Playing at politics

The Italian left has adopted a children's game as a form of protest.

Dominic Standish

Topics Politics

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‘Girotondo’, the Italian version of the British children’s game ‘Ring-around-the-roses’, has become a celebrated tactic by various Italian groups in their opposition to the centre-right government led by Silvio Berlusconi.

On 6 August, 300 unemployed people held hands around the Campania regional headquarters in Naples, claiming the ‘girotondo’ as their own brand of protest. Banners read ‘Surrender! You are surrounded’.

The protest was held by two unemployed rights groups, ‘Movimento Disoccupati per il Lavoro’ (Movement of Unemployed People for Work) and ‘Forza Lavoro Disponibile’ (Let’s Go For Available Work). The groups called for a new welfare-to-work plan, which does not seem the most sensible idea in a region where working opportunities are as limited as they are.

The protest elevated the girotondo over the content of the groups’ proposals. A statement by the two groups read: ‘In a country where girotondi are organised for everything but serious things, we are turning the attention of public opinion towards the dramatic unemployment situation in Naples, and in order to do this we have chosen to behave with the same degree of gravity shown by the regional, provincial and municipal governments in tackling the problem: none.’ (1)

Unemployment is a drastic problem in Naples and the Campania region, where the European statistics bureau Eurostat recently recorded an official unemployment rate of 22.4 percent. Such serious problems demand serious responses, not child’s play. But this is only the latest demonstration to have adopted the girotondo.

There were numerous protests leading up to a Senate vote on 1 August for new justice reforms. In Rome, 7000 people joined hands to make their ring around the Senate building and a leading speech was given by film-maker Nanni Moretti.

The justice reforms were approved, as expected. They will benefit the prime minister, by helping Berlusconi in the Milan court case he faces, charged with bribing judges for a favourable verdict during trials that took place when he was building his business empire in the 1980s.

If approved by the lower house of parliament in September 2002, this justice bill would allow defendants to request moving trials and restarting proceedings where there is ‘legitimate suspicion’ of courtroom bias. So Berlusconi’s trial could be moved from Milan, where he has claimed the judges are biased against him, and investigations would need to begin again. Such a delay would probably mean that the trial would expire under the statute of limitations and Berlusconi would be off the hook.

The opposition’s inability to challenge this justice reform inside the Senate and parliament is due to its low levels of representation in both houses – the consequence of the low number of votes for the opposition parties during the 2001 general election.

And still, the opposition parties are in total disarray. Many believe that Sergio Cofferati, leader of CGIL, the most militant union, is well placed to lead an anti-government coalition when he steps down as CGIL leader in the autumn. But Cofferati has said that he would rather go back to his old job at the cable and tyre producer Pirelli.

So opposition groups are reduced to holding hands outside the institutions of democratic debate, and children’s games seem to be the best form of protest they can come up with.

Girotondo is a fun children’s game that I enjoy playing with my son and his friends at the end of their swimming lessons. Its words are different from the British ‘Ring-around-the-roses’. The Italian version goes: ‘Round and all the way round, the world falls down, the Earth falls down, everybody falls down.’

Maybe this is, after all, an appropriate form of protest for Italian opposition groups that appear to be disappearing from serious politics – going around in circles, or giving up as their worlds fall down.

Dominic Standish is a columnist for the Italy Daily section of the International Herald Tribune and runs Progress Consulting in the Veneto region of Italy (

Read on:

A cry to be heard, by Dominic Standish

The Genoa Tales, by Dominic Standish

Leaving the left behind, by Mike Fitzpatrick

(1) ‘Naples jobless claim right to ring-around-the-rosy’, Elisa Cecchi, 7 August 2002, Italy Daily section of the International Herald Tribune

(2) A cry to be heard, by Dominic Standish

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Topics Politics


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