Demonstration against austerity in Portugal. Photo via @OCongres
It has been quite a week. As the revolution goes, three things in particular were worthy of note.
First, the death of Stéphane Hessel.
Hessel was a former diplomat, member of the resistance in France during WW2 and one of the drafters of the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Man in 1948.
Two years ago, at 93 years of age, Hessel became an idol with the youth when he wrote a pamphlet called Indignez-Vous!, translated into English as ‘Time for Outrage!’
The pamphlet sold over two million copies in France alone. The Spanish translation was a major inspiration for the movement of the indignados.
As a member of the National Resistance Council, Hessel recalls the ideals that the Council adopted on 15 March 1944, and on which it wanted post-war society to be founded. These included “a comprehensive plan for Social Security, to ensure livelihoods for all citizens”, “a pension that allows old workers to finish their life in dignity”, “the return to the nation of the major means of production, common sources of energy, wealth of the subsoil, insurance companies and large banks”, “the establishment of genuine economic and social democracy which evicts large feudal economic and financial interests from the direction of our economy.” And, not in the least, a society where the press is free from corporate or foreign influences.
Over sixty years later, Hessel concludes that our society is not the one that was envisioned by the members of the National Resistance Council. Despite decades of booming economic growth, ours has turned into a society of suspicions against immigrants and expulsions, one that challenges pensions and social security, and where the media are in the hands of a few powerful people. Ours, in short, is not a society of which we, as human beings, can be proud.
Hessel denounced indifference as the worst of all attitudes, and he called for “a true and peaceful insurrection against the media that only offer our youth a horizon of mass consumption, of disdain for the weakest, of generalised amnesia, and of all-out competition of everyone against everyone else.”
He made an appeal to all youngsters. “To the men and women who will make the 21st century, we say, with affection: to create is to resist, to resist is to create.”
In 2011, his call to rise up took the world by storm. The spirit of resistance lives on.
Thank you, Stéphane Hessel. May you rest in peace.
Number two, last Saturday March 2 was another day of massive protests in Portugal. In thirty cities there were demonstrations against austerity. Over a million people took the streets, which is more than ten percent of the population. Imagine thirty million people demanding the resignation of President Obama on the same day. That’s about the scale of the protest.
The demos come a week after equally massive demonstrations of the ‘Citizen’s Tide’ in Spain. It looks like it’s going to be a hot spring on the peninsula.
Third, and most entertaining, is the elections in Italy. Without kidding, I’ve been rolling over the floor laughing. It’s a farce, but it’s all dead serious.
Immortal Berlusconi made yet another come-back. He had been declared politically dead by many commentators who don’t understand a thing about Italy. He might not have won parliament, but he did win the senate, which could give him enough political leverage to keep his ass out of prison.
But the real winner of the election is comedian Beppe Grillo, leader of the Five Star Movement, a party-political version of the indignados.
In the foreign press, Grillo has been called a populist and has been compared to any other populist in Europe. This is not just bad journalism, it is intentionally misleading.
Beppe Grillo and the movement he inspires is one of a kind, at least for the moment. I remember the very beginnings of his political campaigning. It started in theaters, it went online through his daily blog, then he came to the squares to decry political corruption, in favour of participatory democracy. Grillo exposed politicians of all parties in a way that nobody ever dared to do from a pulpit. He had been banned from television, he had been ignored by the press, but thanks to the Internet his movement reached millions of Italians who are fed up with business as usual.
In 2009 he supported civil lists in local elections. His party won the mayorship of Parma and other towns. In 2012 he made a breakthrough in the Sicilian local election. Now, in the run-up to the general elections, he drew a hundred thousand people to his show in Milan, eight hundred thousand in Rome. He inspired people like only a black preacher with a gospel choir can do. The man is a phenomenon. Last week, his movement became the single biggest party in Italy.
It’s hilarious. A few years ago, when I left the Beautiful Country, Grillo was a troublemaker that politicians loved to ignore. Now they are begging him to support the formation of a government.
With enormous satisfaction, Grillo told them to fuck off. All his opponents have been in politics since the age of the dinosaurs, they have to go, and before they do, they have to account for all the income they received over the years. They created this mess, the citizens themselves will have to clean up. Grillo’s party will only support bills that reflect the movement’s principles. They will not support any government. The representatives of the M5S have been chosen through preliminary elections on the movement’s website. They are tied to a code of behaviour which obliges them to respect the electoral program they were voted to enact. They have renounced to more than half of their income, and they will refuse to use or accept the customary title of ‘honorable’. Instead, echoing the French Revolution, they will address all representatives as ‘citizen’.
On the day the M5S entered in the Italian parliament, they opened the doors to the public, saying ‘this is your house’.
The first demands of the movement have to do with the clean-up of Italian politics. Two mandates should be the maximum, parties should not receive public subsidies, and no condemned criminal should have the right to be elected.
The left wing party, if it is to form a government, will have to be supported either by Berlusconi or by Grillo. They know that Berlusconi will eat them alive, so they grudgingly prefer the other clown.
It’s going to be very risky for the new M5S representatives. The Italian parliament is the most dangerous place in the country. The crime rate at Montecitorio is much higher than the crime rate in the most lurid outskirts of Naples. The new parliamentarians and senators will be thrown into a pit full of snakes. These creepy lifeforms have been lurching in the shadows of power for ages, they know exactly how much one is worth, they know who is selling, and they know who is buying. Ethics are not an issue in Italian politics, and the worst thing that can happen is that the M5S movement is torn apart by the existing parties and massacred by the press.
With Beppe Grillo and his movement gaining notoriety, some commentators have tried to understand what is going on, some others are dismissing this movement all together. They say that Grillo is dangerous. They accuse his internet strategist Gianroberto Casaleggio of having a secret agenda. The writers collective Wu Ming published a shameless declaration in which they accuse Grillo of being ‘one of them’ politicians as usual, without presenting any credible basis at all for their accusations.
Instead of giving in to this crazy need to always have an opinion, on whatever subject, I urge people to shut up, and watch. Beppe Grillo’s movement is a first attempt to bring direct e-democracy to a real parliament. His newly elected representatives are in a position to make or break a government. Let’s enjoy this, let’s see what’s going to happen, and learn from it.
Grillo riding the wave.