Geopolitics

What If Sardinia Became A Swiss Island?

Could landlocked Switzerland finally get some coastline? There is a movement afoot pushing Swiss annexation of the Italian island of Sardinia.

Frivolous island?
Frivolous island?
Nicola Pinna

ORISTANO — There is a quietly growing group of people fantasizing about the scenic Italian island of Sardinia being annexed by landlocked Switzerland. Is it a sign from the stars that the new rector of the Swiss University of Ludes, Antonello Martinez, was born in the Sardinian town of Oristano and studied at the island's biggest university in Cagliari?

For those new to what may seem like a bizarre idea, there is indeed a movement afoot. On the Internet, people are talking about a 27th Swiss Canton — that is, Rome selling Sardinia, and the Mediterranean island then being annexed to Switzerland. It would be a win-win for everyone, really. Italy gets some Francs, and Switzerland finally gets some coastline. Meanwhile, the Sardinians would be emancipated from their turbulent relationship with the Italian government.

Sardinian sunset — Photo: Francesca Special K

Political fantasies like this are often roused and encouraged on social networking sites, but from Lugano to Bern this one is all over the place — in newspaper headlines, in bar chit-chat and even in some political commentary.

Switzerland’s conservative parties often worry about their borders being breached thanks to immigration, but they’re willing to make an exception for Sardinians. “It would be a pleasure, but certainly we wouldn’t invade Italy just for some access to the sea,” says Pierre Rusconi, leader of the far-right Ticinese Central Democratic Union (UDC) and a national advisor who promised a referendum on immigrants. “As for the Maritime Canton, the citizens themselves need to decide, and I believe that the majority of the electorate would actually be in favor of it.”

Even Attilio Bignasca, coordinator of the right-leaning Ticino League political party, favors a referendum. “How could you say no to Sardinia?” he sayd. “Sun, sea, heat and relaxation. It would be our green lung. We wouldn’t mind it, but it’s just a dream.”

In Switzerland, the idea of extending the Sardinian borders seems to be gathering more consensus than expected. The promotors of this geopolitical revolution (10,000 Facebook fans and a website that receives plenty of traffic) have thought of almost everything — even the flag. It would be an amalgamation of both flags: square and red with a white Greek cross in the middle and four Moors in each quarter.

To explain the project, this is what a political manifest sent to the parliament in Rome said: “We want to live in a normal country, that offers its own citizens opportunities for work and business, that has laws that are clear and equal to everyone, with a stable economy and balanced taxes.”

But until a referendum is actually proposed, the Swiss are imagining their future ironically. “The Sardinians should have run their autonomy like we intended them to, without any Italian grants,” Rusconi continues. “In the meantime, the confederation will organize a military flotilla to defend the Sardinian waters.”

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Geopolitics

Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3

-Analysis-

LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.


Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

commons.wikimedia.org

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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