The Separatists pled their case—in vain—when the United Nations was formed in 1945; Giuliano tried—in vain—to persuade the U.S.A. to annex Sicily as its 49th state.
In the end the little army of idealists disbanded. Many had died. Many more, such as Attilio Castrogiovanni, had been convicted of “attempting to subvert state institutions.” But, while still in jail, he had been elected to the Italian Constituent Assembly—as an unreconstructed Separatist. Some Sicilians would disagree with his view of history, filtered as it is through his tragic experience.
In the apartment in Taormina the failing light glinted on his eyeglasses as he spoke. “I can assure you that Sicily would be different and better if we had separated from Italy in 1946. For a brief moment the opportunity was there, but we missed it.
“Italy had annexed Sicily in 1860. Eighty-three years of Italian rule had left our island depressed and disillusioned. So when we rose, most Sicilians supported our struggle; the British and Americans, who had captured the island in August 1943, regarded us sympathetically. For two years the movement expanded. Hope was everywhere.”
Darkness deepened in the room, and his voice became faintly ironic. “In 1943 Italy switched sides in the war. Italian regiments invaded the mountains to root us out. The Communists fought us because an independent Sicily would have ruined their grand design for Italy. And the Mafia began to subvert us in every way. You see, mafiusi never create power; they join it wherever it appears. As soon as they saw that the Separatists were doomed, they allied themselves with the opposition and did everything in their considerable power to smash us.
“Despite that, we succeeded in forcing Italy to grant autonomy to Sicily. A statute—written by Sicilians—provided for virtually complete self-government. The great majority of Sicilians, including most Separatists, were satisfied with this new status. The movement for independence rapidly melted away.”
“Did autonomy bring any benefits to Sicily?” I asked.
“None. Sicily was totally betrayed. The principles of our statute have never been fully applied, and the autonomy has been transformed into a mere farce. You must never forget,” he smiled bleakly, “that Italy is the motherland of Machiavelli.”
We walked across the dim room to the door. “One cannot deceive oneself,” he said with his desolate smile. “The movement failed. Yet the Separatists planted a seed. Our statute—a constitutional law—is there. In ten years, or perhaps a hundred, it may bear fruit. This is the only optimism left to us.”
At the door we shook hands and I thanked him for his candor. Then I asked a final question: “Do you feel any bitterness?”
Again the bleak smile and a small inclination of the head. “Infinita. I have infinite bitterness.” The last light, like the embers of a dream, was dying outside the windows.
Too long a history . . too many conquerors. Now, exhausted by time and defeat, most Sicilians have made their peace with the present: They are Italian. Not, of course, Attilio Castrogiovanni brooding in the Taormina twilight; not the pilgrims who daily twine red and gold wild flowers on the mausoleum of Giuliano. But most of the rest.