I think it’s time to admit it: I am a Five Star Movement voter.
You are probably already picturing me as an uneducated, slightly fascist, hairy truck driver, believing in every conspiracy theory the internet offers. Well, I am not: I somehow got a degree in Economics and Philosophy from Trinity College Dublin, would consider myself quite leftwing, am not that hairy, and I haven’t been kidnapped by aliens yet.
My non-Italian friends in particular are baffled – and slightly scared – when I reveal that I will be voting for the Movimento 5 Stelle (M5S) in March, as they can’t imagine me with a V for Vendetta mask and petrol bombs in my backpack. Of course, this stereotype of the average M5S voter is courtesy of the Italian media, which rarely portrays the M5S in a good way. Why is this? It’s a cliché because it is true: the media are controlled by economic powers that will attack anybody who steps on their toes, while smaller, independent news sources rarely get translated.
Exhibit A: Rome
I’m half Roman, so I’ll use the Capital as an example. The leading Roman newspaper, Il Messaggero, has turned into a not-so-subtle fake news machine with the evident agenda of undermining the city’s Five Star Movement Mayor, Virginia Raggi. You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to realise that this is due to her cancelling the Rome bid to host the 2024 Olympic Games, which resulted in huge economic losses to many of the leading economic players in the city, including property developer Caltagirone, who happens to be the owner of the newspaper.
Same goes for Roma Fa Schifo, the most popular blog in the city. Before the mayor refused to host the Olympics it was quite an entertaining blog – I even contributed a couple of humorous posts on it in the past – but it started accusing the new Mayor being the cause of all the city’s problems, ranging from the lack of modernity of Ancient Roman ruins to the presence of seven annoying hills which make life difficult to cyclists. The blogger, Massimiliano Tonelli, is also a director of Art Tribune and Gambero Rosso, two magazines owned by Paolo Cuccia, a member of the board of directors at Astaldi, another property developer that would have greatly benefited from the Olympics in Rome.
Then there is also the Mayor’s ongoing campaign to get the Vatican to pay local taxes on their huge property portfolio in Rome, which has not made her exactly popular with our powerful neighbour.
But they are all fanatics!
Do I agree with everything that the M5S does? It would be hard to do so without some degree of schizophrenia, as different members of the M5S appear to have different positions, which also seem to change continually. However what really draws me to the M5S is that it is trying to tackle the democratic deficit in our representative democracies, and that’s what really matters in the long run.
If the people we elect do as they please when they get into parliament, it’s quite pointless to vote in the first place. The list of topics in which our representatives don’t really represent us is endless: from the taxation of multinationals’, to cannabis legalization and the privatization of water, past referendums and surveys show that the parliament does not legislate as Italians would.
That’s where the M5S “Russeau Platform” is supposed to come to rescue: here M5S voters can keep representatives in check with quick online referendums and avoid undemocratic decisions. Does it really work? I don’t know, as with everything I tend to remain skeptical and wait for evidence, but at least it’s a move in the right direction. The fact that all of their members of parliament and senators have actually halved their salaries as promised is quite a good sign: I cannot think of a more painful politician’s promise to keep than that one.
But they are populisti!
Of course they are! Just like the other parties, which have come up with quite eccentric election promises themselves, ranging from subsidized dog food to free dentures for the elderly. I don’t like the populistic aspect of the M5S, I’m a fan of the old, more radical founder Beppe Grillo. I preferred the comedian Beppe Grillo, the one that I got to know as a teenager with randomly downloaded shows on Napster, where he would hilariously expose corporate and politicians’ lies as well as the flaws in our economic system. Unfortunately some of his previous radical ideas – such as an increase in the taxation of petrol* – would make the M5S as unattractive to many shortsighted Italians as pineapple pizza dipped in an afternoon cappuccino.
But they are incompetenti!
Another criticism is that , while grillini may be honest and well intentioned, they have no experience, are incompetent and would make a mess when in power. The straightforward answer is to point out the existence of many italian MPs and senators, from all political parties, who can barely speak the Italian language, and whose only skills involve forming shady alliances and sticking to their seat of power.
Rome, again, can be used as a case study. As a Roman who actually uses public transport and cycles to work each day, I can’t help but noticing major improvements since the incompetente Virginia Raggi took power. First of all, there has been a paradigm shift in the approach to mobility: private transport is finally being penalised, with new bus and bike lanes for example, as is the case in every decent modern city trying to fight congestion and pollution.
The Mayor Raggi may be incompetente but she is the only one that managed to clean up my area of illegally parked cars, after many years of anarchy . To be fair, it wasn’t that difficult, it just took a few fines for a few days, but the reappearance of the local police and fines is already a revolution in our city. Baby steps, of course, but the Mayor has been in power only for a year, and Roman voters, despite their pre-election display of angry pitchforks, are not big fans of change.
Not so bad then…
Maybe we are not so bad after all. We are probably rather naive, and reality may clash with our hope for radical change, but at least we are giving it a go, especially when the alternatives are fascist xenophobes, Tuscan hustlers, or embalmed whoremongers.