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Movimento 5 Stelle’s Lucio Bianchi Explains The Changing Face Of Italian Politics

Oct 14, 2016

In an election cycle fraught with uncertainty, inflammatory rhetoric and vicious partisanship, it can be easy for Americans to forget about the political spheres outside the United States. While parliamentary systems are often similarly constrained by deep party divides, some new players have entered the field to shake up European domestic politics.

Italy’s Movimento 5 Stelle (“Five Star Movement”) is one such group. While the initiative firmly rejects being labeled as a political party, its presence has led to concrete shifts in the makeup of Italy’s parliament.

“People that have been elected through the Five Star Movement, in the Parliament [have] the lowest age ever in the Italian Parliament, and the highest degree, in the sense that those people are really educated compared to the other people present in the other political parties,” said Lucio Bianchi, a Movimento member and the student services coordinator at the University of Oklahoma’s center in Arezzo, Italy.

Though relatively young, the group - co-founded by Italy’s Jon Stewart-esque political comedian Beppe Grillo - has made inroads into Italian life through social media and populist appeal.

“In Italy, with newspapers and television, they are really related to the different ... political parties present in Italy. And so the only other way that you can use to reach people is actually social media,” Bianchi told KGOU’s World Views.

Along with social media, Movimento uses innovative technological solutions to ensure that its leaderless initiative results in real change.

“There is a-- platform, that is called ‘Rousseau,’ as the philosopher, actually,” Bianchi said. “And it is used in order to create the proposals that will then go to the Parliament or the regional councils or the municipality councils. And this is the way in which people are really involved.”

As Movimento grows and sees more of its members - including Virginia Raggi, Rome’s first female mayor - elected into office, Bianchi is confident that the movement will remain true to its core values symbolized by its five namesake stars.

“Each star represents a single important thing ... public water system, connectivity, direct democracy, environment ... and obviously another important thing is digital identity,” Bianchi said. “This is the main point of the Five Star Movement. We want to try to re-put citizenship and democracy on the top level of the political visions.”

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INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS

On communicating with the Italian public

Unfortunately, in Italy, with newspapers and television, they are really related to the different political parties present in Italy. And so the only other way that you can use to reach people is actually social media. This is also something that is not very good, let's say, for Italians, because we have a huge digital divide. And so those people who cannot be reached throughout social media are not really reached. That's why we start also to have stands and things like that in what we call piazzas -- so our squares, or the markets that we have, and we try to reach as many people as we can, just talking about what we do. This is the main important thing, in the sense that we try to put facts prior the talkings.

On funding a campaign

Another important aspect is that we do not receive any money from politics, in the sense that all other parties in Italy receive money, public money, for their campaigns and stuff. Whereas the Five Star Movement just has donations from people who believe in the Five Star Movement. And so the campaigns are usually very expensive, but considering that the Five Star Movement usually spends one fifth of what is usually spent from the other political parties-- and Rome, obviously, is a really important starting point, because if the Five Star Movement does well in Rome, it would probably win the next elections.

FULL TRANSCRIPT

REBECCA CRUISE, HOST: Lucio Bianchi, welcome to World Views. You're here in the studio to talk with us about what might be called a political movement, or an activist movement, in Italy, that you've been very involved with for the last almost half decade at this point, or almost a decade. And so we want to learn a little bit about what's known as the Movimento -- Movement -- or sometimes it's also called 5 Stelle - Five Stars. So maybe you could tell us a little bit about where this movement came from-- I believe 2011, or thereabouts. Tell us where it came from; and then one thing that I think is so interesting is its founder, Beppe Grillo, is often, in some circles, referred to as the Jon Stewart of Italy. He was a comedian. So I don't know if that's a fair comparison or not, but if you could tell us a little bit about him and about this movement.

LUCIO BIANCHI: Yes, well, actually, Beppe Grillo is a real comedian. He's known for his own life, on the stages of theaters, and on television as well--

CRUISE: --you've got this great curly hair; he's a really interesting-looking figure.

