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In 1994, Umberto Bossi claimed that the ‘Father of the Lega Nord’ was an autonomist movement from Piedmont formed during the 1950s called Movimento per l’Autonomia Regionale Piemontese (MARP). He was not wrong; many of the issues which would later be at the centre of Lega Nord were raised by MARP. The following reflections also add to this claim by arguing that MARP was in fact the father not only of the Lega but also of ‘Padania’.
Let us start by looking at the clearest similarities between MARP and the Lega. The Lega Nord in the 1980s gained considerable political consensus by claiming that ‘the North and its citizens are penalised by a corrupt and wasteful central state that is biased towards the south of Italy and southern Italians’. Similarly, MARP, under the leadership of Enrico Villarboito, became the fifth largest political force in Piedmont in 1956 by representing both a fiercely anti-southern movement and a protest against the fiscal policies of Rome. The movement called ‘for regional autonomy, a tactic designed to keep in Piedmont the taxes sent to the central state’ used to support the Cassa per il Mezzogiorno whilst at the same time standing ‘against southern immigration’ upon which Northern industry’s economic miracle relied so heavily but which had led to Turin becoming Italy’s third largest southern cities in terms of a population of southerners. Additionally, MARP saw itself as the pinnacle of ‘European modernity: progress and development’ as opposed to ‘backwardness and underdevelopment’ on the side of the South. Echoes can be heard again here if we listen to the Lega Nord slogan of ‘più lontano da Roma, più vicino all’Europa’ during the 1980s and 1990s and especially Bossi’s commenting after the 1992 general election that ‘the North has chosen federalism and Europe, the South has chosen Africa and Fascism’.
Now to the key issue of Padania. 1958 saw an alliance between MARP and various other autonomist movements which came from the very areas where the Lega Nord was to draw electoral support during the 1980s. The stated aims of this alliance also echoed political manifestoes of the Lega to this day as it demanded regional autonomy, reorganization of the communes and provinces, reform of electoral laws, adoption of a majority system and reform of the bureaucracy. Significantly, there was also a change in name with MARP becoming Movimento Autonomista Regioni Padane thus signifying the emergence of a notion of Padania as a homogenous Northern region. Despite the alliance failing to prevent the decline of MARP as a political movement during the 1960s, the notion of Padania was to live on and indeed re-emerge in the 1970s when a political group called Libera Padania put itself forward for the 1972 regional elections in Piedmont. Following this, in response to the economic crisis which was gripping northern Italian industry during the 1970s, the formation of a Northern ‘super regione del Po’ called ‘Padania’ was put forward by Communist President of region of Emlia Romagna Guido Fanti during the 1970s and strongly backed by the regional government of Piedmont.
Finally, a fresh alliance between Northern autonomist movements in the 1980s sowed the seeds for Padania’s official declaration. Under the leadership of Roberto Gremmo, MARP’s successor Union Piemonteisa was initially the more powerful partner in an alliance between Umberto Bossi’s Lega Lombarda and Franco Rochetta’s Liga Veneta. Following disagreements between Bossi and Gremmo over the formation of a homogenous Northern League (Lega Nord), Gremmo’s movement split from Bossi and was replaced in the alliance by Piemont Autonomista, led by Gipo Farassino. Piemont Autonomista had broken away from Gremmo’s movement and was more open to the idea of merging the various Northern Leagues. In 1989 when Umberto Bossi finally formed an electoral alliance of Lega Nord it was not the Lombard leader who was the focus of attention in the press in Piedmont. A headline from Turin newspaper La Stampa stating ‘Gipo Farassino fonda la Lega Nord’ highlights the key role of Piedmontese regionalism in the formation of the Lega. 
In 1996, the Lega Nord re-launched the notion of Padania in the imagination of Northern Italians, declaring the independence of their Northern state two years after Umberto Bossi’s recognition of the Lega’s Piedmontese origins. The festival of this declaration began at the source of the river Po in Piedmont itself.
