It all depends upon your appetite

Someone explain the Italian election to me. What’s the deal with this Grillo guy?

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64 replies
  1. 1

    Huh, Billy Joel? Not one of your go-to lyricists… How about “You talk in hushed tones, I talk in lush tones.”

  2. 2
    Gin & Tonic says:

    I thought he was like Italy’s Kinky Friedman. But I don’t know anything.

  3. 3
    Doug Galt says:


    I could never figure out what he was saying in the next line…but google shows that it would have been appropriate.

  4. 4

    Italian politics has been going down hill ever since Caesar crossed the Rubicon…

  5. 5
    srv says:

    He is their Glenn Beck but with some sense of humor.

    I think this is his blog:

    It is apparently available in Italian, English and Japanese, quite the marketeer.

    Don’t know what it all means, any more than the mobster laundering €500 bills at the Vatican neighborhood pastry shop I was at last year.

  6. 6
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    Who knows, it’s Italy. Even Italians don’t take their government seriously. They’re too busy with pasta, wine, and placing bets on the upcoming Papal election.

  7. 7
  8. 8
    marshall says:

    Silly. Not even the Italians understand Italian politics.

  9. 9
    raven says:

    @Villago Delenda Est: And aboom aboom aboom as Benigni told it in Night on Earth.

    eta Be sure to watch part 2. You will thank me for it!

  10. 10
  11. 11
    Yutsano says:

    Just lemme know who’s pushing to bring back the lira.

  12. 12
    mainmati says:

    Burlesque-Only is an amateur clown; Beppe is a professional clown.

  13. 13
    max says:

    What’s the deal with this Grillo guy?

    He’s mad and he’s not going to take it anymore. As in ‘I’m Mad, Too, Eddie’.

    Nothin’ else to it. Nobody likes Monti, since he is Berlin’s man in Rome, and that leaves Mr. Bunga Bunga & Bersani on the left, both of whom ‘won’.

    Nobody got any jobs, nobody got any money, and Berlin demands that the floggings continue until morale improves.

    [‘Not much to explain.’]

  14. 14
    JPL says:

    The only thing I understand is the austerity guy is on his way out. Earlier today the market seemed pleased that Berlusconi was losing, unfortunately, that was short lived.

  15. 15
    raven says:

    @raven: Damn, I haven’t watched that in years, incredible!!!!

  16. 16

    @Doug Galt: Once I managed to decipher it, “trying to look Italian to the musical valium” became a favorite line.

  17. 17
    Ecks says:

    @raven: If you don’t say so yourself.

  18. 18
    raven says:

    @Ecks: I remembered it, I looked it up, I posted it and then I watched it. Problem?

  19. 19
    Ecks says:

    @Ecks: Spot on fella.


  20. 20
    beltane says:

    When you think politics is a joke, it makes sense to elect clowns.

    What stands out the most here is that the anti-austerity, anti-Brussels parties outperformed, while sensible centrism was given a resounding thumbs-down. Unlike the Greeks and the Irish, the Italians were unwilling to follow orders in this election. Chaos will ensue, but things are very sucky there right now and enough people felt chaos is preferable to slow starvation.

  21. 21
    beltane says:

    @Yutsano: Grillo is pushing to bring back the Lira as has Berlusconi on occasion, though not as consistently.

  22. 22
    Paul in KY says:

    @raven: We are coming down next weekend to play them Dogs. Need a win bad to ensure a 1st round SEC Tourney loss doesn’t keep us out of NCAAs.

    Better beat us this year.

  23. 23
    Dave says:

    Isn’t Beppe one of the lesser Marx Bros.?

  24. 24
    Yutsano says:

    @beltane: If the lira comes back so will the drachma. And the Euro will go boom. And I’ll laugh because I knew it was a bad idea long ago when it was proposed without actually doing anything to ensure there was some sort of parity among the economies. But the Euro zone wanted to expand like a bubble and it’s about to go pop.

