In Italy, Online Activism Fires Up “No Berlusconi Day”

On October 9, Italy’s highest Court ruled that Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi‘s immunity from prosecution while in office — guaranteed by a special law passed by his own center-right government in 2008 — was unconstitutional. This decision has reopened two pending trials that accuse Berlusconi of false accounting and bribery.

Since the court decision, the prime minister has launched a campaign accusing “leftist” judges, the national and foreign press, and even Italy’s president, Giorgio Napolitano of political bias against him. Last week, the government introduced a bill promoted as “one of the most radical reforms of Italy’s snail-paced justice system since the end of World War II”, which the opposition, magistrates, and consumer advocacy groups insist is yet another “ad personam law”, tailored to help Berlusconi avoid corruption trials.

On the same day of the verdict, October 9, a group of bloggers, citizens and intellectuals, self-defined as “not politically involved or belonging to any parties”, launched the idea of a national protest against Berlusconi demanding his resignation. They promptly opened a Facebook group under this header:

SALVIAMO L’ITALIA, SALVIAMO LA DEMOCRAZIA. BERLUSCONI DIMETTITI.

LET’S SAVE ITALY. LET’S SAVE DEMOCRACY. BERLUSCONI STEP DOWN.

Saturday, December 5 was designated “No Berlusconi Day (NBD)”. The campaign spread quickly on the Internet with videos, blogs, and tweets, as well as offline, through word of mouth. In little more than a month over 280,000 people pledged to host a public event on “No Berlusconi Day” via the main Facebook group, with groups formed in many cities in Italy and around the world, including San Francisco and Sacramento (California), Ottawa and Montreal (Canada), Buenos Aires (Argentina), London, Madrid, Vienna, and Istanbul – where local rallies will be held on the same day.

The initiative has been featured on countless websites, as well as on Italy’s leading daily newspapers, la Repubblica and Corriere della Sera. Today the leftist daily L’Unità devoted several pages to the event, including a story underlining the crucial role of citizen media in such “bottom-up initiatives”, comparing it to the protest movement in Iran and even to the Obama election in the USA. An open letter appeared in the London Times.

While the protest appeal document has been translated in 11 languages so far, including Arabic, Turk and Serb-Croat, the No Berlusconi Day blog further explains:

The No Berlusconi Day group is a large, informal, global network of ordinary citizens, spanning all political and cultural backgrounds. The coordinators of the group are unpaid and do not collectively hold specific political affiliations… Although the No Berlusconi Day group is non-political, the group and event has received public support and endorsement from a number of high-profile activists, including Salvatore Borsellino brother of the anti-corruption judge Paolo Borsellino who was murdered by a Mafia car-bomb in 1992.

Beppe Grillo, a well-known Italian comedian who launched a very popular (some say ‘populist’) campaign against corruption and illegality of past Italian governments last year, has also announced his support of No Berlusconi Day on his website, attracting more than 1,300 comments, the vast majority supporting his statement:

“Mi sono rotto i coglioni di Berlusconi”. Ditelo in pubblico, al bar, al ristorante. Gridatelo in radio, ai semafori, scrivetelo ai giornali, inviate mail ai siti italiani e internazionali, alle caselle di posta dei deputati, dei senatori. “Mi sono rotto i coglioni di Berlusconi”.

[…]

E’ mai possibile che gli italiani, anche quelli rincoglioniti dalle televisioni, non abbiano un moto di rigetto, un conato di vomito a vedere la Repubblica Italiana trattata come una zoccola? Il Grande Corruttore ha corrotto forse ogni coscienza? Tutto ciò che ha toccato nella sua vita si è corrotto, decomposto. E’ lui l’H1N1 della nostra democrazia.

“I’m so pissed off with Berlusconi”. Say it on the street, in bars and restaurants. Shout it on the radio, when idle at traffic lights, write it in letters to newspaper editors, email it to national and international website, and to Congress representatives and senators mailboxes. “I’m so pissed off with Berlusconi”.

[…]

How could it be that Italians, even those brainwashed by TV, are not forcefully opposing, are not about to puke in the face of such slut picture of the Italian Republic? The Big Enticer resorted to bribe everybody’s conscience? Everything he touched in his life now looks corrupted. He is the H1N1 of our democracy.

The main Facebook group features an ongoing flow of new comments:

Giacomo Spataro: GIORNO 5/12.. TUTTI I NEGOZI CHIUSI…bandiere viola fuori…e tutti a roma….
DAY 5/12.. ALL BUSINESS AND STORES SHUT-DOWN…purple flags hanging…and everybody going to rome….

Diritto Di Parola: La manifestazione si potrà definire APARTITICA e nata ed organizzata dal basso solo se i partiti non esibiranno i propri simboli. Non raccontiamoci frottole :) W il 5 dicembre voluto dai cittadini !!!! Scendiamo tutti in piazza a manifestare per le dimissioni di Berlusconi !!!

The protest could be defined NON-PARTISAN and bottom-up only if political parties will not bring their symbols. Let’s not fool ourselves :) Hurrah for a December 5th promoted by the citizens !!!! Everybody in the streets asking for the resignation of Berlusconi !!!

Daniele Nuzzo: Per fare Carpooling per andare a Roma dividendo le spese.

The NBD organizers chose the color purple to identify the movement, explaining that “purple is not just for mourning, but it is also a symbol of vital energy and self-determination”. Hence some creative ideas on Facebook:

Use this image for your profile or for a t-shirt:

While actual meet-ups are underway throughout the country, the electronic tam-tam is also spreading via Twitter.

On October 31, the first volunteers took to the streets in many cities to start informing people about the upcoming event. Here is a video from downtown Rome, where a journalist from PdCI-TV interviewed the activists on the fly [it]:

No political parties have formally endorsed the protest with the exception of Antonio di Pietro and Paolo Ferrero (leaders of small opposition parties, respectively, Italia dei Valori and Comunisti Italiani), who confirmed their attendance to the Rome rally.

Will people actually take to the streets en masse? For those still in doubt, the following “Joker Silvio” video explains the “top 10 reasons why citizens should participate in the No B-Day, an event born and promoted almost exclusively on the Net” [it]:

Beatrice Borgato contributed to this post.