It might be the Italian comedian-turned-politician Beppe Grillo, whose anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, in an effort to permanently disrupt the Italian political system, collected nearly a quarter of all votes cast in the general election. The resulting hung parliament has sent shockwaves across Europe and rattled world markets. There was speculation that Grillo might ally with Pier Luigi Bersani’s center-left coalition to break Italy’s sudden gridlock, but as of today that seems unlikely:
Grillo, who holds the balance in parliament, slammed the door in Bersani’s face and poured insults on him and other centre-left leaders on his blog. He accused Bersani of making “indecent” proposals to his anti-establishment movement. The fiery comic and blogger called Bersani “a dead man talking,” and political stalker, saying he should have resigned after falling badly short in the election which pollsters had expected the centre-left to win.
Grillo’s blog has long hosted names of politicians convicted for charges of corruption, and in posts the satirical comedian has railed against the corruptions problems in Italian politics. In 2007, he corralled his supporters into a one-off “V-Day Celebratio” where the “V” stood for vaffanculo — “fuck off”. Other campaigns targeted certain bills or vested interests, with the culmination being the launch of the Five Star Movement (M5S) in 2009, a populist bloc whose unifying characteristic isn’t so much what it’s for as what it’s against — the status quo. Its members organise online, it has an extreme direct democracy slant, and [now M5S has become] the third-largest political bloc in the Italian parliament.
He goes on to detail the movement’s platform:
A 20-hour working week, free internet for everyone, free tablets for schoolchildren, a freeze on interest payments that could make the country default on its debt, tax cuts for working people, stricture rules to punish and prevent corruption, strong new environmental laws and increased corporate transparency. There’s even a proposal to replace PIL (Gross Domestic Product in Italian) with BIL (Gross Domestic Happiness). It’s avowedly populist…
Steadman also points out that “the fact that we may well see the world’s economy thrown out of a whack by a principled blogger taking a stand is definitely some kind of watershed moment in social media.” Regarding the makeup of the M5S’s supporters, Jamie Bartlett summarizes the results of a recent survey of nearly 2,000 of Grillo’s Facebook fans:
His supporters come from across the spectrum; they are neither clearly left nor right. They are all, however, angry about the state of democracy in Italy and Europe. Our survey showed only 2% trust parliament and only 11% trust the press. … His skill has been to channel Italians’ general frustrated apathy into a powerful political movement, spurning mainstream media to talk to them directly through Twitter and Facebook. Grillo has, by an enormous margin, the largest social media following of any politician in Europe: he has more than one million Facebook friends, and a similar number of Twitter followers – [center-left leader Pier Luigi] Bersani has about a quarter of that (as does David Cameron).
John Hooper compares Grillo’s rise to that of former PM Silvio Berlusconi:
Twice in the last two decades, outsiders have burst onto the [Italian] political scene. Both have done so by exploiting their understanding of the medium that was most relevant at the time. Berlusconi took Italy by storm in 1994 after creating a virtual monopoly of private television; Grillo has relied instead on making himself a master of digital communication.
(Photo:Beppe Grillo, leader of the Movimento 5 Stelle, Five Star Movement, speaks at Piazza San Giovanni during his last political rally before the national election on February 22, 2013 in Rome, Italy. By Laura Lezza/Getty Images)