As some among you may know, I happened to grow up on a relatively small island. I lived there until I was 24, and, since I left, I look back at my native land with a mix of frustration and longing. An island in the Mediterranean might sound exotic, and yet, life in Sardinia is not always easy. The natural wonders are balanced by 25% of youth unemployment and a biting economic crisis. In addition, the island has been blessed by a political class that I would euphemistically define inadequate (don’t get me started, you really don’t want to). I never stopped caring about Sardinia and when a postcard arrived here in Bristol inviting me to go back to vote for the regional elections, I sadly had to admit that a trip back home was not possible.
There is a particular reason to follow closely this particular regional election and the unusual electoral campaign. It is the presence of a group of outsiders that are openly challenging the national parties that still gather the vast majority of Sardinian votes. ProgRes is a young independentist party that has conducted a remarkable electoral campaign. They campaigned with very little money, traveled up and down the island to meet ordinary citizens, set up a series of public OSTs on labour, economy, public education, public health, culture, tourism and environment (OSTs open to anyone are unheard of in Italian politics). But the most innovative feature of ProgRes’ approach is that it marked a radical break from old independentist narratives and truly revolutionised the language of Sardinian independentism.
I know what you might imagine when I say ‘independentism’. Few random stereotypes: angry, aggressive, clinging onto imagined traditions, scornful of national and European authorities (considered the source of all evil), its only policy seem to be ‘Italians go home’ (substitute Italian with any other hegemonic force) and, in the worst cases, mildly to openly racist or homophobic. Did I get it right? Well, it is not the case, not this time. ProgRes did away with old independentism, with its tendency to define itself uniquely on ethnic grounds, and to its scornful and often openly aggressive attitude towards the “Italian”. Instead it focused its campaign on public participation, and aimed at nurturing a dialogue with voters (mainly through the already-mentioned OST and a clever use of social media. The ultimate goal is not ‘independence’, but rather, ‘the end of dependence’ from a state that still slips into patronizing attitudes and even promotes quasi-colonial policies.
Moreover, ProgRes’ attention to civil rights, sustainability, environment, culture and public education draw the movement closer to contemporary independentist movements such as the National Scottish Party, rather than to the old “sardista” tradition. It might seem banal, but in a country like Italy, where political discussion still revolves around the former PM’s trials, and where the parties of the left ignore these issues and prefer to embrace openly neoliberal policies, this is quite something. Promises? Perhaps, only time will tell, for the moment, this energetic bunch of outsiders has managed to shake Sardinian politics. Since ProgRes entered the arena, the major national parties have lost a good amount of their usual haughtiness.
The outcome of this regional election is still uncertain. Independence is an ambitious goal, it requires long-term planning and politicians capable of taking the risk. ProgRes seems to be well aware of this. Rather pragmatically, they don’t see it happening in the near future. What matters now is the end of another type of ‘dependence’. Dependence from decisions made in the continent, dependence from industrial powers, cultural dependence from a national hegemonic force. If Sardinians will finally start considering the island a centre rather than a periphery, we are on the verge of a cultural revolution.