May 23, 2012

Coincidence or Causal Connection?

Okay, I know, I know, after reading this and this (in chronological order) you might think that there is some sort of tacit agreement between the NYT and your’s truly, but I can assure you it’s just a coincidence. Well, as far as I know, but I could be wrong of course…

Beppe Grillo's Cultural Revolution

Beppe Grillo and Federico Pizzarotti
Despite claims of victory by Pierluigi Bersani and his Democratic Party, after the second round of local elections in Italy, there is no doubt that, once again, the big winners are Beppe Grillo and his Five Star Movement: Grillo’s 39-year-old candidate Federico Pizzarotti—who pulled in 60.22% of the vote against 40.1% for the Center-left’s Vincenzo Bernazzoli—will be the new mayor of Parma.

Beppe Grillo, with obvious reference to Hitler’s decisive World War II defeat, had earlier described Parma as the “Stalingrad” of Italian politics. Now he speaks of next spring’s general election as “Berlin.”

According to some Italian observers, the message from this round of elections is the triumph of “anti-politics,” but this is a bit too simplistic, and the Five Star Movement rightly rejects the tag and sees itself as a genuine response to voters’ rejection of the traditional party system. “My victory reflects Italians’ desire for change,” Federico Pizzarotti said. And that’s the plain truth. As Stefano Folli puts it in today’s Il Sole 24 Ore newspaper,

the recent electoral results represent a turning point. If it were only a matter of local elections, the issue wouldn’t be a big deal, and Pierluigi Bersani, the leader of the Democratic Party, would be right in rebuking his critics, since left-wing coalitions, which his party was part of, won in 92 or 93 cities. “Don’t steal our victory,” he said of the results. However, such tremendously precise accounting doesn’t take into account what’s behind the vote. This round, Italians pointed the finger in an unprecedented way at a chronically ill political system that’s constantly shying away from reforms. They did so either by choosing to vote, but casting the ballot for comedian Beppe Grillo, or by ignoring the polls in an effort to show their indifference. It’s not a coincidence, then, that abstention reached 50 percent in the second-round elections, with the exception of Parma, where it was at 39 percent. Taken together, abstention and protest votes indicate that the political system has partially lost its legitimacy.

Of course there are other collateral factors, such as, for instance, a protest vote against Premier Mario Monti’s austerity measures, but they are not the main reasons behind the electoral results. Well, it’s true that Grillo doesn’t like Monti—whom he calls “Rigor Montis”—and that he harshly criticizes the austerity-linked tax rises, arguing that Italy would be better off out of the euro rather than trying to save it, but portraying the election results as an anti-austerity vote would be as reductive and unconvincing as explaining them as the outcome of an anti-politics sentiment.

The real issue is a political system “that’s constantly shying away from reforms.” But then again, to really change things requires no less (and no more) than a “cultural revolution.” Just what Beppe Grillo is talking about: “Who knows where we’ll end up? I don’t know, this is direct democracy. We’re not a political movement; this is a cultural revolution that’s going to change society.” But that’s also what a lot of people seem to be thinking of (and looking for). Time will tell.

[Italian Politics Updates - 5]

  1. Caustic Comedian Alters Italy’s Political Map | The New York Times
  2. Grillo Wins in Parma | Corriere della Sera
  3. People of Freedom and Northern League Fall Further Than Expected | Il Sole 24 ORE
  4. Parma elects anti-austerity 'comedy' candidate as mayor | The Guardian
  5. Italy set to stay in recession until late 2013, says OECD | Ansa