Italy's web politicians post their dystopic vision

First a third world war, eco-disaster and mass death. Then global government for the lucky...

Six weeks after the general election, Italy remains without a government. And the only man capable of breaking the deadlock – at a stroke – refuses to lift a finger.

Comedian Beppe Grillo’s non-party, the web-based Five-Star Movement (5SM), came from nowhere three years after its formation to become Italy’s biggest single political formation with 26 per cent of the vote. It has been put under intense pressure to cut a deal with the centre-left Democratic Party (DP) and its coalition partners, who won a majority in the Camera dei Deputati. With Grillo’s support, the PD could obtain a healthy majority in the Senate as well, leading to the formation of a relatively strong coalition government.

Some voices inside the 5SM have lobbied for a deal of this sort. But while the movement claims to be the vanguard of a new form of electronic democracy which is going to take over the world, for now there is no doubt about who is boss: the man whose blog,, is the movement’s running manifesto. And Mr Grillo is not for turning. “Why did you vote for 5SM?” demanded a recent post. “To make a government of the old parties? To vote in parliament for the least bad?...To legitimise a ruling class that has made the country fail?” The questions were purely rhetorical. And the impasse goes on.

5SM’s rallying-call was for a political revolution, and while its success has condemned the country to a spell in limbo, Grillo has no regrets. On Friday, to underline his good humour while the leaders of the established parties fret and fume, and the DP in particular seems on the brink of splitting, he took the bulk of his new MPs on a magical mystery tour through the countryside outside Rome. Once they had consumed a lunch of paccheri pasta with porcini mushrooms en route and arrived at an agriturismo called Villa Valente, their destination (undisclosed until arrival, like much else about the movement), Mr Grillo got down to business.

“Total unanimity in the movement” was not something he had expected, the leader said, attempting to defuse widespread fears that he is an authoritarian. “It’s legitimate that some people think differently…You are at liberty to define the [movement’s] political line” Yet he left no-one in doubt that its unanimity –under his fiat – was a great asset. “It’s not we who are splitting but the others,” he said. The new MP who is the group’s leader in the Camera, Roberta Lombardi, said the excursion had done its job. “Even those who were wavering due to pressure from the media today had a peaceable and serene encounter,” she said. “We are all part of the same network…we foresee that there will be a government of broad agreement.”

But how and when that might come about she did not explain. Italy has been through many political crises over the years, but commentators agree that there has never been one like this one. And the deadlock in parliament is aggravated by the fact that the seven-year term of the head of state, President Giorgio Napolitano, the 88-year-old ex-communist whose role has been crucial in navigating through recent crises, ends next month. He is now a lame duck, without the power even to dissolve parliament, and 5SM refuses to play ball in facilitating the election of his successor: Grillo wants the next President to be chosen not by parliament but by a nationwide popular vote on the web.

While Mr Grillo is the unquestioned leader and figurehead of the movement, he launched it with a 58-year-old internet expert called Gianroberto Casaleggio. Known in the Italian press as Grillo’s guru, Mr Casaleggio is the movement’s visionary.

Unlike his partner, Mr Casaleggio has no love of the limelight: with his curtains of lank grey hair and his brooding, introverted air he bears a marked resemblance to Snape, the ambiguous figure in the Harry Potter films played by Alan Rickman. His only recent appearance with Grillo was at the movement’s last, vast pre-election meeting in Rome on 22 February when Grillo produced him like a rabbit out of the hat. Casaleggio limited himself to a single oracular statement, amply justified by events: “We are going to change Italy.” The applause was deafening.

Since then the Italian press, especially the part controlled by the Berlusconi family, has gone to great lengths to pin something sinister on him, but without success. Mr Casaleggio lives in a modest flat in Milan, drives a red second-hand Volvo,  and has been married twice, once to an Englishwoman called Elizabeth Birks, from whom he is divorced. Yet despite his shyness, Mr Casaleggio has plastered his extraordinary ideas about humankind’s future all over the web. They are entirely congruent with the line his movement has taken since the election. And they are highly disturbing.

In a seven-minute YouTube video entitled Gaia, Casaleggio expounds his vision of a world under the sway of the net. “With the net,” the female narrator explains, “power belongs to all the people.” Mr Grillo’s celebrated nationwide V-Day (“Fuck-off Day”) protests of 2007, were “the biggest political event…brought together using the internet,” she claims. “Two million people took to the streets to demonstrate for a clean parliament.” And this is the way of the future.      

In 2043, “grassroots movements emerge all over the world to solve problems connected to energy, food, environment, health,” she goes on. This will be a world of gentle, ecological, net-based anarchism: “The planet is subdivided into thousands of communities linked by the net…in 2051 a world referendum is held on the net to abolish the death penalty…2054 – world elections on the net – the world government, called Gaia, is elected.” And with this we will have arrived at the New Jerusalem, where “every person can become president and control the activities of the government through the net. Man is the only owner of his destiny. Collective knowledge is the new politics.” Finally on 14 August 2054 – on which day, if he survives, Mr Casaleggio will turn 100 – “the new world order will be complete.”

One drawback: by now the identity of the entire population will be in the hands of a hypothetical new Google social network, called Earthlink. “To be, you must be in Earthlink,” the narrator explains – “or be not.” On the other hand, we won’t need to carry passports.

The other drawback is more serious. “2020: the beginning of the Third World War”, the video foresees: war between the enlightened west, where the internet is free, and the “Orwellian dictatorships” of Russia, China and the Middle East, where it is still controlled. This war will go on for 20 years, with “acceleration of climate change, arriving of the sea at 12 metres, starvation, end of the fossil fuel era.” Oh yes: and “reduction of the world’s population to 1 billion.” Six out of seven human beings now alive, in other words, will die.

Let no-one accuse Grillo and Casaleggio of deluding the Italian public with false hopes.

Life and Style
A teenager boy wakes up.
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Critics say Kipling showed loathing for India's primitive villagers in The Jungle Book
filmChristopher Walken, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johanssen Idris Elba, Andy Serkis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett and Christian Bale
Life and Style
food + drink
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Playing to win: for Tanith Carey, pictured with Lily, right, and Clio, even simple games had to have an educational purpose
lifeTanith Carey explains what made her take her foot off the gas
Arts and Entertainment
A still from Duncan Campbell's hour-long film 'It for Others'
Turner Prize 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hadley in a scene from ‘Soul Boys Of The Western World’
musicSpandau Ballet are back together - on stage and screen
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Ed Stoppard as Brian Epstein, Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Elliott Cowan as George Martin in 'Cilla'
tvCilla review: A poignant ending to mini-series
Life and Style
Bearing up: Sebastian Flyte with his teddy Aloysius in Brideshead Revisited
lifePhilippa Perry explains why a third of students take a bear to uni
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Alan Sugar appearing in a shot from Apprentice which was used in a Cassette Boy mashup
artsA judge will rule if pieces are funny enough to be classed as parodies
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Trust Accountant - Kent

NEGOTIABLE: Austen Lloyd: TRUST ACCOUNTANT - KENTIf you are a Chartered Accou...

Geography Teacher

£85 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: randstad education are curre...

Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Group: You must:- Speak English as a first lang...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£17000 - £18000 per annum: Randstad Education Group: If you are a committed Te...

Day In a Page

Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

Inside the E15 'occupation'

We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
Witches: A history of misogyny

Witches: A history of misogyny

The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style