Guide to the Referendum for the separation of Venice and Mestre


This post is dedicated to Mario Rigo, former Mayor of Venice (1975 – 1985) and early supporter of Venetian autonomy, who passed away earlier today. An active supporter of separation until his passing, Mr. Rigo was scheduled to appear at a citizens’ meeting about the referendum to be held at Ateneo Veneto on Nov. 24.

[Ed. Note: the subject of the referendum is far more complicated and involves many more groups and individuals than covered in this article. However, this is a good overview of this critically important decision.]

7 November 2019                                                                                                 By Ugo Dinello

MESTRE-VENEZIA. On Sunday Dec. 1 the residents of the Municipality of Venice will called upon for the fifth time to decide on the question of separating the mainland from the lagoon, practically speaking Venice and the islands from Mestre and Marghera. Such a result would have clear repercussions on the makeup of the Metropolitan City of Venice (852,472 residents at the end of May), not to mention the Municipality of Venice (268,841 residents), which is subdivided in the townships of Venezia-Murano-Burano (69,679 residents), Lido Pellestrina (21,691), Favaro (23,376), Mestre Carpenedo (88,181), Chirignago-Zelarino (37,629) e Marghera (28,285).

referendum map

All told there are 91,379 Venetians on water and 177,471 on the mainland. And these would more or less be the population numbers of the two new Municipalities if “yes” wins. This would drop Venice to fourth place among capital cities in the region, after Verona, Padova and Vicenza. Mestre, on the other hand, would become the third most populous Municipality in the region, and the first among non-capital cities.

The proposal for the administrative division of the Municipality, filed under the citizens’ initiative law, was presented to the Region with 9000 citizen signatures on 25 March 2013. After four years the Regional Council held a vote on the “merit” of the request (with only two abstentions and one vote against), and in July of the same year it drew up the borders.

The Regional Administrative Tribunal ruled the referendum illegitimate on 18 August 2018, asserting, among other things, that a regional capital must have an appropriately sized population. This sentence was overturned by the second level body of Administrative Justice, the Council of State, which on 19 September 2019 instead gave the green light to the referendum, arguing that “evaluation of the proposal” of separation “is the responsibility of the relevant political and regulatory bodies” and cannot be done by a judge, who should leave “political choices to those politically responsible, including the populations involved”.


The Precedents

This will be the fifth referendum on separation. The preceding four were all won by “no” to separation.

The first was held in 1979, during the left-wing administration (Mayor Mario Rigo), with 72.3% for union against 27.6% for separation.

The second, in 1989, durung the Red/Green administration of Antonio Casellati, also went for “no”, with another victory for the unionists: 57.8% against 42.2%.

The third was held in 1994 (Cacciari administration). The separatists got a bit closer: 44.4% to 55.6%.

The fourth, in 2002 (when Paolo Costa was Mayor) did not even reach the quorum of 50% plus 1 voters and the referendum was ruled invalid.

Politics: In the era of the first two referenda (1979 and 1989), the question of the separation of Venice and Mestre was a battle-cry for the right and the early autonomists. This is still visible among the ranks of the separatists, which includes members of the Lega and the center-right. Among the ranks of the left, instead, positions are not so clear.

The first to “defect” was actually the politician who was Mayor at the time of the first referendum, Mario Rigo, a longtime socialist, not by chance born and educated on the mainland (at Noale), who then became Mayor of Venice after his experience with the Region. His autonomist position grew stronger after his abandonment of PSI party in 1988, and the subsequent founding of the Venetian Autonomy League.

History: Mestre was an autonomous city up to 1926. Always considered “the port of Venice”, it was a stronghold first for the Bishop of Treviso and then the Bishop of Verona until 29 September 1337, when Commander Andrea Morosini, having bribed the German mercenaries guarding the gate, entered the fortress without a fight. From that moment on the town became “Mestre fidelis”, the port most loyal to Venice. This motto was written on its coinage (scudo), formed with a silver cross on a blue background.

Thus Mestre became a “city” administrated by a podestà. The relationship with Venice became so strong that in 1848 Mestre called up its civic guard and attacked the Austrians even before Venice did. This tie also became administrative in 1926 when the new Fascist administration reorganized the Italian Municipalities, joining Mestre, Favaro, Chiringago and Zelarino to Venice. Thus Mestre and Venice have been united administratively for 93 years.

The Factions

As often happens with questions regarding Venice and Mestre there is never a clear line on how to address these questions. Thus there are three factions: abstensionists, those for separation, and those against the separation.

For Separation: This is a cross-lagoon movement which has grown in strength in the past few months, especially in the media. Among them is the Lega, but most of all the part of the party that was against the agreement in the city government with Brugnaro, led by former Lega candidate for City Council. Gian Angelo Bellati.

Among the other representatives are the long-standing Venetian separatist, attorney Marco Sitran, and his colleague Marco Gasparinetti, an official for the EU and founder of “Gruppo 25 Aprile”, both from the lagoon, and Maria Laura Faccini who is among the founders of the group “Mestre Mia” from the mainland. From the left in favor of “Si” is also the former magistrate and senator Felice Casson.

Abstentionists: Luigi Brugnaro, current mayor of the Municipality and of the Metropolitan
City has declared himself to be in favor of abstention from the vote, and had won the support of Luca Zaia. That support was then withdrawn, and when the Council of State approved the referendum, the regional government set a date for the vote just days later.

Also in favor of abstention is former mayor Massimo Cacciari: “It’s a ridiculous thing, anachronistic, and a harmful question. To those who want to reduce the parliament I ask: why do they now want to radically grow the number of mayors, chairmen and councilors?”.

Against Separation: The most consistent opponent is Gianfranco Bettin, vice-mayor of Marghera, sociologist, environmentalist and anti-mafia representative who has primarily raised the issue of pollution and who has always asserted that only with the mainland and the city of water united can they resolve their respective problems: “I will vote no, because I believe that a united Municipality is stronger, more effective and more representative”.

A Brugnaro loyalist, but still supporting a vote for ‘no’, instead, is the Chairman of Transportation Renato Boraso, a former autonomist who then changed his mind: “The area and its problems are changing”.


Source: La Nuova Venezia

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