2016 10 – News from Italy

Listening to Italy

by Orecchiette


During the summer Orecchiette was artist in residence at an Art and Food Festival in Farindola, a small town in the Abruzzo region. While she was there she chatted with one of the locals about the town’s energetic and impressive young mayor. The mayor is on the political left but is not strongly allied to any of Italy’s political parties. The local explained that their mayor worked hard for the town and its interests and was very popular. “It is so difficult for us in Italy,” she said, (in politics) “who can we trust?”

On 16 September Carlo Ciampi died at the age of 95. He was a phenomenon, serving Italy both as a prime minister and then as the 10th president of the Republic. The extraordinary aspect to him was that he came into politics after having been the Governor of the Bank of Italy. This is a body that has stood aside from the general Italian political shenanigans. Denis Mack Smith in his Modern Italy sums him up: Quite unusually, twelve other ministers were chosen from outside parliament (by Ciampi), and it was a pungent criticism of Italian politics that their presence made the most competent and respected government … Ciampi went on to be President. That he was succeeded in the Premiership by Silvio Berlusconi says much about the workings of democratic politics.

In 2009 the Movimento 5 Stelle (M5S) was established in Italy by Gianroberto Casaleggio and Beppe Grillo. It was started as an alternative to main-stream political parties and was anti-establishment in the sense of wanting to offer something new and set-apart from the established corrupt parties. The Movimento saw that it could avoid the self-interest that stains politics by having collective agreements. So directorates were established at all levels. There is one at the top, there are others where a M5S politician holds a position of office. All Movimento members can vote on the internet and this method is used to make decisions and also to expel people who don’t follow the line. Final decisions are made at the top. The inherent contradictions behind having what they believe is a genuinely democratic party and the structure are interesting. Gianroberto believed that eventually Italy could be governed by popular votes via the internet and was working towards this when he died earlier this year.

Currently the Movimento is led by Beppe Grillo and the strategist son of Gianroberto, Davide. Luigi Di Maio and Alessandro Di Battista are the two most prominent members of the central directorate. They both try hard to be considered as more important than each other, with Di Maio making extremely strenuous efforts. Immediately after Casaleggio’s death Di Maio made a tour of the leaders of Europe. Pictured next to those that he was able to see, he looked like a junior intern.

Virginia Raggi, new mayor of Rome is the most prominent elected M5S figure and she must succeed for the credibility of the Movimento. Her first few months have been controversial and she has been fully tested and mauled by the press. But Grillo is backing her at the moment and indeed has to for the credibility of the Movimento. Three prominent women who are on the Roman M5S directorate do not and they have spoken out against her. That they are long established members and Raggi is an arriviste might be relevant. Plus, she is a lawyer, bright and highly personable.

Raggi’s background seems odd. She was a legal trainee and worked with Silvio Berlusconi’s favoured lawyer. Two of her appointments appear unwise. Paola Muraro, the cabinet minister in charge of remediating Rome’s totally ineffective rubbish collection, is under investigation for conflicts of interest. The refuse industry of Rome is part of a wide mafia web of influence and this may or may not be relevant. No charges have been made against Muraro. Raggi said that she first heard about the investigation a month after her own election and after her appointment of Muraro.

Then the plot becomes interesting. Raggi was asked why she didn’t pass on the information about the investigations up the chain of command. But Raggi did apparently, to Di Maio. Di Maio said that he didn’t understand it and so didn’t pass it on. With this comment Luigi Di Maio immediately condemned himself. Grillo’s money is on Raggi and Alessandro Di Battista is having his credibility groomed. A recent video clip showed a suited and groomed Di Maio standing near to Grillo on an outdoor platform. There was little contact between the two. Then Di Battista arrived in full motorbike gear, jumped athletically onto the stage and into a warm welcome from Grillo.

M5S are struggling to resolve their difficulties. The tensions between ideals and personal self-interest is something that all political groups confront, wherever they may be, in Europe, USA and the UK. It is relevant and throws into focus Jeremy Corbyn’s recent resounding victory in Labour’s leadership election.