Anti-European Union campaigners built and armed a tank with which they allegedly planned to used to “liberate” St Mark’s Square in Venice in the run up to the elections to the European Parliament later this month. Italian police found the homemade armoured vehicle in a farm shed and stopped what could have been the most spectacular protest of the campaign.
According to a report in the Financial Times, at dawn on April 2nd, an anti-terrorist squad raided a shed in a village near Verona, in the northeast of Italy, and found the tank complete with cannon.
At the same time, they arrested 24 people at different locations and accused them of sedition and possession of armed weapons.
The episode has become a cause célebre among Italy’s “secessionisti,” the supporters of the Northern League who want the industrialised north of Italy to break with the corrupt politics of Rome and what they see as the unproductive, freeloading south.
They also want Italy to leave the euro currency, which they say has been an economic and political disaster for the country.
The Northern League is in an election alliance with other anti-EU political parties such as Marine Le Pen’s Front National in France and Geert Wilder’s Freedom Party in the Netherlands.
The idea of “liberating” St Mark’s Square, the symbol the Republic of Venice, was particularly apt for “secessionisti.” Venice stood independent, influential, militarily powerful and rich throughout the Middle Ages and Renaissance, only to suffer final decline when it was forced into a unified Italian state in the 19th century.
The Northern League is the dominant party in the region. Its aim is to establish a new state called Padania which would include Lombardy, Tuscany, South Tyrol, Veneto and ten other regions in the sweep of Italy south of the Alps.
In the past the league has been in alliance with Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia in the parliament in Rome. But Matteo Salvini, a member of the European Parliament from Milan who is secretary of the league, told the FT that the league now sees its ideological allies as outside Italy, among other anti-immigration, anti-EU parties: “Our movements in Europe – the League, Le Pen, UKIP – will arrive with 200 people in the European Parliament.”
As for the tank meant for the “liberation” of St Mark’s Square, and the men arrested: “They are citizens imprisoned for their ideas by a state that has been invaded by thousands of illegal immigrants. It is a disgrace.”