Italian Referendum Victory: No! to Nuclear Power and Privatized Water


From – June 14, 2011

by Michael Leonardi

After an inspiring mass
mobilization of people across Italy with demonstrations of all kinds:
banner drops, critical mass bike rides, workshops, information booths,
film screenings, use of the social networking and facebook, people
running nude through the streets, flash mob die-ins, young people living
confined in a giant rendition of a radioactive drum for over a month,
and a door to door, neighbor to neighbor, person to person grassroots
storm, the Italian people have won a historic vote against the forces of
global capitalism and privatization to ban the construction of Nuclear
Power plants now and forever, to keep or return Water resources to
public ownership and to Prosecute the criminal behavior of political
leaders — first and foremost Silvio Berlusconi.

Italians managed to overcome the daunting task of a
quorum of 50 per cent + 1 of all Italian voters in the face of a mass
media controlled by Berlusconi and a government that was encouraging
voters to go to the beach instead of vote on the first weekend of summer
vacation for Italian grade school, middle school and high school
students. The quorum had not been reached for over a decade on any
referendum. This time the Italian people responded with 57 per cent of
the voters turning out to the polls, the highest on any referendum in
over 20 years, and with the quorum being surpassed in every region of
the country. 95 per cent of the voters have voted “SI” to say No as the
Italian winds of change have grown to gale force.

The vote began on Sunday morning and by mid-day the
results showed that only around 10 percent of voters had responded
nationally. There was a frenzy of activity in every town and city, on
the streets, in the coffee bars, in the town squares, on the beaches,
everywhere! The proponents of the referendums threw all caution to the
wind as they called to every passerby to go to the polls and not let
this important opportunity to express our collective democratic voice
pass by. This was an incredible mobilization that had a domino effect,
as students, families and co-workers pushed one another to make the
democratic process function for the people once and for all. Flags
sprung up on balconies, stickers on the windows of busses and walls of
the metros, with bicyclists up and down the coasts whistling and
shouting to get out the vote. By 7 o’clock on Sunday the attendance at
the polls was up to 30 per cent. The depression of the morning gave way
to a nervous feeling that maybe it really was possible that the quorum
could be reached. People went to the phones and text messages and
continued to hit the streets contacting and calling out to everyone to
let them know that they could be that one vote to tip the scales. 

The polls closed on Sunday at 10 o’clock and by that
time voter turnout was reported at 41 per cent, the quorum was well
within reach. 25 towns and cities out of over 8000 had already reached
the quorum and the predictions were that the last 10 per cent could be
reached on Monday. Being so dominated by the Catholic church, the word
miracle started to spring forth from people’s lips as a nervous and
incredulous tension continued to build. The government still had some
tricks up its sleeve. It was rumored that they might not count the votes
from Italians living abroad on the nuclear question. It was said that
we needed to arrive to at least 52 or 53 per cent of the vote to ensure
the Quorum and not just 50 per cent+1, would it be possible? Rome was in
a stir of activity, and people there were convinced saying that they
hadn’t felt this kind of energy in the streets since the student
uprisings of 1968.  In the region of Calabria, the only region that
voted for Berlusconi’s right wing coalition in the municipal elections,
the activists were more cynical. Would they be the downfall of the
quorum for the country? While nationally the turnout was at 41 per cent
Calabria was only at 30 and the tension was palpable. On Monday the
Italian people responded and even in Calabria! We surpassed the 50 per
cent + 1 and sailed to 57 per cent, overcoming any possibility that the
votes from abroad could change the outcome.

Italy was overcome with joy. The leader of the
Italian of Values Party Antonio Di Pietro, who launched the petition
drives for the referendums on Nuclear Energy and Legitimate Impediment
held a press conference to express his pride and contentment with the
outcome of this historic vote, stating that “this was a victory of the
Italian People and not of the Political Establishment,” and again
calling for Berlusconi to resign from power. The hundreds of local
committees and local, regional and national organizations erupted in
celebrations in piazzas across the country. The main party was held in
Rome and symbolically took place in front of the Roman monument known as
the Bocca Della Verita’ / The Mouth of Truth.

While the national media reported the election
results with the usual mouthpieces from Berlusconi’s government and the
Opposition Democratic Party, the message from the piazzas and il popolo
Italiano / the Italian people was clear, this was a victory of, by and
for the people and not under the banner or any of the political party of
the current political caste. As Marco Bersani of the organization ATTAC
Italia said, “it is time to change the discourse in Italy. This was not
a victory of any of the major political parties but should be
recognized as a clear signal that Italians are fed up with the
ineptitude of the political leadership in the country and are ready for
direct democracy to confront the serious issues affecting the

This victory should not only be seen in the context
of the Italian political landscape but also in its significance for the
rest of Europe and the world. Italians have voted Yes to say no to the
privatization of water resources. Many of Italy’s water resources are
already poorly managed by multinational corporations and now Italians
have decided that water as a primary resource should be controlled and
managed publicly. Yesterday at Napoli’s celebration rally, the renegade
Italian priest Alex Zanotelli reiterated that “all life comes from
water, water is the mother of our existence and it must not be the
multinationals that decide how it should be managed and distributed, but
the people of the world. We must join together to build human
relationships and to create a network of direct democracy to protect
Water and other public goods from exploitation.” The Italian decision to
say no to the privatization of water is an challenge to the European
parliament, the G8 and the IMF  that are threatening the privatization
of all public resources in the face of the growing debt crisis facing
the Global Economy. Italy now stands alone as the first European country
to take this step against the forces of privatization.

Italy’s decision to ban the production of nuclear
energy is a signal to the nuclear industry that its time of disastrous
profiteering at the expense of our and our children’s future is coming
to an end. Italians are now calling for a democratic and just national
energy plan that puts renewable energy first. The mass movement of
citizens is tired of the business as usual politics dominated by the
energy giants and the pressure from the U.S. government to become a
nuclearized nation. The people are demanding a diffuse and safe energy
production plan that utilizes the abundant sunshine and winds for which
Italy is noted and that can help provide thousands of needed jobs for
young people left out of the economic shell game dominated by the
corrupt business class.  

Italians have also decided that elected politicians
should not be protected from prosecution while in office and that the
law should be applied equally for everyone. This vote eliminates the
Berlusconi government’s decree called Legitimate Impediment which
allowed office holders, and especially Berlusconi himself, to be excused
from appearing in court.

The winds of change are blowing strongly now in
Italy and there is a renewed hope and belief that another world really
is possible. Let’s hope that the people of the world take inspiration
from this new dawn in Italy and join in this global struggle against
privatization, nuclear energy and government corruption. Here the people
realize that despite this historic victory, the struggle has only just

Michael Leonardi splits his time between Ohio and Italy. He can be reached at

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About Damien Gillis

Damien Gillis is a Vancouver-based documentary filmmaker with a focus on environmental and social justice issues - especially relating to water, energy, and saving Canada's wild salmon - working with many environmental organizations in BC and around the world. He is the co-founder, along with Rafe Mair, of The Common Sense Canadian, and a board member of both the BC Environmental Network and the Haig-Brown Institute.