SAN MARINO: Sammarinese / Romagnol

The official language of San Marino is standard Italian, but there’s also a distinct dialect called Sammarinese. I’ve seen it referred to as it’s own language, a variation of Romagnol, and as a seperate dialect – this seems to be both because of San Marino’s sovereignty and the difficulty in drawing a line between dialects and different languages (especially in Italy). That being said, Sammarinese is considered an endangered language, as it’s increasingly not being passed on to younger generations.

Italian dialects can be very distinct from standard Italian to the point that some are really considered their own languages – there’s not a lot of mutual intelligibility between say, Lombard and Sicilian. Here’s a good look at Italian dialects as a whole:

As for Sammarinese, most sources I found describe it as a type of Romagnol, though one of the best studies on Sammarinese describes it as a “borderline Romagnol variety”, adding:

However, the findings also reveal a language that stands apart from neighboring varieties due to complex historical and geographical factors, including a Celtic substratum from the pre-Roman and Roman times, a Byzantine Greek heritage and Lombard/ Germanic influence from the second half of the first millennium, and a geographic position that resulted in linguistic isolation from the vernaculars spoken in the Central Romagnol plain.

Simona Montanari, “Sammarinese, the Endangered Language of the Republic of San Marino: A Preliminary Study of Documentation and Description

There’s not a lot of comparative examples of Sammarinese that I could find, but the Flag and Anthem Guy on Youtube is from San Marino and gives a little sample of the language:

SAN MARINO: How do elections work there?

We got a bit of a taste of San Marino’s political system with the Rovereta Affair, but that was the system breaking down, not how it operates normally. Here’s a really good review from Anthony Votes on how San Marino’s elections work:

A couple things I learned from this – San Marino has very very strict citizenship laws (which is something shared by other European microstates). From the wording, it seems you need to be born in San Marino to Sammarinese citizens to get citizenship at birth. Does this mean that if a woman needs to go to an Italian hospital for a complicated birth, the child doesn’t have automatic San Marino citizenship?

Having two heads of state is unique, but it doesn’t seem to dramatically alter how the government functions since the Captains Regent are largely symbolic and only serve for six months at a time. The video hints that normally the Captains Regent are members from opposition parties, which makes sense, since that removes them from being able to vote in the legislature and can strengthen the government’s seat numbers.

However, the electoral system itself has been a real learning experience for me. I mean, I know Canada doesn’t use proportional representation in elections, but I work in politics for my day job and have a degree in political science, so I’m not wholly ignorant about it, and yet I still had to watch that video twice and go down a Wikipedia rabbit hole to wrap my head around the D’Hondt method. San Marino is not the only country to use this method to allocate seats, notably the Netherlands, Japan, and Israel (among a few dozen more countries) also use it.

I absolutely love the idea official criticism period for the public after the Captains Regent’s terms finish – I wonder how frequently it’s used in practice and if it needs to be directed specifically at the Captains Regent or can be used to criticize the actual decision-makers in government?

SAN MARINO: Sammarinese Radio, Podcasts, and TV

Heritage Unbounded – San Marino: A Small Republic with a Big History – A podcast from Johns Hopkins University’s Museum and Heritage Studies department, interviewing Dr. Paolo Rondelli, who served as San Marino’s ambassador to the US and is now the country’s ambassador to UNESCO. Rondelli was part of the team that got San Marino’s historic centre and Mount Titano onto the UNESCO World Heritage list, and he talks about changing ideas of historical preservation – especially as many of the buildings in the centre have been continuously used by the same institutions for centuries. He also touches on how San Marino hopes to balance massive tourism with protection for historical and environmental sites.

Futureproof with Sergio Mottola – A podcast focusing on the tech industry, with a focus on big picture questions of ethics, industry, and technological trends. It’s hosted by Sergio Mottola, a tech venture capitalist who formerly served as CEO of the San Marino Innovation Institute, a state-owned private company that supports tech ventures in the country. I listened to the episode “Our future with tech: interfering or augmenting?“, which had some good nuanced debate on how paradigm shifts are more often forced than accepted and how to tackle the ethics of tech companies.

USMARADIO Pocasts – San Marino’s university has a major department, USMARADIO, dedicated to research and innovation into radio and radiophonic studies. They have a wealth of podcasts, with some in English, that really work on showcasing and developing new artistic expressions of sound and communication. They have a lot of experimental music and soundscapes – I put on Cave I – Halfcastle for a walk on a cold, snowy evening and it set the mood perfectly. USMARADIO showcases artists and collectives not just from San Marino and Italy, but around the world. An interesting one is female:pressure_ROJAVA. It’s a collaboration by artists and poets about the Rojava conflict and Kurdish attempts to create autonomy in Syria, as well as women’s attempts to create autonomy in the movement – past just the female fighters that are usually seen in Western media.

