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Napolitano opens festivities for 150 years of Italian unity

'Respect tricolor,' head of state says

07 January, 16:09
Napolitano opens festivities for 150 years of Italian unity (ANSA) - Reggio Emilia, January 7 - President Giorgio Napolitano launched celebrations of the 150th anniversary of the unification of Italy on Friday with the raising of the Italian flag in the city of Reggio Emilia. The highly symbolic gesture coincides with the anniversary of the inception of the national flag, which was first selected in Reggio Emilia more than 200 years ago, on January 7, 1797, to represent the Cispadana Republic, a historic precursor to the movement that led to the unified nation of Italy, which came into being in 1861.

In attendance were under-secretary Gianni Letta, Silvio Berlusconi's right-hand man, and ex-premier Romano Prodi, historic leader of the center left. Napolitano honored the three cities that have served as Italian state capitals by presenting reproductions of the original flag to the mayors of those cities: Turin, Florence and Rome. The president also gave a copy of the Italian constitution to students representing local schools. One hundred and fifty flags on towering standards lined over six kilometers of downtown roads for the occasion. Napolitano addressed a packed crowd in a downtown piazza saying that to shirk the honors due to the unification of Italy's regions "benefits no one, does not render more persuasive but rather only weakens legitimate federalist reforms and general renewal of the democratic state".

The president also warned that difficult trials currently await the country within "a delicate European context" and in comparison with Italy's international partners. He urged the rejection of "disruptive impulses" and the celebration of national unity as a means to help confront the challenges ahead.

Napolitano was also scheduled to deliver an Italian flag to astronaut Roberto Vittori, who will take it into space in mid-April on an Italian Space Agency mission to the international space station. Roberto Vittori will join astronaut Paolo Nespoli, who rocketed to the space station in mid-December on Mission MagISStra, and will mark the first time two Italian astronauts will be aboard the space station together. Nespoli will return the Italian flag to earth when he finishes his mission in mid-May.

"Taking the tricolor (flag) in orbit in this particular, historic moment is good fortune," Vittori told ANSA, "because 2011 opens a new decade that will see Italy as a protagonist (in space), with the pending launch of the Leonardo module, which will become a permanent part of the space station, Nespoli's long mission and the mission in which I am taking part." Napolitano is also scheduled to visit the Cervi di Gattatico Museum today, a memorial museum honoring seven children of Alcide Cervi who, along with their peasant father, were anti-fascist partisans during World War II and helped free captives of Soviet prison camps.

Napolitano's end-of-the-year address foreshadowed the theme of voluntary sacrifice for patriotic ideals. "We cannot, as a nation, think of the future without memory and consciousness of the past," he said. "It serves us, it helps us to retrace the contradictions and harshness of the path that brought us in 1861 to become a united nation, and equally the path we have beaten afterward, amidst highly dramatic events and bloody tragedies. "We want to and can recover the generosity and greatness of the drive to unite." Napolitani called on the nation to remember "the young and extremely young combatants and heroes who rest, even sacrificing their lives, for the call of freedom and the unity of Italy." Italy is also feting its 150th year by restoring memorials, building new national museums for key historic figures in unification Giuseppe Mazzini and Giuseppe Garibaldi, creating educational exhibits throughout Italy and abroad, organizing conventions, and formulating school programs.