NIAF Leadership Critical of New York Gubernatorial Candidate Rob Astorino Remarks

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By John M. Viola

New York is my home state. It is a state with a large and well-developed Italian American population and, of course, an important role in the history of our community in the United States. So it should come as no surprise that in its impending gubernatorial election we see Italian American candidates on both sides of the aisle (a repeat of the election four years ago, which also saw two Italian Americans running against one another).

Last Monday, the Republican candidate, Rob Astorino, compared incumbent Governor Andrew Cuomo’s handling of the Anti-Corruption Moreland Commission to the actions of a Mafia boss, going as far as quoting from “The Godfather” about offers that can’t be refused. Obviously, every major Italian American group in the country has reacted with shock and disappointment to candidate Astorino’s flippant use of such tired and detrimental anti-Italian stereotypes. And, of course, the leadership of the National Italian American Foundation is of no different opinion.

However, I would like to take the conversation a step further and point out that this is not just about the perpetuation of stereotypes, but about a lack of unity and civility in how members of the Italian American community deal with one another and our shared identity. I would be hard pressed to find an example of another ethnic group that would sling stereotypical barbs at one another in a local community board election, let alone a race of such exposure and importance. But, in the Italian American community, we are often our own worst enemies. NIAF is a non-partisan organization, so it is not for me or any of us to comment on policy or party. But, as the leading organization in the Italian American community, I can say, if nothing else, we need Italian American leaders of civility and respect for one another and our own community.

Many of us often look at the state of our ethnicity here in America and shake our heads at why it is so difficult for us to make major strides. The sad truth is that for as much progress as we have already made, it has often been the internal lack of respect and consideration for one another, and popular perceptions about us that has set us backwards in our struggle for full appreciation in this great country of ours.

There is always the question of how far our efforts towards anti-defamation really go in effecting negative misconceptions of the Italian American community. The results really are hard to measure. But, what can be said for sure is that when those members of our own community who are seeking roles of leadership and high profile so carelessly use and perpetuate these disgusting myths, it does very little to help us, and indeed sets us back far further than anyone from outside our own ethnic group could!

Shame on you, Mr. Astorino, not just for the shameless use of a cheap cliché, but for the disgraceful example you are setting for young Italian Americans…the future leaders of our community and our nation.

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Welcome to #MusicaMondays! The traditional Neapolitan song “Io te vurria vasa” (I Long to Kiss You)

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Since our NIAF 2013-2014 Region of Honor is Campania, we thought we should start a new tradition to celebrate the incomparable musical traditions of Naples and the Regione Campania!  Canzóna napulita, as it is known in the Neapolitan language. It has for centuries played an important role not just in the music of Italy, but in the general history of western European musical tradition!

With #MusicaMondays, we at NIAF will bring you the original Neapolitan lyrics to some of the most popular songs to come out of this tradition.  And, to make a full connection with our modern community, we will provide the English language translations side by side, so that those of us who have not yet learned Italian (or Neapolitan for that matter) can finally understand the beautiful meanings behind those songs that have made up the soundtrack of generations of Italian American life!

For our first song, we will translate Io te vurria vasa (I Long to Kiss You), first published in 1900 and considered a cornerstone of Neapolitan Song!

The song originates with a true love story, of the writer Vincenzo Russo for Enrichetta Marchese. A union between the penniless poet and the young girl, the daughter of a jeweler, was strongly opposed by her family. So Russo, in the great tradition of the star-crossed lover, wrote her this song.

Io te vurria vasa (I Long to Kiss You)

Neapolitan:

Ah! Che bell’aria fresca…
Ch’addore ‘e malvarosa…
E tu durmenno staje,
‘ncopp’a sti ffronne ‘e rosa!
‘O sole, a poco a poco,
pe’ stu ciardino sponta…
‘o viento passa e vasa
stu ricciulillo ‘nfronte!

I’ te vurría vasá…

I’ te vurría vasá…

ma ‘o core nun mmo ddice

‘e te scetá…

‘e te scetá!…

I’ mme vurría addurmí…

I’ mme vurría addurmí…

vicino ô sciato tujo,

n’ora pur’i’…

n’ora pur’i’!…

Tu duorme oje Rosa mia…
e duorme a suonno chino,
mentr’io guardo, ‘ncantato,
stu musso curallino…
E chesti ccarne fresche,
e chesti ttrezze nere,
mme mettono, ‘into core,
mille male penziere!