Mount Titano and its Three Towers – Source

USMARADIO live – The live radio feed from USMARADIO also has some really interesting stuff. It varies dramatically what you get – due to the time difference, I initially started listening to overnight radio, which is mainly the very very experimental music and soundscapes that they also have in their podcasts. Then I started tuning in at different times and picked up other playlists – one morning it was relaxing African folk music, followed directly by an European medieval choral ensemble. Later, I picked up from free jazz, then some slam poetry in English set to experimental sounds. It’s really fun to get a complete surprise every time I click play. Listen live here.

Radio San Marino 102.7 FM – The main radio channel from San Marino RTV, the country’s public broadcaster. There’s a really big variety here – I’ve heard English and Italian-language classic rock, dance, jazz, hip hop, Top 40 hits, and classical music, interspersed with talk programming and news in Italian. Listen live here.

Radio San Marino Classic 103.2 FM – San Marino RTV’s music-focused secondary channel. It’s also a mix of English and Italian-language music, mainly classic rock, 90s hits, and pop, with special shows focusing on 60s music, love songs, and soul throughout the week. Minimal talk, it’s almost entirely music. Listen live here.

And if you speak Italian, San Marino RTV also has two tv channels streaming online – RTV and RTV Sport. The former is general national broadcaster formatting- news, weather, Italian tv shows. RTV Sport is live games, interviews, and analysis – I’ve caught Italian soccer and kickboxing matches streamed on it.

SAN MARINO: Secrets of the Seven Smallest States of Europe by Thomas Eccardt

San Marino is the second microstate I’ve had on Locally Foreign, the first being Nauru, and I picked up this book to get a bit of a better look at microstates, especially since their small size vs their sovereignty leads to some interesting political outcomes (like Nauru’s strategic recognition for Taiwan and Abkhazia).

Secrets of the Seven Smallest States of Europe by Thomas Eccardt looks at the seven true microstates in Europe – Andorra, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, San Marino, and Vatican City. By focusing on the European ones, Eccardt draws on the parallel history led them to exist as fully sovereign countries. The European ones tend to have a path to sovereignty than the island microstates in the Caribbean, Pacific, or Africa, which usually mirror the colonialism to independence routes of the larger countries in those regions.

Eccardt splits the book into two, the first half a general look at the seven microstates as a whole, and the second half covering each one individually. What’s really interesting with these seven is that they all have so much in common, but when you time you try and pin them all under one generalization, one or two are almost always exceptions – and it’s never the same ones.

Their sovereignty generally exists because of the luck of history – most are neutral countries (except Luxembourg, which is in NATO) and most are mountainous and out of the way from the major sweeps of history (except Malta and the Vatican). Most are remnants of princely territories (except San Marino), and all are Catholic. They speak either Romance or Germanic languages, except for Maltese, which is a Semitic language. They’ve got varying levels of democracy, from the strong princely control of Liechtenstein and Monaco to the robust democracies of San Marino and Luxembourg. All have been affected by the same forces of European history – all were under the Roman Empire, all were under either the Hapsburgs or the Papal States, and Napoleon had his hand in all of them – conquering Malta and Luxembourg, gaining control of Andorra, Monaco, and Liechtenstein, crushing the Papal States, and specifically deciding to preserve San Marino as an “example of freedom”.

This also gives a good look at how the microstates navigate their relationships with their larger neighbours, as most are in customs unions or agreements that give a larger state a level of control. For example, France has a right to revoke Monaco’s independence should they fail to have a successor to the Prince,or that Andorra’s heads of state are the French President and a Spanish bishop. How the microstates make their economies function is also interesting – most have economies based on tourism and as tax havens, but all have looked at ways to diversify their economies. The Vatican, of course, is a weird outlier in most cases, since it may be legally a fully sovereign country, it really doesn’t function even remotely like one.

Overall, the European microstates have more in common than not, and it’s interesting to look at how microstates function as a type of country.

SAN MARINO: More snacks

This is Part 2 of San Marino snacks from La Serenissima. I was really hamstrung when I was ordering from them because of my hazelnut allergy – hazelnuts are a massive staple of Sammarinese desserts, including as the key ingredient of San Marino’s most famous specialty, Torta Tre Monti. Sadly, it’s a no go for me, so instead, I made do and ordered pretty much everything that I wasn’t allergic to!

Il Torrone Mandorle – The name just means almond nougat, and that’s what you get – a very soft, sticky nougat filled with almonds. Very tasty and sweet. I quite liked it, but between the super soft nougat and the hard almonds, it’s almost impossible to cut into nice slices!

