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Five-Star ‘Tsunami Tour’ hits Italy's election campaign

© Ben Dodman

Text by Benjamin DODMAN

Latest update : 2013-02-23

Louder and more popular than a Ferrari, comedian Beppe Grillo has hit Italy's Formula One town of Monza, the 69th leg of a “Tsunami Tour” that has electrified a lacklustre election campaign and rattled the country's political establishment.

The people of Monza, a quiet and industrious little town a few kilometres east of Milan, are used to the sound of Ferraris and McLarens zipping through their local circuit once a year like a swarm of hungry mosquitoes. But they don't expect to be hit by a tsunami.

That was until Tuesday night, when the “Tsunami Tour” of popular comedian and blogger Beppe Grillo hit town, drawing the kind of crowds only ever seen at the local Formula One Grand Prix.

Gianmarco Corbetta, 40, is a candidate for the 5-Star Movement in Lombardy. He says only Grillo's party can change politics because "you cannot reform the traditional parties from within".

“We've had to change location three times to find a square that was large enough,” said Gianmarco Corbetta, a local councillor and member of Beppe Grillo's 5-Star Movement. “A wind of change is blowing across Italy, and we are feeding it.”

While the main candidates in the Feb. 24-5 general election have fought most of the campaign on television sets, the leader of the 5-Star movement is touring more than 70 towns and cities across the country in a camper van, drawing ever larger crowds, despite the bitter cold.

Riding a wave of popular anger aimed at corrupt politicians and the austerity measures imposed by Mario Monti's technocratic government, the bushy-haired comedian has urged Italians to “send all politicians packing”.

'A casa!'

“They [the politicians] underestimated us and now they must surrender,” Grillo roared before a crowd of several thousand crammed into Monza's piazza Cambiaghi. “They must hold their hands up high and we will make sure they don't get hurt. But those who stole our money will have to give it back and start working for society.”

His voice still hoarse from an earlier rally in Milan that drew some 30,000 people, the 69-year-old comedian railed against politicians “who grant themselves pensions of up to 90,000 euros a month when most Italians barely make 1,000”; against a state that allows Italy's internet access to be “slower than Ghana's”; against a justice system “that accounts for a third of all lawyers in Europe” and “leaves 9 million trials pending when Britain has 300,000”.

Soaking up every word, the crowd answered with chants of “A casa! A casa!”(“Send them home”).

“He sounds like a real person who understands our needs,” said Antonio Bruni, a local metalworker in his late 20s, for whom the country's politicians “have never been this filthy before”.

Embracing populism

In many ways, Grillo's movement is merely the latest expression of the anti-establishment sentiment that has been a fixture of Italian politics for decades.

Beppe Grillo's biting tongue and fiery speeches have electrified tens of thousands of Italians in piazzas up and down the country.

He is part-Pirate Party and part-Occupy Wall Street, but his gags and rants against the tax collector are more reminiscent of Silvio Berlusconi.

Predictably, the mainstream parties have branded Grillo a “populist” – a title he has embraced to the point of plastering it all over his camper van.

His crusade against the country's political class began in 2007 when he used the internet to organise mass demonstrations known as “Vaffanculo Day” (or F**k Off Day). Founded two years later, his 5-Star Movement is now polling third place, behind the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) and Silvio Berlusconi's People of Freedom party (PDL).

According to recent surveys, the M5S could scoop as much as 16 percent of the vote, placing it ahead of Prime Minister Mario Monti's centrist coalition.

Having ruled out an alliance with mainstream parties, Grillo's movement could effectively prevent both left and right from forming a stable coalition.

Online democracy

Daniela Gobbo, an M5S spokesperson in the Monza area, denied claims this would lead to deadlock in parliament. “If the policies are good, we will support them,” he said.
But other than on health and the environment, Grillo's movement is rather thin on policies.

Its main platform is one of greater accountability and citizen involvement in policy-making, which it plans to achieve through web-based democracy. “Every word uttered in parliament and every deal struck will immediately be made public on the web,” said local councillor Gianmarco Corbetta.

Like every other M5S candidate, the 40-year-old company consultant was designated during online primaries, has refused public subsidies, and has no criminal conviction – a key condition that rules out Beppe Grillo, who was found guilty of manslaughter following an accident in 1980.

Daniela Gobbo, 33, says Grillo's 5-Star Movement is the first genuinely new thing to have happened to Italian politics in years.

“Beppe is just a firefly leading the way,” said Daniela Gobbo. “It is up to our citizen-candidates to do the rest.”

A 33-year-old business analyst, Gobbo says Grillo's movement has already won a first battle by breathing new life into Italian politics.

“For years television has manipulated Italians and clouded their judgement. We have drawn people back out into the streets and put them at the heart of the political debate,” she said.

Even as she spoke, the M5S leader waved good-bye to the crowd from his camper van, sporting his trademark Guy Fawkes mask. While Fawkes failed to blow up the British parliament, Grillo is still on course to wreck his rivals' best-laid plans in Rome.

Date created : 2013-02-20


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