VERONA, Italy — Thousands of people packed a central square of this city late last month in the latest rally by self-styled “sardines,” a grass-roots protest movement that is targeting Italy’s rising far-right politician, Matteo Salvini.
The sardines want to prevent the possibility that Salvini’s nativist League party could take power in Italy. Their strategy is to organize quiet flash mobs that cram the piazzas of Italian cities, like the eponymous fish. Their gatherings have disrupted Salvini’s own campaign efforts to win over Italian towns, one piazza at a time. There are almost 40 sardine protests planned across Italy in the next few weeks.
People from different walks of life gathered recently in Verona carrying handmade placards depicting colored, and even sparkling, sardines. Their main complaint is against the climate of hatred that they say Salvini is fostering in the country.
‘I don’t understand why the gatherings of the sardines are democratic and my gatherings are those of hatred.’
Salvini held his own rally in Rome in late November at which he gave a caustic speech peppered with criticism against incumbent politicians, urging non-European migrants to leave the country and demanding that Italy shut its ports to seaborne asylum seekers.
‘It all started because we were worried that people are becoming resigned to a political climate based on hatred and fake news, and that they were indifferent about the regional elections.’
The dueling rallies took place ahead of a crucial regional election in January. If Salvini’s Lega Nord, or Northern League, party were to win in Emilia Romagna — a wealthy northern region that’s a traditional stronghold of the Italian left — the sardine movement fears the shock from that bring down the national government, which in turn would trigger national elections that might sweep the League into power.
Trending at WSJ.com: