Italy: The Show Must Go On!

“I am convinced that behind the decisions of Grillo (suggested by his internet guru Casaleggio) exists a true subversive plan in Italy that could take us to a civil war.

If somebody doubts of what I am saying, just go to Youtube and look: ‘Gaia’ by Gianroberto Casaleggio. We are in the hands of two crazy people with secret missions. Mussolini’ s fascism compared to this was just a joke!”

This radical online comment, by some anonymous reader, reveals the fear that commonly generates confrontational extremes in Italian political history.

At this moment, when the Italian government has fallen yet again, the youngest premiere ever in Italy and even the EU is about to form a new government. Another online commentator points out: We had eight premieres in the past twenty years, and only two of them were elected by the Italian people.

The Italian electoral system is the major target of the Five Star Movement of Beppe Grillo and Gianroberto Casaleggio. The future premier Renzi doesn’t like it either, although he and Grillo agree on very little else. Italy has a long history of attempts to game the electoral system: populist movements, mafia conspiracies, back room intra-party deals, and maybe electronic “direct democracy” may get a chance.

Even without Berlusconi and his gaudy sex and corruption scandals, the Italian political scene is still a show. The general social climate of the country was obvious at the traditional television fiesta, the 64th San Remo music festival. The usual pop stars, crooners and show girls were elbowed aside by political disruptive banners, while a panoply of good and bad political types crowded together into the first row to seize a chance to be on TV.

On the festival’s opening night, two spectators threatened to throw themselves from the top of the stage to their death, plummeting right into the audience. They demanded that their letter be read out loud by the host of the show in front of millions of RAI television viewers.

These histrionic suicides wanted to draw attention to the plight of unemployed workers in Italy — which they did. This wasn’t the first time that desperate workers have threatened suicide during the music show. Italian viewers are a crowd highly sensitive to social injustice, enthusiastic members of trade unions and people’s movements. Somehow, however, they never form a national government capable of favoring the interests of working people. Why is this, I wonder? Am I missing something?

Many things have changed in Italy since the M5S Five Star Movement unexpectedly became a significant presence in the Italian Parliament. The new movement, which organized through weblogs and street rallies, managed to elect large numbers of youthful political amateurs and women. However, electing legislators isn’t the same as an ability to rule or manage the state. More

Berlusconi’s “decadenza”

In English, in French
My American friend wrote me this morning: How does it feel to live, free of Berlusconi? Are the people of Italy rejoicing in the streets?

Here in Turin, the news was hardly noticed, because although it is good news, it is also old news. It was expected, a fully foreseen turn of events, part of the long goodbye of an Italian ruler who came in power in distant 1994 and is still clinging to authority with all his histrionic might.

Italian politics have never lacked for stage histrionics, but Berlusconi is very likely the most ridiculous Italian state leader ever. Beppe Grillo, the leader of the opposition Five Star Movement, is a television comedian, but Grillo is the picture of sobriety and decency compared to Berlusconi. Grillo has found peers such as Dario Fo, the Nobel Prize Winning dramatist, and Gianroberto Casaleggio, a brainy Internet guru in a Milanese suit and tie. So even a professional comedian can find dignity in Italian public life if he looks for it, but not Berlusconi. Berlusconi has been flung out of his Parliamentary senate seat and forbidden to run for office, because he was found guilty of fraud and prostitution with a minor. More

Oprah and Kyenge

in English, French
When Oprah Winfrey denounced her racist incident in Switzerland recently, I better understood the situation of a certain Italian government minister — Sra. Cecile Kyenge, an Italian citizen originally from the Congo.

Minister Kyenge was appointed to the Italian government a few months ago: she is a woman, she is black and she used to be a clandestine immigrant. Once in power, Kyenge immediately stated publicly the obvious troubles that pester the real lives of Italian immigrants.

All us immigrants, we who live pretty much anywhere where we weren’t expected, we all share similar issues: we’re invisible to local legal and financial systems, we could use help in integration, and it would be proper to have local citizenship for the children born on foreign soil. More

Milan Wired Next


The Golden Quadrilateral in today’s Milan is composed of haute couture shops, jewelry emporia, and nouveau riche tourists. It’s the geographic square that once sheltered the novelist Alessandro Manzoni, the composer Giuseppe Verdi, the physicist Albert Einstein, the socialite Clara Maffei. Severe battles raged for days in these streets as the riotous Milanese struggled to expel their Austrian imperial occupiers. Nowadays the blood-soaked alleys of the nineteenth century are luxurious windowfronts where bored, dolled-up sales girls loll inside, among the vidcams and the cybernetic security systems.

In this same Milanese downtown, a failed bank has been retrofitted into a hallucinatory five-star hotel: chandeliers like horror movie infestations, crooked plastic arm chairs in a nauseous green, tortuous, polka-dotted corridors that lead nowhere, and a psychedelic swimming-pool installation that might drown Olafur Eliasson.

The Milanese hotel’s restaurant is weirdly devoid of spaghetti, pizza, vinegar, olive oil, salt, pepper, or any shred of meat. Here they serve a relentlessly chic macrobiotic green diet of mashed veggies and nutritious drinks without alcohol.

Italia Vita Nuova

The ministers of the new Italian government were sworn by the re-elected, new/old, physically ancient president of the Italian Republic, Giorgio Napolitano.  Half a mile away, a despairing 49 year old who had lost both his wife and his job shot two policemen in front of a government building.   The assailant wore a tie and a nice dark suit.  He ran out of bullets before he could shoot himself with his black-market handgun. 

   So he fled the scene of his mayhem, but he was immediately caught by the police.  Naturally, in this country where political tension and terror are always a living presence, everyone feared for the worst — especially the interior minister, whose face showed visible concern as he attended the swearing-in ceremony. 

   It’s been a complicated path to the formation of this latest Italian government, even by Italian standards.  After years of partisan stagnation, the Internet movement of the histrionic comedian Beppe Grillo had emerged as a new force and a possible power broker in Parliament.  But the Movimento 5 Stelle, as Grillo’s insurgent party is known, refused to play by the conventional rules of Italian patronage.    


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