Five Star Movement faces 'populist' revolt over Rome's decay

Angela Giuffrida in Rome
Refuse is strewn next to an old Fiat 500 in central Rome. More than 15,000 people have joined a campaign calling for action. Photograph: Filippo Monteforte/AFP/Getty Images

Tired of overflowing bins, potholes and exploding buses, Rome’s long-suffering residents are planning a protest in an effort to save their city from further decay.

The aim is to send a message to the city’s administration, which since June 2016 has been led by the Five Star Movement, that enough is enough.

“We want to restart from here and tell those who have been governing Rome for two and a half years that we citizens see and understand everything and we’re not at all happy,” Emma Amiconi, a spokeswoman for a group of six women who are organising the demonstration, told Corriere della Sera. “Citizens want to live in a city that [guarantees] essential services so that we have a minimum of decorum.”

A Facebook campaign has attracted more than 15,000 members and a mass sit-in is planned for 27 October in front of the city hall. A video has been created that juxtaposes Rome’s celebrated architectural features, such at the Trevi fountain, with its many woes, including images of wild boars rummaging through uncollected rubbish.

The city’s refuse problem is more serious beyond the centre, although this week bins were overflowing just steps away from the Quirinal Palace, the residence of the Italian president. Workers at the municipal waste management firm, Ama, are planning another strike on 22 October.

The video also features an image of a bus that burst into flames on a busy shopping street in the centre in May. Believed to have been caused by a short circuit, it was the 10th such bus fire in Rome since January. The poor state of the city’s roads were blamed for the death of a motorcyclist in May.

Many Romans blame the beleaguered mayor, Virginia Raggi, for the city’s faults. Amiconi said the protest was intended to reflect a “love of Rome” while urging authorities to “take control of the city’s destiny with seriousness and competence”.

The demonstration has been criticised by the founder of the website Roma Fa Schifo (Rome is Disgusting), which chronicles the city’s problems.

“This is a protest without a programme,” said Massimiliano Tonelli. “It’s a message that only says Rome is decaying. We all know this, but the people protesting are the same ones who also protest against solutions. For example, the problem with the rubbish is due to a lack of waste disposal plants – but any time there’s been a suggestion to build one, these same people protest.”

Tonelli said the demonstration could backfire. “It might make Raggi stronger. She can say that the protest lacks a strategy for providing solutions. In effect they are protesting against a populist administration using populist methods.”