Beppe Grillo—italy’s co­me­dian turned prom­i­nent politico— talks Putin, Trump and the fu­ture of the European Union

Newsweek - - Contents - WORLD BY MANFRED MANERA

Italy’s Beppe Grillo on Putin, Trump and the EU

giuseppe “beppe” grillo, 69, rose to promi­nence as a co­me­dian, skew­er­ing the hypocrisy and ve­nal­ity of Italy’s po­lit­i­cal class. When he formed the Five Star Move­ment in 2009, his anti­estab­lish­ment, eu­roskep­tic stance quickly made the up­start party a player in Ital­ian pol­i­tics. His sup­port­ers: mostly young, work­ing-class Ital­ians who had be­come dis­il­lu­sioned with the tra­di­tional left. Af­ter win­ning 32 per­cent of the vote in the March elec­tion, Five Star be­came the sin­gle big­gest group in the coun­try’s Par­lia­ment. In the wake of his party’s vic­tory, Grillo re­fused to take a seat in Par­lia­ment or in a pos­si­ble coali­tion govern­ment, in­stead pre­fer­ring to guide the move­ment from the out­side.

His col­leagues have needed some help. The coun­try’s econ­omy has sput­tered, and Five Star ini­tially strug­gled to form a coali­tion govern­ment. Grillo, how­ever, has re­mained op­ti­mistic about his party’s fu­ture. As of pub­li­ca­tion, Five Star was near­ing a gov­ern­ing agree­ment with the hard-right League party. Weeks prior, although he once said he en­joyed “eat­ing” jour­nal­ists “just for the plea­sure of vom­it­ing them up again,” he spoke to Newsweek be­fore a stand-up per­for­mance in An­cona.

How did your move­ment be­gin?

It all started from my en­counter with Gian­roberto Casa­leg­gio, the man­ager of a small in­ter­net firm, who had just pub­lished a book on Genghis Khan and the web. I wanted to start a blog, and he helped me. To­gether, we cre­ated a [pop­u­lar] blog .... I was just a co­me­dian, a crowd mo­ti­va­tor. He put the power of the web at [my] dis­posal, and the ex­per­i­ment worked.

Why did this new po­lit­i­cal ex­per­i­ment suc­ceed in Italy?

We were like an ark open to all the cul­tural and men­tal mis­fits of our coun­try. I cov­ered the whole of south­ern Italy in a cam­per van. Our move­ment is the force of the web com­bined with the town square. Their sym­bio­sis is the key.

You didn't as­sume of­fice. Why? And what’s your role in the move­ment now?

Have you ever heard about the im­mor­tal move in the game of chess? When a player sac­ri­fices the im­por­tant pieces in or­der to win with a sin­gle pawn? This is my case. I am a kind of noble fa­ther, a pa­tron. I ob­serve it from out­side and would in­ter­vene only if it strays off course.

How do you live your dou­ble life of a co­me­dian and a politi­cian?

It is an in­ter­nal du­al­ism that makes me an in­som­niac. Peo­ple don’t know any­more if they are com­ing to watch a spec­ta­cle or a po­lit­i­cal rally.

Don­ald Trump also came from show busi­ness. Did it help him?

I ob­served that main­stream me­dia was so to­tally against him that, at the end, they helped him. The same has hap­pened with the Five Star Move­ment…. [The me­dia] achieved the opposite of what it aimed for. Same hap­pened with Brexit.

Is the Five Star Move­ment on the left or the right?

Left, right, pop­ulism… all are mean­ing­less con­cepts. Un­in­tel­li­gi­ble for the new gen­er­a­tions. Ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence is de­stroy­ing the tra­di­tional world of work. Old na­tion-states have been emp­tied from within, and we are go­ing back to the age of city-states.

What do you think about fake news and Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica?

I don’t see the scan­dal un­less one be­haves like a child. It is so ob­vi­ous that we are con­stantly mon­i­tored and ma­nip­u­lated both in ad­ver­tis­ing and in pol­i­tics.

And im­mi­gra­tion?

The im­mi­gra­tion flows have to be con­trolled. We have to know who comes into Italy. The prob­lem shouldn’t be left to over­sized, dys­func­tional non­govern­men­tal groups.

How do you feel about Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin?

He is cer­tainly some­body who has clear ideas. I don’t fear Putin at all. Russia wants to make com­merce, not war. Anti-pu­tin­ism costs us bil­lions in sanc­tions.

What is the Five Star Move­ment’s vi­sion for Europe?

The European Union had many mer­its in the past, but now it is dys­func­tional. It needs re­form. The European Par­lia­ment has no power; the de­ci­sions are taken by the com­mis­sion­ers. And if you look at who sits on the com­mis­sions, you will find one politi­cian sur­rounded by seven lob­by­ists. Guess who makes the de­ci­sions?

Our vi­sion for Europe is in­spired by the Swiss model of di­rect democ­racy. We are in fa­vor of a con­sul­ta­tive ref­er­en­dum on the euro. It might be a good idea to have two eu­ros, for two more ho­mo­ge­neous eco­nom­i­cal re­gions. One for north­ern Europe and one for south­ern Europe.

Will the Five Star Move­ment form a govern­ment?

It will take some more time, but it will hap­pen. If we aim to lower taxes for small and medium busi­nesses, if we aim for a cit­i­zen­ship in­come, if the end is to im­prove the life of the peo­ple, we can then find an agree­ment.

/,)( 2) 7+( 3$57< At left, sup­port­ers of the move­ment. As of pub­li­ca­tion, Five Star was near­ing a gov­ern­ing agree­ment with the hard-right League party.

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