While in San Marino for my research on the world’s smallest nations, I was somewhat puzzled to discover that the world’s oldest republic (which ascribes its foundation to the 4th century AD), with its well-deserved reputation of haven of peace and liberty (during the Second World War, it opened its borders to more than 100,000 refugees from the Nazi-occupied countries) now had three separate voluntary armies – the Territorial Army, the Fortification Guards and the Noble Guards, not to mention its traditional Crossbowmen Corps. Spared the never-ending turmoil of neighbouring Italy, San Marino, with a zero crime rate and one prison of just four cells (from where, by the time of my visit, the last and only prisoner had escaped in 1986), nevertheless boasted two police forces – the gendarmerie and the civil police.
The republic’s ruling hierarchy, modestly calling itself Serenissima (‘most serene’), probably to echo the Venetian Republic, seems cumbersome to the point of madness. It is made up of six bodies: the Arengo, the Grand and General Council, the Captains Regent, the State Congress, the Council of the Twelve, and the Sindaci (high officials). Roughly these are explained as:
- The Arengo, or the assembly of the heads of families, used to be the country’s parliament. Nowadays it has only one (pretty vague) function – the right of petition.
- The 60-seat Grand and General Council, San Marino’s highest legislative body, nominates two Captains Regent who jointly rule for six months and then get re-elected. (What if the two heads of this ruling Push-Me-Pull-You disagree on a certain matter, I wondered?)
- Executive power is wielded by the State Congress, composed of three secretaries and seven ministers, among them the Minister for Culture and Universities, even though, at the time of my visit, there was not a single university in the country.
- The Council of Twelve’s main role is ‘to authorise the sale and transfer of dowry possessions by the wife’ – a very important matter. As for the mysterious Sindaci, it is just the body of government inspectors representing the state.
As well as these, there is also the Castle Board, presided over by the Captain of the Castles and comprising delegates of San Marino’s nine districts (or ‘Castles’).
The structure of the judiciary system is no less complicated. And all this for just 32,000 people.
It became clear to me why 25 per cent of San Marino’s workforce are employed in ‘public administration’. Could that bureaucratic nightmare, at least partially, be the result of the fact that communists and pro-communist socialists had been in power in San Marino throughout most of the post-war period? As I know only too well from my 35 years in the USSR, communism and bureaucracy go together like two legs of the same pair of trousers.
I felt that bureaucratic touch on my very first contact with San Marino. The leaflet, published by the Sammarinese State Tourist office, that I picked up at Rimini station while waiting for a bus to San Marino (which was late), helpfully listed winter, summer, spring and autumn under the headline ‘Suitable times of the year for holidays and excursions in San Marino’. It also had a separate section ‘Frontier Formalities’ with only one sentence in it: ‘There are no frontier formalities.’
To crown it all, a venerable-looking middle-aged waiter serving me at my hotel restaurant confessed to just be making an extra buck by waitressing, his main job being... the country’s foreign minister!
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