Two heads of state every six months, the oldest republic and the worst football team in the world: the secrets of little San Marino

A view of the San Marino Towers on Mount Titano and the valley

Relinquo vos liberos ab utroque homine. The phrase, “I release them from the two men”, in relation to the Pope and the Roman Emperor, it was pronounced by Marino on his deathbed and is written on coins, seals and carved on the walls of a small enclave lost in the middle of the Italian peninsula that climbs Mount Titano and that is crowned by three medieval castles. This European microstate with strong Italian influence has been able to build a own identity based on the multiple particularities that surround its long and rich historydespite having some 38,000 inhabitants and barely 61 square km of surface.

The Most Serene Republic of San Marino it has a unique form of government in the world; a particular relationship with the European Union; it has no port, airport or trains, so it can only be accessed through Italy; there are more cars than inhabitants; it has a very strong Christian and religious tradition but has just approved the legalization of abortion in a referendum; It was the country with the most deaths per million inhabitants during the COVID-19 pandemic and, in turn, it was the only one that was left out of the distribution of European vaccines, so it had to turn to Russia and vaccinated its entire population with Sputnik V, which confined its inhabitants – who study and work in Italy – for lacking a vaccination passport…

“What is certain is that our team tries and does it with great enthusiasm, with great impetus”reply Giovanni Maria d’Avossa, ambassador in Argentina who spoke with Infobae about another peculiarity of his country that usually causes laughter and ridicule: San Marino also has the national soccer team that holds the record of being one of the worst according to the annual FIFA ranking and having won just one match in its entire history.

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A statue of Marinus the Dalmatian, founder of San Marino

It is logical that when a country can boast of being the oldest republic in the world, the soccer failures of its selection take second place among the concerns of its population. In fact, San Marino is the only one of the so-called city-states that, after dominating the center and north of the Italian peninsula between the 10th and 15th centuries, managed to survive to the present day. Some consider this to be a case of political archaeology.

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The inner streets of San Marino

Marino, his story, the legend and a legacy

In the year 300, Marino was a stonecutter from the Dalmatian Coast (present-day Croatia) on the Adriatic Sea., facing what is now Italy. Diocletian, one of the last Roman emperors, undertook a brutal persecution against his community for being Christian, so the group often fled the coast and climbed Mount Titano to hide.

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“Relinquo vos liberos ab utroque homine”, the phrase of Marino the Dalmatian who declared independence from both the Pope and the Roman Emperor

Religious legend tells that Marino cured the blindness of the son of Doña Felicitas, owner of all the lands in the region, and that she, in gratitude for the miracle of the future Christian saint, gave him the territories that extended on the mount. Other versions assure that the woman simply donated those lands by recognizing Marino’s role as leader of her community.

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San Marino is located in northeastern Italy, near the seaside resort of Rimini, on Mount Titano

When he died, in addition to pronouncing the phrase that sowed the seed of the independence of the small state, Marino also left the motto FREEDOM, which is said to have been drawn from his last words. Since then, precisely since the year 301 after the Christian era, San Marino has managed to successfully fend off the ambitions of both conquerors and its neighbors thanks to a mixture of skillful diplomacy, good manners and, very importantly, its geographical conditions: From its highest points, a privileged view is obtained that allows a vision that reaches the Italian coasts on the Adriatic Sea.

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The towers and fortification of San Marino on Mount Titano

Two heads of state and a deep democratic feeling

San Marino has a form of government that was established between the 13th and 14th centuries and consists of two heads of state called Captains Reggentiswhose mandate lasts just six months. The idea is that they function as a couple in which one controls the other and vice versa, with the aim of guaranteeing the controls of a truly democratic system. This is so true to such an extent that if a Capitani Reggenti receives an official invitation abroad, he cannot travel without the other. That same fact has caused problems in official events abroad in which the number of chairs that the presence of the small country would require was not foreseen.

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A panorama from Mount Titano, in San Marino (Senia/)

The Capitanis Reggentis, however, have a rather symbolic role. They are chosen from among the members of the Great and General Council, a single-chamber body from which, in turn, emerges a Secretary of State, whose functions are a little more specific, similar to those of a prime minister. Unlike the six-month mandate of the Capitani, the composition of the Chamber is defined in elections held once every 5 years.

