Independent Venice bid takes off
Published 13/04/2014 | 02:30
For more than half a century, it has been seen as one of the most potent landmarks of Italy's fascist era. Set on one of Rome's busiest squares, the Palazzo Venezia was the venue for Benito Mussolini's most important speeches, including his declaration of Italy's entry into World War II in 1940.
Now, the elegant 16th-Century block is the subject of an altogether different vision for Italy's future. Far from being used to project Rome's dominance across Italy, it has become the prize in a separatist campaign by the capital's one-time rival, Venice.
A campaign, which has two million supporters, demands that Venice separates from Italy and revives its centuries-long tradition as a free republic. It is growing in confidence thanks to long-standing discontent with Italy's chaotic central government – despite ridicule from Rome's political elite.
Now, three weeks after the campaigners staged an unofficial referendum that they said showed a majority of Venetians backing their case, its leaders want Palazzo Venezia handed to them as their "embassy" to Italy.
The building served as Venice's embassy to Rome between the 16th and 18th Centuries, when The Most Serene Republic of Venice was a powerful maritime power.
Campaigners issued their demand to the Italian foreign ministry last week via a letter from the movement's "plenipotentiary minister of foreign affairs". It said the handing over of one of Rome's grandest palazzos would mark "the beginning of a good relationship between our states, as there was in past centuries".
The plenipotentiary minister, Giovanni Dalla Valle, turned out to be a consultant psychiatrist and former NHS staffer living in Tonbridge, Kent, who was born in Italy but has lived in the UK for 22 years.
"Please call me a spokesperson, those titles are just symbolic," said Mr Dalla Valle, 50, as he sought to play down images of medieval diplomats wielding quills. "We are serious people."
The campaigners want independence not only for the lagoon city of Venice, but also its hinterland, the Italian region of Veneto, where wealthy and industrious manufacturers have long been receptive to calls for independence. They are angry that €2.1bn of the region's taxes are spent elsewhere by Rome.
Gianluca Busato, who organised the referendum, is urging local businesses to stop paying taxes to Rome. The group has also set up a 10-member council, inspired by one set up to run Venice in 1310, including entrepreneurs, a historian and a blogger.
While they are not trying to hold meetings in the Doge's palace in Venice yet, Mr Busato has his eyes on an impressive castle known as Castel Brando, perched on a rock in the Dolomite mountains.