When Politics Becomes Eerily Familiar

In The Art of Travel, 4. Politics, Florence by Andrew Cohen1 Comment

To say that Italian politics is complicated is an understatement…and a gross one at that. In just over a week, Italy will hold a general election. With the specter of Brexit behind them, and the recent campaigns of Marine le pen still fresh in Europeans minds, this election will become the next specter to either haunt or offer hope to Europe.

The Italian electoral system has undergone a lot of changes since the previous election, in hopes of making the system more representative of the general population. First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) methods of voting, where the candidate who gets the most votes regardless of majority, has been pushed to the side to make way for proportional representation (PR), where parties are awarded seats based on the percentage of votes they get within whatever region. Roughly a 3rd of the seats will continue to be FPTP, and another 3rd will be PR based on region, whereas the remaining 3rd will be PR based on the general population. Confused yet? Yes? Well don’t worry, it only gets worse from here.

Recently, Italy has been facing a number of key issues, regarding economic condition, as well as an influx of migrants, particularly of African origin. Much like the electorate of the US, there has been considerable rhetoric around these migrants and their place in Italian society. While the current ruling Democratic Party (PD) (although it rules in coalition) is working on comprehensive reform to allow migrants to obtain working visas and stay legally within the country, the main opposition parties to the right, Lega Nord (LN) and Forza Italia (FI) are pushing for an eerily familiar “deport them all” mentality…not unlike what we’ve become acoustomed to from our commander-in-chief back home. What’s worse, the confusing “Five Star Movement” (M5S) has been thrown into the mix for this election, becoming the current high-polling party. M5S is an incredibly confusing party as the originally seemed to be leftist, calling for term limits, more government accountability, and more democratic processes, such as letting party members vote online to influence parliamentary votes. Additionally, they support environmental initiatives and reforms for many sectors of public-private relations, such as prisons and schools. However, these past few months, the party has pivoted to taking a hardline, near extremist stance on immigration. The current leader of the party, Luigi Di Maio, held a rally where he spoke about expelling all immigrants, and even hinted at founding a white nation…after which the parties polling went up.

It’s easy to dismiss these as words of politicians, especially with the party only polling around 30-35%, they will have to create a coalition government, and nothing will come of it. We in the US should know this is all too familiar. It was a running gag for nearly a month that Hillary should be addressed as “Madame President” ahead of the election. We all remember watching our computers/TVs that night thinking “I cannot believe what’s happening”. Additionally, this type of rhetoric isn’t idle, it has real life consequences that can already be felt. I’m writing this post from my single in an apartment previously occupied by my friend, let’s call her Dani. She was an NYU Florence student like me, a bit hesitant to come here, but excited for the semester. As a person of color, she expected Florence to be less of a trying place than the US when it came to race relations…and she couldn’t have been more wrong. From day one, people looked her up and down anywhere she went. She was screamed at on the street, harassed on the bus, shouted at in the ally. We were waiting to go into a friends apartment when 3 Italians walked by and shouted “F**k you ni***r” at her. Almost every night I would come over and she would tell me what she experienced that day. It became unbearable, and thankfully she was able to leave the program and resume studies in NYC. All that because people saw her as an “African” immigrant. I hope Italy doesn’t make the same mistakes that the US did, I hope that this is a small trend and the electorate won’t be pulled into the same traps, but from the look of things right now, It looks like they’ll be trying to “Make Italy Great Again”.

(Many of these topics I pulled from my experience as a soon-to-be citizen of Italy, but a good summary of the parties and political system can be found at the English link below)


(Image: One of the Democratic Party's many banner images to be used on websites ahead of the March 4th election.; Source: Matteo Renzi)


  1. Hey Andrew! Your post was both really informative and slightly confusing as well, which I think accurately describes Italian politics and to a larger extent, politics in general.
    It’s insane how this xenophobic rhetoric that you talked about has become so much more popular over these past couple of years, where what’s more important to people are the minor differences that some people use to divide us and not the overarching similarities that should be used to unite everyone.
    I hope that Italians understand the implications of the changes in the political system and that a lack of understanding will not lead to the election of a party that’s anti-immigration, because we sure as hell don’t need another example of a country that chooses division over unity.

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