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Italy's colonial apology smacks of self interest

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Silvio Burlusconi's appearance with Libyan leader Muammar el-Qaddafi over the weekend seemed to be a historic first: the Italian prime minister formally apologized and agreed to offer financial compensation for decades of colonial occupation. An elaborate ceremony -- complete with the repatriation of an ancient statue of Venus that had been relocated to Rome -- marked the signing of a "friendship and cooperation agreement" between the two countries.

Yet it wasn't a completely altruistic measure for the Italians, who stand to benefit from their "reparations" to the former colony:

“We have written a page in history. Now we will have fewer illegal immigrants leaving from the coast of Libya and coming to us, and more Libyan oil and gas,” declared Mr Berlusconi, according to Italian reports

Indeed, the $5 billion Italy will pay in annual installments of $200 million will largely come in the form of investments in Libyan infrastructure. While the agreement marks the first time a former colonial power offered compensation to an Arab country, special economic ties between former colonies and mother countries are, of course, nothing new.

The question now is whether Italy will follow suit with its other, less resource-rich, former colonies like Ethiopia and Eritrea.

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Alaskan separatism hits the mainstream

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Obscure independence movements are something of an interest of mine, so naturally I'm fascinated to learn that vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin was once a member of the Alaskan Independence Party. In addition to a fairly standard right-libertarian platform, the AKIP favors a referendum on whether Alaska should remain a part of the United States.

AKIP members apparently hold differing views on the statehood question and it's not clear if Palin was ever in favor of full Alaskan independence. But from her one-time membership and her friendly welcoming address to an AKIP conference this year, we can probably infer that she at least considers the party's message--"Alaska first. Alaska always"--within the mainstream of political discourse. This could be a problem for voters in the lower 48, where separatist movements are considered fringe curios. (Somehow I doubt a politician with ties to the Second Vermont Republic would have gotten this far.)

It might also rub people the wrong way to have someone with alleged secessionist sympathies as the second-in-command of the federal government. In world politics this is hardly unheard of. Italy's far-right Northern League, nominally a Northern Italian separatist party, controls a number of key positions in Silvio Berlusconi's cabinet and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani is a member of the nationalist Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.

Somehow I don't think the McCain campaign will be bringing up those examples though.

Update: Robert Farley speculates: "This is hardly the first time this summer that a political leader in a former Russian territory has staked out a fringe secessionist position; could the new-found prominence of the Alaska Independence Party portend a South Ossetia style invasion and annexation?"