Thousands have attended protests against the former interior minister, who has built his platform on anti-immigration policies.
The rise of far-right leader Matteo Salvini in Italy appears to have prompted the creation of an opposition movement known as “the sardines”.
The grassroots movement emerged in Bologna last week after four friends called on people to join demonstrations against Salvini’s League Party ahead of crucial regional elections, which will be held in 2020 in some provinces.
About 12,000-15,000 people joined the demonstration in Bologna amid a heavy downpour in order to show their opposition to the League, which has gained popularity in the Emilia-Romagna area- a traditional stronghold for leftists.
With the unexpected success in Bologna, organisers called for a new protest on Monday in the northern city of Modena where some 7,000 people gathered together.
Mattia Santorini, one of the organisers, said: “To those who shout the loudest, we are responding by being as silent as fish, but in a shoal, packed one next to the other. There are more of us than them.”
Upcoming demonstrations were announced on social media
Using the “sardines” hashtag.
The movement has sets its sight beyond Emilia-Romagna and is aiming to organise “sardine” rallies in the Tuscan city of Florence, the Lombardy capital Milan, and the Sicilian capital Palermo.
Salvini has accused the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) of being behind the movement. “Scratch a sardine and you will find a PD’er,” he wrote on Twitter.
However, organisers rejected Salvini’s accusation. “The sardines are simply looking to halt the drift toward populism,” Santori said.
“We are trying to wake up a people tired of seeing their values trampled underfoot,” he added.
The ruling PD and its coalition partner the anti-establishment 5-Star are keeping their distance from the sardines despite some PD leaders welcoming the demonstrations.
Salvini hopes success in the upcoming regional election will force the collapse of the coalition government and with it bring about a new general election.
Polls show that Salvini’s party is well placed to win such a vote.