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)
Italy’s Mason-Dixon Line: Euro Crisis Fuels South Tyrolean Separatist Dreams
Many in northern Italy have long wanted to secede. Now, the euro crisis is giving the separatist movement new momentum, with the rich north unwilling to pony up for the poor south. Prime Minister Monti’s efforts to exert control may be making matters worse. (via SPIEGEL ONLINE)
Although Russia has a reputation of a country that does not tolerate homosexuality, the rights of LGBT people had not been violated officially yet. There was an attempt to ban “homosexual propaganda” back in 2003, but this law was rejected by the State Duma. Now the position of the politicians seems to have changed, probably due to a visible shift in the public opinion.
The Russians are incredibly homophobic. Last year’s Levada Centre polls reveal that 38% of people regard homosexuality as “dissoluteness and a bad habit”, 36% think it is a “disease”. These points of view are becoming increasingly popular. Only 15% think this is just another sexual orientation that “has the same right to existence”, five per cent less than five years ago. More and more people think that homosexuals need to be “treated” (21%), “isolated from the society” (18%), and even “liquidated” (4%). 84% oppose same-sex marriages, and 82% are not going to tolerate gay pride parades in Russian cities. “A gay parade cannot be called anything but a Satanic act”, ex-Mayor of Moscow Yury Luzhkov said last year, supposedly voicing the common opinion.
While homophobia in the United States has a religious basis, the reasons are different in Russia. According to Gallup polls, only one third of Russians say religion is an important part of their daily life as against two thirds of Americans. Hence it is patriarchal character of Russia that is the key factor of homophobia. They can let lesbian women be, but gay men are undergoing a huge pressure. You are supposed to correspond with the picture of a “real man”, muzhik – butch, strong, and even brutal. Otherwise you risk being despised. For most of the Russians, gay men are not men at all.
Apart from patriarchal nature of the country, LGBT issues in Russia should be considered as a part of a whole tolerance problem. Half of the nation, for instance, want ethnicity section back in their passports. It was first introduced in the USSR as a method of ethnic discrimination, and abolished after the democratic revolution of 1991. Since the idea is popular again, different political groups try to profit from the nationalistic mood with slogans like “Let’s defend ethnic Russians” (in contrast to the Tatars, the Chechens, etc.), including the Communist party and populist LDPR. (via Baltic Review)
Germany’s Anti-Muslim Scene: Authorities Debate Surveillance of Islamophobes
Officials from the BfV, Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, will discuss the country’s increasingly vocal Islamophobe scene at a meeting on Thursday. There have been calls to put right-wing populist and anti-Muslim groups under increased surveillance.
Islamophobes in Germany could come under increased surveillance by the country’s domestic intelligence agency. There are concerns that the anti-Muslim scene is becoming increasingly dangerous, and some intelligence officials want it to be subject to greater scrutiny, despite stringent German privacy laws.
The subject will be discussed at a meeting on Thursday between the president of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), Heinz Fromm, and the agency’s leaders in the 16 German states. Officials in Bavaria are considering putting right-wing populists under observation as a new form of extremism, while Hamburg has declared it is watching an internet discussion forum similar to anti-Islamic website “Politically Incorrect” (PI).
A spokesman from the North Rhine-Westphalia interior ministry told the Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper that PI was not currently under observation by intelligence agents, but that the blog was being read closely and that the opinions and comments published on it were “undemocratic.” The xenophobic comments were calculated to “incite young people”, the spokesman added. (via SPIEGEL ONLINE)
The analysis piece we ran in yesterday’s paper about the threat populism poses to European integration has gotten so much feedback, that I thought I’d post more on the interview I had with Dutch European affairs minister Ben Knapen, which helped inspire it.
As mentioned in the original piece, Knapen is highly critical of officials — including José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European commission — who argue that populist sentiments should be marginalised or ignored by European leaders. Instead, he thinks Brussels should take such concerns more seriously than they are now.