I’ te vurría vasá…

I’ te vurría vasá…

ma ‘o core nun mmo ddice

‘e te scetá…

‘e te scetá!…

I’ mme vurría addurmí…

I’ mme vurría addurmí…

vicino ô sciato tujo,

n’ora pur’i’…

n’ora pur’i’!…

Sento stu core tujo
ca sbatte comm’a ll’onne!
Durmenno, angelo mio,
chisà tu a chi te suonne…
‘A gelusia turmenta
stu core mio malato:
Te suonne a me?…Dimméllo!
O pure suonne a n’ato?

I’ te vurría vasá…

I’ te vurría vasá…

ma ‘o core nun mmo ddice

‘e te scetá…

‘e te scetá!…

I’ mme vurría addurmí…

I’ mme vurría addurmí…

vicino ô sciato tujo,

n’ora pur’i’…

n’ora pur’i’!…

English:

Ah ! What a nice air fresh …
What perfume of hollyhocks …
And you ‘re sleeping
On these rose leaves
The sun gradually climbs ,
and warms this garden …
a gentle wind passes and kisses
this curl on your brow!

I long to kiss you
I long to kiss you
But I do not have the heart
to wake you
to wake you
I long to drift into sleep
I long to drift into sleep
close to your breath
for just an hour
for just an hour

You sleep oh my Little Rose
and sleep deeply
while I stare enchanted
by your lips like coral
and such fresh meat
and these black tresses
put me in my heart
a thousand devilish thoughts

I long to kiss you
I long to kiss you
But I do not have the heart
to wake you
to wake you
I long to drift into sleep
I long to drift into sleep
close to your breath
for just an hour
for just an hour

I can hear your heart beats
pounding like the waves
you sleep, my angel
who knows who you are dreaming of
jealousy torments
this sick heart of mine
Do you dream of me? Tell me!

Or do you dream of another?

I long to kiss you
I long to kiss you
But I do not have the heart
to wake you
to wake you
I long to drift into sleep
I long to drift into sleep
close to your breath
for just an hour
for just an hour

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Finding The Italian American Power Button

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By John M. Viola

It’s safe to say that in a job like mine, you need to be passionate about your Italian American heritage. One of the extensions of that passion, for me, is the urge to collect the objects and antiques that were part of the Italian American experience.

 I recently stumbled upon a large assortment of Italian American novelty buttons from the 1920s through the 1980s. The messages on the buttons certainly gave a sense of where our community was in those eras. In the ’20s, the theme was mutual aid societies and religious festivals. In the ’40s, the messages were about Italian Americans being proud of their American-ness. Into the ’70s, buttons called for unity, pride and an interesting concept called “Italian Power.” 

As I started to dig into the concept, I realized our community’s shared recollections of the 1970s tend to gloss over how far from assimilation we Italian Americans were in those days. We often look back at our ascendency as Americans as a simple path from immigration and poverty to the middle class and beyond, accomplished through hard work, dedication and family values. But it was not that simple.

Even as late as the 1970s, the Italian American community was grossly underrepresented in Washington, in academia, and in the halls of power throughout the country. In June 1971, a New York Magazine article, “Risorgimento: The Red, White and Greening of New York,” addressed the struggles of our community towards assimilation. Not only were we not assimilating, we were being left behind by other ethnic groups that had come to America the same time as our families. The article points out that in 1971, “while almost one-quarter of the freshman class at City University [was] Italian … only 14 out of 165 of the university deans, and less than six percent of the city’s college level teachers, [were] Italian.” Of the 90 high school principals employed in New York City at the time, one was Italian, and less than 10 percent of the city’s 60,000 school teachers were of Italian ancestry.

Statistics like those led to the founding of our National Italian American Foundation. NIAF was created to fight for positions, influence and power here in the nation’s capital on behalf of all Italian Americans. So it brings me back to the idea that Italian Power, even as recently as 40 years ago, was something of a pipe dream.

Since then, we really have seen ourselves arrive as a functioning and important group of 25 million in this great country of ours. I’d like to think, in retrospect, that organizations like NIAF were integral in that jump to empowerment. Forcing our people to understand that while divided we were a community of struggling families, united we were a major force in the American social fabric.  

