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Map of Sicily
The Governor: Rosario Crocetta, a chemist by profession, speaks
several languages, including English and Arabic, and was formerly a European MP and mayor of Gela, near Agrigento. Elected regional president in 2012, he has taken very strong positions against the Mafia and public-sector corruption (a
predecessor was sentenced for white collar crime) while addressing problems like the budget deficit and the high unemployment rate. He is attempting to improve tourism
facilities in Sicily.
What do Scotland, Bavaria,
Catalonia and Sicily have in common? A number
of things - all were parts of the Roman Empire and later sovereign kingdoms
- but each of these places is now a semi-autonomous region within a larger
nation, respectively Britain, Germany, Spain and Italy. It is a development
which recognizes the distinct history of each region, and in Italy French-speaking
Aosta and German-speaking South Tirol (Trentino - Alto Adige) enjoy the same
Unlike Aosta and South Tirol, Sicily was given its "regional"
administrative status not by the Italian Republic following the Second World War but by the Kingdom of Italy in
1946. On 15 May of that year King Umberto II, whose brief reign would end
a few weeks hence with the popular referendum establishing the Republic
on 2 June, signed the decree on "the advice" of the Allied Military
Command. In other words, the king was ordered to sign the decree ceding
quasi-independence to the island his dynasty had annexed as part of the
Risorgimento and a united Italy with the help of
Garibaldi's invasion some 86 years earlier. The
decree was completely antithetical to the very concept of Italian unity.
The United States strongly advocated the new arrangement in view of Sicilian
emigrè support in North America and a growing
separatist movement at home in Sicily. American authorities made it clear
they would underwrite the "start-up" costs needed to operate the
new administrative district, the "Sicilian Region." More immediately,
they wanted to ensure its existence before the upcoming national referendum
which, as it happened, abolished the monarchy and exiled the Savoys.
In an abstract sense, this restored to Sicily a status akin to that enjoyed
by the island from 1130, when Roger II established
the Kingdom of Sicily, until 1816 when, as capital
city, Palermo became
subordinate to Naples as part of the Kingdom of the
Two Sicilies, the state subsequently annexed to the upstart Kingdom
of Italy in 1861. The Regional Assembly founded with this autonomy was,
and is, housed in Palermo's Norman Palace, the
historic residence and administrative center of Sicily's Norman
and Swabian monarchs. The flag of the Sicilian
Region is based on the trinacria (triskelion),
an ancient Sicilian symbol, with the addition of wheat ears and Medusa's head. Its
colors are those of the Aragonese
coat of arms which arrived with King Peter of Aragon
during the War of the Vespers in 1282.
There is a regional
president (or "governor") elected by popular
vote and a regional assembly ("parliament") composed of ninety
elected representatives ("deputies"). The governor appoints assessori
(cabinet ministers) responsible for various services administered by the
region, including healthcare, agriculture, forestry and tourism. The judiciary,
law enforcement, military, foreign ministry and other agencies are operated
from Rome by the state. ("Who runs Sicily?"
is a simple question with a complicated answer.)
While Sicily is not a sovereign state, there is nothing to stop the island's
governor presenting himself to foreign heads of state as if he, too, were
a head of state. Yet Italy is not, strictly speaking, a federalist state,
and the regional parliament of, for example, Lombardy (Milan) does not have
the same legislative powers of Sicily's or Aosta's. A few nations have consulates
in Catania and Palermo but the embassies are in Rome.
With its overpaid politicians and bureaucrats, as well as various outsourced
consultants, the regional assembly and numerous regional agencies are frequently
criticized by taxpayers, and not without reason. While certain officials
and staff may be competent, the entire structure has always been quite inefficent.
At present (November 2012), a new governor and deputies face a six billion
euro budget deficit in Sicily, the region's bond rating having recently
been downgraded for the umpteenth time. Yes, the Sicilian Region issues bonds.
Of course, the island's "autonomy" is largely an illusion.
Though the region can levy certain taxes, most of the money necessary to
operate Sicily comes from Rome and Brussels; yes, billions in European Union
funds have been poured into "development" projects in "underdeveloped"
Sicily. Agenda 2000 is the most infamous example of waste
and corruption on a grand scale since the 1990s, a distinction formerly
reserved for the Cassa per il Mezzogiorno which was subsidized in
part by the Marshall Plan.
Think about it: Why are you reading this website and not one published
by the Sicilian Region's tourism bureau? The regional tourism ministry has
spent endless funds on mediocre tourism websites published in poor "Italianized"
English by web firms in Milan and London. (Best of Sicily is based in Palermo.) It's an example of
inefficiency that you can see. That said, a number of important nature reserves, historical and archeological sites and museums are administered by the
region, in a few cases quite well, so all is not lost.
The fundamental shortcoming of the Sicilian Region is that it imposes yet another layer of burdensome bureaucracy
in a nation where there has always been far too much of it. Forced to consider the matter and perhaps vote on it, most Sicilians
would probably opt for the abolition of regional administration, but for now it looks as if the system is here to stay.
About the Author: Vincenzo Salerno has written for various publications and authored
several books published in Italian.