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Purple People challenge Berlusconi

By Duncan Kennedy
BBC News, Rome

"Purple People" during a march in Rome, 27 February 2010
The Purple People movement has drawn thousands onto the streets

Think of a world of politics without spin doctors, teleprompters, stage-managed conferences, party headquarters, manifestos, cynicism or even leaders.

One does exist. It is the world of the Purple People.

They are not some strange, colour-corrected version of the Na'vi, found in Avatar.

They are human beings, they mostly live in Italy and they are angry - angry with Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

They are called the Purple People because they have adopted the colour purple as a way of identifying themselves.

Why purple?

"Because no other political party uses it," says Ginevra Tosoni, an unemployed graphic designer who has found her way to this extraordinary new political movement by way of the internet.

Informal movement

The Purple People organisation was founded somewhere on Facebook.

There are rumours about who started it a few months ago, but no-one is quite sure.

Italy's official opposition is weak and divided and is not doing its job
Ginevra Tosoni
Purple People activist

It really does not have a leader.

It coalesces around ideas and a few hard-working fixers and is egalitarian, but not socialist.

It is a political movement outside of the political system.

Its only physical manifestations are the people who support it and a caravan, or to be precise, a tiny mobile home.

Where it is parked is central to what this is all about.

For two months it has been stationed in the heart of Rome's political district.

It is a kind of mission control without a mission statement.

But it does have a message: Mr Berlusconi, we want you and your government out.

Not a very lofty premise for a political movement, you might think.

But it is one that has gained traction in the minds of tens, if not hundreds of thousands, of Italians.

Electronic messages

They appear to be a genuine cross-section of Italian society that has come to the conclusion that Mr Berlusconi is bad for Italy's health.

Inside the mobile home, party machinery amounts to a single laptop.

From it and a host of cell phones, e-mails, tweets and texts are sent on their electronic way.

Purple People demonstrators in Rome, 27 February 2010
Protesters turn out festooned in purple

This newly-minted opposition summons its foot soldiers to rally after rally, protest after protest, through technology.

And all respond by turning up festooned in something purple.

Be it scarves, bags, coats, shoes or sweaters, the colour purple is the must-have season accessory for the politically disaffected.

"Italy's official opposition is weak and divided and is not doing its job," Ms Tosoni tells me. "So we have to do it for them".

The "job" in question is landing a blow on Mr Berlusconi, who has been at the centre of a spate of scandals, rows and controversies.

From an alleged dalliance with a former escort and an under-explained relationship with an 18-year-old model, to a messy (and probably expensive) divorce from his wife and battles with the judiciary (who he has likened to the Taliban), all have been paraded before an open-jawed, incredulous, public.

Yet Mr Berlusconi's poll ratings hover at levels other leaders would salivate over.

Millions upon millions of Italians continue to give him their confidence.

Missed deadline

The latest crowd-pleasing/upsetting event (delete where applicable) concerns one Alfredo Milioni.

Mr Milioni, a former bus driver, is the hapless official from Mr Berlusconi's party who missed a deadline to hand in a list of candidates to fight regional elections later this month in the Lazio region that includes Rome.

Silvio Berlusconi in Rome, 12 March 2010
Silvio Berlusconi has weathered a series of scandals

The excuses proffered in the Italian press range from Mr Milioni being physically barred by opposition party members, to him nipping out to buy a sandwich and forgetting the time.

Tragic for the candidates, lucrative for the lawyers, entertainment for the masses.

But whatever the truth, it is one more factor behind the rise of the Purple People.

They view it as further incompetence engulfing Mr Berlusconi's administration and an additional reason why he should fall on his figurative sword.

Mr Berlusconi need not worry, yet, about their collective, electoral impact.

By their own definition, Purple Protesters are disillusioned with orthodox politics, so are unlikely to face him at the ballot box.

But nor can the prime minister afford to ignore them.

"They represent something," says Senator Lucio Malan, a member of Mr Berlusconi's ruling People of Freedom Party.

"If there are thousands turning up to their rallies, it means there are many more who are thinking like them," he says.

"We understand the frustrations and we must address it," he adds.

Colour co-ordinated political movements have been more revolutionary-minded in other countries. Who can forget the Orange protesters in Ukraine?

In Italy, the Purple People are noisy but conformist.

When it comes to Silvio Berlusconi, however, they might be wearing purple, but they are seeing red.



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SEE ALSO
Rome protests against Berlusconi
27 Feb 10 |  Europe
In pictures: Berlusconi's annus horribilis
14 Dec 09 |  In Pictures
Profile: Silvio Berlusconi
13 Dec 09 |  Europe
Italy country profile
14 Feb 12 |  Country profiles


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