So what comes next? If we were to design the Italian American button of today, sometimes I think it would say, “We’re here and we’ve forgotten who we are.”

I look into the future of our community and realize that in a world where information and identity move so quickly, our culture and our Italian American identity can’t be maintained in the institutions our community now has. Just like the old mutual aid societies of the ’20s and ’30s didn’t suffice in the era of Italian Power in the ’70s, groups like ours need to evolve.

I see this evolution as a coming together of the different parts of our community.  There are groups that have existed for decades and, like the Order of Sons of Italy, even for a century, with proud histories, excellent traditions, vigorous membership and service. There’s UNICO and its service throughout the nation and, of course, NIAF and the works we have been doing for nearly 40 years.

But, in many ways, these groups represent the Italian tendency to fracture and to recreate one another’s efforts. I challenge our community to look into the future and see our major Italian organizations merged together as one, working towards the shared goals and missions, and representing a community more unified than it has ever been. 

In October, during our annual Gala weekend, I laid out that challenge at the “State of NIAF” conference. It was met with great enthusiasm, saying it was exactly what we needed to preserve our culture and identity in the next generations. It was also met with great reservation, expressing that the merging these groups would be dead on arrival.

All I know is this: while my grandparents were considered a “mixed marriage” because my grandfather is Sicilian and my grandmother is Barese, my parents simply thought of themselves as Italians. At 30 years old, I don’t care about what group, society or faction we belong to within our community, and neither do my friends. We care about being Italian first, and fighting to make sure that our people remain a community and future generations have every opportunity to receive this gift of identity and culture that previous generations have fought so hard to pass onto us.

For the first time in our century-and-a-half history, we need to achieve real unification. And if Italian American unity can be achieved, perhaps we can finally get to that concept of “Italian American Power.”

 John M. Viola is the NIAF president and chief operating officer.

 

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Author Michael Zarocostas Wants You to Know About Detective Joe Petrosino

As a first generation Italian American whose mother came from Sicily, I had always wanted to write about an actual Italian American to counteract the myriad stereotypical mafia villains in literature and film. When I lived in New York, I got my chance. I was doing research at the New York Public Library on a completely different subject and accidentally came upon old newspaper articles stored in microfiche about Joe Petrosino. I became fascinated with this true-life American hero.

Before Eliot Ness and Frank Serpico and other famous crime fighters in our history, there was Petrosino, a stocky 5-foot-5-inch, hardnosed cop nicknamed “Bulldog Joe.” In 1895, New York City Police Commissioner Teddy Roosevelt appointed Petrosino as the first Italian American detective in the NYPD. Over the next 14 years, Petrosino not only fought some of the most vicious criminals and gangs in New York City’s history, but also established himself as a legend along the way by forming the NYPD Bomb Squad and creating the first anti-gang unit known as The Italian Squad (to fight the mafia). The press even dubbed Petrosino “The Italian Sherlock Holmes” for his wits, and one city alderman proclaimed that Petrosino “knocked out more teeth than a dentist” for his violence.

It’s my goal to make the real-life cop Joe Petrosino as famous as the fake criminal Vito Corleone. So I wrote “The Barrel Murder,” which is based on an actual 1903 criminal case assigned to Petrosino. The story traces the NYPD’s investigation of the April 14, 1903, barrel murder, in which a man was found stabbed to death, dismembered and placed on display in a barrel in Little Italy.

Two NYPD outcasts hunt for the killer: Petrosino and Inspector Max Schmittberger (nicknamed “The Broom”). As they work the barrel murder, Petrosino and Schmittberger encounter a lunatic doctor, the Secret Service, vicious Sicilian Mafiosi known as the Morello Gang, and a mysterious code that may unlock the secrets of the killing and a rumored crime syndicate in the City.

