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Greek referendum: A view from Italy’s ‘populist’ Five Star Movement 

Italy’s Five Star Movement, which has campaigned for a referendum on the Euro, is in Athens today to support the Syriza government. Interview with Italian MP Alessandro Di Battista of the Five Star movement, who is participating in the delegation led by party leader Beppe Grillo. By Giacomo Russo Spena

Top Quotes:

  • Today’s referendum: “It is a historic moment for democracy.”
  • The break with EU institutions? “The break was inevitable, Europe cannot be reformed from within and now we must support the referendum battle of Alexis Tsipras”.
  • PM Renzi’s pro-Merkel position: “It is the expression of the Troika”.
  • The outcome of the vote: “That the Greek people will decide their own future is already a victory.”

After months of negotiations, we have reached the popular consultation on Sunday where the Greeks will decide whether to accept the new economic measures imposed by Brussels. It is the pinnacle of the clash between the EU institutions and the Greek Government. Will it be head-on collision?

You are dealing with the international loan sharks. It is impossible to reform this Europe, it will not be permitted: it is like saving [PM Renzi’s] Democratic Party, standing from inside the Democratic Party. Impossible. The media is part of the scandal – focussing on the stock exchange index  rather than the humanitarian disasters caused austerity and policies of the [EU] institutions. If there had been a greater focus on the dignity and the basic conditions of the citizens, we would not have reached this point. Greece has been used as a guinea pig, and it is the eurozone country which has implemented the most reforms imposed by the Troika; the damage caused by austerity is obvious: they dismantled the welfare state and the rates of child poverty and unemployment have reached appalling levels. It is an humanitarian emergency. Previously, the various European premiers were bent to the will of the finance, Tsipras is the first that is reacting. And he did what one should in a civilized country: to give citizens a voice. It will be up to the people to decide their own fate.

Therefore do you consider is the right choice to hold a referendum? Many instead accused Tsipras to be like Pontius Pilate …

It is the exact opposite. The decision was criticized by the collaborators of the banks because it is a dangerous precedent. They fear contagion in Europe, if they were to win it with a ‘No’ vote it would set a precedent for other countries. The IMF and Angela Merkel are using psychological terrorism and agitate doomsday scenarios because they fear this will break Europe, which has held millions of citizens hostage. The consultation is simple: do you want to accept new impositions of the Troika that go in the same direction of the last four years? A referendum on austerity policies. For this reason, the European establishment is afraid.

The EU institutions want  the scalp of Tsipras. Meanwhile Prime Minister Renzi has sided with them against the Greek Government, calling for greater accountability.

Renzi is the expression of the Troika. Renzi and his predecessors Letta and Monti are puppets in the hands of international institutions, financial groups and bank lobbies. Their job is to promote these interests. In these six months of negotiations in Brussels, Renzi, instead of siding politically with Tsipras – this would be good for the Italian people – chose to give him a tie . A symbol of usury. A position consistent with his employers – all those banks rescued with public money.

Is Tsipras giving us lessons in democracy?

Yes – there is a striking contrast between the leaders of Greece and Renzi. On the one hand we have a PM who, after winning elections in January, has the courage to put the mandate in the hands of citizens, risking his own fall should the ‘yes’ vote win – as he himself said – the other a prime minister not elected by anyone and who, in fact, hinders decision-making. Tsipras is advancing a struggle in favour of his people and against  the bankers’ austerity programmes. If we were in government, we would have supported Tspiras in Brussels.

Now the Five Star Movement supports the battle of Syriza, however in the past Grillo criticized the reformism of Tsipras and the recent European elections preferred the UKIP’s Farage. A wrong decision?

We were skeptical about Tsipras because over the years Left governments have always betrayed their constituents, not keeping their promises for change. But at this stage we cannot but support him. He is showing great courage. And our alliance in Strasbourg, as repeated several times, is a unique case: the sole purpose of creating a parliamentary group is to have access to reports and committees seats otherwise there is total autonomy. The important thing is not the place itself but how you vote in the Euro parliament.

In fact, the M5S votes more like Podemos and Syriza than Ukip, so the choice seems misguided.

Italy, France, Greece and Portugal together represent the third largest economy in the world, after China and the US. They should work together but this depends on who governs these countries and if Tsipras manages to go all the way. In Spain we are approaching because Podemos has been confirmed that the left and right have failed and are responsible for the crisis. In Southern Europe, there are movements that have never ruled, it is time to make aligned.

But Syriza perspective so strongly pro-European but anti-austerity and the euro …

I always considered Syriza’s program acceptable, the problem is the implementation of these principles. It is impossible to negotiate with this Europe, subject to German hegemony and which is reformed on a bilateral basis. And the facts seem to agree with me. The use of referenda has been of central policy of the M5S; it is an important instrument of direct democracy. Especially if it is implemented in a country in Southern Europe. Using the model of Latin America, we believe it is crucial to have an alliance between the countries of the South Mediterranean.

The pro-European battle of Tsipras is brave but unfeasible. Is it your hope that the rope [linking Greece to the Euro] breaks?

The Euro and austerity are two sides of the same coin and the [EU] institutions will not allow any change to this. It is a prison for the peoples. I hope that the referendum on 5 July represents an important signal: for my part, every day I combat, in the Italian Parliament, the lobbies and can see the huge power of the banks; only people power can contain such problems. And if Athens starts a reform for another popular model in Europe – since it no longer represents anyone considering the 50 percent abstention rate in [European elections] – this can only be welcomed.

You really do not fear the consequences of Grexit? 

I’m not afraid. I fear more for scenarios past and present, those that we know, or what has already happened in Greece, caused by its efforts to remain faithful to the monetary union. They have launched reforms they have led to tears and blood, and destroyed a country. People do not matter. They have been annihilated.

Does such an unknown scenario not risk consuming the whole of Europe in flames?

This is the bogeyman invented by Angela Merkel and the Greek media to encourage the Greeks to vote yes to the referendum question. The Europe of the peoples, solidarity and human rights, has already failed. Only banks are in good health. The ECB has just opened a new 1.2 billion euro office in Frankfurt  in a continent of poverty and suicides for economic reasons.

Note: Five Star Movement commands around a fifth of the vote, according to opinion polls

Translation by Revolting Europe

Micromega

About revoltingeurope

Writer on Europe's Left, trade union and social movements @tomgilltweets or @revoltingeurope

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