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Italy: What’s Happening to The 5 Star Movement?

Beppe Grillo's Social Media Aware 5 Star Movement

As you may know, the 5 Star Movement, founded and led by former comedian Beppe Grillo managed to enter Italy’s parliament after elections were held at the start of 2013. The Movement won 109 seats in Italy’s lower house and 54 in the upper one.

What you might not know is that the 5 Star Movement is transforming and not necessarily for the better.

Prior to the 2013 elections, the movement’s leader, Beppe Grillo had long faced accusations of acting like a dictator. Not true, some 5 Star Movement members here in Milan, told me. However, it does look as if this might actually be the case. Anyone within the movement who does not tow the party line is kicked out, albeit after a vote.

Recently, four more of the movement’s senators were expelled. Others had already gone even if they have remained in Italy’s parliament. Now a total of 8 senators and 4 lower house members no longer form part of the 5 Star Movement.

What Happening?

A contact of mine within the movement has been sending me articles about goings-on within the movement for quite a while. The articles indicate that what started out as a democratic movement with the aim of bringing radical change to Italian politics and to Italy appears to be ending up as something not so democratic after all. Or that’s the message I’ve been getting, though I’m not 100% convinced that this is the case.

I believe there’s a chance that Grillo has been expelling members who were infiltrators – in other words, movement members who saw the 5 Star Movement as an easy way to enter the lucrative world of Italian politics. Most politicians in Italy appear to be in politics for the money and for very little else.

No Alliances.

Another probable reason for the expulsions appears to be that Grillo and the top echelons of the movement do not want anything to do with anyone who wants to form alliances with other parties in Italy’s government. It is these parties which Beppe Grillo wants to ‘send home’. This reason appears in part to be confirmed by Grillo’s recent comment that “… we are slightly fewer but much much stronger and more cohesive,”.

Grillo is very clear on one thing: he wants to destroy all of the political parties currently taking up space in Italy’s parliament. He also wants to eliminate the lobbies which he believes have been helping to keep Italy’s dysfunctional political system afloat. He, and his movement, blame Italy’s political class and their pet lobbies for Italy’s many ills. They do have good reason to hold such a view.

Anyone within the 5 Star Movement who wants to work with other parties obviously goes against Grillo’s primary objective. Hence the removal of the dissenters, which, it has to be said, has always been subject to a vote by the movement’s grassroots members, some 43,000 of them.

5 Star Circles

From my source in the 5 Star Movment – someone who’s an activist and not a parliamentarian – it has become clear that Grillo and his partner Roberto Casaleggio are creating a form of inner-circle of the movement’s most trusted members. The role of this group of trusted members is unclear. Reportedly, certain choice members of the movement have been sent on media training courses. This has rubbed the noses of some of the other 5 Star Movement members of parliament the wrong way. Not all the people chosen as super-Grillo supporters have merited their selection some in the movement feel.

Inner-circles of trusted ‘friends’ are rife in Italy’s old guard political parties and so some may get the impression that the 5 Star Movement is evolving into exactly the same animal it says it wants to rid Italy of.

No Dialogue.

Something else which has been irritating some, though not all members of the movement, is Beppe Grillo’s complete opposition to dialogue with other parties in Italy’s parliament. This has nothing to do with the creation of alliances, but is more to do with a desire to find common ground in terms of pushing through certain legislation or working to block other legislative proposals. Grillo, however, is having none of it. He simply does not want to open channels of communication, presumably because he doesn’t want to establish any form of rapport whatsoever with those – the vast majority of Italy politicians – he believes should be kicked out Italy’s parliament.

Grillo demonstrated his utter abhorrence of Italy’s current political class in a public meeting with Italy’s unelected new prime minister Matteo Renzi. At the meeting, Grillo verbally attacked Renzi saying he was no more than a pawn of the lobbies which Grillo alleges control Italy. Needless to say, the meeting ended shortly afterwards. But Grillo demonstrated he was sticking to his guns and this will not have gone unnoticed.