Moscatelli biscuits – Crumbly little cookies with raisins and pine nuts, flavoured with locally-produced San Marino muscat wine. They’re bite sized and not too sweet; I really dig the flavour. I’m not normally a fan of raisins in cookies (it’s always oatmeal raisin when you think it’s going to be chocolate chip), but these work because they lean into the raisin/white wine flavour. I think these may be a specialty of San Marino – La Serenissima is the only source I can find that makes them.

Montegiardino white chocolate – Continuing their series of chocolates named after San Marino’s districts (or castles, as they’re sometimes translated to). Montegiardino is the southeast corner of the country, and was one of the last territories added to San Marino, in 1463. The chocolate is straightforward, just a plain, good quality white chocolate.

Chiesanuova dark chocolate with cinnamon – Chiesanuova is the southwest region, looking up at the back of Mount Titano. The text inisde the lid translates to a legend of a buried gold bell under the site of a now-vanished monastery. The chocolate is a bar of their dark chocolate (I tried it plain in Part 1) with powdered cinnamon added. The cinnamon is pretty mild and only really comes out in the aftertaste, but that does keep it from being overpowering and makes the chocolate almost slightly savoury.

SAN MARINO: The worst football team in the world

San Marino holds a special distinction as having the worst football team in the world – ranked dead last internationally, behind even territories like Guam and the US Virgin Islands, which are not particularly soccer-mad places. San Marino has never even won a competitive international football match. Ever.

The Tim Traveller (who also did a good video on San Marino’s railway) went to a match a few years ago against Moldova, with predictable results and a lot of British snark.

Just last month, he went back to San Marino for another game, this time against Andorra. Once again, no dice for San Marino.

So why is San Marino’s team so bad? Partially it may be because of the country’s small size and population, but that can’t be the whole story – Liechtenstein has around the same population, and they have at least won some games (including over San Marino). The fact that San Marino’s team is almost all amateur may also contribute to it – most of the players have day jobs and only practice once a week.

San Marino did win once, when they turned around and beat Liechtenstein in 2004, but it was a friendly match. There have been calls to move San Marino and other low-ranked teams into their own pre-qualifying pool to gain experience and send only the winners to qualifiers. However, despite the team’s record, the team and their fans have a lot of pride in competing internationally and in keeping their chins up.

If they ever do win a match, I’m sure the celebrations will be intense. There’s still lots of reminiscing over the time San Marino scored against England a few seconds into a match in 1993. San Marino did eventually lose the match 7-1, but scoring on one of the best teams in the world is definitely a big deal.

SAN MARINO: Renata Tebaldi International Voice Competition

San Marino is home to a great voice competition, named after Italian soprano Renata Tebaldi, who spent the later part of her life in San Marino. The competition is supported jointly by the San Marino-based Renata Tebaldi Foundation, which seeks to support young operatic talent, and by La Scala and San Carlo, two of the most important opera houses in Italy (and honestly, the world). There’s two sections – opera and ancient / baroque. The whole competition is held in San Marino, with singers coming from all over the world, accompanied by the San Marino Symphony Orchestra.

There’s a lot of great performances to go through, most of the finals are on Youtube. Here’s a few I really liked – some floaty Verdi:

Do bases ever get to have non-tormented characters?

Pulling out the big guns with the Queen of the Night aria:

Okay, maybe baritones get the even more tormented solos. Hard to top “I believe in a cruel god” from Otello:

SAN MARINO: Referendums on women’s and LGBTQ rights

Being a small voter base with a robust democracy, San Marino has passed some big referendums over recent years. In just this past September, San Marino voted 77% in favour of legalizing abortion, which had previously been totally banned (and with criminal sanctions on the books for it). San Marino was one of the last few European countries that still banned it; the remaining countries with bans are almost all other microstates like Andorra and Malta. Women from San Marino previously went over to Italy to terminate pregnancies, but access could be limited there either due to cost (over 1000 euros, with no reimbursement by San Marino’s healthcare) or due to doctor refusal. There’s a good rundown of parts of the campaign and the outcome in this post on San Marino Watch.

San Marino had previously been late to the table with women’s rights – women only could vote starting in 1960 and run for office in 1973, and up until 2000, if a Sammarinese woman married a foreign citizen, she lost her San Marino citizenship (which did not apply for men marrying female foreigners).

In recent years, San Marino also has had a rapidly evolving attitude towards the LGBTQ community – until 2004 homosexuality was still a crime there. However, in 2018, San Marino legalized same-sex civil unions (being a Catholic country, no way they’d be getting the Church on board), and in 2019 passed a referendum that added protection against discrimination over sexual orientation directly into the Sammarinese constitution. While they’re not up to full equality yet – civil unions don’t provide the same rights as marriage, joint adoption is still not available, and there is no right to change one’s gender – it’s definitely concrete progress for a country that holds very closely to tradition as a core part of its identity.