How effective will Italy’s ‘Sardine movement’ prove in the upcoming regional election?

Scepticism from the left

Yet the paradox of inclusive movements is their ability to divide. As the positive energy now starts to dissipate, attitudes towards the movement have become mixed, if not explicitly negative from some young leftists in Bologna. Opinions have begun to range from ben intenzionato (well-meaning), to insensato (pointless), to descriptions of the leaders as deficienti (morons). Meanwhile, the right-wing press accuses the movement of Communist ‘radical chic-ismo’, with Salvini supporters going so far as to call it a PD or George Soros conspiracy.

For the cynical, the Sardines represent just another ‘flash in the pan’ protest, in the vein of Italy’s anti-Berlusconi ‘i girotondi’ and ‘purple people’ movements in the late 1990s and 2000s. While these demonstrations effectively expressed discontent, they did not prevent Il Cavaliere (The Knight) from being re-elected to the European Parliament last year despite his long history of corruption. The reality is that the incumbent PD-Five Star government looks on the brink of collapse, while recent polls suggest that 48.2% of Italians would prefer ‘strong’, ‘messiah-like’ leadership. Cynicism and frustration amongst progressives is therefore unsurprising.

The radical left go further, describing the Sardines as the apotheosis of reactionism. They oppose its call to entrust power to ‘competent’ or ‘sensible’ political bodies, understood to mean centrist PD, EU technocrats or other bastions of the status quo. They would also deny the movement’s ‘youth status’ or ‘radical chic-ismo’, despite its creation by four leftist graduates. Instead they point to the number of older ‘boomers’ and families who came out, clad excitedly in fish-shaped cardboard fancy-dress, making the movement somewhat soft-centred, lacking in intellectual gravitas or bite and open to ridicule. These radicals are the ones who came out to protest the arrival of Roberto Fiore in Bologna last summer, the leader of fascist party Forza Nuova, said to be an orchestrator behind the 1980 Bologna bombing during the violent ‘Years of Lead’. They see the current political context through a revolutionary lens, regarding the moderate-left press with disdain when they congratulate the ‘bravi’ young people, fighting peacefully for a cause – just as they did Greta. For this demographic of Italian society, Il Potere al Popolo (Power to the People party) offers a better hope. The party has an anti-neoliberal, anti-racist platform and is composed of trade unions, civil society groups and student organisations.

Confusion as to the Sardine’s identity increased further as the movement rippled across Italy. What was originally an Emilia-Romagna-specific demonstration was mimicked across diverse territories, each with its own requirements. In Naples, a breakaway movement has formed called Le Sardine Nere (The Black Sardines) after migrant protesters were refused permission to speak at a Naples Sardine demonstration. It was decided that only ‘official’ Sardine organisers could speak. ‘The Black Sardines’ therefore was established to allow migrants, asylum seekers and second generation immigrants to speak for themselves on the issues of racism, residency permits and labour exploitation.

For some, the final dissolution of the Sardine’s objective came when Casapound, the Roman neofascist party (that perhaps most resembles the British EDL), provocatively joined the protests in Rome in response to a Sardine leader’s direct call for inclusion “for now anyone can join the protest, even someone from Casapound is okay, as long as he takes to the piazza like a Sardine”. Casapound leader, Simone di Stefano, has since tweeted mocking selfies eating sardines “I’m also in the piazza today (Venice) with the #Sardines (fried)”. Many progressives held the Sardines in contempt for allowing this inclusion to happen, while the original organisers from Bologna quickly apologised on social media, declaring it a misunderstanding and that neo-fascist groups will never be welcome.

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