Sardines Out Of A Boot-Shaped Can

About the anti-Salvini movement that is filling Italian squares.

Sardines Italy

About the anti-Salvini movement that is filling Italian squares

The rise of Matteo Salvini’s League seemed unstoppable over the last few months: it first cannibalized the consensus inside the so-called yellow-green government and then towed Italy’s right-wing parties’ coalition polling near to 50% of the votes. Public debate has condensed around populist stances on issues regarding immigration, security, elite privileges and so on, strengthened also by the lack of a proper, organized and systemic opposition to Salvini’s rhetoric.

A void, the one that has emerged, that has proved difficult to be filled either by the current government parties — the Five Star Movement and the Democratic Party — or by newer parties of the Italian political spectrum, namely Matteo Renzi’s Italia Viva (Italy Alive). However, over the past few weeks, a series of flash-mobs leading to public gatherings organized all across Italy seem to have galvanized the underground anti-populist sentiment and, more specifically, anti-Salvini attitudes. The movement that goes by the name of 6000 Sardines (or simply just Le Sardine — The Sardines) has become the hot topic in Italian media in just a few days.

A dissection of The Sardines

The Sardines’ birth moment can be traced back to the flash-mob in Piazza Maggiore, in Bologna, on November 14. The gathering was organized as a parallel and opposite event to Salvini’s opening rally for the Emilia-Romagna regional elections scheduled for next January. The initial (and official) name of 6000 Sardines was indeed chosen in reference to the League’s event: the campaign rally of the League-backed governor candidate Lucia Borgonzoni was launched in the PalaDozza sports arena, containing 5.570 seats.

The aim of Mattia Santori — one of The Sardines’ four main organizers — was to gather in the square at least one person more than those in the PalaDozza. The attendees had to be quiet and stand close to each other, packed like sardines do in fish stands and cans. There is strength in numbers, surely, but not just in that: the calm of The Sardines would be the true alternative to the violent and harsh tones of Salvini’s political rhetoric.

After the demonstration held in Bologna, many other events followed and have been arranged in these weeks. Overall the official Facebook page of the movement can count on more than 200,000 followers.

The movement of The Sardines has been fluid since its creation, being cross-cutting in nature regarding gender and age-groups. Moreover, the organizers have been clear since the beginning: no flags or symbols linked to political parties are allowed at the demonstrations, and by doing so they do not convey any sort of alignment. This can prove to be a strength of The Sardines, as they can withstand Salvini regarding core issues, avoiding to spiral the debate in political terms and camps.

A closer look will be needed to assess the movement’s composition even in terms of ethnicity, class, color, and education. However, it is still premature to make such an assessment. Thus, during this first phase of the movement’s life, some indications to better understand it come from reading its Manifesto.

The nearly 500-words-long note can be summarized in a whole sea-related allegory of Italian contemporary politics. In a violent sea of storm and turbulence, the sardines can stand together against the shipwreck of Italian institutions and politics. The Manifesto is indeed quite short and flexible for a movement; on the other hand, this is positive for it can be relatable to more people. Moreover, in this way, the organizers are avoiding detrimental policy issues and (potential) frictions among its participants.

Too soon to be called?

It is still unclear how (much) The Sardines movement will shape Italy’s politics and policies. A new, flexible movement can undoubtedly be freer to pursue short-run objectives, such as public rallies and opposition: and it has done so convincingly enough. Indeed, a recent survey made by Index Research for the Italian TV channel La7 places The Sardines movement on top of perceived “dangerousness” of Salvini’s adversaries. The Sardines have pretty much the same percentage (43%) as all other adversaries combined (Democratic Party 14.4%; Renzi’s Italy Alive 12.2%; Five Star Movement 10.9%; and Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte 8.4%).

On the other hand, a loose structure can be difficult to provide subsistence in the long run. It is even more difficult to keep up the enthusiasm for long periods of time and to live only by it: without a clear, articulate vision and perspectives on Italian politics, people can soon feel disengaged from the movement.

Maybe it is too soon to properly estimate and evaluate the influence that The Sardines will have in the Italian political spectrum and debate. However, this movement has already been successful in giving a public and tangible alternative to Salvini’s unchallenged rise. Its quick birth and organization cannot be a negative aspect per se. To say it with a quote from Philip Roth’s American Pastoral: “People think of history in the long term, but history, in fact, is a very sudden thing.”

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