Sardinian nationalism or also Sardism (Sardismu in Sardinian, Sardismo in Italian) is a social, cultural and political movement in Sardinia promoting the protection of the island's environment and the re-discovery of Sardinian culture. It also calls for more autonomy, or even independence, from Italy.
Even though the island has been characterized by periodical waves of ethnonationalist protests against Rome, the contemporary Sardinian movement has its origins on the left of the political spectrum; attempts for Sardinian self-determination countered in fact Rome-centric Italian nationalism and fascism (which would eventually manage to contain the autonomist and separatist tendencies). Over the years many Sardist parties from different ideological backgrounds have emerged, all being in the minority, and with some of them making government coalitions of variable geometry with the statewide Italian parties. For instance, that also happened in the 2014 Sardinian regional election, where the combined result of all the nationalist parties would have been 26% of the votes.
In 1720, the Kingdom of Sardinia was definitely ceded by Spain to the House of Savoy after a plurisecular period of Spanish rule and a short-lived reconquest, abiding by the treaty of London that followed the War of Spanish Succesion. The Savoyard kings, who were forced to accept this island in place of the much more populated and developed Sicily, were not pleased with the exchange to the point of making them want to dispose of what Cavour called "the third Ireland" later, according to Mazzini who denounced the plot, by selling it to France. For a long time, Sardinia would be ruled in the same way as it was during the Spanish period, with its own parliament and government being composed exclusively of men from the mainland. The only exception to this has been an outbreak of political unrest (known as "Sardinian Vespers") against the local Piedmontese notables in 1794, led by Giovanni Maria Angioy, that ended only in the first years of the 19th century. In 1847, some factions of the Sardinian elites from Cagliari and Sassari, guided by the unionist Giovanni Siotto Pintor, demanded the so-called Perfect Fusion, aimed at getting the liberal reforms Sardinia could not have because of its separate legal system. The king Charles Albert agreed to the request; however, he also removed what little self-governing capacity the island had in the process, and Sardinia would continue to be left to its own devices, further aggravating its peripheral condition. The episode would lead Pintor himself to regret having made that proposal (Errammo tutti, "we all made a mistake"), and would raise the "Sardinian Question" (Questione Sarda) from then on, a broad term used to cover a wide variety of issues regarding the difficult relationship between Sardinia and the mainland. The Savoyard kings then proceeded to expand their domains through the Unification of Italy: Sardinia, being already part of the Piedmontese Kingdom from the very beginning, automatically joined the new polity, that changed its name to become the Kingdom of Italy in 1861.
The first two Sardist parties, the Sardinian Action Party or PSd'Az (one of the oldest stateless nationalist parties in Europe, being founded in 1921) and the Sardinian League (LS), were launched between the two world wars. The PSd'Az, which was pretty strong in the 1920s (e.g. 36% of the popular vote in 1921 regional election) as well as in the 1940s, establishing itself as the most important nationalist movement in Sardinia, experienced a comeback in the 1980s. In the 1984 regional election the party peaked at 30% in Cagliari and over 20% in Sassari and Oristano, gaining overall 13.8% of the vote: therefore, due to its pivotal role in the newly elected Regional Council, Sardist Mario Melis was President of Sardinia from 1984 to 1989. Ever since, that result has not been repeated yet by any independentist party.
The Sardinian nationalist movement is in fact rather disjointed and lacking in unity nowadays: it is composed mostly of several local and scattered grassroots organisations across the island that do not have a clear central policy-making authority, and besides, the different nationalist subgroups often disagree with each other on many key issues and engage in constant infighting. Sardinian nationalists address a number of issues, such as the environmental damage caused by the Italian, NATO and U.S. military forces (in fact, 60% of such bases in Italy are located on the island), the financial and economic exploitation of the island's resources by the Italian state and mainland industrialists, the lack of any political representation both in Italy and in the European Parliament (due to an unbalanced electoral constituency that still remains to this day, Sardinia has not had its own MEP since 1994), the nuclear power and waste (on which a referendum was proposed by a Sardist party, being held in 2011) and the ongoing process of depopulation and Italianization that would destroy the Sardinian indigenous culture.
Sardinian nationalism is a pacific movement that does not advocate violent revolution, proposing instead to achieve its goals within a liberal democratic framework. However, as an exception to the rule, there had been some issues in the past strictly related to separatist tendencies, the most worth mentioning being essentially three. First, the actions planned in 1968 by Giangiacomo Feltrinelli to turn the island into the Cuba of the Mediterranean and "liberate it from colonialism" by making contact with several local nationalist groups; in the end, the attempt of the famous communist thinker to strengthen the pro-independence militant lines, divided into the socialist Fronte Nazionale de Liberazione de sa Sardigna (FNLS) and the rightist Movimentu Nazionalista Sardu (MNS), was nullified by the Italian secret military intelligence. Secondly, there had been in the 1980s the question of the so-called "separatist conspiracy", a secret plan apparently set up by some local activists to reach the island's independence in collaboration with Gaddafi's Libya; according to some reconstructions of the facts, the supposed Sardinian separatist conspiracy might have been a machination of the Italian secret services seeking to discredit the rising nationalist wave in the island. There were also separatist militant groups, like the Movimento Armato Sardo (Sardinian Armed Movement), claiming assassinations and several kidnappings. Finally, it should be mentioned the case of a number of bombings, the most notable of which being that in 2004 against Silvio Berlusconi in his visit to Porto Rotondo (Olbia) with Tony Blair; the responsibility has been apparently claimed by some unknown anarcho-separatist militant groups, the presence of which never to be seen again.