BIANCHI: Exactly, exactly. And so at a certain point, actually, in his shows, he started to talk about not just comedy but also about really interesting topics that affected the politics in Italy. And so he started to have a vision, together with another cofounder of the Five Star Movement--his name is Gianroberto Casaleggio, and unfortunately, he died just last year. And they actually started to create the Five Star Movement in the sense of a real movement, so no political party, without sort of a statute, without a leadership, but actually trying to involve directly the citizens. So the idea-- it was opposed to what is the concept of ideologies, and more prone to ideas. The main ingredients in the Five Star Movement are the ideas and the people who actually start to put these ideas in real facts.

CRUISE: So a real democracy, a kind of on-the-ground, talking to the people, the people have a say-- I think one of the mottos is "one mean one; one counts as one"--

BIANCHI: --exactly.

CRUISE: And you mentioned that they don't like this term "party," although perhaps for our understanding, we do call it a party, but it's an anti-party party.

BIANCHI: It is an anti-party, because again, there are no leaders, and people are just responsible for themselves. The main point behind the Five Star Movement is trying to get people involved again directly in politics, and so in democracy, because the main problem that right now Italy is facing is the disaffection of people for politics. And so the idea is trying to get them involved again, and trying to have more people than "real politicians," let's say. And this is the main aspect that is in the Five Star Movement.

CRUISE: So there was and is kind of this sentiment that politicians are corrupt, that political parties are so ingrained that people don't matter anymore, and this was kind of a response to that. You said "bringing the people in." So how do you engage your average person in the process of this movement?

BIANCHI: Well, I can take my example, in the sense that I started to know the Five Star Movement, and what it was when I started here in OU. So whenever I was out of Italy and I started to watch Italy from another point of view, let's say-- and then when I came back, I thought that if it was me that started to do something for myself, for my parents, for my relatives, for the people that I love, nobody else would do that. In Italy, unfortunately, we have this high corruption level in politics, and politicians are usually part of very important lobbies. So this was the main root that actually leaded the Five Star Movement to success.

CRUISE: And you went back and you became an activist and joined Movimento, and actually were on a town council in Arezzo, community council-- how do you go out to the people? How do you reach them?

BIANCHI: Actually, we are trying mostly throughout social media, in the sense that unfortunately, in Italy, with newspapers and television, they are really related to the different parties-- political parties present in Italy. And so the only other way that you can use to reach people is actually social media. This is also something that is not very good, let's say, for Italians, because we have a huge digital divide. And so those people who cannot be reached throughout social media are not really reached. That's why we start also to have stands and things like that in what we call piazzas -- so our squares, or the markets that we have, and we try to reach as many people as we can, just talking about what we do. This is the main important thing, in the sense that we try to put facts prior the talkings.

CRUISE: And you said there's no leaders. I think this is so unique, and sounds perhaps a little odd, but it's a political movement, organization, that is leaderless, because the people are the leaders. How does that function? It's now existed for quite some time -- half a decade, or a little bit longer. How does it work without leaders?

BIANCHI: There is a-- platform, that is called "Rousseau," as the philosopher, actually. And it is used in order to create the proposals that will then go to the Parliament or the regional councils or the municipality councils. And this is the way in which people are really involved, because they start not just to start something that they perhaps don't know, but they perhaps have skills in this kind of field, and so they start to create proposals that then will become laws. And so this is a way that actually functions and allows people to be directly involved in this kind of decision process.

CRUISE: The elected officials for Movimento, then-- they vote as the people have indicated via this platform?

BIANCHI: Correct.

CRUISE: So it really is a true direct democracy, in that those representatives cannot sway -- they have to go with what the people have directed them to do.

BIANCHI: Correct. We are actually taking advantage of the "new" society, in the sense that new technologies allow us to understand how the democracy could evolve, let's say. Using new technology such as this kind of platform is a great resource in order to re-create a part of the democracy that was lost before.

CRUISE: Fascinating. And there's a couple of symbols with the organization that I think are worth bringing up. One is within the word Movimento, there's a very large V. If you maybe could explain what that V represents?

BIANCHI: I don't know whether you've ever seen the movie "V for Vendetta?"

CRUISE: Yes.

BIANCHI: Okay. This is actually the main point, in the sense that this movie, and the comics as well, actually represent a sort of rebellion to a certain kind of establishment powers. And this is the main point of the Five Star Movement. We want to try to re-put citizenship and democracy on the top level of the political visions.

