Italy’s Sardine Movement5 min read

       During the rise of the far-right populist League Party, Matteo Salvini has risen to a superstar level of fame in Italy’s political realm.   The League Party has gained a massive influx of supporters during the recent wave of immigration to Italy.  In 2013, League only received 4% of the total vote, but in the elections this year, they came out on top with 34% of the total votes (BBC).  Salvini has struck a chord with Italian Nationalists that believe the economic situation needs a massive jumpstart and that Italy needs to shut its border to block immigrants. Has used very demeaning rhetoric to attack people who do not fit the social “norms”, meaning those who are not Italian, are not heterosexual, and largely, are not white.  During Salvini’s rise to power, racism, polarization, and economic discrimination has become much more evident throughout Italian society.  Salvini has said his primary goal is to, “Conquer the regions of Italy one by one to bring down the current coalition between the Five Star Movement and the center-left Democratic Party and force early elections” (The Local).  His populist rhetoric has been extremely polarizing in Italian politics and has actually led to the creation of a rapidly growing protest movement, known as the Sardines, against the League Party.  The name of this movement comes from the actual Sardine fish, because the protests have grown so large in small city squares that they share similar appearances to a school of sardines.  In the movement’s second protest, which occurred last week in Florence, 40,000 people turned out to show their antipathy to the rise of Salvini compared to 15,000 in the first protest (The Local).  Primary members of the Sardines are students, families with young children, and young professionals (The Local).  The timing of this protest movement is due to the upcoming elections in January in Emilia Romagna, a left-wing stronghold that has started to lose ground to Salvini and the League Party.   If Salvini can take hold in Emilia Romagna, it will become near impossible for opposition parties to keep him out of power. 

         In the last week, many members of Italian society have come together in a protest movement called the Sardines to oppose Salvini’s rise to power, to promote human rights, and to increase respect for immigrants (BBC).  This movement was formed in the middle of November, but it just now becoming a very large danger to Salvini’s legitimacy.  The Sardines Movement was created by four young roommates who said their motivation to start the protests was that, “It is time to let them know we’ve woken up against racism, hatred, people fighting each other” (BBC).  Salvini’s rhetoric in particular was the primary reason behind the creation of the movement because of his speeches where he promised to, “liberate” Emilia Romagna from the left” (BBC), which many left-wing supporters took to be a comparison to the Nazi occupation during World War II.  

         The protest has occurred entirely without the backing of League’s opposing parties, and participants of the protests are actually discouraged from bringing political banners so that Salvini and the government are able to see that this movement represents the citizens, not politicians fearing the loss of power (Euronews).  The founders of the Sardines agreed that, “Populism divides us – for example, trying to make us fear people coming from war and other countries. We don’t want this” (BBC) when explaining why they felt the necessity to continue their work.  An additional factor that makes this protest movement very important is that it has been carried out entirely peacefully, and that the politeness and peaceful nature of protestors forced Salvini to change his rhetoric towards the group.  After the first protest, Salvini was very hostile towards the protestors and attempted to intimidate and delegitimize the movement, but after the number of protestors at each rally increased, he had to back down and take a much softer approach to dealing with the Sardines.  He has since come out and said that he loves that the population of Italy is becoming more informed about the world of politics and that the more people that participate, the better off the state of Italian politics will be (BBC).  This change in attitude was because he could not afford to lose ground in the race for Emilia Romagna with the elections coming up so soon because if he had continued to attack the protestors for their actions, the left-wing would unite against him and he would lose a crucial election. 

My question about this protest movement is, what will happen to the Sardine Movement after the elections occur?  If Salvini wins the election, will they continue to gain support against the League Party, or will numbers begin to decline as people begin to feel like they are fighting a losing battle.  If Salvini loses, will the Sardines continue to gain numbers and carry out peaceful protests across the country or will they become more docile until the next big elections occur?

Works Cited:

Lowen, Mark. “Italy’s Sardines Push Back against Nationalist Tide.” BBC News, 3 Dec. 2019.,

Tens of Thousands of Italians March in “Sardine Movement” against Far-Right. 1 Dec. 2019,

 “Tens of Thousands Turn out for Anti-Salvini ‘sardine’ Protest.” Euronews, 1 Dec. 2019,

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