21 July 2016

Beppe Grillo - comedian turned activist

Grillo's Five Star Movement gaining popularity

Beppe Grillo addresses a crowd of  supporters in Sestri Levante in Liguria
Beppe Grillo addresses a crowd of
supporters in Sestri Levante in Liguria
The comedian turned political activist Beppe Grillo was born on this day in 1948 in Genoa.

Grillo is the founder and president of the Five Star Movement - Movimento Cinque Stelle - a growing force in Italian politics that enjoyed one of its first high-profile successes when Virginia Raggi was elected Mayor of Rome in 2016.

Luigi Di Maio, who succeeded Grillo as leader, became Italy’s foreign minister and deputy prime minister between 2018 and 2019.  The party's current president, Giuseppe Conte, was prime minister of Italy from 2018 to 2021. 

The Five Star Movement - M5S - polled more than 25 per cent of the votes for the Chamber of Deputies at the 2013 elections in Italy and almost 24 per cent of the votes for the Senate, although under existing electoral rules this translated to only 109 seats among 630 Deputies and 54 of the 315 Senators.

Nonetheless, the group is seen as the biggest threat to Prime Minister Matteo Renzi's centre-left Democratic Party at the next national elections in 2018.

Raggi won 67 per cent of the vote in Rome. Another M5S candidate, Chiara Appendino, was elected Mayor of Turin, beating the Democratic Party candidate into second place.  Overall, Five Star won 19 of 20 mayoral elections which it contested.

Grillo launched M5S as a protest group in 2009 but his ability to inspire audiences led to a rapid growth in popularity.  It has positioned itself as anti-corruption, anti-globalisation and pro transparency in the political system.  It wants a system introduced to provide universal income support for the poor and campaigns for a referendum that would give Italians the chance to ditch the euro and revert to the lira as its currency.

Having originally trained as an accountant, Grillo took up comedy in the late 1970s after being spotted by the television presenter Pippo Baudo.

Virginia Raggi, the Movimento Cinque Stelle candidate recently elected as Mayor of Rome
Virginia Raggi, the Movimento Cinque Stelle candidate
recently elected as Mayor of Rome
Despite a conviction for manslaughter after a road accident in 1980 in which three people sadly died, his own television career blossomed to the point at which he was fronting his own shows.

However, his taste for satire proved to be his downfall as a TV presenter.  Complaints from politicians offended by his jokes were common yet his audience figures were huge, attracting as many as 15 million viewers for a single show. Given that he was employed by the state-owned broadcaster RAI, he was always treading a fine line between what was acceptable and what was not and a vitriolic attack on Bettino Craxi, Italy's first socialist prime minister in the modern era, eventually led to him effectively being banned.

Ironically, Craxi was eventually disgraced after being convicted of corruption.

Grillo continued to perform in the theatre and his touring act inevitably had a political theme.  In 2005 he launched his own blog, which attracted a considerable following, and it was after he organised "V-Day" - the V stands for a well-known Italian obscenity - and garnered 300,000 signatures on a petition demanding clean politics in Italy that he had the idea for launching M5S.

His opponents have denounced him as a populist who derives support from Italian resentment of the political establishment.

He lives with his Iranian-born second wife, Parvin Tadjk, in Nervi, a former fishing village a few miles along the Ligurian coast from central Genoa.

Genoa's Via Garibaldi is lined with elegant palaces
Travel tip:

The sixth largest city in Italy, Genoa derives its wealth from shipyards and steel works, which made possible the construction of numerous marble palaces and elegant squares that earned the city the nickname of La Superba. Look out for the beautiful Cathedral of San Lorenzo and the palaces along the Via Garibaldi.

Travel tip:

Just seven miles from the centre of Genoa, Nervi has become almost a suburb of the city, although it retains many characteristics of the fishing village it once was.  Its chief attraction is the elevated Passeggiata Anita Garibaldi, a two-kilometre walkway along the cliffs offering stunning views.

More reading:

How Italy's PM Matteo Renzi was inspired by the Scout Movement

(Photo of Virginia Raggi by Movimento Cinque Stelle CC BY-SA 3.0)
(Photo of Via Garibaldi by Andrzej Otrębski CC BY-SA 3.0)


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