Until recently, Beppe Grillo was simply a successful comedian. But these days, the powerful in Italy — and beyond — fear Grillo The Protest Leader. In Italy’s recent election, young people catapulted his nascent Five Star Movement (M5S) to political power as it gained more than 25 percent of the vote.
And, Grillo tells Metro in an exclusive interview, this is just the beginning of a worldwide revolution.
Metro: You say you want to tear down the political system. Are you sure the people who voted for you wouldn’t instead like to see solutions to Italy’s problems?
Grillo: The destruction of the system has already started thanks to the Internet, which is demolishing the world’s corruption and fake democracy. Change is happening now, but the political class hasn’t yet understood that we’re not just another party of destruction seeking to replace the old ones. The Movement is a shift in mentality, culture and society. I am just facilitating and speeding up a dissolution process already in place. We’re forced to imagine a different world because the one we live in doesn’t work. This country is on hold, there’s no big industry anymore, small and medium-sized businesses are dying. We have big issues in the health care system, in education, in culture. Italy is a country with a €2,000 billion debt, and €100 billion in debt interest.
To keep talking about growth, GDP and spending reviews is a crime against humanity. We need to sit down and reconsider it all. M5S is a concept: finding a meaning to the identity that doesn’t exist inItaly anymore, giving a meaning to the state that doesn’t exist anymore. Bureaucracy has replaced democracy, and finance has replaced economy. We need to find a meaning to the word ‘work’. It’s no longer to keep thinking of the economy in terms of GDP growth, doing more things, then destroying them, sell them away and destroy them again.
This system has crashed, not just in Italy but in all over world. M5S is a dream, a tangible utopia, already shared by millions of people. We’re living through a big change. We’re accelerating this change, a change that is not just in politics, but also in the industry, the economy, culture and civil society. To shift from petrol to renewable energies in 20 years from now is a cultural shift, not a political one. We need a generational change for both politicians and entrepreneurs. We need to redefine what a citizen is, what the economy should become. The movement is all of this: It has intellects from around the world gathering around a forum and debating. It is a bottom-up movement. It’s not like it’s a leader who has founded a party like all the others.
These are problems that don’t just affect Italy….
Absolutely. This format can be exported, and it’s already expanding all over the world. You form independent civic lists, featuring common citizens and a guarantor. I’m a guarantor, so I make sure that whoever enters the list doesn’t have a criminal record or an affiliation with other political parties. My purpose is that of spreading the word in the streets, because in addition to being an online movement it’s also a street movement.
On the web you can be subject to all sort of comments. People try to depict us as a movement led by a boss who makes the decision, a movement with no internal democracy. But this is utterly incorrect. And in Italy, our problem – in addition to the political class – is the media. If an Italian newspaper runs this interview, it will be distorted. News is influenced by political, economic and financial powers. Editors belong to this system too. We need to reform the media industry too, or this process of change will take much longer.
So a revolution is happening in Italy, just like it happened in Egypt — or perhaps even bigger?
Absolutely. Maybe in Egypt people miss Mubarak, while here no one cries for Fini or Casini or will ever cry for Bersani or Berlusconi. We Italians won’t regret anything, because we’ll put honest people to rule the country: normal people, straightforward and transparent ones. Businesses willing to operate won’t have to look outside Italy. We’ll lay the groundwork for future investments in Italy through transparency, honesty and professionalism. We’ll appoint specialists for the positions where they’re needed, positions that in the past have been given to party officials, lovers, wives and friends of friends. The internet will make it possible for the people with the best CVs to get the positions they deserve.
Your MPs are very young, full of energy and ideas. But do they have the competence to make important decisions for the country?
Yes. My 13-year-old daughter would have more common sense and capability than the current politicians, judging from the results of their actions. Our parliamentarians are the youngest group deputies in the world: 88% of them have a university degree, and we have a larger share of women than any other party in Parliament. They’ll gain experience.
This is a movement, but also a community. And we need to change the language of politics. The guiding words should be solidarity, community, nobody left behind, not “spending review, GDP, 3%, vote of confidence.” And here enters the true confidence. Politicians will be forced to follow our political agenda. When M5S was born they used to say, “Grillo represents anti-politics, he’s a demagogue and a populist.” These days they copy our agenda, and I’m extremely happy.
This is absolutely a revolution, and those who watch it from within don’t even understand it. They’re 70 or 60 years old, they’re in the political parties, newspapers and banks. And they haven’t understood that this is a war between generations. We can no longer have 70-year-olds who’ve been in power for 35 years, who wrecked the country and explain to us on TV and in newspapers how to fix the damage they’ve done. These people have to go away, apologize to the nation and undergo a fiscal check. I never asked for votes in order to form a coalition. We have the right to send them all home.