—Michael Zarocostas

NIAF guest blogger Michael Zarocostas is a lawyer and a #1 Bestselling Amazon author who lives in Los Angeles with his beautiful wife Lianna, their amazing daughter Vesta, and two obese rescued cats Vito and Luca. Michael’s work has been honored by the Kindle Book Review, Suspense Magazine, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Nicholl Fellowship, the Chesterfield Writers Film Project, and the Rupert Hughes Prose Writing Competition (at the former Maui Writers Conference). Visti his website at www.zarocostas.com

Giuseppe 'Joe' Petrosino

Giuseppe ‘Joe’ Petrosino

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Italian Kids Get their Buzz from Energy Drinks

You may think that when Italians need a pick me up, they reach for an espresso, but it looks like many of them are turning to energy drinks. Not only do adults choose them, but they are becoming more popular with children and adolescents. A survey of 916 students conducted in the Province of Rovigo, in the Veneto Region, reported that the usage of energy drink consumption increased significantly with age, from approximately 18 percent among sixth graders to 56 percent among eighth graders!  The study also reported that energy drink consumption was associated with tobacco and alcohol abuse.

This is not just a problem in Italy, but throughout the entire European Union. A study commissioned by European Food Safety Authority found that approximately 30 percent of adults and 68 percent of adolescents (10-18 years old) regularly consumed energy drinks.  Even 18 percent of children between three and 10 years old were regular consumers!

With medical experts increasingly concerned about the health effects of energy drinks, Italians might do better to stick to cappuccinos!

Read more about the studies- http://bit.ly/WcASVT and http://bit.ly/16GZ5dO

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Revisiting the Voyage of Discovery

An update from Alessandra Nehr, a participant in NIAF’s Voyage of Discovery Program, all-expenses paid ten-day trip to Italy for Italian American students. Alessandra, who participated in the trip last year with her brother, will be traveling to Italy again. This time she will be taking her family to some of the spots she visited while on the Voyage of Discovery.

This past summer, my twin brother Frank and I were fortunate enough to be chosen for NIAF’s Voyage of Discovery program. While in Italy, we saw various cities throughout the country, including Rome, Naples, and Salerno, among others.  Having never been to Italy before, we both were struck not only by the immense beauty present there, but also by the innate kindness of the Italian people and their willingness to work with our group. We made numerous friends in our group and had incredible experiences, all of which we will certainly remember. Whether it was having the most authentic mozzarella at a buffalo farm or celebrating Festa della Repubblica in Rome, neither of us would have traded our trip for the world. 

Upon returning to the United States, we made the typical familial rounds, first telling our parents, then our grandparents (the only other members of our family who have set foot in our ancestral homeland), then our aunts, uncles and cousins. Although almost everyone in the family had been to Canada and Mexico, only my grandparents and, now, my brother and I, were lucky enough to experience Europe. When we told them all of our travels, they seemed genuinely interested in the possibility of returning as a family the following summer. My grandparents asked us if it was something that we thought everyone in the family could appreciate, given that my youngest cousins are only fourteen, and my brother and I both agreed that they certainly would. Even without the NIAF patronage, we believed that returning to Italy would be an unrivaled opportunity to not only experience the culture of our ancestors, but it would also give the family a chance to go on a once-in-a-lifetime trip, one which most of us may never again have an opportunity to experience. 

We will be leaving for Italy in mid-June and plan to visit Florence, Rome, Venice, Assisi and Vasto, the hometown of my great-grandparents. Since my brother and I never got to visit Vasto while on the NIAF trip, we are really looking forward to seeing the small town about which so many family stories have been told. 

Since we spent so much time in Rome during the Voyage of Discovery, my brother and I can’t wait to take my family to one of the best gelato places in town (Giolitti), try ossobuco again at Trattoria Leoni D’Abruzzo and lamb at L’isola della Pizza, and attend the Papal Audience to see the new Pope. 

Although we are by no means experts on Italy, we are looking forward to applying what we learned on our NIAF trip to the forthcoming trip with our family.  Once again, we really appreciate NIAF giving us our first taste of Italy, and I’ll be sure to write about our journey once we return.

 

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Pizzeria Destinations: Antico Pizza Napoletana – Atlanta, Ga.

In our continuing search for the best pizza in America, we swung by Antico Pizza Napoletana on a trip to Atlanta.

Located in an old bakery building in the city’s Westside near Georgia Tech, Antico has been the rave of pie aficionados in Atlanta and beyond since it opened in 2009. Not only was Antico named “Top in Class” in 2010 by Italy’s Festa Della Pizza (held annually in Naples where pizza was invented), Zagat crowned Antico first among the pizzerias in its “Best Pizza in 23 U.S. Cities” list this past summer.

