Reportage. Milan mayor: ‘First of all, I would like to thank il manifesto. You did an extraordinary thing at the right time. … Piazza Duomo has not been so full in years.’

April 25: Over 100,000 march against fascism in Europe

It was large, enormous, festive, with lots of young people and young children too. They were from Milan, of course, but also groups that came in from other cities. “Let’s try to go forward,” we heard a very young man from Sicily say as he came out of the subway together with a small group. Managing to go forward was not an easy feat: the march parading down Corso Venezia was packed, filling the avenue from side to side, and those arriving struggled to squeeze into the long and wide flow of people. There was music from truck-mounted sound systems, music from bands that came with their instruments, Bella Ciao, hip hop, and even San Remo classics. There was dancing and singing. And the sun was out too: sunshine that boded well.

It was a cheerful and lively march, as well as an orderly one. And immense in size: over 100,000 people was the estimate given from the stage. It’s hard to give an exact figure: more people kept arriving, pouring out of the subway exits, and the rearmost section of the march stood still for hours. By the time it got to Piazza Duomo, not only were the speeches from the stage already over, but the stage was being taken down. It was a free and joyous Liberation celebration, with great civic participation that left no room for the controversies that some will inevitably try to raise, but without any real substance.

There were so many different banners, many of them sewn together, corresponding to the very large number of organizations, parties, NGOs, unions, local committees and migrant communities that wanted to be there: against the most right-wing government in the history of the republic; to prevent Europe from sliding even further to the right; against batons and censorship; for jobs, rights, healthcare, schools; and against the notion of Fortress Europe that excludes migrants. “No borders,” said one banner; “Free Assange,” said another right after. There were banners and signs of all sizes: “Fasci e infami fanno il fritto misto” (“Fasces and villains are in the same boat”); “Ilaria libera” (“Free Ilaria”), referring to Ilaria Salis, mentioned many times throughout the march; “Gaza calls, Lecco answers.”

While the procession was still stuck at the starting point, with people still pouring in, Elly Schlein made an appearance in front of the banner of the Milan federation of the PD. Along with her were PD Chamber group leader Chiara Braga, Deputy Alessandro Zan, Bergamo mayor (and European candidate) Giorgio Gori, the head of the PD delegation to Bruxelles, Brando Benifei, Milan branch secretariat member Pierfrancesco Majorino, Orlando, Cuperlo, Chiara Gribaudo, and Emanuele Fiano with a Jewish Brigade headscarf. The PD secretary saluted “the celebration of Liberation and of the entire Republic, the holiday on which we remember those who laid the foundations for democracy and freedom.” Then she stressed the need for “a renewed commitment to the struggle for the defense of our Constitution and its full implementation.” The march moved forward with difficulty, while Schlein shook hands and greeted her people. A woman came close and shouted: “You need to kick a lot of people out of your party.” A heated argument with another marcher ensued. Many of Schlein’s supporters tried to smooth over the tensions without much fuss: “She only expressed her opinion.” Schlein marched side by side with Cecilia Strada, who is also a candidate in the June elections.

After the PD, a smaller contingent from the Five Star delegation could be seen, with a banner that read “Resistance, freedom and participation in the defense of the Constitution.” Gaetano Pedullà, editor of Notizia and himself an M5S candidate for the European elections, was there in the front row. Giuseppe Conte stayed in Rome, making a visit to an exhibition on women and the Resistance in the morning. “Let’s not let our guard down,” said the M5S leader.

Behind them was the truck of the Left-Green Alliance, whose presence at the march most prominently featured their support for Ilaria Salis. Nicola Fratoianni hailed the “great demonstration, also thanks to il manifesto‘s appeal” and said it was food for thought that “in our country, we have government representatives who still struggle to say a simple word: ‘I am antifascist.’ Which, moreover, is the exact word that allowed them to be there in government in the first place. It’s unbelievable when you think about it. We need to say exactly what needs to be said: that antifascism is the civil religion of this country, that it founded the Republic, that it gave freedom. And that to be antifascist today means to continue to fight for freedom and for the rights of all, not just commemorate them.”

