What do the recent political elections have to do with the battle of Fornovo of 1494?

An “Italian system” had assured power and prosperity to the Peninsula for centuries until 1494 when a French army led by King Charles VIII was allowed to enter Italy to enforce their King’s claim to the Crown of Naples. At the end of August 1494 Charles entered Italy with a powerful army. Granted free passage into Italy by the francophone duchy of Savoy and Milan, they were vigorously opposed by Florence, the Papacy and Naples. 

And so it was that on 22 February 1495, after ravaging and pillaging its way down the Peninsula, the French Army of Charles VIII entered Naples substantially unopposed. The Papacy and Venice moved quickly to organize a “holy league” against the French. On 31 March 1495 an anti-French alliance was signed by Venice, Milan, the Papal States, Spain, England and the Holy Romano Empire. These forces fielded a sizable army under the command of veteran Condottiero Francesco II of Gonzaga, Marquis of Mantua. Their mission was to kick the French out of the Peninsula. 

Between the the 4th and 6th of July 1495, League forces met the French near the town of Fornovo (near Parma) after making their way back up the Peninsula. In the melee that ensued the Italians stood their ground but took more casualties. In the end, the Italians achieved battlefield supremacy, despite the heavier losses. The French were forced to leave behind all of the booty looted in the sack of Naples but, in accordance with Italian rules of warfare, were allowed to bury their dead and care for their wounded before the survivors, including King Charles VIII, were allowed to return to France. For the Italians it had been a costly victory but a victory nonetheless. For the French, however, the Italians were perceived as weak, disorganized and indecisive. Fornovo would forever shift the balance of power in favor of the nascent “nation-states” of France and Spain and away from the city-states of the Italian Peninsula. The weakness inherent in the “Italian system” would condemn Italy to centuries of political, economic and military decline.

Following its defeat in WWII, Italy has never quite cut the political mustard. The internecine, mostly bloodless, revolution waged domestically by communists and sympathizers to cow all unaligned into submission under pain of being branded, and ostracized politically (and economically) as, fascists, has finally had its epilogue in the recent political elections of March 4, 2018, which – unless something is urgently done – may go down in the annals of history as a self-inflicted modern-day “Fornovo”.

Unfortunately, Italy’s post WWII “system” worked well during the cold war years only because it helped freeze the political status quo of Italian domestic politics to mirror the bloc politics of East and West at the international level. When the Berlin Wall collapsed and signaled the end of the cold war, the Italians continued as if nothing had happened because domestically the political war between “east” and “west” had not ceased. Italian leaders failed to realize that when the wall came tumbling down their political “system” became obsolete over night; that is, unless changes were made to mirror domestically the new international political order based on a multipolar, globalized world. Unfortunately, as in 1494 Italian leadership failed to see and understand the problem in time. They did not rise to the challenge. Nothing has been done to reorganize and modernize the Italian “system” which is doomed because it is obsolete, inefficient and unable to compete in the multipolar, globalized world and economy that has replaced the old bi-polar order. 

The Italian “system” desperately needs to be tweaked, beginning with its Constitution and Institutions, including law enforcement, the judiciary and justice systems. Governments need to be stable and the decision-making process needs to be shortened. Real-time capabilities are required, not perpetual indecisiveness. People must be reprogrammed to see that not everyone can be in government or on the dole and that private enterprise, as well as domestic and foreign investors need to be given a chance. People cannot wait months to know whether taxes will be raised or cut. Nothing of course has been done to remedy the situation, until now that is. Ironically, Italy’s multiparty political system was better suited to the former bipolar world order that emerged after WWII whereas today what is needed is the exact opposite. Let’s hope someone acts well and quickly before the markets begin to rock and roll. Good luck Italia!


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