Milan braces for Expo opening

May Day and demos coincide with Expo inauguration.

The world will be watching Milan on Friday 1 May as the six-month Milan Expo 2015 gets under way, but while this is the highlight of the weekend, there will be much other activity in the city, not all of it peaceful.

The opening of Expo coincides with May Day, or International Workers’ Day, celebrated around the world with marches and concerts. In Milan, too, the commemoration is traditionally noisy and cheerful, but there will also be other, less celebratory events as the city prepares for the big day.

Wednesday 29 April will see two separate student demonstrations take to the streets. City authorities have refused permits for the planned marches, so the protesters should hold static meetings – the right-wing group in Piazzale Loreto, 70 years after Mussolini’s body was strung up there from a petrol-station awning, while a kilometre away left-wing students will commemorate a communist militant killed in 1976 by neo-Fascists. The police will make every effort to ensure the two groups do not meet.

On Thursday, two more street demonstrations are expected to provoke tension in the city. A protest by high-school and university students against the recent government reform of the school system, called Buona scuola, and against the suggestion that students work at Expo without pay in order to gain experience, will take the form of a march through the city centre from Largo Cairoli to Palazzo Lombardia.

The same day will see the start of a four-day protest specifically against the exposition, the “No-Expo” movement. More than simply a street demonstration, the movement will mount kids’ games and political and cultural lectures, debates and workshops. The movement rejects the choices made by Expo management and the Italian government, describing them as “violent oppression against young people, migrants, workers and the poor”, and complains of “a toxic narrative that recycles embarrassing sponsors”.

No Expo movement to protest at Expo opening No Expo movement to protest at Expo opening

No-Expo activists plan a May Day meeting at 14.00 in Piazza 24 Maggio, near the recently restored Darsena, followed by a march to the city centre.

While on Friday Expo 2015 is being officially opened following tenor Andrea Boccelli’s concert in Piazza del Duomo, the traditional Labour Day procession will wind through the city centre, celebrating labour and decrying precarious working conditions and exploitation.

Police sources are being quoted in the media as expecting some 30,000 demonstrators to converge on the city for the various events, some coming from as far away as Germany, Switzerland, France, Spain, Greece and even from Chile. While Interior Minister Angelino Alfano has listed the reinforcements being deployed to ensure security, daily La Repubblica quotes a senior source in the ministry as saying, “It’s like .... a wedding: we’ve prepared the guest-list, the problem now are the gate-crashers.”

Even the No Expo movement is unlikely to welcome clashes and street violence, which can only distract attention from its message of dialogue and constructive protest.