Then came the contingent from Rifondazione, carrying a large banner with the logo of their “Peace Land Dignity” list. Maurizio Acerbo was fresh from the marathon effort of the past few weeks to collect signatures to be able to run in the European elections. “We’re one step from the finish line,” he said as he rushed to Piazza Duomo for the final speeches. “We need one more push in Sicily and Sardinia.” Up ahead was the Jewish Brigade’s insignia-wearing group, escorted by the City Angels urban decorum volunteers, among whom we noted the presence of Carlo Calenda.

When the rallies started in Piazza Duomo, the march had just begun to move. “We are more than 100,000,” was the chant from the stage. There were also a few boos, but they couldn’t be heard from where we were and the rally proceeded smoothly and on schedule. “Two or three hundred people protesting cannot besmirch a rally with 100,000 people,” said Primo Minelli, the president of ANPI Milan. In his opening speech, Minelli was keen to shout the protesters’ demands loudly: “ceasefire everywhere, stop the suffering in Ukraine and the massacres in Palestine, return the October 7 hostages home,” aiming to defuse the controversies that were brought up on the eve of the rally. Mayor Beppe Sala also spoke of “a balance sheet that can only be highly positive.”

“First of all, I would like to thank il manifesto,” the mayor said. “You did an extraordinary thing at the right time.” Then he stressed that “Piazza Duomo has not been so full in years, and this march cannot be soiled by counter-protesters. Milan is saying that the Constitution cannot be touched: this city is the moral bulwark against which any project to distort democracy will falter.”

Then, Sala called Antonio Scurati to the stage. “Let us celebrate while I am speaking to you, because this is Liberation Day, which means liberation from Nazi-fascism,” the writer reiterated at the end of his notorious speech that was censored by RAI. Director Pierfrancesco Diliberto, known as Pif, had a message as well, before a public that was reluctant at first, but was won over when he listed the most widespread flimsy arguments invoked to defend Fascism and Il Duce, who supposedly “also did good things.” “In a normal country we would celebrate; today, instead, we need to remember,” said the Sicilian director. “Some people are afraid to declare themselves antifascists because, culturally, they are not.” Afterwards came the consecutive speeches from ANED national president Dario Venegoni, Prof. Andrea Ricciardi of FIAP and Debora Migliucci of the Labor Historical Archives. Representing the unions, which have a rotating leadership arrangement for the Milan march every year, it was UIL’s turn: “Liberation should be celebrated in order to make the ideals and rights of people effective and concrete,” stressed the organizing secretary, Emanuele Ronzoni. “Today, however, some measures are only widening gaps, poverty and social and territorial inequalities.”

ANPI president Gianfranco Pagliarulo also began by thanking il manifesto for the invitation to participate. “Today there were 100,000 of us, and this is also because of il manifesto’s call, which, as 30 years ago, helped mobilize people.” The ANPI president then spoke against the reforms wanted by the government: “If you hand over all power to one person and if you break Italy up into many competing regions, you nullify the 1948 Constitution and tear up the one and indivisible nature of the Republic.” He had this to say to the few counter-protesters against pro-Palestinian groups taking part in the march: “Isn’t 35,000 dead, children, women, journalists, doctors, UN workers, enough? If Netanyahu attacks Rafah in force, a massacre of unprecedented enormity could take place.” Heading off any biased interpretation of his words, he also added: “Is it too much to ask Hamas to release the hostages? Perhaps some haven’t grasped this yet, but we have not forgotten the horrendous carnage of October 7.”

Then, the musicians and singers from La Scala took the stage to perform Bella Ciao. The rally ended, with a great part of the march not even managing to make it to Piazza Duomo. “We will remember this demonstration for years: Long live the anti-fascist Republic! Long live the Resistance! See you in the next battles to defend the Constitution.”

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