Che Casino!

Article excerpt

Byline: Barbie Latza Nadeau

(That's Italian for 'what a mess!')

Italy, one of the most consequential countries in Europe, has been reduced to political rubble after a divided population made a spectacularly contrarian decision in last weekend's elections. Instead of opting for a safe way out of a crippling economic crisis by electing a dull but steady center-left coalition that could have aligned with a dull but steady Mario Monti, Italians opted for extremes. The wealthy voted back the devil they knew from the center-right, Silvio Berlusconi, and his erstwhile frenemies of the xenophobic Northern League. The young, unemployed, disgruntled protest set voted in a comedian, Beppe Grillo, whose Five Star Movement is akin to a political grenade hurled at the Italian establishment.

Now Italy is stuck with four pieces of a puzzle that do not fit no matter how many times you shuffle them. Pier Luigi Bersani's center-left coalition cannot pair with anyone to give him enough power to govern. Grillo can't stand him. Even though he has enough votes to make him a winner, the comedian has already snubbed Bersani, calling him a "political stalker" who won't leave him alone. Monti, for his part, hasn't got enough seats to give Bersani the boost he needs. So there is only one option: reaching out to Berlusconi himself to form a grand coalition that would include both right and left extremes. But Grillo says that would be an impossible marriage. "They can't govern," he said at a mini rally in Rome on Wednesday, where he was treated more like a rock star than a political vote-winner. "Whether I'm there or not, they can't govern."

Grillo is right. But the fact that he did so well underscores just how screwed up Italy is. Grillo's charm is that he is anti-everything. He promised a referendum on the euro and a paring down of unnecessary foreign-policy spending. He wants accountability and transparency in all sectors of public service. …