Italy: Beppe Grillo: a comedian to be taken seriously
Nobody quite knows what to make of the “Five Star movement” in Italy which is emerging as the surprise winner of this week’s Sicilian elections. But one thing is for sure: all the traditional parties are terrified of what might happen in the general elections, which will probably be held in spring 2013. This political movement, led by Beppe Grillo – a volcanic comedian with a huge mop of shaggy greying hair – is threatening to tear Italy’s political establishment apart.
The rise of the movement has been sudden. In local elections in May 2012, a Five Star representative was elected mayor of Parma, one of Italy’s richest cities, which until the late 1990s was a centre-left stronghold, and was then governed (badly and dishonestly) by Silvio Berlusconi’s party for more than a decade. And in Sicily, the Five Star movement gained more votes than any other party and had 15 regional councillors elected. In typical exuberant fashion, Grillo had swum across the Straits of Messina (3km) to launch his campaign.
So, who is Grillo and what is the Five Star movement? The first part is easier to answer. Grillo is 64 years old and from Genoa. He was a popular and clever comedian who starred on Italian TV in the 1970s and 1980s. Then he did something unthinkable: he called Bettino Craxi’s Socialist party “thieves” on national television. This led to his banishment for a number of years, and in the meantime Grillo built up a huge audience with a series of ferocious shows across Italy.
For a long time, Grillo was anti-technology: his show would end with him smashing up a computer. But then he embraced the internet. He understood, before almost anyone else in Italy, the political potential of the web and its ability to undercut the country’s stifling and boring media monopolies and party-controlled news outlets. Thus, via his incredibly popular blog, and latterly through Twitter, he began to spread a potent anti-political message. This linked up with both a long-running hatred and distrust of politicians among many Italian voters, and the exacerbation of these deeply rooted tendencies during the Berlusconian era (1994-12), a time of almost obscene levels of corruption, patronage, clientelism and cronyism at all levels. (via guardian.co.uk)