The “Sentinelle in Piedi” – Italy’s Answer to The Leftovers
So Italy has a new social protest group, the Sentinelle in Piedi or “Standing Sentries,” which describes itself on its impressively well-designed web site as a “citizen protest group organized to stand sentinel over what is taking place in society today and to keep watch on the actions of lawmakers. We protest whenever efforts are underway to destroy human life and civilization…. We stand in order to defend freedom of expression. In silence.”
On October 5, 2014, the Sentinelle completed an Italy-wide protest, sending its members to gather in piazzas throughout Italy where they stood silently, in a precise formation that newspapers often described as a “chessboard arrangement” … and read books.
Yes! Just like the Guilty Remnants in The Leftovers! They don’t speak! They just rebuke you silently for bringing about the downfall of society!
According to the Sentinelle themselves, 10,000 members took part in silent protests in seventy Italian piazzas. The police and other non-Sentinelle observers call that number hugely exaggerated, but there are no official figures, so go ahead – say any number that comes to mind.
The Sentinelle are Catholic fundamentalists and right-wing extremists (though they officially claim to be “apolitical”), and their big issues are marriage equality, adoption by gay and lesbian parents, and what the Italian right has started calling the “ideologia del gender” (or, sometimes directly in English, “gender theory”) by which they mean not just transsexual activism but any attempt to agitate for the proposition that boys may not always be boys and that girls aren’t required to comport themselves as though it were still 1956.
Wow, you’re probably thinking. If these kinds of organized protests are taking place in Italy, major social changes must be underway.
Yeah, not so much.
Here are the current menaces to “human life and civilization” in Italy:
- A few mayors in a few Italian cities have allowed same-sex marriages performed in other European countries, where same-sex marriage is legal, to be registered in the official records of the couple’s place of residence in Italy. (Whereupon Angelino Alfano, the former Italian Minister of Justice, current Interior Minister, and Silvio Berlusconi’s longtime doppelgänger, announced that the mayors were violating the law and that such marriages would never be recognized in Italy. Alfano’s political career, by the way, started in Italy’s Catholic right-wing and, since 1994, has followed the transmutations of Berlusconi’s political parties – Forza Italia, Popolo della Libertà, and the Nuovo Centrodestra, which is a lot like the Vecchio Centrodestra. At one time it looked as though he would be Berlusconi’s anointed successor, but the unction apparently didn’t take.)
- Last August, the first-ever legal adoption of a child by a same-sex couple in Rome (technically, it was a second-parent or “stepchild” adoption: one member of a lesbian couple adopted the child to whom her wife had given birth and whom they were already raising).
- A piece of legislation proposed by MP Ivan Scalfarotto that includes measures designed to tackle hate crimes and make life easier for Italian transpeople and which is likely to suffer the same fate as ENDA — so many religious exemptions have been amended into it that major Italian LGBT groups no longer support it, even if it should pass (which it isn’t likely to do). Of course, that has provided no barrier to the Sentinelle and their supporters who argue that, under the new law, a person would be guilty of a hate crime just for expressing the opinion that real families are made up of a mother and father. (Stop me if you’ve already heard this from your local TeaParty Bible-thumper.)
- Very isolated cases, which invariably get National Enquirer-like treatment even in the mainstream Italian press, of children and adolescents who’ve tried to go to school in “gender-inappropriate” clothing, thereby throwing school officials into the kind of tizzy you’d expect in, I dunno, Tennessee or something.
That’s the sum total of it. There’s no danger that marriage equality is coming to Italy any time soon – or a hate crimes law, or an anti-discrimination law, or anything remotely progressive or humane vis-à-vis the country’s LGBT population, never mind feminism in any recognizable form. Keep in mind that this is still a country in which pregnant women are routinely fired from their jobs, single people can’t adopt, and artificial insemination is governed by a set of Catholic Church-backed laws that are the most restrictive in Europe and which have created the phenomenon of “pregnancy tourism,” often to Spain, which allows procedures that Italy does not: anonymous donation of sperm or eggs; the donation of fertilized embryos; and the insemination of unmarried women, to name a few.
Point being: the Church’s stranglehold on Italian civil law and institutions is as strong as ever.
But that hasn’t stopped the Sentinelle, Catholic politicians, and other assorted loonies from studying the playbook of the American Christian Right: By not being allowed to discriminate on the basis of their religious beliefs, they are being discriminated against! They’re just expressing their opinions! They are the real victims!
(Note that Pat Buchanan only today issued a call for “massive civil disobedience” in America to turn the tide against “secular humanism” – otherwise known as the separation of church and state – and “anti-Christian discrimination,” which, according to him, is equivalent to legalized racial segregation during the Jim Crow years in America. Christians must rise up to “halt the march of the egalitarians” in the United States. Just the way the Sentinelle are “rising up,” though mostly they’re just standing quietly in orderly rows in public piazzas.)
As a publicity stunt, the Sentinelle’s silent protests are cinematographic and, it has to be said, highly impressive. But what really got them a lot of press was the fact that, in a small number of Italian cities, lefties and anarchists and who knows what decided to attack them physically — thereby demonstrating, with the colossal stupidity that can only come from being young and on the left, that the Sentinelle were correct: their freedom of expression was being obstructed.
Arguably, the whole point of the October 5 protests was to attract violence — just like the Guilty Remnants — because it’s no fun being a social provocateur if people refuse to be provoked. Whether or not that’s true, they got a fuckton of publicity out of some split lips and a little spit.
The best protest against the Sentinelle, though (who, in case you were worried, say they have nothing against gay people), was staged in Bergamo. There, a twenty-nine-year-old guy dressed up like one of the Illinois Neo-Nazis from the 1980 film Blues Brothers simply slipped in among the Sentinelle, where he stood silently reading a copy of Mein Kampf. A sign at his feet read, “The Illinois Nazis Stand with the Sentinelle.” The symbol on his right arm is the one Charlie Chaplin wore in The Great Dictator.
Whereupon the police promptly arrested him, charging him with “promotion of Nazi-Fascism.”
On October 8, the Bergamo DA’s office dropped all charges, commenting that no crime had been committed.
In Italy, it sometimes takes a few days for irony to register.