Saturday, May 12, 2012

Locations, not foreign policies, saved Venice and harmed Genoa

FORMER foreign minister George Yeo compared the histories of Venice and Genoa, and attributed the latter's earlier loss of independence to an unwise foreign policy of being involved in wars that were not motivated by economic advantage, unlike a cannier Venice ('Venice and Singapore: A study in parallels'; Wednesday).
In my view, while Venice successfully retained its independence for several centuries longer than Genoa, their different fates owed more to the geopolitical outcomes of their respective locations rather than contrasting foreign policies.
Both republics followed largely the same foreign policies of pursuing economic interests, building extensive maritime empires, and were similarly involved in the wars in northern Italy.
Venice's most powerful neighbour in the Middle Ages was first the Byzantine Empire, which was already in decline.
A series of wars between Venice and Genoa in the 13th century lasted more than 100 years, which Venice won eventually.
A weakened Genoa was unable to resist its northern neighbour, a growing French monarchy with ambitions in Italy.
Venice was saved because other Italian states finally rallied together to form the League of Venice to resist France.
Subsequently, Genoa became a repeat casualty because of the rivalry of two powerful neighbours - France and Spain - in their fight over dominance in Italy.
Genoa was located at the northern gateway into Italy and changed hands several times.
On the other hand, the European states found it more useful to support Venice to counter the expansion of the Ottoman Empire.
Certainly, there are valid lessons Singapore can learn from the histories of Venice and Genoa. But we should be careful what lessons we draw from them.
Chen Junyi