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Italian Politician’s Primo Levi Parody Panned

Beppe Grillo under fire for anti-government poem based on ‘If This Is a Man’

by
Stephanie Butnick
April 18, 2014
Five Star Movement leader Beppe Grillo gives a press conference on January 23, 2014 in Rome. (GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images)
Five Star Movement leader Beppe Grillo gives a press conference on January 23, 2014 in Rome. (GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images)

Beppe Grillo, the Italian comedian-turned-politician otherwise known as Italy’s Yair Lapid, has found himself in hot water over a parody poem he wrote attacking the Italian government, which he posted on his blog. Grillo, who founded the Five Star Movement, an anti-establishment party which pulled off a major upset in the 2013 elections, posted a poem he titled “Se questo é un paese,” or “If This is a Country,” an obvious play on the title of Primo Levi’s well-known poem, “Se questo é un uomo,” or, “If this is a man,” Italy’s The Local reports.

Levi’s poem, which now serves as the introduction to his book of the same name (known in English as Survival in Auschwitz), is a somber accounting of the struggle to maintain humanity while imprisoned in a concentration camp. Grillo’s poem, meanwhile, is a scathing attack on the Italian government.

Here’s a sample of Levi’s poem:

Consider if this is a man
Who works in the mud,
Who does not know peace,
Who fights for a scrap of bread,
Who dies because of a yes or a no.

Renzo Gattegna, president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, or UCEI, called Grillo’s parody poem an “obscenity,” JTA reports. According to The Local, Grillo refused to apologize for the post, maintaining instead that it was a tribute to Levi.

Defending his blog post on a television show on Monday night, Grillo said: “Primo Levi is one of the greatest writers of the century, he wrote an extraordinary book. I am evoking it to honour him, because the teaching is that one should never lower one’s guard, because there is a Holocaust around the corner.”

Mamma mia.

Stephanie Butnick is chief strategy officer of Tablet Magazine, co-founder of Tablet Studios, and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.

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