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The rise of the Five Star Movement, Italy’s ‘rejectionist’ party

The Five Star Movement, Italy’s fastest growing political party, is fully anti-establishment. Started by a foul-mouthed comedian named Beppe Grillo, the group believes the government has been overtaken by corruption and that immigration is to blame for the fact that this generation is less well off than its grandparents. Special correspondent Christopher Livesay reports from Rome.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    But first, earlier this month, Italian voters rejected a referendum to alter that nation's constitution — in what was a stern rebuke of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who resigned in the aftermath. The vote was seen as the latest instance of a rising tide of populism both in Europe, and here, against elites and the perceived establishment.

    From Rome, special correspondent Christopher Livesay explains.

  • CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY:

    It started as just another protest movement. Now, it could control the Italian government and many in Europe are terrified. It's called the Five Star Movement. A foul-mouthed comedian named Beppe Grillo founded the group only seven years ago. Today, the Five Star Movement is Italy's fastest growing party, picking off votes from both left and right, with a populist message skewering the political establishment amid the punishing economic fallout of the euro crisis.

    The government has long dismissed them as anti-Euro nationalists — done so at their now clear, and great peril. This month, center-left Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, a staunch defender of the European Union, was forced to resign when he failed in a referendum on constitutional reforms that would have weakened the powers of the senate, in order to streamline the legislative process.

    The Five Star Movement campaigned hardest against Renzi. New elections are expected early next year. And it's the Five Star Movement with the wind in its sails.

    Franco Pavoncello is a professor of political science and the president of John Cabot University in Rome.

    FRANCO PAVONCELLO, John Cabot University in Rome: The Five Star Movement is basically a rejectionist party that feels that the entire political spectrum has been disqualified by decades of bad management, corruption, economic decline, where the people are much poorer than their grandparents. And this is where we see a parallel with Brexit and the United States. There is a sense of the dispossessed, of the disenfranchised, those who feel they don't really have a voice anymore.

  • CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY:

    That voice is channeled in parliament by lawmakers like Manlio Di Stefano, a leading figure in the movement.

    What will a Five Star Movement government look like?

    MANLIO DI STEFANO, Member of Parliament, Five Star Movement: How will we govern? How will people give us the numbers? People will give us the numbers. We are sure 100 percent that the next political election, people will realize that Five Star Movement against the rest of the establishment.

  • CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY:

    So it's the Five Star Movement against everyone else.

  • MANLIO DI STEFANO:

    I think, yes.

  • CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY:

    At just 35 years old, Di Stefano epitomizes the youthful rebellion at the heart of the movement, telling his parliamentary rivals they'd never worked a real job in their lives.

    Italians like Roberta Maggi who feel increasingly left behind are the core of the Five Star Movement's support. Last year, the landlord shut off the single mother's heat and hot water when she lost her job as a secretary, and could no longer afford rent.

    She heats up pots of water on the stove and she washes her kids her in the sink.

  • ROBERTA MAGGI, Unemployed Single Mother (translated):

    You see what I'm going through? Sometimes I just break down.

  • CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY:

    With Christmas just around the corner, she faces eviction this very morning. Neighbors and friends have rallied to her side.

  • Among them:

    Roberta Lombardi, another member of parliament from the Five Star Movement.

    ROBERTA LOMBARDI, Member of Parliament, Five Star Movement: We are here to try to stop this eviction.

    But first, earlier this month, Italian voters rejected a referendum to alter that nation's constitution — in what was a stern rebuke of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who resigned in the aftermath. The vote was seen as the latest instance of a rising tide of populism both in Europe, and here, against elites and the perceived establishment.

    From Rome, special correspondent Christopher Livesay explains.

  • CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY:

    It started as just another protest movement. Now, it could control the Italian government and many in Europe are terrified. It's called the Five Star Movement. A foul-mouthed comedian named Beppe Grillo founded the group only seven years ago. Today, the Five Star Movement is Italy's fastest growing party, picking off votes from both left and right, with a populist message skewering the political establishment amid the punishing economic fallout of the euro crisis.