So, we had great expectations. We were not disappointed. Arriving before noon on a Saturday usually means long lines out the door, we’re told. But with the Georgia-Georgia Tech football game in Athens that day, we had only three parties ahead of us at the front counter. Like its décor, Antico’s menu is straightforward: 10 large pies, from the basic Margherita D.O.P. (san marzano tomato, bufala, basil and garlic) to the specialty San Gennaro (salsiccia, sweet red pepper, bufala and cipolline), all priced $18-$21. Don’t expect salad or side dishes; besides three calzonis and a homemade cannoli, Antico makes only pizza.

With opera on the sound system, we ordered a diavola (spicy sopressata, pepperonata and bufala) and two traditional margherita pies made with all ingredients imported from Italy and meeting requirements of the Protected Designation of Origin laws and strict Vera Pizza Napoletana standards.

Antico features a large wooden communal style table at the front and several more inside the open kitchen area. Four or five pizzaioli moved pies in and out of three Acunto ovens imported from Naples and cooking at 900°F. The dough is made inside a glass enclosed dough room. And the place was packed. Before we could find seats, our pizzas were ready, served on large baking sheets with brown Kraft paper in less than eight minutes!

The pies at Antico are authentic, beautifully heat-blistered and tastefully charred. The crusts are chewy and flavorful. The margherita pie is memorable and the diavola pie is delightfully fiery from the hot sausage while its pepperonata tastes like sweet butter. Line or no line, Antico is a worthwhile pizzeria destination by any standard.

                                                                                                        — Don Oldenburg

Antico Pizza Napoletana, 1093 Hemphill Ave., Atlanta, Ga. 404-724-2333

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Italy’s New Government, Will it Survive?

At last, Italy has a new government! It took over two months after the country’s inconclusive election, but now Italy is on the road to recovery and ready to tackle its political crisis. The new prime minister, Enrico Letta, was confirmed by both houses of Parliament and he has assembled a talented cabinet which includes seven females and an African-Italian.

The new faces are a welcome change in Italy, but a recent New York Times article explained, “The mere formation of a government is only a start. Italy needs a government credible enough with European leaders to negotiate an easing of austerity and strong enough to enact the difficult structural reforms like strengthening the banking system, making markets more competitive and labor law less rigid, more fairly apportioning taxes and reducing bureaucracy.”

Letta has proposed an interesting and even sometimes conflicting 18-month agenda to pull Italy out of its current crisis. It calls for tax relief, economic reform and electoral and political changes, but many wonder if the newly assembled government will last long enough to even carry out the program. What do you think? Will Letta be able to pull Italy out of its current crisis?

Read more in the New York Times here- http://nyti.ms/132zS9q

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NIAF Welcomes Italian American Congressional Delegation of the 113th U.S. Congress

Representatives Bill Pascrell and Pat Tiberi, co-chairs of the Italian American Congressional Delegation (IACD) of the 113th U.S. Congress, welcomed their colleagues to the reception at the United States Capitol Visitors Center hosted by NIAF with IACD on February 27, 2013.

Pascrell opened the reception explaining how this delegation works in a bipartisan way to honor our government and common heritage as well as draw attention to Italian heroes — Garibaldi, Brumidi and every Italian American who has contributed to the greatness of our country.  With the current situation in Italy, he asked all to pray for our mother country and its challenges.

Joining Pascrell at the podium, Tiberi joked about the large representation of members from Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, New York, Oregon, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island  and noted that Pascrell was the lone congressman from New Jersey. Tiberi recounted a story about his nine-year-old daughter, Angelina, who was working on a report for school when she realized how Italians have done so much for America. “We share a common culture that binds us—let’s celebrate what connects us tonight.  We are so fortunate to have Ambassador Claudio Bisognero here with us tonight to help us strengthen our relationship with Italy,” Tiberi said.  He encouraged everyone to get closer to Italy since the Italian people are facing difficult times.  “When we help our mother country, we help our country,” he added.

