Sardine demos in italy: with attitude, but without a plan

Performances by Muslimas and refugees in Rome are meant to show: The Sardines are anti-racist and inclusive. But a clear program is missing so far.

Some of thousands of demonstrators in Rome on Saturday Photo: dpa

Just a good minute spoke on Saturday afternoon Nibras Asfa before the tens of thousands who had gathered in Piazza San Giovanni in Rome for the rally of the Sardines, but at the end there was tumultuous applause. The young woman, who wore a hijab during her appearance, first read out Article Three of the Italian Constitution. This guarantees all citizens the same rights: "without distinction of sex, race, language or religion.

But then she added. Neither Matteo Salvini of the right-wing populist Lega nor Giorgia Meloni, who has brought her right-wing Fratelli d’Italia party up to 10 percent with even harsher tones than Salvini, "likes our presence here, and certainly not my presence!" she shouted. "I am a woman, I am a Muslim, I am the daughter of Palestinians!"

She was sure to be applauded by the Sardines, who were in Rome’s piazza precisely to put a stop to Salvini, as they have been doing for a month now across Italy at dozens of rallies. Nibras Asfa’s promise that "to all those who want to open the black chapters of the past again, I say we won’t allow it" hit the nail on the head of the young movement.

A movement that was launched on November 14 in Bologna by four 30-year-olds. On that day, Salvini had arrived to open the election campaign in the region, which has always been ruled by the left – and the four wanted to stand up to it, asking all those citizens who were fed up with populism and hate rhetoric to take part in a flash mob. 12,000 came – well twice as many as at the Lega leader’s rally – and a movement had grown out of the spontaneous idea. Night after night, from Palermo to Turin, from Milan to Naples, the anti-populists took to the streets, armed with cardboard sardines, always following the rules of non-violence – even verbal – and renouncing any party insignia.

Nibras was now allowed to learn that the other side, however, is by no means thinking of disarming verbally. "Get out!", "Go back to your country!" – she received a series of comments with this tenor in social media. Rama Malik, the daughter of Senegalese who grew up in Italy and came out as a sardine in a Facebook video, had a similar experience. The political scientist was advised, "Go prostitute yourself, it’s the only thing you know how to do!"

No organizational structures

The rage of the racists is not surprising. For the movement, according to its own self-image, is the exact opposite of them: The movement is anti-fascist – the partisan song "Bella Ciao" is regularly sung at rallies – anti-racist and inclusive. As a true grassroots movement, the Sardines have anything but a program: Only these three points are irrevocable for them. Thus, at the rally in Rome on Saturday, Pietro Bartolo, who had worked as a doctor on Lampedusa and now sits in the European Parliament, and the Italian spokeswoman of Sea-Watch also spoke.

However, the sardines have not yet really thought through what will follow from this. No wonder: Organizational structures are not present in any way beyond the loose local initiatives that initiated the respective flash mobs.

On Sunday, 160 representatives from all over Italy met for the first time ever. For the time being, they did not develop a list of demands and did not take a position, for example, on the question of how Italy should deal with citizenship rights for children from migrant families.

Only on one point Mattia Santori, one of the four founders from Bologna, had already expressed himself at Saturday’s rally. Salvini’s security decrees, which in front established the policy of "closed ports," he overcautiously formulated, should be "reconsidered." "Not reconsidered – abolished!" came loudly to him from the crowd, and Santori relented, "Okay, abolished."

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