    The government has long dismissed them as anti-Euro nationalists — done so at their now clear, and great peril. This month, center-left Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, a staunch defender of the European Union, was forced to resign when he failed in a referendum on constitutional reforms that would have weakened the powers of the senate, in order to streamline the legislative process.

    The Five Star Movement campaigned hardest against Renzi. New elections are expected early next year. And it's the Five Star Movement with the wind in its sails.

    Franco Pavoncello is a professor of political science and the president of John Cabot University in Rome.

    FRANCO PAVONCELLO, John Cabot University in Rome: The Five Star Movement is basically a rejectionist party that feels that the entire political spectrum has been disqualified by decades of bad management, corruption, economic decline, where the people are much poorer than their grandparents. And this is where we see a parallel with Brexit and the United States. There is a sense of the dispossessed, of the disenfranchised, those who feel they don't really have a voice anymore.

  • CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY:

    That voice is channeled in parliament by lawmakers like Manlio Di Stefano, a leading figure in the movement.

    What will a Five Star Movement government look like?

  • MANLIO DI STEFANO:

    How will we govern? How will people give us the numbers? People will give us the numbers. We are sure 100 percent that the next political election, people will realize that Five Star Movement against the rest of the establishment.

  • CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY:

    So it's the Five Star Movement against everyone else.

  • MANLIO DI STEFANO:

    I think, yes.

  • CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY:

    At just 35-years-old, Di Stefano epitomizes the youthful rebellion at the heart of the movement, telling his parliamentary rivals they'd never worked a real job in their lives.

    Italians like Roberta Maggi who feel increasingly left behind are the core of the Five Star Movement's support. Last year, the landlord shut off the single mother's heat and hot water when she lost her job as a secretary, and could no longer afford rent.

    She heats up pots of water on the stove and she washes her kids her in the sink.

  • ROBERTA MAGGI (translated):

    You see what I'm going through? Sometimes I just break down.

  • CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY:

    With Christmas just around the corner, she faces eviction this very morning. Neighbors and friends have rallied to her side.

  • Among them:

    Roberta Lombardi, another member of parliament from the Five Star Movement.

  • ROBERTA LOMBARDI:

    We are here to try to stop this eviction.

    RULA JEBREAL, American University of Rome: Oh, Russia is the real winner of all of this. I mean, they kill the news itself by creating — by flooding the market with fake news. Look, globally, wee have a presidential candidate, president-elect who told the Russians, yes, please hack the Democratic National Committee and release the emails, I want you to release the emails, inviting them actually to the party.

    We have Marie Le Pen, Madam Le Pen in France who asked the Russians to give her $7 million so she could run a campaign. And the Five Stars here are selecting these kinds of news. It's a national security threat, what we're seeing.

  • CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY:

    The Five Star movement denies it has a pro- Russian agenda. But some of their policy proposals would benefit Russia, such as pushing for Italy to leave NATO, and for the E.U. to end sanctions on Russia for annexing Crimea in 2014.

  • MANLIO DI STEFANO:

    We want to cut these sanctions.

  • CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY:

    You want to cut European union sanctions against Russia.

  • MANLIO DI STEFANO:

    Yes. The only ones that are losing money are the European people. They did something that was just a demonstration of power — Europe against Russia. And Russia is winning.

  • CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY:

    Indeed, it's the Five Star movement's Euro skepticism that's shaken investors and much of Europe. If elected, they've promised to hold a referendum on abandoning the Euro currency. As the Eurozone's third-largest economy, Italy's exit could be disastrous.

    The government is now in the hands of an interim cabinet, and new elections must be held. According to polls, the Five Star Movement won't win an all-out majority. But they're confident that the polls are wrong — just as they were for another political iconoclast: Donald Trump.

  • MANLIO DI STEFANO:

    He made his campaign having against him the full establishment system. And everybody was really against him. We are facing the same thing in Italy. And we will succeed like they did. But as I said, we will really do what we are promising.

  • CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY:

    For the "PBS NewsHour", I'm Christopher Livesay, in Rome.

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