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Russian propaganda lands in Italian theatres

On Monday evening, some Italian personalities came together for a pro-peace political gathering at the Ghione Theatre in Rome. But their loosely connected stances generally blamed the West and NATO for the ongoing conflict in Ukraine

Moscow pacifism. The pro-Russia movement in Italy is veiling itself with the peace flag and becoming ever louder, their ideas moving from the recesses of the internet into the public discourse and coalescing into a recognisable front.

  • Italian media, especially televised talk shows, have proven extremely porous to Kremlin-branded propaganda and disinformation. For instance, on Sunday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was featured in a 40-minute unchallenged dialogue (filled with falsehoods and antisemitic tropes) that Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi later called a “rally”.

The theatrical release. On Monday evening, a very peculiar hour-and-a-half political gathering graced the stage of the Ghione Theatre in Rome. “Prohibited Peace” was organised by veteran journalist Michele Santoro and attended by artists, politicians, and mediatic personalities, who voiced their desire to end the war in Ukraine.

Yes, but: the outcome was less of a pro-peace initiative and more akin to an anti-NATO, anti-US, even anti-Ukraine parade, served with ample doses of populism and conspiratorial thinking. Some loose takeaways one would gather from the event:

  • it’s actually the West (controlled by the US) that’s preventing peaceful resolution and fueling the conflict by waging a proxy war with Russia in Ukraine;
  • it’s doing so to enrich weapons manufacturers and/or destroy Russia;
  • NATO has a corrupted ally in President Volodymyr Zelensky and/or large swathes of the Ukrainian public, who may or may not be Nazis for the most part.
  • “Enough rhetoric and bloody lies. The West plans its own interests with endless cynicism,” said actor Moni Ovadia.

Reversing the truth. Going by this logic, the Ukrainian people’s suffering would actually be NATO’s fault, and the West should step back from supplying the Ukrainian resistance. This line of reasoning, which closely mirrors the Kremlin’s own line, creates an ideological basis for a NATO-bashing exercise.

  • Speakers conveniently forgot to recall that the Kremlin unilaterally breached the Minsk security accords, invaded a neighbouring country and, in all likelihood, is committing large-scale war crimes.

Who was speaking? Aside from Mr Santoro and Mr Ovadia, the star-studded event featured figure like singer Fiorella Mannoia, media personality Carlo Freccero, the actors Elio Germano, Sabrina Guzzanti and Ascanio Celestini, political cartoonist Vauro.

Who aired it? The event was live-streamed on Byoblu, a longstanding “independent news” channel founded in 2007 by Claudio Messora, former head of the Five Star Movement’s Senate political communication.

  • Perhaps Byoblu it’s best described as an Italian equivalent of Alex Jones’s InfoWars, both in regard to the contents (and their relationship with the truth) and in the business model (relying heavily on donations and audience-tuned merchandising).
  • Aside from BoybluAvvenire and Radio Popolare were the only major media outlets to air the event.

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