  25. 25
    PeakVT says:

    Grillo is a mostly left-leaning populist who is the leader (but not the formal head) of an inchoate movement of (justifiably) angry citizens. Italy is poorly governed in a lot of ways, but I don’t think the Five Star Movement has particularly good answers to most of the country’s problems.

    The Guardian has a results live blog here.

  26. 26
    raven says:

    @Paul in KY: The Dawgs are a heartbreaking team. Remind me of the “One Play Away Ray” Goff football teams.

  27. 27
    beltane says:

    @Yutsano: Italy is the big one. If they leave the Euro anything that happens with Greece is at best a minor sideshow.

  28. 28
    Rorgg says:

    @marshall: Why would they bother? I got a popup ad in FB last week for a politician. It was in Italian, a little unusual, but I list it as a language I speak. But then, reading it — I was confused. The guy was running as a member of the Democratic Party for the lower house, from North and Central America.

    And I went “…what?”

    And went to his website… also in Italian. So-and-so is a technical engineer, works in the film industry in Los Angeles, and is a PD candidate for … North and Central America.

    And I went “…what?!?”

    So, went to the Wikipedia and did some digging, eventually unearthing that both houses have smallish constituencies to represent expats in, i think, six districts, one of thich is North & Central America.

    Well! okay. Still dunno why I got the ad, other than being in NA and listing Italian as a spoken language, but I guess that was their best way to narrow their audience. And, hey, it led me to learn something. So it was a good night.

  29. 29
    beltane says:

    @PeakVT: One thing I give Beppe Grillo an enormous amount of credit for is that he somehow managed to get ordinary Italians to shake off their apathy and organize in much the same way as Howard Dean did in 2004. I honestly never thought such a thing was possible.

  30. 30
    Valdivia says:

    I wouldn’t liken Grillo to Glenn Beck. He’s much more aligned with progressive issues except perhaps for immigration. Maybe more like the the Israeli newscaster who came from now where to win. Grillo seems to have a grassroots movement behind him but little specificity in terms of economic governance. But latest numbers give him the edge in the Senate. That would be big.

  31. 31
    beltane says:

    @Valdivia: Grillo is a lot more like Michael Moore than Glenn Beck. In a country that is not exactly conducive to grassroots political organizing, the fact that his movement was able to capture at least 25% of the vote is quite the accomplishment.

  32. 32
    PeakVT says:

    @beltane: That’s true, but overall the turnout still looks to be pretty low (55%).

    I think the real silver lining in this election is that Italians didn’t turn to right-wing nationalist party like Gold Dawn in Greece. (And the pre-existing Lega Nord doesn’t seem to be doing well now that Bossi is no longer actively involved.) Maybe that is due to Grillo’s movement channeling people’s anger in a different direction.

  33. 33
    Quaker in a Basement says:

    Made a fortune in the steel wool bidness, iirc.

  34. 34
    Paul in KY says:

    @raven: If y’all can keep the talent in-state, I forsee very good future. Like your coach. Liked him when he was at Nevada.

  35. 35
    techno says:

    Found an interesting post that argues that Grillo is a classic People’s Party Populist—which considering that the Italians have as much to complain about the “money trusts” as the farmers of 1892, makes perfect sense.

  36. 36
    Paul in KY says:

    @Rorgg: In England, no one represents expats. If you want representation in Parliment, you must live in Great Britain.

    Now that I remember, we fought a war about that…

  37. 37
    handsmile says:

    The political think-tank Demos compiled a report this month on Beppe Grillo and his political organization, the Five Star Movement (M5S). The report links M5S to Germany’s Pirate Party and the Occupy movement in its successful utilization of social media to organize and develop. The opening paragraphs of the report:

    New social and political movements from radically different political positions are emerging across Europe using social media, posing a new challenge to existing political parties and structures. The Pirate Party in Germany and the Occupy movement are examples of movements that have employed social media to grow rapidly and create a significant political and social impact – all in the last three years.

