Editor’s Note: As Italian voters make their way to the polls on February 25, Carlo Bastasin discusses the rise of ‘anti-politics’ and whether the election will be determined by those who vote based on economics or by those who pay greater attention to the personalities of the individual candidates. A translation of the exchange from with Spanish news outlet La Razón appears below. The original article in Spanish is available on the La Razón website.
Q: Do Italians base their votes on economics or are they directed by the images of the candidates?
A: My perception is that economics are going to be decisive. It is a very critical issue that has become an emotional one. The leadership and personalities of the candidates are connected to the economy. Italians have never before voted in the context of a profound economic recession like the one that we have now. GDP has fallen by 7 percent since 2008, industrial capacity by 25 percent and over half a million jobs have been permanently lost. This economic debacle has a high emotional potential to provide motives for indignation and protest. For that reason, the leaders that that express their anger (Grillo) or their optimism (Berlusconi) can benefit more than more rational candidates (Monti).
Q: Why has ‘anti-politics’ emerged so strongly?
A: Berlusconi represents both realities: politics and anti-politics. When he fails as a politician, he promotes anti-political sentiments that he then collects. Thus, he is in a position to “always win,” even when he loses. In any case, considering that his/their resurgence is more fiction than reality. The latest polls do not give a realistic picture of the situation. I am not even sure that Berlusconi will place second after Bersani; he could even be third after Grillo. What is real is the wave of anti-politics.
All Western democracies, including the U.S. and Germany, are seeing powerful protest movements against globalization and integration. They are agitating for a recapturing of control, or 'sovereignty,' and often also of ethnic homogeneity. Although they keep talking about the nation-state, they oppose key principles of Western constitutionalism like separation of powers and the protection of minorities against the tyranny of the majority. They want a tribalization of politics. That's something the Tea Party and the U.S. alt-right have in common with the AfD.
Germany's postwar foreign policy had two lodestars: atonement for World War II and the Holocaust, as well as reconciliation with its victims and enemies — and joining the universe of Western democracies, and specifically integration into the U.N., NATO, and the European Union. The AfD [Alternative for Germany] more or less explicitly rejects both these orienting principles in favor of an ethno-nationalist, sovereignist, anti-European, anti-American and pro-Russian stance.