furthermore, it uses globalisation and its impacts as a way to continue to stress the differences and continuing divergence between the North and South of Italy.

4. The `Padanian' nationalist project of the LN

The LN was one of the first to endorse the discourse of federalism as the solution for the problems of the Italian State and economy. It was federalism that gave the LN its political distinctiveness in relation to the traditional political parties and this was also one of the reasons why the party gained so much electoral support in the early 1990s. Federalism is now widely acclaimed by the other political parties as well as other institutions such as trade unions and the Church, as a necessary political reform for Italy. Ironically, this has meant that the LN has lost its distinctiveness from the other political parties and so it was confronted with a challenge to its identity and political reason-to-be. In response to this challenge the LN introduced its rhetoric of secession in order to restore its political identity.

According to the LN, Italy should be divided into two separate states. In Northern and Central Italy, the party advocates the creation of a separate `Padanian' state, which is vaguely defined. However, as Diamanti (1996a) argues `Padania' is really an invention which does not have any real historical roots or a common identity. The term has sometimes been used in the work of certain Italian research institutions, such as the Agnelli Foundation, which has used `Padania' to refer to the dominant socio-economic structures of the Lombard and Veneto regions of Northern Italy. Yet, the term was certainly not used to describe the existence of a specific cultural and/or ethnic identity. Clearly, Bossi's aim is to develop a common identity around which the diverse cultures, traditions, economies and interests of the North and Centre of Italy could be unified ( Biorcio, 1999).

`Padania' and its history, however, have had to be made from scratch and in order to do this the LN is utilising cultural and historical symbolism to garnish its political rhetoric. For the LN, it is the geographical entity that provides the basis for making a set of historical claims, rather than a set of historical claims providing the basis for making a geographical claim (Agnew & Brusa, 1999, p. 123). For example, the party has already begun to produce publications on the history and culture of `Padania'.11 In addition, the party has developed a set of `Padanian' institutions such as a Parliament and Government as well as its own army ¯¯ the so-called `Padanian National Guard' (Guardia Nazionale Padana). This is more commonly referred to as the Camicie verde (`Green shirts') or the esercito di sorriso (`smiling army'), which according to the LN is responsible for ensuring the `defence' of `Padania'. However, in spite of the use of such military metaphors, the `Padanian' Constitution endorses a `peaceful secession', which the LN argues would be achieved in a fashion similar to the division of the former Czechoslovakia.

With the creation of `Padania' the LN aims to construct a kind of `neo-ethnicity' for a `nation' which is made up of citizens who do not necessarily have a common history, culture or language but an identity derived from similar socio-economic values and attitudes. This is combined with a common insufferance against Rome and the central Italian government, and the constraints that it has placed upon the economy and society of the North of Italy. In so doing, the LN is attempting to become a kind of volkspartei or `people's party' and is trying to normalise the discourse of secession as the only solution for the North and Centre of Italy. Indeed, Agnew and Brusa (1999, p. 123) argue that "the LN maybe the first authentic post-modernist territorial political movement in its self-conscious manipulation of territorial imagery to create a sense of cultural/economic difference with an existing state of which it is part."

The LN has deliberately given `Padania' a territorial boundary in order to reify its cultural claims about Northern Italian cultural distinctiveness even though this boundary clearly goes beyond the party's heartlands of support. However, the interesting thing to note is that the territorial boundaries of `Padania' are vaguely defined, which is part of a conscious strategy of the LN to keep the party's political opponents off-guard (Agnew & Brusa, 1999). As Biorcio (1997, p. 204) argues what seems to matter more to Bossi and the LN party militants is the fact that `Padania' represents a common set of cultural values that distinguishes it and its people from the rest of Italy rather than any precise cartographic boundaries. Therefore, as Agnew and Brusa (1999, p. 124) argue "territory matters crucially to the political imaginations of the LN but from this point of view territory defines a culture associated with a myriad of Northern Italian localities rather than a homogeneous `Padanian' culture defining a `Padanian' territory."

Undoubtedly, the LN's discourse of `Padania' has provided the party, and especially its leader Bossi, with a powerful tool with which to maintain its political distinctiveness. It has ensured that the party has gained renewed media coverage and provoked considerable public controversy across the whole of Italy. The question is whether secession will become a normalised political discourse over time as the LN's federalism did, which was also criticised when it was first introduced. In addition, a further question to ask is whether secession is a regressive and backward step on the part of the LN, which can only lead to violence and division in Italy?

5. Conclusion

The resurgence of regionalism in Italy has taken a relatively unusual but powerful form, which is associated with the rise of the LN. On the one hand, the LN resembles other European regionalist political parties, especially in terms of its strong anti-State stance as well as its attempts to appeal to an alleged Northern Italian `group' identity. However, the LN is perhaps the best example of a regionalist political party which has risen to political prominence in recent decades, that is unlike the majority of conventional regionalist parties. This is because the majority of other regionalist parties are based in areas which have a national identity, based upon historical claims to a nation, such as in Scotland, Wales, Catalonia and the Basque country. Regionalism in Northern Italy is different to this for a number of reasons; firstly, it is much younger than the majority of regionalist claims across Europe; and secondly, it is the LN that has given the impetus towards the drive towards regionalism in Northern Italy. This in itself is worthy of note because it shows how, from the political sphere, regionalism can be drawn into mainstream civil society and the domain of everyday life. Thirdly, and most significantly, it is the LN that has created a sense of `Padanian' identity. Before the LN, the idea of a separate Northern Italian nation called `Padania' was unheard of, however, in recent years the LN has managed to put the issue onto the political agenda and has managed to create an alternative `imagined community' (Anderson, 1983) for the people of North of Italy.

