By Enrico Verga, a writer, consultant, and entrepreneur based in Milan. As a consultant, he concentrates on firms interested in opportunities in international and digital markets. His articles have appeared in Il Sole 24 Ore, Capo Horn, Longitude, Il Fatto Quotidiano, and many other publications. You can follow him on Twitter @enricoverga.
Reading about the Italian election in Italy can be entertaining. However, if I take the point of view of my friends from abroad (in the UK, France, the US, and Iran), I find the election even more entertaining.
Before turning to the question of who won, let’s look at some of the more hilarious stories I ran into in the foreign media before the polls closed.
Exciting Media Narratives
Multiple friends contacted me, worried that Fascism with a capital F was coming to Italy.
One has to keep in mind that a certain stratum of the pro-Renzi media (that we could call the “pro-globalization” media) has, throughout last month, poured oil on the fire, declaring that Italy is teeming with fascist, Nazi, and ultra-nationalist movements. A number of tragic incidents pitting immigrants against native Italians have certainly made it possible for the media to build a formidable echo chamber –and as one knows, blood (like sex) is a reliable way to sell newspapers.
Readers of papers oriented toward Renzi’s center-left were told that Casa Pound (a small social movement with some nostalgia for the historical Right) might get as high as 4 or 5% of the vote. With the polls closed, Casa Pound actually didn’t even reach 1%, and so, given that it is not part of any coalition, the votes it obtained are worthless.
Still more entertaining was reading that during protests and clashes between marches of “fascists” and (left-wing) “anti-fascists,” it was possible to perceive the rise of a new, violently nationalist Right. In fact, it’s true that, as mentioned for example in this article, the police had to get involved during the protests in order to keep the opposing groups apart. However, what actually happened is that the police had their hands full trying to protect the beleaguered far Right militants of Casa Pound from the hundreds of anti-fascists who wanted to beat the living daylights out of them.
As exciting as it might be to think that the era of Mussolini has returned, the fact that back then it was the fascist squads who beat up leftist citizens and not the other way around seems like an important distinction to bear in mind. Claiming that we are in imminent danger of a return to fascism shows more or less the same sense of proportion as seeing in a drop of water falling from the sky the biblical tempest that Noah built an ark in order to survive.
Still within the general cadre of stories about the invasion of the nationalist hordes, another extremely amusing phenomenon was the alarm over Kekistan. Left-leaning newspapers (from Radio Popolare to Repubblica, whose deputy director was a winning candidate for the PD) warned that Kekistan flags were a terrifying symbol of ultranationalist resurgence.
Anyone interested in looking into the matter will discover that Kekistan is a meme created on 4chan during the recent US election cycle in order to make fun of liberal Democrats with attitudes like “if you don’t vote for Clinton and the Democrats, then you are a misogynistic Trump lover sympathetic to Nazism and white supremacy.” Now it so happens that Kekistan supporters dared to raise its flag in one of Salvini’s rallies – Salvini being the leader of Lega Nord, the party in the center right coalition that received the most votes (17%). Immediately, the left-leaning papers trumpeted their outrage, and produced photos taken elsewhere showing Kekistan banners and Nazi flags in close proximity. All of this was naturally accompanied by extremely erudite analyses that threw into a single stewpot Kekistanis, white supremacists, Nazis, (Italian-style) fascists, and so on.
All of this may serve to illustrate the pathetic level reached in coverage of our recent election. Let us now turn to the question of who came out as a winner.
Losers and Winners
We can start by looking at who didn’t win.
The “left” alliance was made up of the social-democratic PD (Renzi’s party), Liberi e Uguali (including the outgoing president of the Chamber of Deputies, Boldrini, and the president of the Senate, Grasso), as well as Europa, a party created by the ex-Radical Emma Bonino, an individual who has gone through more political incarnations than Trump has women, and who for several years has reminded us that she is supported by George Soros. It lost, as dramatized in this picture
showing Renzi as the dying Christ, cradled in the arms of his faithful defender Maria Elena Boschi.
