Tuesday, February 26, 2013


There is an election going on in Italy as I write, and this is how it works: you present your ID card to the returning officer and receive your folded-up ballot paper, which looks to be of normal size. Then you go into the booth and proceed to open it. You unfold it once, twice, three times. Then four. Five. Six. The paper at this point occupies the entire booth and it’s not even fully open yet. Seven, eight. The only way you can fit in the booth now is if you actually stand on the paper. Eight, nine. You pull half the paper over your head like the roof of a tent or a grotto. Ten. The paper is everywhere. The only thing you can see is the paper. You begin to wonder if you’ll ever find your way out of the booth again.

So many symbols. 184, to be precise, although not all of them appear on every ballot paper. Each electoral district is like a unique, beautiful snowflake, so it’s not surprising that a large proportion of the lists are so fiercely local. But seeing as you find yourself in a hypothetical national voting booth, you have to sort through all of them. So many symbols. Such a long history of parochialism and division.

Great Independent South

Union of Italians for South America

Venetian Independence

Northern League

Federal Southern League - 'Southern Drought' - Association of Workers and Entrepreneurs

Venetian Republic - League

Padan League - Lombardy

Friulian Movement

Southern Party - Unitary Southerners

Sicilian Independence Movement (est. 1943)

Sardinian Nation

Südtiroler Volkspartei

Vallecamonica Free Trade Area

I'm as much in the dark as you are

Lombard-Venetian League

Sardinian Independence Movement

Not all of these are novelty parties, by any means. Lega Nord has been one of the main forces in Italian politics of the last twenty years and was instrumental both in Berlusconi’s rise to power and in causing the fall of his first government. But this is no time for reminiscing. There is already a queue forming outside the booth. You have to move quickly. So many symbols. You want to look at them all. Like, really look at them. But it’s hard. Some of them are like an invitation to pause, to ponder.

There must be quite a story behind the 'Right-Wing Gays' and their rather menacing black rose. Helpfully, there is a URL on the symbol itself, so you could check it out since you remembered to take a smartphone into the booth. However that’s a slippery slope, as there is no amount of browsing that would enable you in the time allowed to absorb the policies of the ‘Action Poets’ Movement’,

or ‘Italian Stem Cells’,

‘Energy, Vitality, Renewal’

or the the Holy Roman Empire party.

Don't ask

Conversely there are symbols that are helpfully self-explanatory. You can confidently glide through those.

No More Taxes

Lottery Party - Vote and Win

Halve Politicians' Salaries

Healthcare Professionals Against Hospital Closures

Minimum Non-Contributory Pensions of 1,000 Euros 

Stop Gerit and Equitalia [debt collection agencies]

Action Party for Development - Stop Banks and Taxes
Pausing perhaps only for a moment to consider what ‘Thieving State - Come on Tax Evaders!’ might exactly entail

and a little longer to untangle the proposals of the ‘Recovery of Ill-Gotten Gains’ party, which include the abolition of provinces, opposition to ‘the amnesty’ (whatever that is) and enshrining water as a common good (which is laudable, except they misspelt ‘water’). There is also a rather opaque call in the middle of the symbol to give rise to the ‘United States of the Euro’. Possibly.

Some symbols are just like that: dense, busy. (Too busy, as there is by now a crowd clamouring outside.) Some others are baffling. Pornstar Ilona Staller, aka Cicciolina, who was a Parliamentarian once before, now features on the symbol of the ‘DNA party’ (‘Democracy, Nature, Amore’).

Not to be outdone, a fellow by the name of Pino Maniaci also managed to put his face on the symbol of his party, which pledges to ‘give the power to the citizens’.

Whereas the folks at ‘Italian Renascence’ banked on the enduring appeal of sixteenth century man-at-arms Giovanni dalle Bande Nere.

Of a decidedly less triumphal bent are the characters on the symbol of ‘Look What They’ve Done to Us’

and, even more truculently, the ‘Everyman’s Party’.

Why does the ‘Women’s Fraternity’ (great name, by the way) have a DNA helix as its symbol?

What’s the Statue of Liberty doing in the symbol of the ‘European Independence Front’?

Why is somebody getting kicked in the pants in the symbol of the ‘Bunga Bunga Movement’?

So many questions. But it’s getting dark outside. It’s time to make a decision, so perhaps it’s best to direct your attention towards something more familiar and authoritative. If you’re older than 40, you might recognise some of the old glories. These folks ruled over the country uninterruptedly for nearly fifty years.

Except they’re gone now, or rather they’ve split and transformed into other parties. This is not them, just usurpers of the storied shield, like the various contenders to the flame of the Fascist MSI.

There is no shortage of hammers-and-sickles, either, in the form of plain communists,

fourth international communists,

the Workers’ Communist Party,

the Proletarian Communist Party,

and the PCIM-L (motto: if you don’t know what our acronym stands for, you’re not allowed to vote for us).

Except the actual fascists are these.

And these.

And the actual communists, some say, are these.

Or perhaps these.

But certainly not these, although they still own much of the furniture.

You’ve been reminiscing again. Listen: there are no longer any noises coming from outside the booth, and it’s totally dark. You only have the light from your smartphone to guide you through the dense forest of symbols. But it’s no use. There is no way to trace a path through the forest, this surreal and grotesque semblance of choice. The ‘Protest Vote’ party. The ‘I Don’t Vote’ party. The green lists, the Catholic lists, the opera lovers. The ‘Atheist Democrats’. Beppe Grillo, Mario Monti, Berlusconi. Comedians, technocrats, filthy old men. Is this democracy or a ritual, a form of superstition? Surely scratching an X onto any of these blots of ink won’t affect the world outside.

It’s late now, so late. You wrap the ballot paper around you. Hopefully someone will come in the morning.


Philip said...

And all we ever get are the Conservatives, the Deputy Conservatives, the Wannabe Conservatives and the Ones Who Won't Win. And no pictures on the ballot paper, which wouldn't keep you warm unless you burned it, and then not for long.

Word Verification: doonse, a political tango with dubious partners in a netherward direction.

Con said...

The Holy Roman Empire party?! Wow!

Paul Hebron said...

how very stylish, we just have trees and doves and flowers and occasionally great honking Union Jacks - they look like the badges of rival motorbike gangs

Giovanni Tiso said...

Con: the Holy Roman Empire party would have been a sensible choice compared to the ones that were actually made. In light of early exit polls I'm now re-evaluating absolute imperial theocracies.

Unknown said...

Head explod'd. I love that your captions for the symbols could not possibly go either way. Serious symbols cannot be mistaken.
w.v. biadas...so many options, mostly bad.

rob said...

Incredible collection of symbols! Clear, obscure, remarkable, forgettable, bald, rude, - you have them all. Italian politics seems entirely mysterious. Someone wrote in the Guardian that this is the first Italian election where NOBODY celebrated the results...

Megan Clayton said...

Comedians, technocrats,
filthy old men:
the heart draws up its knees.

The butcher's cleaver scores
the carcass, and rolls the joint
in swathes.

Muscle, gristle, poor man's
used twine to tie us up.

Inside a voter's a
bleeding heart
inside a puzzle box.