This is even more significant because of the fact that the Italian national-state was created out of political compromises between different groups; to a large extent nationalism in Italy was created from above, out of the efforts of various key political actors. The feeling of national identity in Italy at the time of unification was never really that strong or widespread and in fact it still remains relatively weak to this day. This is one reason why the LN has been able to appeal to a latent sense of Northern Italian identity or at least unite separate local identities within the region. The LN has achieved this with the use of its distinct political rhetoric as well as the development of a number of related institutions, which are spread across the territory of Northern Italy (Giordano, 1999c). In less than 10 years it can be argued that the LN has created a sense of Northern Italian identity and in less than a couple of years, the LN's idea of `Padania' has gained widespread publicity.

The schism between the North and South has been an enduring feature of the Italian national-state from its creation up to the present day. Undoubtedly, this dualism between North and South is bound up with the drive for contemporary regionalism and the growth of the LN. The politics of the LN is about maintaining the economic as well as cultural interests of the citizens of the North of Italy and it is no coincidence that during the years of the `economic boom' in Italy in the 1960s, there were no such political demands from the citizens of the North of Italy. This is because during the 130 years or so of the Italian State, it has been rare for there to be a consensus that the real beneficiary of Italian unity has been the South and not the North of Italy. Indeed, it was the South of Italy which served the dual purpose of providing an extensive market for products produced in the North as well as a source of relatively cheap and skilled labour. Therefore, the economic development of the North of Italy was facilitated by its links to the South, however, this is something to which the LN does not make any reference in its political rhetoric.

It is only in recent years with the slowing of the economic growth rates of the North of Italy that the resentments towards the South of Italy and the central Italian State have been translated into real political protest. The changing nature of the global economy and increased European integration ensures that the Italian economy cannot be protected as much as it once was. The implications of this upon the economy and businesses of the North of Italy have been far-reaching. Therefore, the legitimacy of the North subsidising the South of Italy and any development or infrastructural projects has largely disappeared. Instead, the citizens of the North are more concerned about maintaining their level of relative wealth and this is why the LN has gained so much electoral support in certain areas of Northern Italy. Thus, the LN has given a new political significance to the dualism between the North and South of Italy and for the LN the only way to answer Italy's `Southern question' is with the secession of `Padania'. Although secession seems a distant and unlikely response to this question, it is more likely that the `Northern question' (Diamanti, 1996a), which is a much more recent issue, will have to be answered rather quicker than the `Southern question' ever has been in Italy.

The power and importance of regionalism in Italy, as well as across Europe, cannot and must not be underestimated. The example of the LN provides a good indication of the speed and intensity with which regionalist tensions have grown in recent years in Europe. Moreover, the example of the LN and its attempts to invent a `Padanian' identity indicates that regionalism is a much more complex contemporary phenomenon and is not just about the historic nations of Europe making claims for greater autonomy from central States. This may well mean that in the future other regions may demand greater regional autonomy, but it is likely that such regions will not be the traditional ones that have made claims for greater regional autonomy in the past. The changes going on in Europe, with the moves towards greater political integration may well avert such regionalist tensions, especially because there is likely to be greater recognition of the regional tier of governance. However, a re-drawing of the political map of Europe is already underway and it remains to be seen whether the institutional frameworks of the EU will be in place to ensure that regionalism is a constructive rather destructive phenomenon at the beginning of the next millennium.


The author would like to thank the Economic and Social Research Council for providing the funding for this research via a Studentship Award (Award Number R00429434128). The author is also grateful to David Sadler and Joe Painter for providing invaluable advice and assistance during the course of this work. For the enormous amount of help and assistance received during the fieldwork undertaken in Italy, thanks are due to Professor Carlo Brusa (and family) and Danilo Croce (and family). Thanks are also due to Jamie Peck for his helpful comments on previous drafts of this paper, as well as to the three anonymous referees who provided very useful and constructive comments on this piece of work.


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1 According to the LN, the 14 `nations' which constitute `Padania' are Alto-Adige or Südtirol, Emilia, Friuli, Liguria, Lombardia, Marche, Piemonte, Romagna, Toscana, Trentino, Trieste, Umbria, Valle d'Aosta and Veneto. `Padania' is the Latin term for the region surrounding the River Po in Northern Italy.

2 The Alleanza Nazionale is the heir of the fascist party in Italy; its leader is called Gianfranco Fini.

3 Author's fieldnotes extract from interview with a LN councillor in the commune of Varese, 27/3/96.

4 Author's fieldnotes extract from interview with members of the Gruppo Giovani (Youth group) of the LN, Varese, 1/4/96.

5 Extracomunitari is the word used to describe people who come to Italy from countries outside the EU. It is often used in a derogatory fashion.

6 Author's fieldnotes extract from interview with a LN councillor in the commune of Varese, 27/3/96.

7 Author's fieldnotes extract from interview with an ex-LN Deputy between 1994 and 1995 when the LN was part of Silvio Berlusconi's government, 3/4/96.

8 Author's fieldnotes extract from interview with a LN councillor in the commune of Varese, 27/3/96.

9 Author's fieldnotes extract from interview with a LN party activist and member of the LN Gruppo Giovani, Varese, 1/4/96.

10 Author's fieldnotes extract from interview with the co-founder and deputy leader of the LN and ex-Minister of the Interior during Berlusconi's government, 7/5/96.

11 See Oneto (1997). Gilberto Oneto is head of the Libera Compagnia Padana (a cultural organisation linked to the LN), aimed at diffusing the awareness of `Padanian' culture and identity. He is also the Minister responsible for Padanian Identity in the so-called LN `government' (or Governo Sole).

Political Geography
Volume 19, Issue 4
May 2000 
Pages 445-471 

Última actualització: 13 de Junio de 2002