While international commentators are racking their brains and clash over their diverging ideas on the consequences of BrExit, on June 29, the oldest and smallest federation of states and nations in Europe drew our attention. An experience that precedes even the Swiss Confederation, it is the forerunner of the Federal and of the confederations such as the EU: the Federation of Seven Towns.
Also known as the Regency of the Seven Towns, it was born in the second half of the thirteenth century. A.D., under the name of the League of the Seven Sister Lands. Yet, it was officially established only later, in 1310, among the seven municipalities on the Plateau of Vicenza Alps, between the rivers Astico and Brenta: Asiago, Lusiana, Enego, Roana, Rotzo, Gallium, and Foza. From an ecclesiastical point of view, the Plateau of the Seven Sisters belongs to the Diocese of Padua at prensent. In 1404, the Federation made an act of devotion to the Republic of Venice, which guaranteed their privileges, such as autonomy, favorable trade relations and military training, for the following four hundred years. All of the offices were elective. In 1600, was even formed a militia of Asiago and the Brenta canal, which counted 4 thousand soldiers 100 years later. When the time of the agreement came to an end, ten years after the end of the Serenissima Republic, exactly on June 29, 1807, Napoleon I, Emperor of the French and King of Italy, broke up the federation and abolished regency. On a legal and formal plan, that was the end of a happy experience of “living together, following a family model” of people who shared an idea of society as a community, as brothers and sisters, believing in – and sharing – such a genuine and fraternal common good, that is still a model throughout Europe.
“There is something here that is missing in other parts of Europe,” said the intellectual and artist Marco Paolini. Ninety percent of the territory, in fact, is “owned collectively” by the inhabitants of the community: it is not State property, private (that is, belonging to single citizens) nor does it belong to local authorities; it belongs to everyone. Citizens are officially registered as family groups with the right to the “civic use” of the territory. Until 1926 everything was handled jointly by the Seven Towns. Today, it is still jointly administered, but divided into areas of expertise. And, for the effects of the law n. 1766 of June 16, 1927, collective ownership is inalienable, indivisible and forever bound to its former purpose, and belongs entirely to the community. The language of the Cimbri, of Germanic origin, is still alive and spoken by a part of the population there.
Outstanding writers narrated the brutality of the First World War in these territories and celebrated the great Italian army’s successes. Italian writers such as Carlo Emilio Gadda, or Emilio Lussu, for example. But also international and Nobel prizes for literature, such as Ernest Hemingway, Rudyard Kipling, and the great European thinker Franz Kafka. “I want to be buried on this plateau, where we beat them, on the Grappa, in some dead corner of a slope, riddled with grenades, provided they will send their cows to graze,” wrote Hemingway, who had stayed there during World War I, as a Red Cross volunteer who drove ambulances.
In this critical transition period of the European Union, when many voices – including the Pope – loudly invoke a change of course in the organization of the European Union, to lead it back to the safe area of its roots and the values it was born with, especially fraternal solidarity among peoples and nations, we should remember – as a happy, timeless, typically European and proudly Italian example – the Federative experience of the Seven Towns. As an “incitement” to proceed on the way, which the founding of a European Union envisaged as a political hope for United States of Europe, first thought of by an Englishman: Winston Churchill, the main promoter of the European Alliance against Nazism.
It was “the only way to make Europe free and happy,” said the British prime minister and Nobel Prize for Literature, in his address to the youth of the University of Zurich (significantly in Switzerland), in 1946, at the end the Second World War. A remedy to the injustices, wars, competitions, and dangerous personalities, according to Churchill, was the birth of a confederation of states, fraternal peoples and sister nations. The only “exclusive remedy” consists “in the reconstruction of the family of the European peoples, as much as we can, and in providing it with a structure that will allow it to live at peace, in safety, and in freedom. We must build a kind of United States of Europe”, declared Churchill.
A slap in the face of those who now accuse England of selfish and self-centered imperialism to explain the decision, by popular demand, to leave “this” European Union. Another Union, a genuine Union is possible. It would be desirable – to learn from it and be able to practice – that the European Union looked at the beautiful model of community brotherhood and good society of the good mountain dwellers of the Seven Italian municipalities, in order to reconstruct our “common house” in a way that will finally make it truly common.