Elections, comedies and crises

Just along the Italian Riviera, some ten or so kilometres inland from Bordighera, lies the mountain-top village of Seborga, with splendid views across the Riviera as far as St Tropez on a clear day. Not just a village but also a fully-fledged principality independent of the Italian State. Or so they’d have you believe. The facts are part administrative cockup, part Ealing comedy.

When the state of Italy was formed in 1861 there was no mention of Seborga in the Act of Unification. The oversight allowed a local flower grower, Giorgio Carbone, to start a local independence movement in the 1960s, probably somewhat tongue in cheek and with a firm eye on tourist revenue. By 1964 Carbone was elected head of state and assumed the title Giorgio I, Prince of Seborga, to be addressed by the locals as “Your tremendousness”. All the trappings of State such as ceremonial uniforms were invented and a small blue and white painted wooden hut stands by the side of the only road up to the village, to signify the border post. For a while the micro-state minted its own currency, the luigino, which at US$6.00 has the distinction of being the highest-value currency in the world. Or would have, since unfortunately though accepted in the principality it has no legal value anywhere else. The state also printed postage stamps, though the only Post Office is the Italian one, and passports that are no use for travel outside Seborga.

Prince Giorgio died last year (2009) and an election was held for a new Prince, open to pretty well anyone with a good sense of humour, minded to stand for the job and with deep enough pockets to do it justice, there being little in the way of official funding. At one point there was even a chance that our good friend Mark Dezzani, one of the sizable local English expat community, might stand for election, but much of his support would have been from non-residents unqualified to vote.

So in the end the locals elected a local businessman as Prince Marcello the First, and organised a coronation ceremony for last Saturday, May 22nd. In keeping with the surreal nature of the event the entertainment was provided by what appeared to be Shakira and Pavarotti (the latter having benefitted from his recent demise by looking fitter and considerably slimmer than of memory), while the new Prince gave awards to local volunteer groups and everyone congratulated each other.

Meanwhile, back in the real world…

Elections were also on the minds of the British public this month. The result may with hindsight turn out to be even more bizarre than the Seborgan one and with much less fun involved, especially when the bills are due to be paid. For unlike a pretend Latin micro-state, Britain has a real economy. I for one have been bemused by the Last Man Standing game being played by the European financial community, seeking to pick off the weakest one by one until only one is left. We all know who that’ll be, and we all know that if these events go to their (il)logical conclusion Germany will end up holding all the cards with the only remaining strong economy. Unfortunately, none of the “experts” seem to have noticed that if we’re all so busy slashing spending to please the markets there’ll be nobody actually buying Germany’s goods, so they’ll be in as much trouble as the rest of us.

Step back a little; is the Seborgan idea of independence that crazy when the rest of the world is in such a mess?

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