Italy's forthcoming election may return Berlusconi to power and the royal family from exile. Italian democracy is not endangered, but what about Italian television?by Tobias Jones / May 20, 2001 / Leave a comment
The last queen of Italy is being laid to rest. It is early February, and the ceremony is taking place at Hautecombe in France, because the male line of the Italian “royal family”-the principi di Savoia-are still barred from entering Italy. They’ve been exiles ever since the 1946 referendum in which the country voted to become a republic. Prior to that, Maria Jos?, the matriarch now being mourned, was queen of Italy for little more than a month.
Her funeral is the occasion for a Savoia public relations offensive: the family wants to return to Italy, and the funeral, just a few months before a general election, is the perfect opportunity to publicise their case. It’s a bizarre spectacle. Most of European royalty, bar the Windsors, turn out in support: the Bourbons from Spain, the Romanovs, the Prince of Monaco, Luxembourg’s Grand Duke and Duchess. Outside the church there’s a huge screen conveying the service to the gathering of a few hundred Italian royalists from Turin and Milan. Some have been singing the March of the Savoia: “Sound glad trumpets, beat the drums: vivailrè, vivailrè!”
During the communion, the choir sing Verdi’s “O Signore dal tetto natio.” Later, while chatting to journalists, “Prince” Emanuele Filiberto’s phone goes off. It doesn’t ring; it beeps out the Italian national anthem, the Inno di Mameli. “Shrewd lad, that,” says one Italian journalist standing next to me. His father, the ruddy, jowly-cheeked Vittorio Emanuele, is a little less adept with the media. “We’ll see you in Naples in four months,” he says optimistically. Does that mean, asks one of the journalists in a huddle around the “monarch,” that he will take an oath of loyalty to the Italian republic? “No, no, I don’t want to talk about that, absolutely not,” he snaps. His wife leans towards him and whispers something in French. “Yes, yes, of course,” he then says stiffly.
In the calm before its election storm, Italy is undergoing a mini “Savoia revival.” Not for the first time, there is much discussion about changing the Italian constitution (which currently decrees: “for the former king of the House of Savoia, his consorts and male descendants, entry and sojourn in [Italian] national territory is forbidden.”) For many Italians, though, the Savoia are the cause of the darkest days of Italy’s 20th century. What democratic instincts King Vittorio Emanuele III possessed quickly folded in the…