NIAF President Joseph V. Del Raso introduced Ambassador Bisognero and spoke about the extraordinary work and initiatives the Italian government is accomplishing during the “2013 Year of Italian Culture in the United States.”  Del Raso referred to it as not a year but the “Millennium of Italian Culture.”   Ambassador Bisognero was warmly welcomed by the guests. He talked about the profound relationship our two countries share because of our common values, human rights, democracy, honesty, fairness and strong family values, to name just a few.

 Del Raso was joined by NIAF’s leadership including, Gabriel A. Battista, Robert E. Carlucci, Mike Ferguson, Patricia de Stacy Harrison, Joseph D. Lonardo, John P. Rosa, Mark Valente III and John M. Viola. Senators and Representatives who were present included Senator Michael Enzi , Representatives Lou Barletta (PA);Suzanne Bonamici (OR); Michael Capuano (MA); David Cicilline (RI); Chris Collins (NY); Rosa L. DeLauro (CT); Mike Doyle (PA);Michael Grimm (NY); Marcy Kaptur (OH); Tom Marino (PA); Jim Renacci (OH); Brad Wenstrup (OH); and Ted Yoho (FL). Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi recounted a recent reception at the White House when President Obama warmly greeted Italy’s President Giorgio Napolitano, and many Italian Americans. “It’s all about personal relationships and respect we have for each other,” she added. She thanked NIAF for their work in bringing everyone together this evening.

 To close the evening, Valente thanked everyone for attending and encouraged all to support the NIAF Frank J. Guarini Public Policy Forum throughout the coming year!

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NIAF’s Guide to the Italian Elections

So you’ve been hearing some interesting news coming out of Italy in the last few days. We have too. There was an election, but there doesn’t seem to be a winner. Here’s NIAF’s quick breakdown of what happened – and why it matters.

How do elections in Italy even work?
The Republic of Italy usually holds its elections every five years. Italy has a party-list proportional system, which means that the current political parties make lists of candidates to be elected and the seats in both houses of Parliament are awarded to each party based on the proportion of votes the party receives.

Italian citizens, both in Italy and abroad, have two different options when they vote. Like we do here, voters can vote for an individual running for a seat in the either the House of Deputies or the Senate. But in Italy, this vote will also count toward the total number of votes for that individual’s party. For example, if I voted for the Democratic candidate for Congress from Indiana, that vote would also be a vote for the Democratic party at large, whose leader is Barack Obama. Unlike here in the United States, Italians are able to vote directly for a party but not for an individual. This vote, too, would go to the total vote count for an individual party.

Once the votes are tallied, if a party has a majority of votes and therefore, the majority in both houses of the Parliament, the leader of that party becomes Prime Minister. If, however, no single party wins a majority, parties can form coalitions to have a 55 percent majority and the chosen leader of the coalition becomes Prime Minister.

Who are the players?
Silvio Berlusconi: Silvio Berlusconi is the former prime minister and founder of the centre-right political party in Italy– the People of Freedom (PdL). Berlusconi has served as Italy’s Prime Minister three times and has decided to run again after much speculation.
Pier Luigi Bersani: Pier Luigi Bersani is Secretary of the centre-left party, the Democratic Party of Italy. Along with the PdL, it is one of the two major parties of the Italian party system. If Bersani were to win the elections, he would like form a coalition with former Prime Minister Mario Monti.
Beppe Grillo: Some of you may not associate his name with politics, but the comedian has managed to shake up Italy’s elections. Known for his daring political jokes, Beppe Grillo became a political sensation in Italy and in 2005. In 2009, he set up the Five Star Movement (M5S) which is a left-wing party.
Mario Monti: When Berlusconi resigned in 2011 as Prime Minister, Mario Monti took over with his technocratic way of governing. With his economic background, Monti made some progress, but was constantly attacked by the PdL for his “austerity.” The Prime Minister was forced to resign, but has run under a centrist coalition platform called With Monti for Italy. He came in fourth, but may form a coalition with Bersani.

So what happened?
The outcome of the election may be unclear, however three major facts stood out. The first was that the Five Star Movement, founded by Beppe Grillo secured about one fourth of the votes in Italy, more than any other party. Because of this success, neither of the two main alliances (center-right and center-left) obtained a majority in the upper house, the Senate. The final result was that the center-left party won the lower house by less than half a percentage point. In order to govern, however, a majority is needed in both chambers, so Italy has a political stalemate.

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