The success of the Five Star Movement (Movimento Cinque Stelle, M5S) in Italy’s general election on March 4 was perhaps expected (even if there was some incredulity, especially outside the country), in view of the country’s prolonged political and economic crisis. The movement’s one-finger salute to politicians, journalists, and EU institutions—the Vaffanculo! (fuck off) represented by the red V in the word Movimento on its badge—appealed to the anger of millions of voters; Italians seemed to like its cathartic effect.
A study by economists Guglielmo Barone and Sauro Mocetti in 2016 showed that the richest families in Florence today have the same surnames as (and may be descended from) families whose huge wealth was already shocking to Italians in the 15th century. And the way economic power has remained in the same hands may partly explain why 11 million Italians voted for M5S. The parties that have governed Italy for the last two decades and more are responsible for slack economic growth (not helped by the international financial crisis), high unemployment (especially among the young), and uncontrolled public debt. Combined with corruption scandals linked to the omnipresent Mafia and other criminal networks, this disastrous record has crushed Italians’ confidence in their leaders. Many see M5S as a way out, and a promise of revenge on politicians whom they see as constituting a “caste” concerned only for its own privileges.
Giuseppe “Beppe” Grillo, founder of M5S, who has almost disappeared from the leadership in the past few months, had warned on his blog in 2014 that the Five Star Movement aimed to fight three categories of opponent: “Journalists who cover for each other to protect the caste (and their own incomes); industrialists who support the regime, and are always ready to do favors for it (or guarantee votes for it) in return for access to public contracts or concessions; and finally politicians, who are worth less than prostitutes.”
Luigi Di Maio, 31, M5S’s candidate for prime minister, hailed the election results and announced the start of a “Third Republic,” to be built on the ruins of the current Second Republic, which in turn was built on the ruins left by the many corruption scandals that punctuated Italy’s political history until 1994; the moment of collapse for the major political parties which had emerged after the Second World War was the election of Silvio Berlusconi that year. When M5S took part in its first national election in 2013, it promised to open up Italy’s parliament “like a can of tuna” to reveal its secrets, schemes, and horse-trading.
Today, Di Maio says that M5S is ready to govern, and other parties will have to negotiate with it; Grillo’s online movement, founded in 2005, has grown rapidly and is now Italy’s single biggest movement, even if the north voted for the right-wing Northern League (Lega Nord).