“The participation of young people in the unitary process initiated by the Risorgimento was there and also to a considerable extent: in those years, indeed, there was a great debate, including self-criticism, regarding the fact that a new state had been built and therefore a new community, but the Italians had remained the ‘old’ ones, even with those characters of enslavement and corruption, the result of centuries of oppression and fragmentation. The problem was the regeneration of the people, creating an identity and building a sense of common belonging, developing a common conscience. Problem that recurs periodically for our country … “This is what he observes Paolo Mattera, Professor of Contemporary History, in connection with Zoom, during the webinar organized by History Channel in collaboration with the Roma Tre University entitled ‘Unification of Italy: a story for young people?‘- which will be broadcast on the History Channel’s social channels – also responding to requests from undergraduate and master students.
“In belonging to a community, it is very important to have a strong sense of one’s past, the pride of one’s roots: it applies to the single person and obviously also applies to the community – the historian begins – In moments of crisis, such as the one we are experiencing due to the Covid pandemic, the strengths are highlighted but also the weak points: it is in these moments of crisis that the sense of common belonging emerges and the sense of pride can express its full potential “.
For Mattera, “the Italian Risorgimento is now very heavy with rhetoric, treated almost as an archaeological find of a patriotism that celebrates rites of which it does not even know the meaning. Instead, it was meant to be a rebirth, for a people who came to a powerful revival thanks to their action, building a new identity. The task of historians is not to light the torches of rhetoric but rather to extinguish them where the rhetoric risks obscuring reality. The question is: what worked out of that powerful rebirth, what didn’t work, and what still remains today? This is the answer that is asked of young people today“.
Then, explains the professor of contemporary history, “the component of youth rebellion was very strong, mobilized for national unification; a generation nourished by the culture of Romanticism that exalted adherence to the ideals for a life that was well spent, even in cost of great personal sacrifices. Youth was a regenerative factor against a society deemed corrupt; conflictual element that has occurred several times in Italian history – remembers Mattera – But this is like a karst river or, if you prefer, like a roller coaster: every now and then it ebbs and seems to vanish, only to re-emerge. Sometimes, young people seem to be recipients of historical events, rather than active subjects who produce them “.
From the unification of Italy achieved to a United Europe still to be achieved, the step can also be short. Then the Italians had ‘external enemies’ from time to time identified in the Austrians or the Spaniards, the French or the popes. Today, Europeans have no ‘enemies’ to identify, at most competitors to beat, be they Americans or Russians or Chinese … This lack of an ‘enemy’, or of its perception, slows down or even stops a process of a true European unification?
“The world today is governed by supranational and global logics – Mattera replies to the question posed by time.news, during the History Channel webinar – A dimension that can also create a feeling of uneasiness, resulting in localistic closures in search of protection, which can then lead to nationalisms and sovereignties. But beware of fictitious enemies, which can fuel toxic reactions by pointing to false enemies to hide real problems. It is one thing to have an identity of one’s own that also lives on otherness; another is to invent enemies, causing situations that can also become explosive “, warns the historian.
(by Enzo Bonaiuto)