Spotlight Populism: The Rage

A deep frustration has identified several enemies: the „casta“, the powerful untouchable politicians, the immigrants, Europe, the Euro.

„Out of the Euro!“ 5-Star Movement leader Beppe Grillo during a campaign in 2014 Foto: ap

Only four weeks ago I was just in that market, with a glass of mulled wine in my hands to fight a cold night I’m not used to. Berlin was fantastic and shining in its Christmas dress under the Kaiser Wilhelm 65Memorial Church, a warning against violence and war in Europe.

I remember some people singing, others eating ginger biscuits in a very peaceful atmosphere. I immediately compared this situation to the one of the year before in the same period when, a few days after the Bataclan attack, I was in Strasbourg for The Council of Europe and the city was totally militarized with soldiers walking along the streets while silent people put little candles, letters and flowers in memory of the Paris victims under the Christmas tree of the main square.

I was in Berlin for a seminary in the European College with other southern European journalists to talk about populism and how to empower European cohesion. I met a lot of people also in the buildings of politics: Reichstag, Foreign Affairs Ministry, Finance Ministry … but what impressed me above all was the refugee accommodation in Wilmersdorf’s former town hall.

The centre was tidy and quiet, only some kids ran around, curious. More than one thousand people live there after the great immigration wave of the 2015 summer.

In December 2016 the European Academy Berlin invited 20 journalists from Southern Europe to visit Berlin. taz was part of their official tour programme. The meeting quickly turned into a talk about our shared need for international cooperation, aiming to find a media counterbalance to current crises in Europe. To start with, we decided on a question that concerns us all: How will we survive populism in Europe?

Auf Einladung der Europäischen Akademie Berlin besuchten 20 JournalistInnen aus Südeuropa im Dezember 2016 Berlin und die taz. Schnell wurde deutlich, wie groß das gemeinsame Bedürfnis nach internationalen Kooperationen ist, einem Medien-Gegengewicht zu den aktuellen Krisen in Europa. Wir haben uns zum Auftakt für eine Frage entschieden, die uns alle gleichermaßen umtreibt: Wie überleben wir den Populismus in Europa?

Arriving I was surprised by the multitude of bikes, hundreds and hundreds, leanung against the wall of the building. Someone said to me they were all given for free from Berliners to refugees. „They have the antibodies…“ I thought, antibodies against xenophobia and populism. But now all of this appears so far away and I can guess what will change after the terrorist attack of December 19th.

Race among pupulists

A race has already started among the European populist leaders to find out who has the moral responsibility for these killed people. From Frauke Petry’s AfD to Salvini’s Lega and Marine Le Pen’s Front National, all of them want to use this attack to inflame the political debate and to push people to look at the colour of the other's face and be scared of crowded places.

„We do not want to live paralyzed by the fear of evil“ Frau Merkel said but it isn't easy to go on with daily life. One of the twelve victims was an Italian girl, Fabrizia Di Lorenzo, a friend of a colleague of mine. In this little world also feelings are strictly “connected“ and now my friend cries for a girl who left for Berlin like many other Italians looking for a better life despite of excellent curricula. In fact not only the immigration wave feeds this Leviathan who wanders around Europe.

The great economic crisis has contributed in these last years to destroy the middle class and enlarge the scissors between the poorest and the richest. In my country, Italy, the wealth is at the same level as in 2005 and southern regions suffer from an increasingly growing unemployment. So the 4th December Italian referendum for constitutional reform has been perceived like a referendum against Renzi's Government and the former Italian premier has left at once after the result of 60 Percent votes for „No“ came in.

A real nightmare

For me it has been a real nightmare: one of the few possibilities that my country has had to change and to reform its endemic paralysis has been lost. The richest northern towns like the most European one, Milan, voted Yes but the South and above all young people expressed their rage and their lack of future and perspective voting No. In this frustration the populism of the Five Stars Movement won the match helped by an aggressive web campaign.

Web power: this is the third pillar of modern populism. We saw what happened with Trumps' campaign. False news was spread but people went on voting for him because social networks give people what people want in a sort of interplay of mirrors where everybody founds his own confirmations.

When we met the journalists from taz, during the Berlin seminary I attended, we talked about the media revolution. In taz newsroom there is a sign on which reads „Don’t believe the liberal media!“. I think that now it should be changed in „Don't believe the web!“ This is the real core of the problem! Also in my radio, Rai Radio3, the left wing oriented cultural national radio in Italy, we always discuss about the changes in our profession and our chase of this new world. The listeners have become „followers“ and over and over they don't accept the mediation of the “medium“ looking for a more direct and horizontal relationship, often aggressive, in which their truth becomes „the truth“.

So when the taz colleagues asked us to write an article about how to save ourselves from populism I tried to imagine if there really is a way out. I'm not a political scientist, I'm only a witness from a special observatory, as a national radio where I've been working for 27 years is. In these years caused by an unfair wealth distribution I saw a growing rage and a deep frustration that have identified several different enemies: the „casta“, the powerful untouchable politicians, the immigrants, Europe, the Euro.

I remember that after the great political Italian crisis of „Tangentopoli“, the corruption scandal that destroyed the old politics of our 1st Republic in 1992, the audience was angry but optimistic for a new future, they hoped for a better political solution and saw in the Second Republic as a great opportunity. Now, on the contrary, in my country there is only skepticism, frustration and immobility. So, in this panorama whoever gives simple solutions to complex problems hits the jackpot.

No, I’m not optimistic, I fear for my kids and for their future in a world completely changed by globalization. I live in Machiavelli’s country and I have to be realistic and pragmatic too: I think we face a cultural revolution and we’ll need plenty of time till we’ll open our eyes and hearts to the “alterity“ in every moment of our life. Perhaps initiative like this one wanted by taz, the realization of a pool of international journalists to exchange their opinions and debate all together about these essential issues, could help to destroy prejudices giving reciprocally better tools to understand, in a common effort, this fluid and difficult reality we are living in.

Cristiana Castellotti, Radio3 (State-owned public-broadcasting channel of RAI)/Programme director “Tutta la città ne parla“ and “Radio3mondo“

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