    Beppe Grillo, the Italian comedian and blogger, is one of the first political figures to have embraced this change. He has used social media to communicate, recruit and organise, growing the Moviment 5 Stelle from practically nothing to a major political force in Italy in the space of three years, with it expected to play a crucial role in the 2013 Italian elections. His anti-establishment message has resonated with many against a backdrop of declining trust in political institutions, falling political party membership and ever-lower voter turnout.

    At the Guardian live blog, linked to by PeakVT above (#25). scroll down to “5:30pm GMT” for survey information about M5S members and their opinions.

    With about half the votes now tabulated, it appears that Pier Luigi Bersani’s center-left coalition is on track to win the lower house of Parliament (the Chamber of Deputies) with Scumbag Berlusconi’s right-wing coalition taking the Senate. Grillo/M5S is polling at about 25%; during the campaign Grillo insisted he would not align himself with any other coalition post-election. An unstable minority government seems to be in the offing for Italy. “Unpredictable” is the key word in most reporting.

    ETA: Valdivia: It’s simply wonderful to see your “nym” here again. You’ve been missed. Hope your “sabbatical’ was restorative. :)

  38. 38
    PeakVT says:

    @Valdivia: The votes so far put M5S at third in the Senate. Exit polls may be showing something else, though.

    As it stands, Bersani’s coalition can’t form a majority with Monti’s party. It will either have to ally with M5S, ally with Berlusconi, or force new elections.

  39. 39
    r€nato says:


    these commenters got it more or less right. Grillo is not at all an Italian Glenn Beck; yes, he’s more like Michael Moore.

    I would say that Grillo is roughly equivalent to Jon Stewart, only more vulgar and rougher around the edges. Imagine that such a Jon Stewart left his show in order to start his own political party. He is very much a populist, but in the good sense of the word.

    The odd thing is that Grillo himself has ruled out serving in Parliament. He rails regularly against the rather high number of MPs who are under investigation or have been convicted of one crime or another, yet he has his own legal difficulties (though they pale in comparison to those of the MPs he criticizes).

    I myself voted for the Grillo list. Italy had major problems even before the current austerity-induced recession. It remains a country of nepotism and cronyism; the young Italians who are ambitious and talented but without the right connections are leaving – have been leaving for years – if they can, for other EU countries or North America. I blame the center-left for creating an environment which makes Italy an unfriendly place to do business (stultifying employment laws and bureaucracy), and the center-right for doing next to nothing with respect to reforms it talked a lot about (mainly dedicating itself to keeping Berlusconi out of the dock and defending the perks and privileges of its serving politicians).

    I have little confidence the M5S (Grillo party) really knows what it would *do* with power, if it were to achieve it (at this point it seems to have scored a significant portion of seats). However, a clean sweep of the ruling class would be a good start. An excellent book published six years ago, “La Casta”, documented with one case after another how untouchable the political class – both left and right – is in Italy. It’s a shame it isn’t available in English. It is full of great insights into how bad things are in Italy. Americans really haven’t a clue what a truly corrupt political class looks like. Our pols are Boy Scouts compared to the average Italian career politician.

  40. 40
    mdblanche says:

    @PeakVT: Grillo says he won’t ally with anybody and nobody would be caught dead allying with Bunga Bunga, so I’d expect a new election in another month or two. Like one ex-prime minister said, governing Italy isn’t difficult, it’s just useless.

  41. 41
    handsmile says:

    Earlier today, the Guardian’s Rome correspondent John Hooper posted this profile of Beppe Grillo and his impact on the Italian parliamentary election.

    “Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement becomes Italy’s election success story”

    It’s far more informative and far less inflammatory than the BBC hatchet job that Mike J linked to above.

    ETA: rEnato: Thanks very much for posting your on-the-ground perspective. Do you have any opinion on the reliability/value of Alexander Stille’s reporting on contemporary Italy?

  42. 42
    PeakVT says:

    @r€nato: Thanks for the comment.

    @mdblanche: Will Grillo still refuse to ally with anyone after a second election? That would be bad outcome, I think.

