Ask an Italian what a “populist” is and he will most likely reply that “populist” is a derogatory term for someone like Matteo Salvini or Giorgia Meloni, the respective leaders of the Lega and the Fratelli d’Italia Parties. Here the left is “mainstream” even when extreme but never “populist”, much less, “sovranista(i)”, a new word for an old concept that has muscled its way into modern Italian to disparage good, old-fashioned (“my country right or wrong”) nationalists.
Never mind that populism lies at the very roots of democracy and that all popular, grass-roots movements, including Nineteenth Century Socialism and Twentieth Century Communism were anything but elitist in their appeal to masses of proletarians. No, in Italy, by definition a populist can only be a right-wing fascist, even if he wears a hard hat on the job and works with his hands for a living.
And so now Italians have by their own definition a new coalition government of the “elites”, formed by an “anti-system” lay-left M5S party and the traditional ex-communist Left, Antifas or “Democrats”. Confusing isn’t it? But then nothing is what it seems in this land of Gattopardi. Italy’s latest government was not voted into office by the masses but by Italy’s political elites that include college drop-out Luigi Di Maio, jobless until this young political “Wizard” signed on for the “job” of Vice-Premier in the now defunct Government for Change, some sixteen months or so ago. The latest government is a political monstrosity made possible by Italy’s obsolete parliamentary system, where proportional representation and ridiculously low ceilings for winning seats in the bi-cameral institution have condemned the entire system to virtual paralysis.