Italy – By Jiminy, The Grillini Might End Up Being The Conscience Of Italy – If Beppe Grillo Lets Them, Anyway – 28 February 2013

More about the lovely hijinx in Italian politics…I’m bringing this to your attention because I think it will probably not be long before we start to see similar popular and wild populist electoral movements elsewhere. Granted, a lot of people hereabouts sound like Beppe Grillo, the comedian whose anti-establishment movement against “the political class” controls the balance of power in the Italian Senate, but are crucially different in that they hate electoral politics so much they would never participate in it. But it still probably won’t be long before a mass-based movement of outraged politics-haters breaks into electoral politics here. Politics-hating is, sadly, the current Zeitgeist.

The most interesting thing about Grillo’s Five Star Movement is that there now appears to be a small rift developing between Grillo and his supporters – typically referred to in Italy as the “grillini”. (By the way, “Grillo” is Italian for “cricket” – “Il Grillo Parlante” was the original name for the character we mostly know hereabout as “Jiminy Cricket” in Pinocchio…which was, of course, written by the Italian Carlo Collodi. It’s somewhat ironic that a movement trying to establish some conscience and idealism in Italian politics would be led by someone with the same name as Jiminy Cricket.)

The grillini, now that a number of Five Star Movement members have become parliamentarians, are expressing hope that people can get to work reforming Italy’s government – eliminating corruption, resisting plans to cooperate with the austerity regime being imposed on Italy, trying to get some of the environmental and high-tech initiatives the movement advocates addressed…you know, trying to fix what’s wrong and all that. Many seem surprised that Grillo does not seem keen on this, and seems to want to keep the focus on the perfidy of Italy’s political class. When approached by Pier Luigi Bersani, the leader of Italy’s Democratic Party, he essentially flipped the guy the bird. He referred to him as a “dead man talking” and suggested that he made “indecent proposals”…in other words, not exactly striking a let’s-roll-up-our-sleeves-and-work-together note in his public discourse.

The grillini should not have been surprised by this – Grillo made a name for himself and his movement by precisely this kind of intemperate populist discourse. But it’s interesting to note that now that they are in a position to actually _do_ something about the problems that this “political class” has caused Italy, they’re more interested in doing that than insulting everyone.

My perception at this point is that many of the grillini want to get to work to make Italy more livable, while Grillo appears to be living on the hope that the parliament will flounder and new elections will be called in six months. He seems more to be on a mission to discredit existing politicians than anything else.

I don’t trust anti-politics, and those of you who have read me in the past certainly know this. Anti-politics-in-electoral-politics is also a questionable enterprise. People who “run against Washington” or “run against Ottawa” are going to be working in those places. This is also true of those who “run against Rome”, to be sure…it’s a useless pursuit in any case – all roads lead there.

The seriousness to the idealism of some of the grillini, however, seems to bode well. Indeed, it might be a “teaching moment” for some anti-politics types if they manage to change their country for the better _through_ electoral politics.

It might also teach the rest of the world something if the grillini managed to use electoral democracy in ways it is thought the “political class” would not allow. The apolitical indignados in nearby Spain, who have wasted every opportunity to free their country from a right-wing government during a time of economic depression, might learn something. So, too, might the Occupiers waving their “Don’t vote, it only encourages them” placards.

Anyway, we will see if things develop that way. The grillini themselves have to have an open enough mind to try using their new positions to change the world. As it stands, it doesn’t seem like their primary spokesperson is willing to concede to them that this is even possible.

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