A Deep Italian Vomit?

“I don’t know what other name I could give it. It’s a thing that looks dangerously like a human, a thing that throws parties, that organises orgies and rules a country called Italy. This thing, this illness, this virus threatens to become the cause of the moral death of Verdi’s country.” In his then published English version of the Notebook, the celebrated Portuguese Novelist José Saramago was on the onset of his reflections on the present day Italy.

Today, the country of Verdi, while going to polls, sports those colorful political acrobatics, which are perhaps reserved for the South Asian electoral politics. Elections in European countries are dull affairs; Italy is an exciting exception. The Economist magazine, which is conservative yet influential, has termed the coming Italian elections, on Feb 24-25, as a heart-stopper.

Apparently, the excitement and colorfulness lingers on as Silvio Berlusconi is still very much part of the heart-stopping show. In his lifestyle, Berlusconi is not afraid of exhibiting a dionysian streak, and so his rivals make fun of him when Berlusconi talks of family values. He owns an ace European football club, and given the sensibilities of educated & middle class Italian youth – an important voting chunk in the coming election – he assumes an anti-racism posture. Yet, in the recent past, Berlusconi was criticized for making jokes at the expense of US President Barack Obama’s race.

But there is more to the excitement around coming Italian elections. As some of the entertainment stars of India have also made to the local political stardom, Italy in Europe has its own personalities that synthesize entertainment & politics.Think of Indian chief ministers like M.G. Ramachandran & M. Karunanidhi – both effortlessly transcending the cinematic & political as well as religious illusions; in a somewhat similar vein, Italy presents us with Beppe Grillo.  

But, it appears that Beppe Grillo, though coming from the Italian entertainment sector, has more to offer, politically, than just being a mere MGR or Karunanidhi of Italy. He is a comic actor, but he has also technologized the Italian politics by anchoring his five star movement on the internet as opposed to making use of the Italian television. In this change of possibly important consequences for the Italian politics, Beppe Grillo is being aided by his web-guru associate Roberto Casaleggio.

Casaleggio describing Silvio Berlusconi’s control of six of Italy’s seven main television channels tells, “it was like living inside the Matrix.” He says, Grillo has offered information and comments that are free of self-censorship. He adds, “And when people saw that what he said was true, they began to doubt the other information they were getting.”

The five star political movement of Beppe Grillo is aspiring for a unique objective in Europe – the erosion by the internet of all other forms of political mediation. Technologist Casaleggio asserts that as newspapers, according to him, are doomed to extinction because they stand between journalists and readers, so political parties are heading for annihilation because they stand between the electorate and the authorities. Thus, he is confident that their internet based popular movement, with entertainer Grillo as its figurehead, is pioneering “a new, direct democracy that will see the elimination of all barriers between the citizen and the state.”

The coming Italian elections are certainly not a drab affair. However, it would be an oversight to not to mention that Italian economy is in serious recession, and that the Italian youth faces severe unemployment. Reverting back to José Saramago’s notebook, he had cautioned while referring to the Italian political malaise, “If a deep vomit doesn’t succeed in ejecting it from the consciousness of Italians, the poison will end up corroding the veins and destroying the heart of one of Europe’s richest cultures.”

Would the dates of February 24 & 25 be providing cathartic release to the Italian politics? In the land of Verdi, the coming weeks keep a secret.

Asimov Arifov is a political scientist/researcher with The École des hautes études en sciences sociales, (EHESS) Paris, France. Follow him on twitter @asimovarifov for all the latest analysis from him.


One Comment on “A Deep Italian Vomit?”

  1. a says:

    I only partly agree with this post.

    Grillo will play a minor role in the elections, despite his “Movimento 5 stelle” has been the first party for number of votes in recent regional elections.

    Berlusconi is likely going into an electoral disaster, especially if compared to the last elections. His alliance with ultra-conservative forces and his mediatic firepower (TV channels, journals, ads etc) will guarantee him some seats in the Parliament, but no more than that. He has no way to play a role in the post-election majority.

    The game is played between Monti (sustained by former “democristiani”, industrial and catholic forces) and Bersani (the leader of the former Communist party, now an edulcorated version of it, and allied leftist parties). The number of votes given to Monti or Bersani will change a bit the balance in the Parliament, but the baseline policies of the two is pretty close (austerity, filo-european etc). Whoever wins, a sort of a weak post-electoral alliance is likely, and in any case the main political choices are already known. Whatever happens on Feb. 25th, the coming weeks have no secrets, alas.


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