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Nor will the fact that some of Renzi’s proposals, such as paying unemployment benefit, appear to be a rehash of Grillo’s 5 Star Movement proposals, go unnoticed. Grillo has accused Renzi of copying some his movement’s agenda.

First Destroy, then Rebuild.

Grillo has quite clearly set his sights on the complete destruction of Italy’s existing political class and the lobbies which support them. In all truth, this is something which really does need to happen. Achieving this goal is another matter entirely, but until it happens, Grillo does not seem to want give an inch. Anyone within his movement who indicates they are prepared to give any ground is out.

5 Star Guardians of Italy’s Constitution

While Grillo’s intransigence is not going down too well with some in Italy, others are waking up to the fact that the 5 Star Movement have become vociferous guardians of the spirit and words of Italy’s constitution. The vast majority of Italy’s media and newspapers, many of which are controlled by the politicians and lobbies Grillo wants to demolish, have been playing down the 5 Star Movement’s activities.

Some events, such as loud protests within Italy’s parliament by the 5 Star Movement, Italy’s old guard friendly media have found very hard to play down.

Fear of Elections?

The appointment of Italy’s current, unelected prime minister, Matteo Renzi, could be read as an indication that Italy’s establishment is afraid of holding elections. Polls in Italy show that support for the 5 Star Movement has remained remarkably steady. This is in part because Grillo’s claims that Italy’s traditional political parties are no different from one another have been vindicated by the fact that a) the two biggest parties, supposedly arch enemies, the PD and the PDL, now Forza Italia and the New Centre Right (NCD) have formed and alliance to run Italy and b) Italy is going nowhere faster than ever before.

The actions of new prime minister Renzi, who has openly been engaging one of the protagonists of dysfunctional Italian government, convicted tax fraud Silvio Berlusconi, has further served to confirm what Grillo has been saying all along. Renzi also made the major error of allowing the appointment of ministers and under-secretaries who are under investigation for various crimes, including abuse of office and the embezzlement of public money. Grillo states that his party will never allow convicts to enter Italy’s parliament.

That Renzi has not departed from the bad old ways of Italian politics will not have escaped the notice of some left leaning PD supporters and come elections, whenever they might happen, there’s a likelihood that they may vote for the 5 Star Movement. Indeed, this may explain why elections have been more or less put on hold in Italy.

The president of Italy, Giorgio Napolitano has been doing all he can to keep Italy’s old guard politicians afloat in the name of ‘governability’, possibly to allow them to re-invent themselves, or perhaps to help them hang onto their power. Napolitano has made comments which indicate that he dislikes the 5 Star Movement and the movement has, in turn, attempted to impeach Napolitano.

The Battle For Italy.

While it may not be that clear to outsiders, a form of battle for the control of Italy is in progress. The ‘combatants’ are the 5 Star Movement and the corrupt political old guard which is being ably assisted by extremely powerful and rich lobbies – many of whom directly benefit from their political contacts. Another ‘lobby’ which would like to keep the old guard afloat is, arguably, those groups of organised criminals which otherwise go by the collective name of the mafia

If a real battle were to ever break out, while the 5 Star Movement army would probably be numerically superior, the politicians and their lobby friends would be able to afford better weapons and would most likely hire the services of a ruthless band of mercenaries – Italy’s powerful mafia groups. As to who would win such a battle, who knows.

If the 5 Star Movement wins its present, bloodless, battle then, all Italians will benefit, or that is the message the movement wants people to hear. On the other hand, if the existing political class wins this ‘battle’, Italy will remain in the hands of those who’ve been running the nation so badly for the last 20 years and, arguably, even since the end of the second world war.

The battle is still raging. For now, the weapons are only words.

As for what is happening to the 5 Star Movement, if anything, it’s becoming more cohesive and determined than ever before. However, in some ways, it does seem to be resembling Italy’s old-style political parties more and more by the day. Only winning elections will reveal whether or not the 5 Star is truly good for Italy.

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