There is an entry in the Age’s travel blog that bemoans the fact that non European Union citizens (such as Australians) can only spend a total of 90 days in every 180-day period in EU countries. In other words, three months in every six according to the Schengen Agreement.
I must admit that articles like that make me a bit sad. You see back in 1978, when I was 17, I decided that I had to make some sort of break with my past. Not because I necessarily wanted to, but because I felt that four years in Australia I had to have a go at being a full participant in this country.
I moved from Sydney (that I didn’t like) to Melbourne (that I loved) and I was doing my Higher School Certificate and felt finally that I was in a place where I could feel at home. I felt that I had to make a decision that as I was staying here I had to make a commitment to be involved in Australia, and one of these ways was to become a citizen.
Partly this was to leave Italy behind. I sort of had to, otherwise I felt I would have stayed in this suspended state, belonging nowhere.
The procedure took months and months, so much so that when I became and Australian citizen I was 18. The law of Italy and Australia regarding citizenship in those days were different to those today.
By becoming a citizen of another country after the age of 18, Italy stated that I became a citizen of a foreign country by my free will and therefore I would lose my Italian citizenship. Conversely Australia citizenship was still governed by the Australian Citizenship Act 1948 which stated that no Australian citizen can take another citizenship. If Australian citizens decided to actively apply and obtain a citizenship of another country they would then lose their citizenship.
So basically by becoming an Australian citizen I would be just that. Which was fine, and losing my Italian one wasn’t a big deal. In a sense it signified a break with my past and that I had to make my life in my present reality.
However as I got older I got to somehow regret that rush decision of my youth. Especially since the rules changed that now people can have double citizenships and I can’t. In the early 1990’s Italy provided a window of opportunity for people like me that lost their citizenship to re acquire it. However at that stage there was the risk that I would lose my Australian one. However since 2007 the Australian act was changed where now double citizenships are allowed. So an Italian can have both. But not for me.
That is because the Italian law still see me as someone who willingly relinquished his citizenship and added to that didn’t take up the opportunity to re acquire it when they gave people like me the chance. Of course this opportunity was OK for many in places like South America, where countries allowed double citizenships, and ironically it would be OK too in Australia now, but not in the early 1990’s.
But you may ask why having my Italian citizenship back is so important? I mean I am not likely to go back and live there permanently anyway now, or work.
Perhaps is because somehow it signifies the loss of something that is still part of my being. Citizenship it itself is meaningless, but it can be also a symbol of what makes you as a person, and despite all its faults, and the fact that I haven’t lived there since the end of my childhood thirty-five years ago it is part of me. Belonging to an ‘Italian’ sense of community is important. When I go back there I somewhat hope I can still be part of the populace, I don’t like to be seen as a foreigner (although my slight accent when I speak Italian, and the fact that I don’t have the street knowledge give me away pretty quickly). What irks me is also that many have been able to re acquire their citizenship somehow and I couldn’t. I was startled when while I was in Italy during an electoral campaign in the middle 90’s and I saw an ex member of the Victorian member of Parliament being interviewed on Italian TV as a candidate for the Italian Parliament. How could that be so? Not only an Australian citizen acquiring a citizenship of a foreign country, but now even being a candidate for elections!
So I will remain what Italians call an ‘extracomunitario’. Someone that while born in Italy, can’t stay there for too long without a visa.