In Italy, we don’t have a common left party, so we asked individuals to form the Tsipras list

Lisa Mittendrein and Martin Konecny interview activists from the Bologna group of the Tsipras list, an alliance of individuals and social movements united behind SYRIZA's Alexis Tsipras in the upcoming European elections

May 20, 2014 · 10 min read

Tsirpas.jpgPhoto: Die Linke/Flickr

Who came up with the idea for the Tsipras list and what were the initial reactions from other parts of the left?

It all started with a group of six intellectuals who took the initiative for the Tsipras list. One of them is Barbara Spinelli, the daughter of Altiero Spinelli who is considered one of the founding fathers of the European Union and was a political prisoner during fascism. Barbara Spinelli herself is famous for European matters, she published a lot of articles and essays on the state of the EU. Besides Spinelli, there is Andrea Camilleri, a famous writer, Marco Revelli, a university professor who is popular on the left, Guido Viale, an economist famous since the 68 movement, Paolo Flores d’Arcais, a magazine editor and the sociologist Luciano Gallino. These six wrote a manifesto to address citizens, sharing ideas of the left.

The attempt to unite all left parties for the last elections failed, so we are not in parliament any more. This is different from other European countries where you have “Die Linke” or “Front de Gauche”. In Italy, we don’t have a common party, therefore they called on the basis of left values.  They decided to ask for individuals to form the list, and not parties, but they were invited to support it. The first task was to get the attention of all the people from the left who don’t vote any more.

What are the main demands of the manifesto?

The single most important point is that: we don’t want to quit the Euro but we want to reopen the discussion on different political and economic paths. We are citizens living with this economic policy and the social situation is not bearable any more, so we want to discuss the European treaties.

How did all of you join the Tsipras list?

Roberto Marenesi: In the beginning, parties were not allowed to initiate groups, but social movements were.

One in particular is called ALBA, which was founded several years ago and exists in all major Italian cities. ALBA started the process and I am the representative of ALBA Bologna, so I made a call for a first meeting. All over Italy, there were events where you could sign the manifesto. We organized a first assembly in February, and a second one a month later together with the initiators and a lot of people came. From there, we started the organizational work and we collected signatures to register the list for the elections – and we succeeded.

Raffaele Garino: I was with ALBA and I also joined the process from the beginning.

Claudia Giordano & Giusseppe Scrivo: We were active with “Comitato Articolo 33”, which was in a movement for public schools. The name refers to article 33 of the Italian constitution which grants public education to everyone. Last year we promoted a local referendum that wanted to stop the shifting of public money to private and catholic schools. We won the referendum, but it was not binding and the municipality ignored us. We joined the list after signing the manifesto, and many others of the movement did the same.

Are most of your activists from movements or are there also people from parties?

There are people from parties as well, but the first request of the founding committee was that people should not represent their party. If you are candidate you are not the candidate of one particular party but of the list. Unfortunately, this wasn’t always easy and there were some attempts of parties to sponsor their own organizations, in particular by PRC and SEL, which are the two most important parties on the left. But it is not really an issue. The most difficult problem we are facing now is the inclusion of people who were not organized before. We are trying to find public spaces for people to meet and to let them participate.

How many activists do you have here in Bologna? And how do you organize the Tsipras list on the Italian level?

In Bologna we have a nice group with over a hundred volunteers who are organizing the electoral campaign in the city and the province. And in the province of Bologna, 1.500 people have signed the statement of support for the European elections.

In every city and important centre, we are trying to organize a committee which is autonomous in its decisions and with the campaign. This is an experimental way to make decisions; we are also trying to build online debates about every issue. So this is a new way to try to engage people, to engage citizens and give them the power to decide for themselves.

How did you come up with the name and why did you choose the reference to Greece?

Initially, there were four proposals and the decision was made for “L’Altra Europa con Tsipras” through an online voting. We want the reference with Greece and the Greek situation. We consider it important for three reasons: First, Greece is the cradle of Europe. Second, Greece is the place where the worst attack is happening to people because of the austerity. Third, we want to show that we are with Tsipras, because Tsipras and SYRIZA are the strongest movement to oppose austerity.

What are your expectations the elections? How do you want to change Europe? Do you believe in change through the European parliament or is this merely a symbolic thing?

No, it is not symbolic, it is something concrete and real, but it is not enough. The European Parliament won’t change anything alone but it is a starting point. Giving representation to left voters in Europe is something concrete. It is also a starting point to reconnect the parliament with the movements. We have a lot of movements here but they are weak as nobody is bringing their demands to the institutions. If we look at left history, institutions are not the only place where we fight battles, they are only one of the places. To change the balance of powers within the institutions is important but there are other places too. We are not going to change the treaties through winning elections, we have to do it from the bottom up.

Do you think the list will continue to exist after the European elections?

We hope! A part of the movement started with politics again because they hope that there will be a left party in Italy again. Of course that all depends on the electoral campaign and the results.

We would like talk a little bit about the Italian context now. What are your thoughts on the new Renzi government and what are the tasks of the Tsipras list in this respect? 

We see no difference between the Renzi government and previous governments. But we see a major threat to democracy right now. Renzi made an electoral reform with the major right party, and this reform favours big parties over smaller ones.

So the two main tasks of a real left party should be, first, to defend democracy through the constitution. The Italian constitution is one of the best, because it contains social rights. The first article states that “Italy is a Democratic Republic, founded on work.” The second task is to tackle unemployment by a different employment policy. It should not randomly create jobs, but work associated with ecological transformation. So we are seeking a new model of development, which sees ecology and employment together.

In the rest of Europe, there was a lot of attention on the Five Star Movement What is your position towards them?

The official position is, that a part of people who vote for the Five Star Movement are people from the left. We want to win back those votes, as we believe that these people vote for the movement out of protest against the big parties. This is the official position. If we agree in the future on certain points with the Five Star Movement we won’t have a problem with that.

But probably the Five Star Movement will not vote for any kind of initiative coming from other parties, because they think they are better than all other parties and movements and they don’t want to talk to them. They always say that they are only working on one point, and then another, so they don’t cooperate. But this is a kind of personal statement.

What are the major social and political struggles happening in Italy today, beside the movement for public schools and water you already mentioned?

We have a lot of movements, but most of them are related to the territory where they started. The most important right now is the “No TAV” movement. There is an environmental and a health problem related to building the TAV because the tunnel they are building contains toxic materials. And people against TAV consider this train useless because there is already a train connecting this route. One of the leaders of the “No TAV” movement is one of our candidates. Another important movement right now is about homelessness. During the last weeks and months in Rome, a strong movement started that was confronted violently by the police. Last Saturday, a man even lost his hand during a protest. There is no political answer to all these issues: to the housing problem, to the TAV problem, to the jobs problem, there is just repression. Many times, these movements like TAV are treated as “NIMBY” – not in my backyard. There is an intention from the state to reduce those questions to regional ones. On the other hand there is a real problem with the lack of networking between the movements. For example, we have the issue of homelessness in Bologna and in Rome, but they don’t really communicate much.

Can we understand the Tsipras list as a try to give convergence to all these different movements?

Tspiras list is trying to bring together these kind of movements, to connect them, but it is really hard because many want to be autonomous and there are specific issues related to the local situations. So we want to connect different kinds of experiences, but we need to give autonomy to these different kinds of movements as well. Tsipras list is trying to build something which is common to connect them. Some of our candidates come from these different movements and experiences and they are now all together in one list, so this is the first step to create a network.

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