Venice, Italy, the land of gondolas and canals, could soon be Venice, the independent state. That's if a group of Venetian separatists have their way.
Rumors of secession in the northern Italian region of Veneto have been around since the late 1970s, but a recent surge in support could see the Veneto government introduce a formal referendum in the near future.
In a highly unscientific online poll conducted by independence group Plebiscito, 89 percent of Venetians voted to leave Italy, prompting the site to declare "The Italian government has lost! Long live the republic!"
So why do at least some Venetians want to ditch the country? It all comes down to history … and money. Venice functioned as an independent republic for thousands of years, famous for its cultural and commercial innovation, before surrendering to Napoleon in 1797.
Many Venetians today yearn for a return to independence and say their history inspires a unique "Venice" mindset. As a schoolteacher tells USA Today, "I have always felt like a Venetian first and an Italian second. We're just different from most other Italians."
Others cite Italy’s economic woes as reason enough to secede. According to campaign organizers, Veneto's financial success is being drained by the rest of Italy's economic mismanagement.
Venice is wealthier than what some Venetians see as the more corrupt and underdeveloped Southern Italy. An independent Venice would rank seventh in per-capita GDP among European states. (Via France 24)
Recently, the secession movement took a violent turn as police arrested 24 separatists who were reportedly planning to seize Venice’s famous St. Mark’s Square with arms and a tank that had been converted from a tractor.
But some scholars say a move to secede would simply be illegal. A professor at Rome’s La Sapienza University says "It's egoistic and it's illegal ... We're in this together. There would be no end to it if any group of people could just decide on their own that they are independent.” (Via USA Today)
And a constitutional scholar tells the Corriere Del Veneto that the campaign’s poll is irrelevant. "In short, it has no practical consequences."
But despite the legal ambiguity, the president of Italy's Veneto region, Luca Zaia, has no plans to back off the push to secede, telling reporters last week, "We were denied autonomy, so we tried the path of federalism. We were denied federalism, so we ask for independence."