​January 2004


Last June a referendum was held in Canada. No, it wasn't another referendum on Quebec separation, but rather a plebiscite on two issues: one on the construction of power lines in populated areas, and the other on the rights of illegal workers… in Italy! The balloting was carried out by the Italian government through its embassies and consulates, not just in Canada, but simultaneously in some 50 countries around the world .


A recent law passed by the Italian Parliament (and recognized by other countries) confers on all Italian citizens outside Italy the "right" to vote in Italian referenda and eventually in the national election which will be held in 2006. Allowed to register to vote are those who never relinquished their Italian citizenship, those who re-applied for it, as well as those who, like me, were not born in Italy but were allowed to apply for Italian citizenship because their parents or grandparents are Italian. In the up-coming election, Italian "citizens" living in countries where Italians are sufficiently numerous will, in fact, be voting for a candidate who, victorious, will represent them in the Italian Chamber of Deputies!


In all, 12 representatives will sit in the Italian Chamber of Deputies and six more in the Italian Senate representing some 60 million Italians (as many Italians as there are in Italy) living on five continents. North America will have three representatives of whom at least one will be from Canada. Interestingly, Canada, with its nearly 165,000 registered voters, is among the highest of any country. Not unlike the manner in which the Catholic Church partitioned the world and assigned representatives (namely its bishops and cardinals) to minister to the spiritual needs of its flock, the Italian government has thought it virtuous to assume the responsibility of looking after the earthly needs of its "citizens" - the italiani nel mondo - living abroad! But why should we be Italians living abroad, when we are Canadians living in our own country?


One can speculate endlessly about the Italian government's objectives in pursuing this enterprise. Is it an avant-gardist move which redefines democracy as a trans-national commodity in the era of globalization? Rather risky at a time when western democracies are challenged by general voter apathy.


Is it a move motivated by a state with a guilty conscience, attempting, as it were, to atone for the sins of its repressive fascist past and post-war economic debacle which resulted in poverty and mass emigration? If it is, it is compensating the wrong people, at the wrong time and in the wrong places - and rather poorly at that!


Is it a self-serving scheme by the current right-wing government of Silvio Berlusconi, who, it is believed, would stand to benefit more than anyone else because most foreign voters tend to be older and inclined to vote for the right? Very difficult to imagine that a government would go to such lengths for rather meager returns and ultimately no guarantee of success.


Is it a ploy motivated by economic self-interest, which sees the enfranchising of Italians abroad as a way of renewing their sense of Italian patriotism and fostering economic activity in Italy by getting more of them to buy the "Made in Italy" brand? Again, an unlikely proposition in light of the very good relations and benefits Italy already enjoys with virtually all countries where its "citizens" and their children reside in large numbers.


Whatever the motivations or expected returns, it is doubtful that voters thousands of kilometres away will be fully informed about the issues in Italy they will be expected to vote on, no more than the Italian Chamber of Deputies will easily understand (perhaps even care about) the needs of a disparate and very large group of Italians abroad. Even if they grasp the issues that affect the italiani nel mondo, what could a group of far-removed and fractious politicians do that diplomats couldn't do (aren't already doing!) in their stead!


From the beginning of civilization until some two hundred years ago when someone shouted the words "no taxation without representation" and revolutionary social change began, the people on society's lowest rung were taxed but seldom had a say in how their taxes were spent by those who governed.


Now the Italian government is attempting to redirect basic principals of democratic evolution by "granting" representation without taxation - that is, allowing foreign citizens who don't pay taxes in their system to ostensibly have a say in their affairs. Baffling, to say the least!


I can't help but wonder if the Italian government will not follow its inverted logic to the extreme and soon impose a tax on us italiani nel mondo as compensation for its democratic largesse. With its trillion euro debt, Italy could use the money….


Domenic Cusmano



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