They blocked roads and stopped trains, occupied piazzas, clashed with police and closed shops. From Turin and Milan in the north to Puglia and Sicily in the south, Italy was hit this week by a wave of protests that brought together disparate groups and traditional foes in an angry show of opposition to austerity policies and the government.
“They [politicians] have brought us to hunger; have destroyed the identity of a country; have annihilated the future of entire generations,” read one poster from the “December 9 Committee”, an umbrella organisation urging Italians to rise up against the euro, Brussels, globalisation and, primarily, Enrico Letta’s government. “To rebel is a duty.”
In a loosely formed movement which has gone largely by the name of I Forconi (the Pitchforks), lorry drivers, farmers, small business owners, students and unemployed people staged protests venting their fury at a political class which they blame for Italy’s longest post-war recession and want to “send home”. But they were not alone. Alongside them were anti-globalisation groups, members of the Veneto Independence movement, elements of the far right and – for good measure – football “ultras”. Among the sights “rarely seen before”, reported the Turin-based daily La Stampa, were supporters of arch-rivals Juventus and Torino standing “side by side”. Although the protests had been publicised, especially on the internet, their scale and occasionally violent nature – particularly in Turin, a historic city of protest – appeared to take many by surprise.
Indeed. After all, the euro-zone crisis is “over” . . .
But what has been made clear by the Pitchforks protests, say analysts, is not just the depth of anger on the streets but a feeling that traditional politics – even after the dramatic election breakthrough of Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement – is not responding to their needs.
“These protests show Italy’s massive crisis of political representation,” said Duncan McDonnell, a political scientist at the European University Institute in Florence. “These people don’t feel that anyone’s actually listening to them … It really shows how there are big sections of Italian society that don’t feel represented by anyone – political parties, trade unions, interest groups or business.”
And they are not. The EU has hollowed out Europe’s national democracies, and these are the consequences.