And this is just the beginning. Change is already happening, and the movement will become bigger. Citizens will become the state, and in Parliament we’ll have citizens’ committees, movements and representatives elected online. Every citizen will have the tools to decide over his own life.
Do you think traditional politicians still have a role to play?
I believe change will keep spreading like a virus. It’s like an epidemic: There will be fewer leaders and more citizen power. Decisions won’t be taken in meetings between leaders but by the citizenship through referendums. In Switzerland people don’t even know the name of the president of the Confederation; they don’t know the names of the ministers because it doesn’t really matter. The Swiss don’t even bother going to vote, because they know that ultimately they have the last say in referendums.
Let’s begin like this: have parliamentarians earning a normal salary, staying for two terms, then go back to the job they had before, and then we make everything available through the internet to facilitate honesty. This way honesty will become a trend in Italy, and people who’ll want to come and invest here will have to be honest and transparent, otherwise he’ll have invest somewhere else. And this process will apply to all of Europe. We want to be European, but not just for issues related to the economy and the banks. We want Europe to be curious, we want knowledge based on competence, we want an identical fiscal system for all of Europe, we want a shared immigration system, a shared language system.
And then everything will be simple. Today common sense is considered terrorism. If you touch the euro issue and they look at you and say, “This guy is mad; we need to stop him because he mentioned the euro and whether Italy should stay or leave.” The problem here is not whether to stay or not, the problem is that this society is based on nothing, on debt growing exponentially. This will lead not only to economic breakdown but also to social unrest. We are a movement that is looking for a solution and wants to defend freedom and legality. We did the French Revolution without the guillotine, we are a movement that managed to be elected in Parliament through democratic elections and hence we fill a void with democracy. In Greece, this void has been filled up by Golden Dawn; in Hungary, by the neo-Nazi party; in France, by Le Pen.
We’re a guarantee for democracy. People should thank us, but instead they attack us. They attack us at every demonstration. They attack our MP because he’s not used to being interviewed by five televisions as he’s strolling around; they attack another one of our MPs because he says a wrong word, or if he says something different later on. But they never attack the contents of our law proposals about small and medium-sized businesses, or the fact that we didn’t accept €42 million in electoral reimbursements. We said no. Who else said no? No one. They say we have no program, that M5S is just a protest movement that wants to destroy everything. They want to make us look like them, if not worse.
Do you think Italy would be better off outside the Eurozone?
Being inside or outside the Eurozone is not something I can decide. I never said such a thing. I said that the sovereign debt is throwing us into a black hole. We’re in a black hole, with no hope. If we don’t grow the traditional economy, if we don’t produce more cars, more concrete, more supermarkets, parking lots, infrastructure — if we don’t do this, we’re dead. But we can’t do this anymore; as a result we’re in a black hole.
But we can’t change with the same people who created these problems. They don’t have change written in their DNAs. They believe economy is in the building sector. In Australia people build wooden blocks of flats, [while] we keep buildings that waste away 50% of the energy. Italy is a hub for incinerators and regasification terminals and wind-energy production. We can’t leave all of this in the hands of the people who are in charge because they’re dilettantes, thieves and parasites, and this has ruined a country that would otherwise have an extraordinary potential. Look around you: It’s a war. Everywhere is full of rubble left behind by these people who still want our trust. This country is full of rubble: moral rubble, social rubble, industrial rubble. We’re starting a war, we’re on the frontline and we’ll win. We’re the new, we want to govern, and we’re capable of governing.
When you speak with an unemployed person, do you tell him there’s hope?
I tell the unemployed right away: “We have an immediate emergency plan that is the basic income guaranteed. Immediately.” The money for this can be found by cutting the cost of politics, by reforming trade unions and the job market. We need to reform the corporate law: The small shareholder should decide the salary of company managers, as was decided in Switzerland through a referendum. The small shareholder should decide the manager’s bonus with an electronic voting system, and should also decide whether the manager deserves to keep his job. It should be the small shareholder making those decisions, not the board of directors.
You essentially won the election. Are you sure your voters will understand why you don’t want to govern with one of the other parties?
Absolutely. My voters were in the streets when I said that we wouldn’t make a deal with anyone. Whoever votes for the Movement becomes the Movement. If you decide to go for that option and vote for the Five Stars Movement, you have to take a risk, even in your job. You decide to dedicate part of your job to the community, pretty much like me. I speak in the streets for free, whereas in the past I charged for my shows. This is the Movement: From the plumber to the engineer to the accounting manager, everyone should dedicate part of his time and his job to others. This is how we change our country and become a community, with a sense of identity. And that’s how we’ll become the best in the world, I’m sure.