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November 22, 2011

Euro Crisis Prompts Italian Village to Declare Independence

by Henry Ridgwell

Italy's tough austerity drive includes plans to force local authorities to merge, in a bid to rein in public spending. The tiny village of Filettino faces such a prospect - but its mayor is fighting back. The town is bidding to become an autonomous principality with its own currency. And it might just stand a chance.

Deep in the rugged mountains east of Rome lies the quiet village of Filettino.

Not much has changed here for centuries. But the 554 residents are now part of a revolution in the making; Filettino is trying to break away from Italy.

Under the government’s tough $67-billion [50 billion euro] austerity package, all towns with fewer than 1,000 residents are being forced to merge with neighboring communities.

That would see Filettino’s Mayor Luca Sellari out of a job. So he’s leading the fight back.

“We want to manage our resources independently. This town is rich in natural resources and this could provide great economic opportunities. We have about 8,000 hectares of land, and forests that we could cut, but the state doesn’t allow us to do it,” he added. “We have water resources, but these are managed by a company in Rome, and we don’t receive any money."

Filettino has even started printing its own currency, the Fiorito - complete with a picture of Mayor Sellari.

The village's few shops stock T-shirts bearing the new Filettino coat of arms. For now, they are just souvenirs. Sellari insists, though, there is legal precedent.

Before unification in the 19th century, Italy was made up of dozens of principalities and kingdoms. Some, like San Marino, still survive.

“We were the first ones to protest, maybe the ones who protested loudest - and the government stepped back. At the moment the town is not merged with the neighboring village, but still, the government is forcing us to unify our services. That would force our costs up, so I hope [Prime Minister] Monti’s new government will propose a reasonable solution to this,” said Sellari.

Rosa Maria Giulitti helps run Filettino’s main restaurant, La Galleria. She remains skeptical of the mayor’s plans.

“We don’t want to be independent from Italy, we don’t want to be out. We just want to manage our own resources, which we don’t want to concede to anyone else,” said Giulitti.

Giulitti’s mother takes over the cooking - insisting that the local cattle produce the tastiest steak in the world. "This is the local blood of the principality!" she declares.

Filettino’s people are clearly proud of their culture and their village.

Across Italy, around 2000 villages face losing their mayors. Many of them will be watching carefully whether Mayor Sellari can one day call himself the Prince of Filettino.