As Crimeans make their way to the polls this Sunday, another region further in the heart of Europe is also deciding its fate in a referendum: the Italian region of Veneto, which is voting on whether to break with Rome.
The independence movement insists the industrial northern region’s wealth is being drained by Rome’s mismanagement of the financial crisis.
Following in the footsteps of Scotland and Catalonia, Venice – the capital of the Italian region of Veneto – will be holding a referendum to form an independent republic. About 3.8 million people in the region are eligible to vote in the referendum, which runs through Friday.
Leaders of the independence movement say they are not going to wait for Rome’s approval, and if the population votes in favor they will begin the separation process. The latest polls carried out by the independence movement show that over 60 percent of the population is in favor of becoming independent.
"If there is a majority yes vote, we have scholars drawing up a declaration of independence and there are businesses in the region who say they will begin paying taxes to local authorities instead of to Rome," Lodovico Pizzati, the spokesman for the independence movement, told the Telegraph newspaper.
The president of Veneto, Luca Zaia, who supports the independence movement, said the region is tired of the lack of respect from Rome. With the onset of the financial crisis the movement has been gathering momentum, with many people in the area perceiving Rome’s treatment of the situation as irresponsible.
“Veneto pays its taxes and would like answers from Rome. Rome has not respected the Venetians,” Zaia told Italian publication Liberoquotidiano. “The push for independence comes from the people, it is a democratic request that has come about because of Rome’s indifference.”
He went on to say that Italy was currently experiencing “a kind of ailing democracy” and had become bogged down in bureaucracy.
Gianluca Busato, a prominent Venetian businessman an advocate for independence from Rome, told RT that the Venice region is one of the biggest payers of taxes into Rome’s coffers, but gets nothing like what it shells out in return and as such Rome opposes the vote.
“I think they [the Italian government] are not so happy because Veneto is a rich region. Italy steals 20 billion of taxes that are not returned to us, and so I think the Italian government is not so happy about our will of independence,” he said.
Furthermore, advocates for the independence of the region argue that Rome is draining the northern region of its wealth through taxes in order to support the poorer South of Italy. The independence movement website claims that the region pays €20 billion more in taxes to Rome than it receives in investment and services.
Venice may also sever ties with the European Union and NATO if it gains its independence.
"Venetians not only want out of Italy, but we also want out of the euro, the EU and NATO," Raffaele Serafini, another pro-independence activist, told the Telegraph.
Members of the movement say they have been inspired by Scotland and Catalonia, who have also planned referendums for this year. Scotland will vote for its independence in September, despite statements from the British government that they will not be allowed the pound if they separate. Spain’s government has decried Catalonia’s planned referendum as illegal and in defiance of Spanish sovereignty.
Giovanni Dalla Valle, head of the Veneto independence movement, told RT that there is nothing Italy can do to stop the region from becoming independent.
“We have to fight for it [independence]. We will do it in a peaceful, diplomatic way. We do strongly believe that when the majority wants to be independent there is nothing they [the Italian government] can do,” he said to RT.
He went on to say that the established world order favors centralized governments and that is why many referendums are condemned as illegal.
Prior to joining Italy in 1866, the region of Veneto was known as “La Serenissima” – the Most Serene Republic of Venice. The Republic lost its independence when Napoleon conquered Venice in 1797.