CRUISE: And it really came to be very popular in, like I said, 2011, so during the Occupy movement, around the world. It kind of took off on that momentum, and has continued, whereas perhaps some of the momentum from Occupy has actually ended, you all have continued. The other symbol is the five stars -- cinque stelle. And this is actually the movements platform: they go from things like free internet to public water. Maybe tell us a little about the five stars.

BIANCHI: Each star represents a single important thing, so as you mention, public water system, connectivity, direct democracy, environment -- so we are very keen on environment issues, and starting to understand the new processes that are affecting our environment and the world -- and obviously another important thing is digital identity. This means that each person born in this world should have free access to the internet, because it is a way to understand the world and also start to enhance your skills, your identity, and create your own personality. Why not to start to study and understand the world around?

CRUISE: So am I wrong in assuming that this has really been attractive to a lot of young people in Italy? Unemployment has been an issue; breaking the social networks, getting into the jobs that might be desirable-- that young people are more affected by a much higher rate, so this is very appealing to them.

BIANCHI: And in fact, those people that have been elected through the Five Star Movement, in the Parliament-- the lowest age ever in the Italian Parliament, and the highest degree, in the sense that those people are really educated compared to the other people present in the other political parties.

CRUISE: Really educated, and the idea being that they are not going to be lifelong politicians-- that they are doing this, and then will go on to do other things. Now, you mentioned elections, and I should say that in 2013, the Five Star Movement had a fantastic year, really kind of shocked Italy-- in some ways shocked the world; I think it was somewhere in the 25 percent range in the national elections-- that has waned a little bit, but you've had some really recent successes. The mayor of Rome, as well of the mayor in Turin-- so what can we count to their success, and then what challenges are they facing in terms of moving forward and actually governing in these important cities?

BIANCHI: So actually, in Turin, everything is going fast and it's going good, so very fortunately up there, let's say that the mayor is working without any strong problems. Whereas in Rome, since it is the capital, and we face this huge crime power that was affecting the municipality of Rome, and ended up in what is called the mafia capitale. And so this huge network of corruptions made the Five Star Movement win in the elections in Rome, especially because honesty is one of our "passwords" for everything. Nowadays, the new mayor Virginia Raggi, is actually facing new problems because again, we're challenging the power. So this means that whenever every single little thing happens, it becomes a huge mountain on the local media, on the national media as well, and she receives attacks from all around. Nonetheless, they are working really great-- for example, in this last month of August, Roma was facing a major problem with waste disposal, that was resolved in just one month. And so they are doing great, but it is a difficult situation, because again, challenging the high powers, let's say, is always a difficult path.

CRUISE: Absolutely. You're always going to have big challenges there, but winning the mayoral election-- a huge deal. And nationally, there's the challenge of the coalition government. The way that the Italian political system is set up, it seems to favor coalitions, yet Movimento doesn't form coalitions. So what is the path to gaining more support in the national elections, and getting more voice in Parliament?

BIANCHI: This is another fundamental aspect of the Five Star Movement -- no coalitions. And this has always been at the national level and the smallest level to of a town or even a city. And this is a problem for the parties, because they usually have coalitions in between righthand parties and lefthand parties. Now, we have our Prime Minister, which actually is leading a coalition between left and right parties to create this government that is kind of not very stable, let's say--

CRUISE: Governments fall, a lot, in Italy.

BIANCHI: Exactly. But again, it's important for us not to have coalitions, because we are not a party. The sense of that is that movements can actually have coalitions, just with citizens. So with communities, with associations, with members, that are part of the community-- and this is it. It's important also in order to create a proper identity that is clearly recognizable.

CRUISE: So what's next? What's next for the movement?

BIANCHI: Probably the elections in 2018, and we are starting to understand about how to again recreate an electoral campaign, because another important aspect is that we do not receive any money from politics, in the sense that all other parties in Italy receive money, public money, for their campaigns and stuff. Whereas the Five Star Movement just has donations from people who believe in the Five Star Movement. And so the campaigns are usually very expensive, but considering that the Five Star Movement usually spends one fifth of what is usually spent from the other political parties-- and Rome, obviously, is a really important starting point, because if the Five Star Movement does well in Rome, it would probably win the next elections.

CRUISE: Well, this is just an incredible organization that we've been watching for a while, and we'll definitely be looking to 2018. Thank you so much for joining us.

BIANCHI: Thank you.

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