Festa della Repubblica, the day when Italy celebrates its most important institution, is upon us: on the 2nd of June, our streets fill with the tricolore, the Frecce fly over the skies of Rome, while Via dei Fori Imperiali turns into a stage for our Armed Forces, all parading in high uniform under the proud, attentive eye of the President.
But this is what happens usually. This year, of course, things will be different. There won’t be any parade in Rome, nor official gatherings anywhere else in Italy: the Frecce Tricolori will carry on as usual, to bring the bright colors of our flag high up over the roofs of the Eternal City, as if the world beneath hadn’t changed — but we all know it has.
The Festa della Repubblica is an important moment for us Italians and it’s only right to use the words of our President, Sergio Mattarella, to explain why: “it is the symbol of the discovery of freedom and democracy by our people.” After more than 20 years under a dictatorship and 5 of war, that early day of June 1946 was the beginning of a new era in our history and of a new lease of life for a country that had suffered like no other during the first half of the century.
The freedom we enjoy today, the right of living, speaking, believing in accord to our own inclinations, is the result of how our Republic came into being, the result of our parents and grandparents’ efforts to create and leave us a just, democratic, free country. The Italian Republic gave to all of its citizens the right to be individuals and to be respected as such, to defend their views, to debate and contest, when deemed necessary. But we shouldn’t forget that being a good citizen — being a free citizen — means also to abide to specific duties, just as it is written in our Constitution.
In these difficult times we all realized, probably for the first time, what having our freedom reduced means: who didn’t experience the years of the war and never lived far from the comfort and civilized ways of Europe and North America couldn’t know what government-imposed restrictions were. We learned it, in a way, allow me to say it, which was pretty cushioned and not all that dramatic, if you think the last time Italians’ freedom was reduced there was no food, 3/4 of our men were fighting a war and we would spend half the time hiding underground because of regular bombings.
Some of us complained, of course, but that was to be expected, because Man can be silly and self-centered and, especially in today’s day and age, very, very childish indeed. All in all, however, Italians during the lockdown demonstrated to be good people: resilient, if a tad whiney, with a big heart and the ability to keep a smile on their faces even in the darkest of hours. I like to think these characteristics are in our blood, that they still come from those men and women who endured dictatorship, fought the war, sacrificed their freedom, all to give us a country able to celebrate a Festa della Repubblica.
But today, a week after the lockdown was finally eased and the 2nd of June is only a handful of days away, I must sadly admit I am rather disappointed with some of my fellow countrymen and women. While still in the midst of an immense health crisis, while people are still dying, in Italy and all over the world, while infection is still around, we seem to have forgotten the dreadful stench of death and illness that has thickly permeated the air for the past two months. We forgot it isn’t over, yet.
The first weekend without quarantine was a disaster: bars and cafés filled with people, squares and streets in our cities as crowded as last January, before it all started, with no sign of social distancing being respected and definitely not enough face masks around. By the sea, beaches were filled with people sunbathing one beside the other, laughing, joking and enjoying what they believed to be an anticipation of their summer holidays. Free again! Being free is our right, they say: that’s what’s written in our Constitution.
Yes, it is, but it also says we, as Italian citizens, have duties, too, and some of us appear to have largely forgotten that part. I’m not talking about the duty of paying your taxes nor about that of going to vote when it’s time. I am talking about the necessary, absolute, fundamental duty of respecting those we share our beautiful country with. Because today more than ever, we have the civic duty, as Italians, to remain aware that some among us are more at risk and could die if they catch il virus. We have the civic duty to protect them, and the collectivity as a whole, from the immense damages this god forsaken disease can bring. We have the civic and human duty to respect the effort of those who never stopped working — in our supermarkets, our pharmacies, our churches, our post offices — so that we maintained a shred of normality and our larders full. We have the strict, moral, civic duty to respect the work of those who, in hospitals all over the country, kept on saving lives risking their own and, through research, have been making discoveries that ,ultimately, will allow us to really go back to normal sometimes in the future.
Because freedom is real only when it implies respect for others and for their lives and efforts, otherwise the Festa della Repubblica is really only the empty shell of a once-upon-a-time beautiful creature, painted in green, white and red to make us believe there is still some meaning in it.
Yes. This year, we’ll celebrate our Republic in a very different way. We’ll celebrate it while we’re trying to win a war against an enemy more deceitful and insidious than all others, one we cannot said vanquished until a jab against it is created. It’s a difficult time for the world and it’s a difficult time for us , that’s why we must remember what being a good Italian citizen means: show resilience, be caring, embrace freedom, but never use it against others. So please, while you clap for doctors, fly the flag from your window and sing in the street, wear that face mask and keep your distance: because freedom, for an Italian, should always be synonym with respect.