Sardinian History – Arrivano i Piemontesi, The Piedmontese arrive
At some point, starting from the eighteenth century, something started collapsing in this secluded region and soon the cracks became irreparable. The Piedmontese entered Barbagia easily, like a knife cuts a slice of butter, leaving only pockets of resistance here and there—the latter proving useful for their propaganda against banditry and their goals.
What happened then?
It is true that there was a kind of historical tiredness after so many centuries of fighting; that Barbagia was a very small part of Sardinia and as such indefensible against modern armies and tactics; that the money economy, at some point, changed the rules of the game and introduced new ideas and sources of division. However, all that doesn’t explain the widespread collapse, the guilty acquiescence, the sudden fragility and ambiguity too.
The history books are reticent about giving a reasonable answer, and of course they side with the official version of the facts. The unification of Italy was such an example of force of fortuitous circumstances and wrong actors—the Savoy dynasty, one of the most improbable and unlikely sovereign families to be destined to guide a modern country—that it needed a monolithic tale, an incontrovertible story to defend it at any price. Every episode that was slightly incoherent with the institutional truth had to be erased or at least manipulated, reshaped.
The answer that I can draw for you is only one: you cannot win if you don’t have legitimacy. Further, in an asymmetric war between a weaker entity and a stronger one, the result of the fight doesn’t depend on the intrinsic strength or ability of the opponents, but on the appearance of legitimacy one of the two sides is able to build and consolidate. When a revolutionary becomes a hero, is it legitimate to attack the establishment and then govern?
The book that I suggest you to read about this interesting subject is David & Goliath, Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants, by Malcom Gladwell, and its best lesson is not the discovery that an underdog usually wins when he uses unconventional strategies or tactics—sometimes this is true, sometimes not—but that the outcome of an asymmetric conflict depends in the end on legitimacy. Legitimacy. You can be the worst underdog of history, but if you find the key to giving an appearance of legitimacy (you do not have to demonstrate it, it is only a matter of form and substance together, yes, marketing), and you work on it to make it grow, you will win. In the end, you cannot win against legitimacy. And it is interesting to reread history using this key of understanding.
Barbagia army was completely legitimate, for Barbagia’s populace, when the Romans tried to conquer Barbagia. It was no longer legitimate against the Piedmontese because different messages had been spread in the meantime, as I said, and so for the ignorant people the foreigners weren’t in the right but the Institution—ah, the priests’ whispers!— was while the resistance became in a short time merely bandits.
After 1720, the Piedmontese used the Church forcing another invasion of priests who brought the voice of a foreign kingdom and its terrible power. The Piedmontese used the Church until their usual betrayal: finally they stole the Pope’s land, forcing him into the Vatican City. The capture of Rome in 1870 was an act of violence, completely illegal. Victor Emmanuel II was excommunicated by the Catholic Church, and the Savoy family remained the first enemy of the Church until 1929, do not forget that.
They betrayed the Church in the same way they betrayed Mazzini and Garibaldi, the South of Italy, the whole of Italy. Betrayal was their trade name, their modus operandi, up until the end, the ignominious escape of Victor Emmanuel III from Rome to Pescara, in 1943.
In Sardinia, the Piedmontese soon confirmed their greedy character starting violent campaigns of spoliation, called ‘wars against banditry’.
The Vicerè Marchese di Rivarolo led the first massive spoliation in 1735, followed by the Vicere di Marchese di Valguanera in 1748; the third spoliation, in 1770, was carried out by the Vicerè Marchese di Hayés.
The Vicerè di Rivarolo was the most efficient murderer among many professional Piedmontese killers. He used to hang scores of Sardinian people at a time, reaching a record of thirty-five in the village of Serramanna. Over two years, he hung thousands of people. From which the phrases “Rivarolo’s justice”, “Serramanna’s justice”, and “Rivarolo buildings (the gallows)” are still in use. The Vicerè di Valguanera, in 1749, ordered the massacre of five hundred people in one go, just to keep up.
The Piedmontese seized land, woods, flocks, everything. They hung and killed.
In the nineteenth century, the exploitation of Sardinia took on industrial proportions. Between 1820 and 1830 a branch of the Piedmontese army, called the ‘Corpo Franco’ (namely, an army without restrictions, without laws and rules) and made up of criminals and escapees, was given a free hand against the Barbagian people. They used carbines, tortures, and the gallows without scruples.
The Sardinian people died in silence.
Now, some due reflections. During friendly discussions with many of my Piedmontese friends (of course I have many good friends who are Piedmontese, in Hong Kong too), they told me in justification that ‘those were other times’. It is indubitably true, but it is also true that in history we have other better examples—starting from the Romans, that is saying something.
By underlining that difference, I’m not rubbing salt in the wounds. What I want is nothing but the truth, the historical truth. In fact, even now in Italy we are afraid to speak about colonialism (what a bad word), even though the Piedmontese always acted as perfect colonialists: greedy, false, merciless and without any respect for the local traditions and the people. On the contrary, they tried to erase local traditions because they were local, and thus primitive and not fitting with the Piedmontese world.
After the conquest of an opposing kingdom the Romans were very careful to maintain the local customs and beliefs. They were intelligent and did not create an Empire that lasted for several centuries by chance, leaving a profound footprint on history. The Savoy dynasty was only stupidly voracious.
Samuel Sheffler wrote in his essay “The Normativity of Tradition”: “Traditions are human practices whose organizing purpose is to preserve what is valued beyond the lifespan of any single individual or generation. They are collaborative, multigenerational enterprises devised by human beings precisely to satisfy the deep human impulse to preserve what is valued. In subscribing to a tradition… one seeks to ensure the survival over time of what one values. And in seeking to ensure the survival over time of what one values, one diminishes the perceived significance of one’s death.”
Now what is the purpose, the final goal of considering another people as only donkeys or monkeys, a sub-race of delinquents, without promoting any form of integration, without learning from them or exchanging anything with them for two hundred years? Just to exploit the other country economically? Isn’t this the essence of the most atrocious colonialism?
I’ll come back to the means used by the Piedmontese in the following articles. Now I want to focus on a specific point made in Samuel Sheffler’s essay:” …and in seeking to ensure the survival over time of what one values, one diminishes the perceived significance of one’s death”. What happens to a population when the value of its traditions is downtrodden, degraded, erased? What happens to a single man deprived of the significance of his death and thus of his life?
Now you can understand the short and black shepherd who impressed Salvatore Satta (I quoted the episode two articles ago) and who, interrogated by the judge, declined to answer. Recall that the judge asked him whether he was scared, and the man answered: “Scared of what? President, dead I, dead a dog!”
And now you can understand Grazia Deledda’s characters better, those defeated men and women, granitic even though invisible, who lived in themselves without external recognition, a clear significance of their life.
Grazia Deledda described the outcome of our frustrated history, of a historical execution carried out by the Piedmontese. If you don’t know or misunderstand those barbarous two centuries of colonialism, you won’t comprehend Grazia Deledda’s greatness, ever.