Seeing the Lega Nord as a product of Italian history can help complement the existing frameworks developed thus far in order to understand the phenomenon of the Lega. Furthermore, such an approach allows us to take more factors into consideration when considering the party’s origins. This short essay has offered but a few examples of historical precedents for the Lega Nord; nevertheless, they are highly significant due to seeing the emergence of Padania in political discourse. The Padania of the 1970s was to evolve into a much more extreme concept after the official declaration in 1996. However, when we consider that the one constant in the Lega Nord’s discourse has been the struggle for greater autonomy for the North of Italy, MARP’s move from Piedmontese to Padano marked the establishment of an imagined community which has proved fundamental to its political project.‘Il MARP degli anni 50 Padre della Lega’, La Stampa, 12 April 1994. http://www.archiviolastampa.it/component/option,com_lastampa/task,search/mod,libera/action,viewer/Itemid,3/page,40/articleid,0734_01_1994_0098_0038_17660078/  Anna Cento Bull and Mark Gilbert, The Lega Nord and the Northern Question in Italian politics (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2001), p.42. ‘Il MARP. Chi sono e cosa vogliono’, La Stampa, 1 June 1956. http://www.archiviolastampa.it/component/option,com_lastampa/task,search/mod,libera/action,viewer/Itemid,3/page,2/articleid,0059_01_1956_0127_0002_14019902/  Enrica Capussotti, ‘Nordisti contro Sudisti. Internal Migration and Racism in Turin, Europe: 1950s and 1960s’, Italian Culture 28, no. 2 (2010), pp. 121-38 (cfr. http://www.uninomade.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/Nordisti-contro-Sudisti.-Internal-Migration-and-Racism-in-Turin-Europe-1950s-and-1960s.pdf, p. 8)  Ibi, p. 11.  John Dickie, Darkest Italy: The Nation and Stereotypes of the Mezzogiorno 1860-1990 (New York: MacMillan, 1999), p. 145. ‘Il MARP degli anni 50 padre della Lega’. http://www.archiviolastampa.it/component/option,com_lastampa/task,search/mod,libera/action,viewer/Itemid,3/page,40/articleid,0734_01_1994_0098_0038_17660078/ ‘Il MARP diventa Padano per presentarsi alle elezioni’, La Stampa, 24 February 1958. http://www.archiviolastampa.it/component/option,com_lastampa/task,search/mod,libera/action,viewer/Itemid,3/page,2/articleid,1580_02_1958_0047A_0002_23556259/ Gilberto Oneto, Polentoni o Padani: Apologia di un popolo di egoisti, xenofobi, ignoranti ed evasori. In difesa della comunità più diffamata della storia (Il cerchio/Quaderni Padani, 2012), p. 22. ‘Una Padania senza steccati’, La Stampa, 4 December 1975. http://www.archiviolastampa.it/component/option,com_lastampa/task,search/mod,libera/action,viewer/Itemid,3/page,3/articleid,1110_01_1975_0280_0003_16351211/  Guido Passalacqua, Il vento della Padania: storia della Lega Nord 1984-2000 (Milan: Mondadori, 2009), p. 15.  Lega Lombarda, Liga Veneta, Piemont Autonomista, Uniun Ligure, Lega Emiliano-Romagnola, Alleanza Toscana.  ‘Gipo Farassino fonda la Lega Nord’, La Stampa, 27 November 1989. http://www.archiviolastampa.it/component/option,com_lastampa/task,search/mod,libera/action,viewer/Itemid,3/page,14/articleid,0951_02_1989_0316_0014_25035238/  For a detailed and comprehensive review of the various interpretations of the Lega Nord see Cento Bull and Gilbert, The Lega Nord and the Northern Question, pp. 42-67.
George Newth is a PhD student in History at University of Reading. He earned his BA in Modern History and Popular Culture at University of Wales Institute Cardiff (2007) and his MA in Contemporary Italian Culture and History at UCL (2011). His research focuses on a comparative political and cultural history of the Lega Nord with other minority nationalist parties in Europe whilst also uncovering the historical origins of the party which link back to the Risorgimento.