Italian protest leader Beppe Grillo: "This is a war, and we'll win"

Previously published in Metro

Until recently, Beppe Grillo was simply a successful comedian. But these days, the powerful in Italy -- and beyond -- fear Grillo The Protest Leader. In Italy's recent election, young people catapulted his nascent Five Star Movement (M5S) to political power as it gained over 25% of the vote. And, Grillo tells Metro in an exclusive interview, this is just the beginning of a worldwide revolution.

You say you want to tear down the political system. Are you sure the people who voted for you wouldn't instead like to see solutions to Italy's problems? The destruction of the system has already started thanks to the internet, which is demolishing the world's corruption and fake democracy. Change is happening now, but the political class hasn't yet understood that we're not just another party of destruction seeking to replace the old ones. The Movement is a shift in mentality, culture and society. I'm just facilitating and speeding up a process already in place. We're forced to imagine a different world because the one we live in doesn't work. This country is on hold, there's no big industry anymore, small and medium-sized businesses are dying. We have big issues in the healthcare system, in education, in culture. Italy is a country with a €2,000 billion debt and €100 billion in debt interest.

M5S is a concept: finding a meaning to the identity that doesn't exist in Italy anymore, giving a meaning to the state that doesn't exist anymore. Bureaucracy has replaced democracy, and finance has replaced economy. We need to find a meaning to the word 'work'. It's no longer enough to keep thinking of the economy in terms of GDP growth. So a revolution is happening in Italy, just like it happened in Egypt - or perhaps even bigger? Absolutely. Maybe in Egypt people miss Mubarak, while here no one cries for Fini or Casini or will ever cry for Bersani or Berlusconi. We Italians won't regret anything, because we'll put honest people to rule the country: normal people, straightforward and transparent ones. Businesses willing to operate won't have to look outside Italy. We'll lay the groundwork for future investments in Italy through transparency, honesty and professionalism. We'll appoint specialists for the positions where they're needed, positions that in the past have been given to party officials, lovers, wives and friends of friends. The internet will make it possible for the people with the best CVs to get the positions they deserve.

Your MPs are very young, full of energy and ideas. But do they have the competence to make important decisions for the country? Yes. My 13-year-old daughter would have more common sense and capability than the current politicians, judging from the results of their actions. M5S's parliamentarians are the youngest group of deputies in the world. 88% of them have a university degree, and we have a larger share of women than any other party in Parliament. They'll gain experience.

And then? Politicians will be forced to follow our political agenda. When M5S was born they used to say, "Grillo represents anti-politics, he's a demagogue and a populist." These days they copy our agenda, and I am extremely happy. This is absolutely a revolution, and those who watch it from within don't even understand it. They are 70 or 60 years old, they're in the political parties, newspapers and banks. And they haven't understood that this is a war between generations. We can no longer have 70-year-olds who've been in power for 35 years, who wrecked the country, explain to us how to fix the damage they've done. I never asked for votes in order to form a coalition. We have the right to send them all home. And this is just the beginning. Citizens will become the state, and in Parliament we'll have citizens' committees, movements and representatives elected online. Every citizen will have the tools to decide over his own life.

Do you think traditional politicians still have a role to play? I believe change will keep spreading like a virus. It's like an epidemic: there will be fewer leaders and more citizen power. Let's begin like this: have parliamentarians earn a normal salary, staying for two terms, then go back to the job they had before. We'll make all the information available through the internet to facilitate honesty. This way honesty will become a trend in Italy, and people who'll want to come and invest here will have to be honest and transparent, otherwise he'll have invest somewhere else. We're a movement that is looking for a solution and wants to defend freedom and legality. We did the French Revolution without the guillotine. And we fill a void with democracy. In Greece, this void has been filled up by Golden Dawn; in Hungary, by the neo-Nazi party; in France, by Le Pen. We're a guarantee for democracy. People should thank us, but instead they attack us. Would Italy be better off outside the Eurozone? Being inside or outside the Eurozone is not something I can decide. I never said such a thing. I said that the sovereign debt is throwing us into a black hole. We're in a black hole, with no hope. We can't leave all of this in the hands of the people who're currently in charge because they're dilettantes, thieves and parasites, and this has ruined a country that would otherwise have an extraordinary potential. Look around you: it's a war. Everywhere there's rubble left behind by these people who want our trust. This country is full of rubble: moral rubble, social rubble, industrial rubble. We're starting a war, we're on the frontline, and we'll win. We're the new, we want to govern, and we're capable of governing.

When you speak with an unemployed person, do you tell him there's hope? I tell the unemployed right away: "We have an immediate emergency plan that is the basic income guaranteed. Immediately." The money for this can be found by cutting the cost of politics, by reforming trade unions and the job market. For example, we need to reform the corporate law: the small shareholder should decide the salary of company managers, as was decided in Switzerland through a referendum. The small shareholder should decide the manager's bonus through an electronic voting system, and should also decide whether the manager deserves to keep his job. It should be the small shareholder making those decisions, not the board of directors.

You essentially won the election. Are you sure your voters will understand why you don't want govern with one of the other parties? Absolutely. My voters were in the streets when I said that we wouldn't make a deal with anyone. Whoever votes for the Movement becomes the Movement. If you decide to go for that option and vote for the Five Stars Movement, you have to take a risk, even in your job. You decide to dedicate part of your job to the community, pretty much like me. I speak in the streets for free, whereas in the past I charged for my shows. This is the Movement: from the plumber to the engineer to the accounting manager: everyone should dedicate part of his time and his job to others. This is how we change our country and become a community, with a sense of identity. And that's how we'll become the best in the world, I'm sure.