  43. 43
    r€nato says:

    @PeakVT: that’s an interesting question. On the one hand, Italian politicians are notorious for saying white today and black the next day. On the other hand, what will Grillo do with his significant 3rd place finish? If he follows through with his pledge to not form a coalition with anybody, he could force a new round of elections. Would M5S do as well in 8 to 10 weeks?

    Or should he take his 60 to 70 seats and play hardball to eventually ally with Bersani, his only truly viable coalition partner? (Allying with Berlusconi would instantly shred Grillo’s credibility among those who voted for him; Monti’s list lost pretty badly and I don’t think he can form a coalition with anybody.)

    A conventional politician would do the latter, but Grillo is just the kind of guy who might well say, ‘fuck it, I meant what I said! No coalitions for M5S!’

    Things will be interesting, that’s for sure. I’ll be watching the Italian political talk shows intently this week for any clues as to what Grillo will do.

  44. 44
    mdblanche says:

    @PeakVT: I don’t know, but Grillo doesn’t strike me as the allying sort.

    @r€nato: Wouldn’t allying with Bersani also shred Grillo’s credibility? I don’t think his supporters like any of Italy’s political classes (can’t say I blame them…).

  45. 45
    Paul in KY says:

    @r€nato: If he does not join the Coalition, what do you think he would gain from that (assuming that means new elections in X months)?

    Many years ago in England, the Liberal Party made the mistake of calling for elections when they didn’t have to. They were never the same, as they lost their huge majorities in that election. Grillo’s party could lose the seats he has in the hand.

  46. 46
    PeakVT says:

    @PeakVT: The 55% turnout was just for the first day. The Grauniad says it was around 75% for both days. That’s a good bit higher than the US but down from 81% in the previous election.

  47. 47
    r€nato says:

    @mdblanche: I honestly have no clue what he might do, but as I stated I will watch “Porta a Porta” and “Ballarò” very intently to see what can be divined. I know this, if I were Grillo I would double down and refuse to form a coalition, take the gamble of forcing a new round of elections.

    I think that any alliance with the conventional parties (PDL or PD) would be the death of M5S and would end up with the neutering of the party’s goals and momentum. My hunch is that M5S, in order to form a coalition with anybody, would have to be the senior partner not the junior partner. The ruling class in Italy values perpetuating its perks and privileges above all else. The only way to do away with that is to actually have the power to do away with it, not just promises. The PD would attempt to undermine at every step of the way any reforms proposed/pushed by M5S.

  48. 48
    r€nato says:

    @mdblanche: Possibly, but not as much as allying with Berlusconi who is a well-known quantity in Italy. Bersani represents the old guard (center-left rather than center-right) as well, but he’s never been PM. I put the chances of Grillo allying with Bersani as only slightly better than him allying with Berlusconi, because Bersani is simply the new bottle into which the old wine has been poured.

    If you ask me, the PD would have been much better served had they nominated Renzi, the dynamic and reform-minded mayor of Florence. I could have seen Renzi possibly allying with Grillo. However, Renzi’s time has not yet come. He lost 40-60 to Bersani in the primaries.

    @Paul in KY: as I said, a conventional pol would take his winnings and leave the table to form a coalition. But Grillo is not one of those. He’s done quite well with a non-traditional campaign oriented around personal appearances and internet campaigning. I think he would relish another few weeks of this, he’s just the kind of guy who would say, ‘fuck it, I’m going to risk it’, and remember that Grillo’s movement is quite different from that of the Liberal Party. I don’t think he would lose that many votes by going for another round and he could actually pick up more votes.

    I think it would actually be riskier for him to form a coalition with Tweedledum or Tweedledee than it would be for him to go for another round of elections and try to at least be the senior partner in any eventual coalition. I don’t see how he could possibly gain a majority needed to rule without a partner.

  49. 49
    handsmile says:


    Perhaps you missed my question to you above re Alexander Stille. Now a Columbia journalism professor, he frequently writes about contemporary Italy for the NYRB, the New Yorker, and the NYT. Do you know his work and do you rate it? If not, are there other English-language reporters/commentators on italy whom you would recommend?

