Freedom is……….

Think about a region, a very productive one, where there is the best education system, the most advanced health system, excellent manufacture, a place where ingenious, hard working people have succeeded in making profit even out of one of the less quaint stretch of coastline of the Adriatic sea, creating well organized bathing resorts, a mix of good quality facilities and places to have fun, which attract thousands of tourists from all over the world. In this region poverty rate is very low, welfare truly works, good food is popular cult and lively music part of the cultural heritage. A paradise. Does such a place really exist in Italy? Yes, it does. It’s Emilia Romagna, 1 of the 20 administrative regions of Italy, the place where lasagne, tortellini and piadina, just to mention some of their worldwide most famous delicatessen, were born. This region has been ruled by the same party for 72 years.

Now, imagine that on occasion of the administrative elections to choose the new president of this region, another political entity would decide to defy the ruling party. With such history and such outcomes it would seem a desperate attempt to anybody. Emilia Romagna has always been the most powerful stronghold of the left wing, doing better would be very unlikely. Another scenario had to be found to have a chance of victory. Something that could mine the certainties of those lucky citizens and convince them that they were not safe at all, that there was a real danger, despite all the good that had been done in years, right behind their doors which could reduce them to poverty: immigrants, thousands of immigrants, ready to replace them at work and strip them of their wealth.

What did the leader of the new political entity say to persuade them? Well, not much. Apart from the same refrain about immigrants, his political campaign was mostly based on the kissing of rosaries, on calling the name of the Virgin Mary and all the Saints in any possible occasion and taking selfies with all the fans who wished it. Fans ? You would say. Yes, fans. He has got millions of fans, who worship him from North to South in any social media, who believe he is just like one of them as he speaks their language and are ready to support him in his holy mission, which,  he seems sometimes to imply, was given him by God himself ( this must be when he is under the effect of a mojito): defend us from any invader and unify the country under one motto “Italians first “(the fact that only 2 seconds before, as the  leader of lega, he had claimed the secession of other two rich regions Lombardia and Veneto, was only a little detail). About Emilia Romagna he never said much. It was not important. If you think, I am just joking, you can have evidence of this in any Italian paper ( but if you do, I’ll be offended).

One thing I forgot to say, this leader, who is former Minister of the Interior, Matteo Salvini, was not the candidate for the presidence of Emilia Romagna, the candidate was a woman, of whom we had only seen a picture of her, I can’t remember her name, actually, and only few have ever heard her say a word (and those who have, refer that those words had the power of breaking the spell had won their brains and went back soon to normality). Salvini did the campaign on her behalf, in fact, as he had planned to make of those administrative elections a test on him and the government stability. Winning Emilia, even with no strong candidate but himself as enchanter, would have smashed the last fortress of the left wing, thus opening the way to new elections and god knows what else .

Did it work? Well, you know well, particularly if some British readers have ventured to read this post so far, that a good dose of populism, nationalism, dreams, inconsistencies rather proven fact and fears, make the infallible potion to win any political test these days, in fact, in November Salvini’s candidate, or better the bill of the candidate, was 7 points before the candidate of the left wing and former president of the region, whose work had been esteemed incontrovertibly good till then.

Something had to be done to stem the losses but what and how? The political forces of the left wing were under shock and did not seem capable of planning an effective counter attack, so as citizens, what can we do in these cases? Well, we can stay at home and pray that something happens or make it happen. Matteo Salvini had planned to open the political campaign with a rally in Bologna and about 5.000 people were expected there. It could be the beginning of the end. Mattia Santori, Giulia Trappoloni, Andrea Garreffa and Roberto Morotti, all around their thirties, thought they could not just watch in silence. Something had to be done. So in few days they organized a counter-rally at Bologna’s Piazza Maggiore the very day Salvini would start his campaign at the sports arena. They hoped to be at least 6.000. More than 15.000 thousand people gathered at Piazza Maggiore.

They call themselves “Sardines”, as they aim at filling squares packed together like sardines in a tin box. And this is what they did: wherever Salvini held a rally, the “Sardines” followed him, organizing another one and attracting more people than he did, thus demostrating that the voices of many people together can make a very powerful one that can silence any threat. Bologna, Modena, Ferrara, Parma first and then the movement spread all over Italy from North to South. A week ago Salvini was defeated at the regional administrative elections, and the candidate of the left wing won with a 9 point margin. As an Italian singer once said: “freedom is not standing on a tree, it is not even the flight of a fly, freedom is not an open space, freedom is participation.

