View From Rome
08 December 2016
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Luigi di Maio, one of the leading lights in Italy’s anti-establishment Five Star Movement, forged his political ambitions while attending a secondary school near Naples in which the classrooms had been converted from dilapidated former apartments.
Aged 30, Di Maio represents a generation of disenfranchised young Italians who turned out in large numbers to vote “No” in last Sunday’s referendum. Their decisive victory led to the resignation of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. It’s easy to say why they are fed up. Chronic youth unemployment, close to 70 per cent in some parts of the south, leads many thousands to leave the country each year. Those who stay struggle to break into careers even if they are well qualified.
Di Maio, who became deputy leader of Italy’s parliament at the age of 26, was a webmaster for an e-commerce business before he entered politics. When older politicians scoffed that such a job was for “idlers”, he was less than impressed.
“It’s precisely this old politics that needs to be dismantled, a politics that lives in a different world, an enemy of the youth and far from reality,” he told me over the summer.
While it’s easy to see the Italian referendum result as simply the third act to the great Brexit and Trump upheavals, things are more complicated.
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