Venice voting on split from sister city

Activists claim Venice needs separate administration from mainland city of Mestre

Visitors cross the flooded St Mark’s Square in Venice on a temporary footbridge during a high tide. Photograph: Miguel Medina/AFP via Getty Images

Visitors cross the flooded St Mark’s Square in Venice on a temporary footbridge during a high tide. Photograph: Miguel Medina/AFP via Getty Images

 

Venice is holding a referendum on whether to split from sister city of Mestre on the mainland.

Activists claim Venice needs its own dedicated administration to deal with a variety of problems, including a rapidly falling population and surging tourist numbers.

Venetians and their neighbours in Mestre are going to the polls for a fifth time on Sunday after previous referendums were unsuccessful in 1979, 1989, 1994 and 2003.

Venice has 11 inhabited islands and was in control of its own administration until Benito Mussolini’s fascist regime combined it with the industrial Mestre in 1926.

The plan worked relatively well until Venice’s population declined, Mestre’s grew, and money that was intended to preserve the former got diverted into developing the latter, bringing with it shopping centres and huge hotels.

Venice’s population has fallen from about 175,000 in the post-second World War years to 55,000 today.

Although almost triple the number of people live in Mestre, those campaigning there for autonomy say residents are also deserting the city as it is mainly a place that caters to budget tourists whose only aim is to see Venice.

Luigi Brugnaro, the mayor of Venice, is vehemently against the referendum and even took legal action to try to block it, despite promising a vote in his 2015 election campaign. He has urged citizens to snub the ballot, arguing that independence would come at a huge cost and that it would take years to untangle bureaucracy.

Authorities seem to be doing their best to ensure a low turnout. Only six posters publicise the referendum on Venice’s main island, while those who hung banners outside their homes campaigning for independence were last week ordered by police to remove them or be fined for “electoral propaganda”. Additional reporting – Guardian