“San Marino has a very deep democratic feeling, linked to the Greek concept of democracy. It was something that was deeply embedded in the conscience of this community, ”he explains about it. Giovanni Maria d’Avossa before amusedly recalling a tradition from back then that has now become a problem: “The first Capitanis Reggentis were elected in the year 1243, and the custom of carve the names of the chosen two on the city walls, to remember them. But there are so many and this tradition has lasted for so many years that the walls are completely full of names and they have had to build more space to continue writing the names of the people who take office every six months!”

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San Marino extends along one of the slopes of Mount Titano

From Napoleon to Abraham Lincoln, to giving refuge to those persecuted in the Second World War

Several point out that the intelligence and diplomatic skills they are also part of the legacy of San Marino.

Between the late 17th and early 18th centuries, the country was briefly in danger of invasion during the heyday of Napoleon Bonaparte. But one of his Capitanis Reggentis, Antonio Onofri, earned the Frenchman’s respect through his persuasive kindness and thus ensured his safety. Years later, during the conquest of the peninsula by the French Empire, Napoleon not only respected the autonomy of San Marino but also offered to hand over the 10 kilometers of land that separate the republic from the sea. The capitanis, intelligently, welcomed the offer but rejected it, assuring that they had no territorial ambitions and that they preferred to continue living in their small state. After the defeat of Napoléon, when the Congress of Vienna held in 1815 was going to impose reprisals on his partners, all the kings present recognized San Marino for having renounced the gift of Napoléon. It was one of the first opportunities in which its independence and autonomy was recognized by its neighbors.

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The internal streets of San Marino

The first country to formally recognize San Marino as a state was the United States, led by Abraham Lincoln in 1861. Both states signed an agreement that established their diplomatic relations that year, for which Lincoln and his wife received honorary citizenship and a monument in their name in gratitude. The American, in turn, thanked the gesture with a letter in which he wrote: “Although his domain is small, his State is nevertheless one of the most honored in all history.”

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San Marino maintained its neutrality during World War II

During the Second World Warand after briefly aligning itself with the government of Benito Mussolini, San Marino maintained its neutrality and it was recognized by both The Duce Italian as by Adolf Hitler. Thus, with a population of just over 10,000 inhabitants, the microstate became the refuge of some 100,000 people, including Jews, communists and persecuted in general. Towards the end of the conflict, however, German troops invaded a part of the country for a period because the Gothic Line passed through it, which was a battlefield. In addition, the RAF (British Air Force) bombed the country causing a number of deaths despite the fact that its territory was delimited with hundreds of white crosses that could be seen from the sky.

San Marino comes down from paradise to approach the European Union

San Marino currently uses the Euro as its currency, but it is not part of the European Union, nor are the rest of the micro-states Monaco, Andorra, Vatican, Malta and Liechtenstein. Nevertheless, Since 2014, a process of rapprochement with the bloc began to obtain a status of closeness from the EU. It is a long process because the EU has many requirements, and one of them was that it cease to be a tax haven. And San Marino agreed, modifying its tax requirements and eliminating bank secrecy, among other measures that dealt a heavy blow to its economy.

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A view of Mount Titano

“We hope to obtain the new proximity status in the next few years. It has many advantages, the first of which would involve joining a financial aid system. Another example is the toilet. During the COVID-19 pandemic, not being integrated into the European health system, San Marino was not guaranteed vaccines, so it was forced to contact Russia, the only country that could quickly supply us with Sputnik. This situation had many consequences, because Sputnik was not recognized by the European or Italian health authorities and that prevented the Sanmarinences from entering and leaving the country, something that is very common both for studying and for working”, recalled Maria d ‘Avossa on what happened between 2020 and 2021.

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The interior of the Cathedral of San Marino

Now that the financial circuit and banks are no longer part of its economic activities, San Marino has two main resources. The first is the tourist which necessarily passes through Italy because it is the only way to get there and because it is generally linked to the nearby seaside resort, Rimini. Until last year, tourism was predominantly from Eastern countries, particularly from Russia. Thus, it was common to find restaurants where the menus were written in Cyrillic. Since the war broke out in Ukraine this influx stopped, but it was reconverted towards Italian, German and American tourists. In addition to that, the micro-state put to the resources of the SMEs, because it only has two large industries (with more than 500 employees) that are dedicated to export: one that deals with the plastic packaging of food and another that makes prefabricated furniture.

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San Marino at sunset

Regardless of the paths that the economy of this small and peculiar republic may take, the truth is that it will continue enchanted the world with its secrets and with its few —and proud— inhabitants.

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