Sardines Movement. “The First Fish Revolution in History”
Articles about the Sardines movement reappeared in the international media in connection with the recent Italian regional election in Emilia-Romagna, where in the last weekend of January the candidates of the center-left Democratic Party (PD) and the far-right League competed against each other. The PD won the elections, but the interesting fact is that the party’s defeat here became a prospect, in a region which has been ruled for 70 years by the political left. Matteo Salvini’s rally with the motto “Let’s free Emilia-Romagna” (from the rule of the left) seemed to work enough to make the political analysts worry. The victory of the center-left in the reports gets partly dedicated to the ‘6000 Sardines’.
Who are those fish-revolutionists? The grassroots political movement started in mid-November by four friends (Mattia Santori, Andrea Garreffa, Giulia Trappoloni, and Roberto Morotti), with the help of social media. The starting point was a flash mob named “6000 Sardines against Salvini” – at the event 15.000 people showed up, and since then the movement is reaching more and more publicity, in December they gathered around 100.000 ‘sardines’ in Rome. Their first manifesto was against populism – against its hatred based rhetorics, non-transparent propaganda and social-media usage by politicians, and Matteo Salvini’s ‘anti-migrant’ Security Decree.
The movement’s narrative is explicitly against Salvini, the leader of the League party. The politician became the deputy prime minister and interior minister of Italy, in a coalition government with the populist Five Star Movement in 2018. Under his leadership, the regional Northern League party turned nation-wide with mainly emphasizing issues on immigration. After taking office he was cutting off refugee’s access to social programs, dismantling Italy’s official refugee camps, and closing the country’s ports in front of rescue ships. In August 2019, Mr. Salvini’s career as a minister came to a sudden end, when he provoked the fall of his own coalition, hoping to force snap elections which could have made him prime minister. But instead of new elections, the center-left Democratic Party and the anti-establishment Five Star Movement created a coalition and a new government. Salvini quasi became powerless, but he remains influential – one of the proofs is that the 6000 Sardines’ flash mob against him happened when he has already fallen out of power.
The Sardines’ founders stated that the movement is not bound to any political party or political sides; their assemblies should be flag- and political symbol-free, and it’s given aim is the reaffirmation of democracy. It does not openly support any party, but it’s explicitly against the far-right League.
The movement itself has different interpretations. Giovanni Orsina, a professor of history at Rome’s LUISS University, stated to the Foreign Affairs and in an opinion letter to the La Stampa that the movement’s tools are similar to the ones considered to be used by populists – for example the central enemy picture (the populist) and the desire of being distinct of the current politics on a moral base. He criticizes the movement because it lacks any determined political agenda and seems to try to restore the 1990’s progressive set of values which have already failed and gave populism a boost. Therefore it’s not clear if the ‘6000 Sardines’ cannot end up helping Salvini regain power. In Silvio Berlusconi’s opinion – which he gave to the Foreign Affairs– the Sardines “represent the usual old politics” and are lined up next to Italy’s Democratic Party.
The question arises: do the Sardines have that much influence on Italian politics as the media frenzy around them suggests? They successfully mobilized thousands of people, but don’t want to become a party, and don’t have explicit political aims. They got an invitation from Italy’s prime minister, Giuseppe Conte to consult with him, but the leader of the movement stated that the meeting if it will take place, will be informal. The Sardines did campaign against the League in Emilia-Romagna, but the fact that the far-right got a significant amount of votes (even if it got defeated) signs changement in the region’s left-sided mindset. However, from an optimistic point of view, the ‘6000 Sardines’ can have the chance to rebuild political participation and to prove that grassroots politics can yield results.
The author of this article is Vivien Aranyi-Aszalós, member of the International Diplomatic Student Association.