In the '70s, around 38% of the Sardinian population expressed a favourable view on independence. According to a 2012 survey conducted in a joint effort between the University of Cagliari and that of Edinburgh, 41% of Sardinians would be in favour of independence (with 10% choosing it from both Italy and the European Union, and 31% from Italy remaining in the EU), whilst another 46% would rather have a larger autonomy within Italy, including fiscal power; 13% of people would be content to remain part of Italy without any autonomy.
Besides, the same survey reported a Moreno question giving the following results: (1) Sardinian, not Italian, 26%; (2) more Sardinian than Italian, 37%; (3) equally Sardinian and Italian, 31%; (4) more Italian than Sardinian, 5%; (5) Italian, not Sardinian, 1%.
All these numerical data have been exposed by Carlo Pala, a political scientist at the University of Sassari. Even other polls, published by professional organizations for public opinion research, contribute to corroborating, more or less, these findings and their accuracy.
However, this support has heretofore failed to translate into electoral success for pro-sovereignty Sardinian forces and a more vigorous political action. In fact, this strong sense of regional identity is also combined with a general distrust in institutions and parties, including those putting emphasis on identity; moreover, the nationalist movement has a well-documented history of ideological factionalism: all attempts to unify the nationalist subgroups have so far failed; thus, the Sardist movement still suffers from being highly fragmented into a large number of political subgroups pushing different policies. All the Sardist parties put together usually win around 15-20% of the vote in regional elections, with not a single one managing to emerge as a serious competitor to the statewide parties.
It should also be noted that, unlike other European regions with nationalist tendencies, even the local branches of statewide parties have incorporated some of these elements in their political discourses, thus assuming somewhat of a regionalist façade and undermining the distinctive Sardist demands: it is to be mentioned, for example, Francesco Cossiga's failed constitutional bill n. 352 to recognize Sardinia as a distinct nation within Italy. The nationalist parties have disjointedly responded to this long-term accommodation strategy: they either refused to join their fragmented Sardist forces or tried to work with the pro-Italian parties as coalition partners, in the hopes of applying further pressure from within to favour increased devolution; either choice has been met with diffidence by the Sardinian electorate, leading the various Sardist parties to play a marginal role in Sardinian politics.
In the 2014 regional election, for instance, more than a dozen Sardist parties of different connotations took part to the electoral competition, but yet again, because of their number and political fragmentation, they did not manage to win as many seats as they were initially supposed to, some think even because of a tactical mistake by the ProgReS-sponsored list, which was then led by the novelist Michela Murgia. Despite the combined result of all of the nationalist parties being around 26% (dropping to 18% for the pro-independence forces), they won only eight seats in the Sardinian regional council.
Here is a summary of the results of the 2014 regional election for regional parties:
- Sardinian Reformers, 6.0% of the vote and 3 regional councillors elected
- Sardinian Action Party, 4.7% of the vote and 2 regional councillors elected
- United, 2.8% of the vote and no regional councillors elected
- Project Republic of Sardinia, 2.8% of the vote and no regional councillors elected
- Party of Sardinians, 2.7% of the vote and 2 regional councillors elected
- Red Moors, 2.6% of the vote and 2 regional councillors elected
- Sardinian Democratic Union, 2.6% of the vote and 1 regional councillor elected
- People (ProgReS-sponsored list), 2.2% of the vote and no regional councillors elected
- Communities (ProgReS-sponsored list), 1.8% of the vote and no regional councillors
- Pili President (United-sponsored list), 1.7% of the vote and no regional councillors
- Sardinia Free Zone Movement, 1.6% of the vote and 1 regional councillor elected
- Independence Republic of Sardinia, 0.8% of the vote and 1 regional councillor elected
- The Base Sardinia, 0.7% of the vote and 1 regional councillor elected
- Free Zone Movement, 0.7% of the vote and no regional councillors elected
- Forward Together, 0.7% of the vote and no regional councillors elected
- United Independentist Front, 0.7% of the vote and no regional councillors elected
- Sovereignty (United-sponsored list), 0.2% of the vote and no regional councillors elected
The list does not include the Christian Popular Union (1.7% of the vote and 1 regional councillor elected) because the party, despite being based in Sardinia and having rarely participated in general or regional elections outside Sardinia, claims to be an Italian national party.
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