The regional council in Veneto, northern Italy, has approved a controversial bill defining the Venetian population as a “minority”, and which could be the first step towards independence for the region.
The bill was passed on Tuesday evening in Veneto, the region surrounding Venice, and labels those hailing from the area a “national minority”, similar to the law protecting South Tyrol’s German minority.
This would mean locals would be able define their ethnicity as Venetian, and that the language would be taught in schools and used in public institutions, place names and road signs. Public officials could even have to pass an exam in Venetian in order to take office.
The Venetian language – which is the native tongue of around four million people and cannot properly be called a ‘dialect’ because it developed independently from Latin – is already officially recognized by the regional council after a unanimous vote in 2007, but not by the Italian state.
Most significantly however, if approved, the law could pave the way for a referendum on autonomy for the region; Italian daily La Repubblica labelled the decision ‘Venexit’.
But there are doubts over whether it is constitutional, meaning it could be thrown out. One of the reasons for this is that there is no clear agreement on what exactly constitutes the Venetian language, since the label is applied to dozens of languages spoken in different areas of the region.
The law had been proposed by a group of local councillors and was passed with 27 votes in favour, primarily from the Northern League party, 16 against, mostly from the Democratic Party and Five Star Movement, and five abstentions. It also received support from the Institute of the Venetian Language.
“This is an important step towards giving greater strength to the Veneto’s request for autonomy,” said Northern League councillor Riccardo Barbisan, according to La Repubblica.
“We are aiming for Venetians to be granted the same rights and financial resources as natives of South Tyrol or Trento, who are guaranteed the means to protect their minority cultures by the Italian State.” In those regions, the German and Ladin minorities are protected under the European Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities.
However, local representatives of the Democratic Party described the bill as a “humiliation” for Venetians, whom it said could not be defined as a minority.
In 2014, an unofficial online poll showed that 89 percent of Venetians favoured independence, while two further opinion polls the same year estimated support for independence at between 51 and 54 percent.
Many proponents of Venetian independence argue that the prosperous region is weighed down by Italy’s public debt, while others say the vote would protect and revive regional culture.