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Sardines conquested Rome

The first Sardines protest took place last month in the region’s capital, Bologna, after four friends took to social media to organise a flash mob to counter the League’s election campaign launch. Thousands of young people squeezed like sardines into the city’s main square, instantly giving the movement its name.

Mr Salvini himself has put on a brave face, quipping last week that “the Sardines make me happy” and making light of the intention of Francesca Pascale, the youthful girlfriend of 83-year-old ex-prime minster Silvio Berlusconi — an ally of Mr Salvini — to join the Sardines. The League’s social media machine has responded to the publicity generated by the protests by posting images of cute cats eating the fish.

But while the movement has generated significant media attention, it remains unclear whether it will have any tangible political impact.

So far its spokespeople have remained steadfastly unaligned to any mainstream political party, instead voicing a general antiracism and pro-inclusiveness sentiment that focuses more on general opposition to the League, rather than outlining policy positions.

While the Sardines explicitly oppose Mr Salvini, they have not formally endorsed the PD in Emilia Romagna, and their vocal disdain for the League may not be enough to tilt the contest.

“It is an important movement in the sense that there are thousands of people taking to squares. This is a deep emotion that is a precondition for political involvement. But then how do you transform this into a real political movement?” said Giovanni Orsina, director of the LUISS School of Government in Rome. “When you finally do this you are forced to take sides on specific issues, and in that moment your support instantly goes down.”