9 September 2004 Edition
Sardinia's struggle against NATO occupation
Sardinia is a name that evokes sun, the Mediterranean, holidays... But behind this postcard image there is a history of occupation, resistance and struggle for freedom. Resistance to the policies of the occupying Italian administration, which is trying to end the ancient traditions, culture and language of Sardinians. Opposition to NATO's bases, that have taken 25,000 square kilometres of the island to use for military training involving chemical and depleted uranium weapons. Struggle for independence, so Sardinians can reclaim their land and have a say on what is happening on their island.
Sardinia's history is one of colonisation and struggle. This is something that Italian revisionist historians have chosen to ignore as they claim that Sardinians always wanted to be Italian, despite a long history of resistance to occupation.
Sardinia's strategic position made - and still makes it - a very valuable possession. So, under the armies of Phoenicians, Roman, Germanic Tribes, Carthage, Catalans, and finally Italians, Sardinians had to struggle to keep their culture and language.
It was in the 1720s that Sardinians had a taste of self-governance under the House of Savoia. But in the 1860s, when the Italian reunification took place, Italy's administration decided to apply Italian law to the annexed states. For Sardinians this was a difficult time, as laws threatened their traditional way of life.
Sardinia's economy at the time was mainly dependent on agriculture, and land had always been communally own. Italian legislation only recognised private ownership, and as Italians took over the land, walls started to sprout around Sardinia. However, Sardinians started to destroy the walls as an expression of resistance. It was then the Italian government decided to send the army, initiating a new period of armed occupation of the island.
"The army dealt with any opposition to Italian rule in a ruthless manner - arbitrary arrests, imprisonment and torture were a daily occurrence. The army infiltrated and controlled any social expression and people were terrorised", explains Roberta Cucciari, a student involved in A Manca Pro s'Indipendentzia, a left-wing organisation that wants independence for the island.
"The years passed and the situation relaxed. Obviously, the forms of colonisation have changed but the substance is the same. This is about controlling our life, denying our culture, ignoring our traditions, banning our desire for independence."
The breakdown of Sardinian society had the same effect on the people that British rule had in Ireland. Being a colonised country takes away any power to decide on the economy of the country; usually people in these countries are considered as a workforce and the central administrations are always happy to see them move to the industrial centres.
Many Sardinians left their country to work in factories in the North of Italy and in the USA. Many others joined the Italian army to escape hunger and deprivation.
At the same time, the Rome administration initiated the "Italianisation" of the Sardinians. "Carabinieri, police and army presence was meant to make our language and culture vanish", explains Cucciari.
"People were forced to use Italian in public, Italian was imposed as the working language, and it was the only one used in schools. Kids caught speaking Sardu were punished and beaten in the schools."
Sardu is an ancient language, but it is still widely spoken in Sardinia, with up to 60% of speakers inland, despise the lack of support by the central or devolved government. Education is still through Italian, but there are alternative groups that have started organising workshops on different issues through the island's original language. "The use of Sardu is a weapon of resistance, as the central government knows that the language reinforces our identity and attachment to land and traditions."
At the end of the Second World War, the Italian administration found that the situation of the island could be useful for NATO. Land was taken to build military training camps and army bases. "At the moment, Sardinia houses the biggest NATO base in the Mediterranean. There are 25,000 square kilometres of military bases in Sardinia, and [Italian Prime Minister Silvio] Berlusconi has passed a law to increase their size, providing NATO with an extra 15,000 sq km", says Cucciari. "An extra 15,000 US marines will be arriving to La Magdalena, an island that is now exclusively dedicated to tourism and military use.
"Sardinian land was given to the US military as war payment, after the Second World War. There was not consultation with Sardinia's population.
In 1979, the Italian government tried to occupy the village of Orgosolo. All the village inhabitants opposed the occupation and blocked the entrance to the town. After a week, the army decided to retreat. "This was the first victory for Sardinian people in a long time, and it shows that resistance works", explains Cucciari.
"Everyone in Sardinia wants the military out. Our land is meant to grow food, not to be used by armies to train how to kill innocent people. During training they are using chemical weapons, depleted uranium, and all this is affecting the environment and the people. But in the Italian parliament all parties, including the Communist Party, want to keep their agreements with NATO."
A Manca Pro s' Indipendentzia is a ten year old organisation with links to women's, student, and trade union movements. All these organisations' objective is clear: socialism and independence. And, sadly, successive Italian administrations have followed similar trends of repression and harassment against the pro-independence Sardinian government. Berlusconi is using the anti-terrorism law against the Sardinian left.
However, Roberta Cucciari is optimistic: "The movement is growing", but also accepts that "repression is likely to increase".
Cucciari also knows that the objective is not only to rid the island of military bases and the right to self-determination. It is important to decide what will be the economic future of the island, and for A Manca that means to get rid of the unsustainable tourism industry.
"Tourism is taking over the economy, and this is tourism for the elite, the upper classes. Hotels, restaurants, bars are all owned by Italians. Sardinians work for them during the summer for really slave wages, so this tourism is not bringing any benefits to the people of the island".
"But it is important to see the other impacts. The land prices are up, and agricultural land is being used for tourism. And then, the golf courses are a clear environmental disaster, as one golf course uses every day the same amount of water as a population of 8,000 people. In Sardinia, during the summer, the inhabitants suffer water cuts so tourists can enjoy their golf".