What is the name of the movement?

The Sardines movement

Who are the founders? How old are they?

The founders are a group of four friends:

Mattia Santori (32);

Roberto Morotti (31);

Giulia Trappoloni (30);

Andrea Garreffa (30).

Where has the movement started?

The Sardines is a pure “Made in Italy” movement, born in the Region of Emilia Romagna, more precisely Bologna, where the four funders live. 


After a few months, several Sardines “branches” and groups were created in virtually all the major and medium-sized cities in Italy, as well as a few groups created by Italians living abroad (e.g. Paris, New York).

When has the movement firstly appeared?

The symbolic starting date of the movement is 14 November 2019. Since then, the movement has grown in relevance and number of virtual and “in person” followers. This is an ongoing process.

THE CONTEXT: What was the challenge that the Sardines wanted to address?

The broader issue concerned the wide-spreading consent for the right-wing and populist party of Lega Nord. The Main issue related to this, was the increased rate of hate speech and intolerance perpetrated through the official social media channels of Salvini, and of many Facebook groups sympathising with Lega Nord.

This was leading to a skyrocketing of xenophobic, racist, anti Roma and misogynist messages, and in general a deeply hostile atmosphere against a wide range of real of perceived members of minority groups.

Who was primarily affected by the challenge?

Several people were (and to some extent still are) affected by the poisoned propaganda and narratives promoted by the Lega Nord. Firstly, migrants or people with a migrant background, women and other minority groups who became even more vulnerable to verbal and physical attacks. More broadly, the general public grew sick and tired of all the hatred and violence that was circulating on the Internet.

OHCHR has serious concerns that Italy is experiencing an increase of intolerance, racial and religious hatred, and xenophobia, which in some cases is allowed or even encouraged by political leaders and members of Government. In November 2018, United Nations Special Procedures spoke out about some politicians fuelling a public discourse that incites hatred and discrimination. They highlighted that “this climate of intolerance could not be separated from the escalation in Italy in hate incidents against groups and individuals, including children, based on their actual or perceived ethnicity, skin colour, race and/or immigration status”.

THE INTERVENTION: What initiative was then promoted by the Sardines?

The triggering event was the ongoing political campaign for the regional governor of Emilia Romagna. More precisely, the rally was between a candidate from the Centre-left Democratic Party, Stefano Bonaccini, and a candidate from the Right Wing Lega Nord. Emilia Romagna has historically been a centre-left region, yet in the latest year the popularity of the Lega Nord party progressively increased, and indeed the centre-right political parties claimed that this election was the chance to “set Emilia Romagna free” from the Left. 

Therefore, the rally for the regional presidency of Emilia Romagna was by many considered as a proxy for the whole country, an election with nationwide impact, in a country polarised between the two political forces.

The candidate from the centre right coalition, Lucia Borgonzoni, was endorsed and supported by Lega Nord and its leader, Matteo Salvini, who was due to appear in a political mass gathering in Bologna, to support the launch of Borgonzoni’s campaign.


The venue arranged to host the Lega Nord event was arranged to host up to 5.700 people. 


It is then that a group of four flatmates in Bologna decided to act, to show that Salvini’s popularity was not as hegemonic as their narrative claims.


They called for a “flashmob” (on Facebook) in another  square in Bologna, aiming for a turnout of 6,000, the square’s maximum capacity, to outnumber Mr Salvini’s support – but with no political banners or flags, so as not to be tainted by affiliation with any party.

What are the outcomes and results of this initiative?

The outcomes of the first flash mob were indeed impressive. Not only they managed to gather more than 6000 “sardines”, but since then, dozens of gathering were organised every time Matteo Salvini was officially visiting a city. The slogan is “La città di xxx NON SI LEGA” (the city of xxx won’t be bounded).


The movement took the name of “sardine” following the italian expression “stretti come sardine” (squeezed like sardines…in a can), to symbolize the intention to fill in all the major squares with people who agree with the mission and vision of the movement.


The Sardines claim not to have any political affiliation, and in each gathering organised it was clearly asked to the attendees not to bring or display any political party symbol or flag, but only a colorful paper cut sardine.


The movement advocates against the current area of populism, misinformation and verbal violence. This is opposed with the values of Solidarity, welcoming, respect, human rights, intelligence and non violence.


The movement has immediately attracted the attention of journalists, political elites, political scientists and also the foreign press is keeping a close eye on what seems to be a rather unique and so far successful grassroot movement.


It is believed that the Sardines pose a greater risk for Salvini’s Lega Nord than traditional political opponents.


Several centre left political parties have so far tried to fraternise with them, an attempt of affiliation to gather to turn the Sardines into potential voters of their parties. But the movement has repeatedly  stated that it has no official political orientation.

Why is this initiative considered successful? What consequences can be clearly identified thanks to it?

The major success is undoubtedly that a grassroot movement has managed to mobilize an enormous amount of people who despise the current political climate but had not raised their voices before.


The sardines is indeed an act of collective bravery!

Another important aspect is that the movement has managed to bring high on the public agenda the well known issue of online hate speech and the undercovered legitimation of hatred against minorities promoted especially by certain political leaders and parties. A specific point is made on the distorted use of social media networks and channels to incite people and gain political support by using propaganda techniques and populist messages.


This is now better understood and more attention is paid on the use of social media by politicians.


The Sardines are a new movement, which still has to go a long way before finding its final structure, internal rules and formal hierarchy.

We still need to assess the potential of the movement in the medium and long run, but nonetheless we shall be happy about the emergence of a new movement which is challenging the political elites and opening a new, major discussion, on the need to push back extremist views and narratives from the public and political debates.

Good luck!