  50. 50
    mdblanche says:

    Grillo is now suggesting a coalition between Bersani and Berlusconi. This guy really is a comedian.

  51. 51
    PeakVT says:

    @mdblanche: Another shitty coalition government (and that’s what a left-right coalition would be) would help M5S in the next election. The problem is that in parliamentary democracies the next election can be as much as 5 years away. Look at what the Tory/LibDem coalition has done to the UK. Unfortunately, there’s no way to dislodge them.

  52. 52
    handsmile says:


    But governance in the Italian Republic, particularly since the 1990s with the implosions of the Christian Democrats and Socialists, has been far more volatile, with few governing coalitions lasting as long as five years.

    As for Grillo’s suggestion?/joke? of a coalition between the PD and PdL, should it become necessary to call for new elections in the coming weeks, such an accommodation does not seem to me far-fetched, especially with strong-arming by the EU and ECB. Also, some of what I’ve been reading about the M5S suggests that it contains centrifugal factions unlikely to maintain electoral coherence.

  53. 53
    Valdivia says:


    I know Stille! he had probably one of the most biting articles on Berlusconni I ever read a few years ago in the NYRB. He was also one of the main voices in a Frontline documentary about him also a few years ago.

    and thanks for your kind words. I have been lurking mostly–rough couple of months.

    @r€nato: and thank you so much for reporting from the ground on this.

  54. 54
    handsmile says:


    I feared as much. :( :(
    (An email will be forthcoming tomorrow. Teaser: my encounter last week with Mark Lilla.)

    Of course, you would know Stille’s work! (and thanks; no other replies here has been a little disconcerting)

  55. 55
    SRW1 says:

    Someone explain the Italian election to me. What’s the deal with this Grillo guy?

    Two clowns running for election. Both win.

  56. 56
  57. 57
    marshall says:

    @Paul in KY: Northern Ireland is now in Great Britain ?

  58. 58
    SiubhanDuinne says:


    The odd thing is that Grillo himself has ruled out serving in Parliament.

    Thread is hours old and I’ve been on the road all day, so someone may have already commented on this — but I heard a couple of days ago on NPR that Grillo is a convicted felon (automotive manslaughter, I think) and is ineligible for that reason to serve as PM. That may be why he’s removed himself from even serving in Parliament. Would be glad to be set right by someone who knows more about his situation than I do.

  59. 59
    pseudonymous in nc says:

    @Paul in KY:

    In England, no one represents expats. If you want representation in Parliment, you must live in Great Britain.

    Actually, expats can vote in the constituency they last lived in for 15 years after they leave the UK: the Tories try especially hard to get OAPs registered — people who hate foreigners but who moved abroad for the climate. Not so dissimilar from American expats voting in their last state of residence.

    European countries are more likely to have distinct “Citizens Abroad” districts, especially ones with list systems.

  60. 60
    PeakVT says:

    @SiubhanDuinne: Grillo is ineligible according to a report on The World.

  61. 61
    handsmile says:


    From a recent Guardian article on Beppe Grillo:

    “The 64-year-old comic will not enter parliament-he has a 1980 driving conviction for manslaughter after a crash in which [three] passengers were killed, and thus falls foul of his own rule banning MPs with records.”

    From other sources I’ve read, it was Grillo himself who proposed that individuals with a criminal record should be banned from holding parliamentary office, a taunt directed, I would imagine, at Berlusconi at least. Nothing I’ve yet read indicates that Italian law prohibits that activity.

  62. 62
    Paul in KY says:

    @r€nato: Appreciate your analysis, Renato. Thanks!

  63. 63
    Paul in KY says:

    @marshall: Close enough ;-)

  64. 64
    Paul in KY says:

    @pseudonymous in nc: Thank you for correcting me there. I am an ‘expat’, but have never lived in UK. For those in my boat, no official representation.

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