The center-right alliance ended up with 37% of the vote. It is made up of Lega Nord (led by Salvini) which got 17%, Forza Italia (led by the eternal Silvio Berlusconi) which got 13%, and Fratelli d’Italia (led by Giorgia Meloni), with 4%. Fratelli d’Italia is what is left of the overt Italian nationalists (MSI), which were in turn the tattered remnants of the Italian fascist party.
This coalition does not have an absolute majority in Senate or Chamber. Nevertheless, given how the Italian system works, the president of the Republic might well decide to give it the first opportunity to form a government. If so, it will need to come up with 23 senators, and (in the Chamber) 24 deputies. But where to find them?
One possibility is that some of the deputies and senators elected as part of the Left coalition might decide to fly a new flag, forming a new group (presumably billing itself as “moderate”), which would then put itself up for sale to the highest bidder.
Another possibility is members of the Five Stars movement (M5S), who despite being in the party with overall the largest vote total, might nevertheless decide to betray the movement.
In fact, the M5S was the second great winner from the election. It came away with 32% of the vote, giving it a plurality of the vote, but not a majority. To get one, it is in the same position as the center-right bloc: it would need to strip away enough deputies and senators in order to have a credible shot at forming a government. Its leader is Luigi Di Maio, who was more or less unemployed before getting elected as an M5S deputy from Naples. He is in any case often considered as a puppet in the hands of the Casaleggio organization, a PR agency which in turn has close links to the comedian Beppe Grillo (the founder of the Five Stars party).
The Breakdown of the Vote
Let me begin with a simple premise: the success of both the center-right coalition and the Five Stars represents a rejection of the pro-globalization policy of Renzi’s “leftist” PD party.
To take the analysis a step further, it is important to look at the vote by regions.
In the south of Italy, where the unemployment rate is very high, the ambitious proposals of the Five Stars were inevitably attractive. These included a sort of Universal Basic Income (the reddito di cittadinanza, “salary of citizenship”) of 500 or 1000 Euro per month. Given the stagnant economy of the south, the M5S proposal was tantamount to a wedding invitation, and the party received plenty of votes, whether motivated by hope or desperation.
In the north, however, the anti-globalization vote typically coalesced into support for Salvini’s Lega Nord. Why?
One reason is that two regions governed by Lega Nord are Lombardy and Veneto, major economic motors of Italy. As it happens, the regions of Liguria and Emilia Romagna, two other economic powerhouses, also went for Salvini or for other parties in the center-right coalition.
Italy is in fact split in half, as can be seen in the following charts from Il Sole 24 Ore:
“Red” means left, “blue” means right (contrast the American convention), while “yellow” refers to the Five Stars.
Those who wanted to protest the current regime and who simultaneously hope for an economic liftoff voted for center-right parties that presented (what seemed like) credible plans for economic growth. Those who wanted to protest but find the economic situation hopeless cast their votes instead for the Five Stars. Here and there one can find splotches of red (signifying support for Renzi’s party) – in these cases voters didn’t know whom to support and voted at random.
Reassurance for Concerned Americans
Q: Is it safe for me as an American to go to Italy? What about the dangerous fascists?
A: Yes, it’s safe.
Q: Is it safe for me as an American to go to Italy? What about the risk of a civil war?
A: No risk of a civil war, at worst there will be some punches thrown when the fans of Milan and Inter run into each other at the derby.
Q: Will Italy leave the Euro?
Q: Will Italy betray America and further the nefarious plans of Putin?
A: Italy will continue to be, as it has been, a nation that tries to avoid taking sides.
Q: Will Italy stop being the wonderful country that we know and love?
A: Pizza, the Colosseum, good wine, Ferraris, and (for the fashion-addicted) Monte Napoleone, are safe from danger. American tourists need not worry.