La libertà non è star sopra un albero
Non è neanche il volo di un moscone
La libertà non è uno spazio libero
Libertà è partecipazione…(Giorgio Gaber)

Sardines in the Ocean

Mala tempora currunt. These are desperate times and it has been so for quite a while. Too much. The outcomes of global politics of these last years has been so far only division, hatred, selfishness and it seems that perspective of erecting barriers, thus protecting our little world, makes everybody happy. Those who don’t find themselves in all this have been left alone, as that disruptive wave of populism with its simple but effective language has found the political antagonist forces unprepared and weakened, if not ridiculed, by the power of  their slogans and tones. So, we have become hopeless spectators of what to me is a cultural disaster, waiting fora someboby” that when the time comes takes us out of this mess. But, what if we imagined ouselves to be that somebody?

Mattia Sartori

Only a month ago Mattia Santori, 32, from Bologna, felt the urge of doing something. A couple of days before Salvini and his coalition partners, the smaller far-right party Brothers of Italy, and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, were due to launch their campaign for the Emilia-Romagna regional election at an indoor sports arena in Bologna. Emilia-Romagna has been since ever the stronghold of Italian left wing and there is a real danger that Salvini might win the election. He sent an urgent message to three friends late at night telling them to meet the next day. Over lunch, the four friends hatched a plan to Salvini’s boasts about filling Italy’s squares with supporters. The sports arena had a capacity for 5,700 people, and so, via an announcement on Santori’s private Facebook page, the group invited people to a counter-rally at Bologna’s Piazza Maggiore, with the aim of attracting 6,000 people. 15,000 people filled the Bologna square.

Sardines in Bologna

As Salvini’s far-right electoral alliance pursued its campaign, the Sardines converged in other Emilia-Romagna cities before spreading across   Italy, Turin, Florence, Naples and  yesterday they arrived in Rome. They call themselves “Sardines”, as they aim at filling squares packed together like sardines in a tin box, so sardines are the thousands of people who spontaneously gather to manifest their discontent towards the language of populism embodied  by former minister Matteo Salvini and his party.

Sardines in Rome

Yesterday’s square, Piazza San Giovanni in Rome, was not a tight space, it was enormous, an ocean.  Nonetheless, and immense crowd of sardines, young and old succeeded in filling a landmark which has hosted memorable rallies. All of them demanded another way of doing politics, a different storytelling, which is not only a never ending political campaign on twitter or fb, which feeds itself with fears and the rethoric of hatred. The only way which leads to a future of peace is that of anti-fascism, anti-racism and solidarity.The full squares are a clear message to politicians, both left and right.

Sardines in Rome

Very interesting so far, but what comes next? This is a movement, and movements only dent the so called political system or they may end up being swallowed by it, if they just aim at agitating waters. As after a while, sediments, having recovered from the unexpected tides, settle comfortably again, so nothing changes. Our recent history has already undergone the effects of another movement, the so called “five star movement”. They believed they embodied the revolution in politics and would have opened parliament just like a can of  tuna –  fish metaphors seem to be very en vogue and effective here – , but when they turned into a party and got the majority of votes with an incredible 34%, they actually upset the political balances of parliament, only, they didn’t understand that that was the easy part. Once elected and comfortably seated in the can, the destructive phase was now over and  should have been replaced by the constructive one. Their effective slogans crashed against reality and furthermore, being totally inexperienced, they paved the way to a much more skilled shark named Matteo Salvini.

Sardines in Naples

So I ask again: what comes next? Pietro Nenni, an Italian politician, long time ago warned that full squares don’t fill ballot boxes, as the recent history of Brexit demonstrates, so we cannot hope that the “sardines” will stop Matteo Salvini and friends, for sure. However, the people in  these squares showed us that we are not alone, we are many and in our small way we can react to the populist wave.  It is good to talk about politics rather than empty slogan again, it is good to see anti-fascist and anti-racist squares, it is good to see a positive attitude in all the people who joined the rallies and this gives me hope. From Piazza San Giovanni, together, we may start to make a better future.