We want to make honesty fashionable again

Ecco a voi l’articolo in inglese apparso su Le Soir il 18 maggio, con l’intervista a Beppe Grillo. Di seguito il link all’articolo su Le Soir.

  • “If Grillo wants to be a politician, he should create a party. Then we’ll see what he’s made of,” declared a center-left leader in 2007
  • In 2009, the former comedian launched the Five Star Movement
  • His movement won a memorable victory in February 2013
  • Interview with the influential Italian figure

Ancona, the capital city of the Marche region, founded by Greek colonists in the fourth century BCE, rises above an inlet at the end of a promontory that drops into the Adriatic. The skies are rainy. Below the hotel, the port is covered by a veil of mist.

The man who turned the Italian political landscape on its head sits at a table in a room lit by a large bay window. He sips coffee. With abundant white hair and eyes as blue as a summer sky, Beppe Grillo is almost deferentially polite.

Twelve hours before, the leader of the Five Star Movement, who has been to every corner of the country in preparation for the upcoming municipal elections, stirred up the city’s main square to the rhythm of his condemnations of a political class characterized by corruption, inefficiency and necrosis.

“So, what can we say that would interest Belgians?” he begins in a slightly mocking tone. To obtain an exclusive one-hour interview, face-to-face with this man who refuses to speak to the press, was certainly no picnic. It took weeks of contacts, of follow-ups, of correspondence, up until a phone call late Wednesday morning: “Tomorrow at 10:30. In Ancona.”

A beloved comic in the eighties, this eloquent speaker has made political satire his weapon. And then there was also the memorable little phrase used against the socialist powers of the time, tossed out during a televised show. It happened in November 1986. Bettino Craxi, the erstwhile prime minister, was traveling in China. “I’m sure Craxi must be wondering,” Grillo said, “if China is entirely populated by socialists, who can they steal from?”

It was the end of his television career and the beginning of his political trajectory. He began visiting places where working people gather, talking about nuclear power, new technology, citizen activism. He spoke crudely and sometimes vulgarly. He harnessed discontent, and his influence grew. He brought together a significant number of the disaffected. A charismatic man, he began to be viewed as a type of guru. In 2007, he collected 350,000 signatures in support of barring from office elected representatives who had been criminally convicted. He delivered the petition to Romano Prodi, then head of the government. Nothing happened.

“If Grillo wants to be a politician, he should create a party. Then we’ll see what he’s made of,” declared Piero Fassino, leader of the center left at the time. No sooner said than done: in 2009, he founded the Five Star Movement and has since strung together various electoral successes – including the victory in the February 2013 elections.


“I am the embodiment of a type of anger”

In a few words, how would you describe the philosophy of your Five Stars Movement?

It sprang from ongoing anger, the anger against the situation our politicians plunged us into, and it’s ongoing because it’s constructive. We’re not interested in breaking everything; we want to change things. The movement represents hope for change for millions who have lost their confidence in our politicians.

From where did the original idea stem?

It came from observation. The Italian party-based system has failed. It’s dead. Not only did it drag the country into bankruptcy, but also the system, as I call it, has become gangrenous with corruption. Our political class is inefficient and corrupt. The public can’t take it anymore.

You think that all politicians are corrupt. Do you want to lump them all into the same basket?

No, on the contrary, I think that many of them are honest. The system itself is so corrupt that when an honest and motivated person enters the system, he’s dragged downstream by institutional corruption and covert bonds. Italy ranks 79th on the list of least corrupt countries in the world. One only has to look at the unbelievable amount of scandals that have rocked Italy in the past few years – on the right and left alike. What we’re offering is a revolutionary change.

By using the internet as a primary communications tool?

Yes. The Net is still in full expansion. Soon everyone will be online – even the older and less privileged populations. We already received 25% of the vote during the last elections without using television; I’ll even go so far as to say that we went against television and newspapers. Today, the honest surveys have us at 30% of public voting intentions. That’s exactly why they’re trying to shut us up.

As far as that goes, you have a troubled relationship with the Italian press.

They despise us and treat us with disdain. We represent change, and they can’t stand it. In addition, the press is allied with large industrial groups. Look at De Benedetti, the scandal-ridden industrialist. He was one of the first members of the Democratic Party. What I refuse to accept is that they don’t attack our ideas. They attack me personally. They derided our duly elected representatives when we brought into our political institutions a record number of people out of universities, young people, and women.

Your language can at times be quite colorful. Could that be a reason?

Maybe, I express myself that way in order to get a reaction. I am after all a performance artist. I know how to communicate my message although it’s true that at times I can be vulgar. I already told you. I’m the embodiment of anger. I’m also not sure that I’m any more vulgar than my competitors who were throwing ham in a food fight at each other just a few months ago in the Chamber benches.

