It's 150 years since Italy became a unified country, and official celebrations have begun. But the nation's party spirit is distinctly overcast as skeptics argue that Italy remains as divided as ever.
Celebrations of unity began in spite of national divisions
At the stroke of midnight on Thursday, a firework display launched the celebration of 150 years of national unity. Patriotic displays were planned throughout the day to commemorate the historic anniversary.
In Rome, air force jets streamed green, white and red smoke in the colors of Italy's flag, while a band played the national anthem.
Italy's prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, was at the forefront of the celebrations. To mark the occasion, he unveiled a recently restored statue of Anita Ribeiro, the wife of Italy's national hero, Giuseppe Garibaldi.
Garibaldi is remembered for bringing Italy's radically different states together. For centuries, Italy was divided into several opposing states which were ruled or controlled by foreign powers, including Austria and Spain.
Unity hasn't been achieved
One hundred and fifty years on, however, Garibaldi's great granddaughter, Anita Garibaldi, says that her ancestor's dream of unity is yet to materialize.
"It's very recent," she said. "It was also seven little states, completely divided - with different administration, costumes, everything, including cooking - which people haven't been able to overcome and understand that Italy is a patrimony of everybody."
Indeed, responses to Thursday's patriotic displays served as a stark reminder of Italy's ongoing division.
Demonstrations have taken place in Italy after Berlusconi's sex scandal allegations
The right-wing Northern League party, in particular, represents a lingering friction between northern and southern Italy.
The party, which is a coalition member of Berlusconi's government, was averse to the anniversary. Its members refused to celebrate unity with the southern regions of Italy which it considers lazy, wasteful and mafia-ridden.
Moreover, Northern League member Mario Borghezio, a European parliamentarian, has called the anniversary "a day of mourning."
Earlier this week, the party's members walked out of a regional council meeting in Milan in protest when the national anthem was played.
The government of the majority German-speaking autonomous Alpine province of Alto Adige, known also as South Tyrol, also indicated earlier this month it would not participate in any of the celebrations.
The province's governor, Luis Durnwalder, said the German-speaking community had "nothing to celebrate," since it had no say in its territory's incorporation into Italy in 1919.
Fireworks in Rome marked Italy's 150th anniversary
The frictions which continue to divide Italy appear to stem from Italy's cultural diversity. The differences between the regions remain stark.
Defending a national identity
But the Roman Catholic Church has defended Italian unity, arguing that provinces in Italy aren't as divided as many claim.
"The unification of Italy was not the fruit of an artificial juxtaposition of diverse identities. but a pre-existent national identity," Pope Benedict XVI said on Wednesday, in a message to mark the anniversary.
Italy is facing ongoing threats to its cultural, political and economic unity. The recent scandals involving Berlusconi have only added to this friction.
Protests have been held all over Italy following the emergence of allegations that the premier paid for sex with an underage prostitute.
Analyst Alessandro Politi warns that a disregard for the country’s heritage and lack of a shared sense of the public good is putting Italy's future at great risk.
"If I must be somehow candid, Italy is already dying in terms of quality of politics and government. In terms of budget, tax evasion, mafia, no research, dismantling the public school system, in terms of youth seeing no future. Exactly like our North African counterparts."
Author: Charlotte Chelsom-Pill (dpa, AFP)
Editor: Nancy Isenson