History – The Sicilian Vespers Part II

Vittorio Emanuele II, Prince of Piedmont, Duke of Savoy and King of Sardinia, had supported Garibaldi and now became the first king of all Italy. The coat of arms of the Savoy dynasty was a white cross on a red background, very similar to the Dannebrog. This coat of arms became part of the flag of the new Kingdom of Italy and is still used by loyal Italians.

The Sicilians had supported Garibaldi and his rebels in the expectation – and promise – of gaining a foothold under their own table and influencing their own living conditions; but Risorgimento did not improve the conditions of the Sicilians. The difficulties only increased as the new government tried to centralize power in the northern part of the kingdom, while taxes rose sharply in the south. The money from Sicilian agriculture flowed north, where it was used for investments in northern Italy. In Sicily, the poverty of the common people stood in stark contrast to the privileges of the nobility and the church. The new government needed the support of the large landowners and therefore the distribution of land that Garibaldi had promised the Sicilians was never carried out. The tax burden, on the other hand, increased, the time as a conscript was extended and for a farmer with many mouths to feed, these conditions led to desperation. On the basis of these conditions there was a revolt in Palermo in 1866; but it brought no changes. The result of the situation was that the relations between north and south in the new country developed into a relationship of mistrust. Opponents and deserters organized in gangs. In the countryside, people began to prefer the views of justice of these organized gangs – which is said to be the beginning of the mafia.

In the first decades of the 20th century, the interests of the large landowners were still dominant and the development of social and economic areas was slow in Sicily compared to other regions of the New Kingdom. Around the year 1900, there was a particularly hard period of great poverty, when in addition to poverty had to be pulled with both malaria and tuberculosis and the many problems forced a large part of the Italian proletariat to emigrate. It was especially for destinations like America and Australia.

When World War I broke out in 1915, Italy was initially neutral. But on May 23, 1915, they entered into a coalition with Germany, Austria and Hungary. By the end of the war, several Austrian territories in the northeast passed to Italy.

Due to the economic and social difficulties after the war and the dissatisfaction these conditions created, Mussolini gained power in Italy in 1922. He introduced fascism and reduced the king’s role to being formal only. The fascist period was felt in Sicily mainly by the ineffective and corrupt government. Mussolini’s dream of creating a strong military power was to be realized economically through an expansion of industrialization in the north. The economy for this he got by procuring cheap food and raw materials from the south. There were attempts at revolt, but all hope was quickly suppressed and Sicilian fascism consolidated with the help of the aristocracy.

During World War II, Italy fought on the side of Germany against France and England. On July 10, 1943, the Allies landed in Sicily with 160,000 troops in two armies. One army, the 7th, led by George Patton, was tasked with defeating the coastline between Licata and Vittoria, while the other, the 8th, under Montgomery’s command, was to take the coast between the Pachino Peninsula and Syracuse.

In just ten days, two-thirds of the island was defeated. Palermo was bombed and the Allies continued to Messina. From February to August 1943, Messina was almost leveled, with 94% of the city’s buildings destroyed. Yet the Americans were welcomed not only by the Sicilians but by most Italians and after just 38 days Mussolini’s regime was destroyed and the government had to capitulate.

As a consequence of the king’s support for Mussolini, a referendum was held in 1946, ending the monarchy and the birth of the Italian Republic.

Italy was divided into twenty regions, five of which gained great independence. Sicily is one of these. Sicily has a local parliament, the Assemblea Regionale Siciliana, with 90 members appointing a government, La Giunta. Parliament has its seat in the Parlazzo dei Normanni in Palermo.

Sicily’s independence deals with: municipal taxes, agriculture, trade, industry, crafts, urban planning, regional development, roads, museums, libraries and tourism.
From 1950, small reforms finally began to make progress. The Italian government set aside a sum of money in the Casa per il Mezzogiorno, an account for southern Italy to provide state aid for infrastructure improvements, water supply, electricity supply, industry and drainage works. However, the cultural and economic division between Sicily and northern Italy has remained current and still represents an unsolved problem today.

History - The Sicilian Vespers Part II