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Sunday, 24 February 2013

With Beppe to the stars? A new form or protest against political establishment

Today and tomorrow, Italy is voting; again. There is nothing unusual about changing governments in Italy, since the end of World War 2, Italy had up to 39 different governments with 25 different Prime Ministers until now. The question is: how is the 40th going to look like – and will there be a 26th Prime Minister?

There are two dark shadows over this year’s general elections in Italy: the first one is the economic situation in which Italy is currently stuck. Just like Spain, Portugal and Greece, Italy is severely suffering from the economic and financial crisis, from high unemployment rates (especially among the younger population), economic recession, and a general loss of future perspectives for large parts of the Italian population.
This crisis is, in fact, causing the other dark shadow rising over Italy – the possible return of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Back to Italian absurdity?
Berlusconi’s return to power is a scenario no one on the European level dares to imagine – nor does the majority of the Italian people. Still, Berlusconi can be sure of a big support from voters, especially by those who are unsatisfied with the austerity programme of the current administration of incumbent Prime Minister Mario Monti. Not a charming thought to have Berlusconi back though, since everyone still remembers his embarrassing adventures and his authoritarian governing style, and his excessive control of the Italian media.

No one wants his adventures, his endless lawsuits, or his massive ego back in politics, and from a reasonable perspective it seems unlikely that Berlusconi is about to regain power in Italy. However, voters’ behaviourism is unpredictable and in the past, Italian elections used to provide surprising results – and there are plenty of Italians who want him back. Evidently, this has to be regarded as a protest voters’ reaction to Monti.

Anti-politics as a key for success?
However, Berlusconi is not the only option for the Italians. Apart from the socialist candidate Bersani, the probably most shining example of all the Italian candidates is – without any shadow of doubt – Beppe Grillo and his “Five Star Movement” (“Movimento 5 Stelle”). Grillo, a famous Italian comedian, blogger and online activist, could possibly be a decisive factor in the outcome of the general elections. Not necessarily in terms of seizing power, but in terms of coalition building. Polls of the past few weeks have been indicating high results for Grillo and his party, and in the 2012 regional elections in Sicily, they have obtained 15 seats out of 90 in the Regional Assembly.

Grillo’s key for success is, certainly, his unusual and unconventional agenda setting, which is the complete opposite of any other political party in Italy. The 5 Star Movement focuses on direct E-Democracy, open and free internet access for everyone, as well as a complete U-turn in previous Italian politics with a combination of radical proposals – such as abolishing cars specifically for government officials or cutting politicians salaries, and a free access to health care and education, but also with Euro-scepticism.
Do these ideas ring a bell to you? They certainly do!

Why it works in Italy and not in Germany
If you look to Germany, the Pirate Party has – in essence – the same political demands, but with a major difference compared to Beppe Grillo.

First of all, the 5 Star Movement has leadership (well, kind of), something that is seriously missing in the German Pirate Party. Instead, the recent news from the Pirate Party is mostly marked by a notorious internal quarrel – for leadership, for agenda setting, but mostly for articulating shitstorms and making them public. Now, Grillo’s personality and capabilities for political leadership might be questioned, but on the other hand, Grillo might still be the better option compared to Berlusconi.

Secondly, unlike 5-Star, the German Pirates were not focusing on political sustainability. While the 5 Star Movement did in fact keep a progressive electoral base and increase their support, it is the exact opposite for the Pirate Party. After their surprising and unexpected successes in 2012 on several regional elections, this year was so far marked by a severe blow as a result of the missing agenda setting and the amateurish leadership quarrels, seriously damaging any sustainable policy making agenda that goes beyond their original open source and free online accessing policies. At the present time, the Pirate Party is back on a low level as it used to be before 2012.

Effects for the rest of Europe?
Still, can Grillo and the 5 Star Movement be an example for the rest of Europe, especially for the countries in crisis, as form a sustainable and reasonable protest movement? It is probably too early to say, but the long-term wave of success Grillo is currently riding on could have profound effects. If Grillo and “Movimento 5 Stelle” achieve a high result at today’s and tomorrow’s elections, it could boost alternative political movements across Europe – and maybe cause a re-thinking for the German Pirate Party.

On the other hand, since Grillo is a Comedian and “Movimento 5 Stelle” is in essence a comedy related party (with significant success tough), it can only have a “wake-up-call” effect for the other established parties, including a message: “Get things done, improve the situation, or we’re going to vote utter nonsense, and you’ll lose us!”
In 2007, “Movimento 5 Stelle” has impressively conducted a so called “V-Day”, but “V” does not stand for “victory”, but for the Italian word “Vaffanculo” (= “Kiss my ass!”). This is basically their slogan towards the established parties, and it is still echoing today and tomorrow.

Still, Beppe Grillo is far better than Silvio Berlusconi!

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