You used earlier the term “covert bonds”. Are you referring to organized crime?

Yes. The line between a significant segment of our politicians and the mafia is very thin. We are now beyond our reasoning, beyond what honesty is capable of accepting.

You are standing for a kind of ethical renewal, then?

Ethics are nothing other than loyalty. We want to make honesty fashionable again. I never had to take courses to be honest. Not stealing from my neighbor is normal behavior. I learned this from my father who learned it from his father. This same mechanism can be found in politics as well – just like the fight against public waste. We are already doing it.

Can you provide a concrete example?

Of course! Take Sicily, where we are the dominant party, and where in the regional institutions we have 14 of our elected representatives. Our younger people have reduced their salaries by 70%. With the money they saved, they opened a bank account in the region. This amount, from memory, was €1.2 million, which they decided to use for micro-loans for Sicilian SMEs.

Italian news has seemed turbulent these past few weeks, what with the chaotic formation of the government.

The government will fall very quickly. Berlusconi will see to it the first chance he gets.

The Democratic Party is holding you accountable for the Grand Coalition. They say had you not been so intransigent, you would be governing together.

I’m glad you brought that up because it’s pure propaganda. The democrats need someone to blame in order to justify their alliance with Berlusconi, so they demonized us for the entire campaign. We offered the DP common ideas on four fundamentals, among which are Berlusconi and the restitution of electoral refunds to finance citizen income in particular.

Under these conditions, would you have given a vote of confidence and allowed the government to form?

Sure! However, it was all rigged. They never intended to govern with us. They went through with this charade to hide their attempts to corrupt our elected people first, then to form this unholy alliance with the right. Now that they’ve been exposed; public opinion has awakened. But we won’t stop there. If the government falls tomorrow, we’re ready to take the reins. Before the election, we will present our team to the Italian population. It’s ready to go. In the following weeks, we will file several proposals regarding economic issues. I know they’re lying in wait for us on that one.

Let’s talk about Europe. You had announced a few years ago that you hated Europe with everything you had. Do you still hold to it?

That’s not what I said. On the contrary, I’m a staunch supporter of Europe, but I’d like to see the very concept of Europe revisited. When Monnet, along with many others, created Europe, he founded it on coal and steel – on tangible things. He was no technocrat. He used the post-war Marshall Plan manna. He knew that steel and coal were in German hands and that France would never manage these materials. He acted this way to manage concrete material. Now Europe is based on abstracts. Look at our finances. We have not only transferred our monetary sovereignty, but also our food supply. Do you realize that Italy has the best food in the world? Milk production centers are French. Supermarkets are French while ours are closing down one after the other. The free movement of workers has become the free movement of slaves. There are Georgians working on Romanian building sites. In Georgia there are Ukrainians and so on. It’s the production of new slaves.

You are also committed to promoting a referendum on the Euro if you come to power, are you not?

The Euro is a hollow word; it no longer stands for anything. The problem is that Euro is now really the Mark. The Euro is the victim of dogmatism by those promoting it. I want to be able to talk about a plan B for the first five years. Now, highly regarded economists are talking about leaving the Euro. Others are supporting the idea of two currencies; Italy, for instance, would use the Lira for national commerce, and the Euro for foreign commerce. Others still prefer to maintain the status quo. I’m not saying one way or the other. I’m open to discussing it without getting dogmatic.

How would you proceed?

My first commitment is to organize a one-year moratorium followed by an audit that goes beyond the Euro, and then we would launch a public information campaign. You know that Europe is sorely lacking in information. We have no idea what is going on in Holland, or in Poland, and so on. Following the information campaign, there will be discussions, then decisions. Do you think it’s right, for example, that we have a multitude of different revenue systems at a time where we can move large blocks of capital in a fraction of a second?

You also disputed the Italian contribution to Europe.

I don’t see the problem in those terms. We are the third largest contributor to Europe at €15 billon. We get 6 or 7 of that back, but no one really manages its use. One third of the European balance still goes to petroleum, coal, and road transport. We continue to finance the food industry while forty million Europeans want more healthy and organic foods, and want to use more new energies and new technology. I want a Europe bursting with ideas. I want common grounds, not uniformity.

How do you see your personal role at the head of the movement in the next few years?

My goal will be reached once Parliament is made up of citizens and not professional career politicians. That’s when I will retire. It’ll happen. We are in constant growth. You know that the movement is on the verge of being exported. Soon it’ll take root in many other countries.


We want to make honesty fashionable again

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