21 Dec 2013

Italy Pitchfork movement: peaceful or violent protest?

As violent protests spread across Italy, Channel 4 News speaks to one of the founders of the anti-austerity Pitchfork movement who says the group has been hijacked by extreme far-right groups.

Italy Pitchfork movement (R)

Peaceful demonstrations began in Sicily in 2011 after a group of farmers and truck drivers founded the Pitchfork movement to call for more help from the government.

However, protests have since spread sporadically across Italy to include students, pensioners, feminist groups, struggling business owners and some far-right groups.

Neo-fascist group

Last week students demonstrated in Turin, Italy’s main unions rallied outside parliament, and protesters marched in Venice and Ancona.

An Italian neo-fascist fringe group also scaled the front of the European Commission’s Rome headquarters and tore down the EU flag.

Ten people including the deputy president of Casapound, far-right activists who aid the poor and venerate former Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, were arrested and charged with theft, resisting authority and unauthorised protest, police said.

Though organisers insist their group is not racist, Casapound has hinted it has sympathies with the anti-immigrant Greek Golden Dawn party.

Speaking to Channel 4 News, Pitchfork leader Mariano Ferro said the group had distanced themselves from the current wave of protests.

He said: “The Pitchfork movement is no longer safe.

“There is no place for far-right groups in the Pitchfork movement, we are a peaceful movement.”

Italy Pitchfork movement (R)

The incident also led to a split within leaders of the Pitchfork movement.

In a statement on Facebook the group dissociated themselves from a 40,000-strong protest planned for Wednesday, for fear of infiltration by right-wing extremists.

Pitchfork leaders Mr Ferro and Lucio Chiavegato also distanced themselves from another leader, Danilo Calvani of the group’s farming wing, who had backed the protest.

The statement read: “We declare that the demonstration called for on 18 December in Rome is not recognized by us for reasons of organisation and possible public order.

“We fear that there may be infiltrators and that the peaceful demonstration may turn into something far from our intention.”

In the end only 3,000 people turned up and Mr Calvani appears to have been left out in the cold.

Pope Francis

Mr Ferro said the Pitchforks would now be gathering in Rome on Sunday to seek the support of Pope Francis.

Mr Ferro said: “We will attend the mass service [in Rome], and experience a moment of serenity and peace.

“We will then gather in a private venue in the afternoon to decide where we go next.”

Apart from demanding the government be replaced and parliament dissolved and exit from the Euro, the precise targets of the protests still remain vague.

Interior Minister Angelino Alfano last week told parliament that they mustn’t underestimate the protest.

He said the government understood “the suffering of poor people,” but would not allow the violence to continue.

He said the government had tried to open talks with the protesters but it was difficult because there were so many different groups and no clear leaders.