Home » Row over Zelensky on Italian national TV spawns watered-down compromise

Row over Zelensky on Italian national TV spawns watered-down compromise

In a last-minute decision, following weeks of controversy, Italy’s public TV decided to do away with the Ukrainian President’s planned video message and read his words instead. Days earlier, deputy PM Salvini had criticised his appearance, sparking controversies within PM Meloni’s pro-Ukraine government

Zelensky won’t appear at Sanremo. The Ukrainian President, who was slated to deliver a short pre-recorded video message during the televised Italian Song Festival (the biggest showbiz event of the nation), will instead send over a written speech. This will be sent to the management of RAI, Italy’s national television network, and read out by Amadeus, the event’s host.

  • It’s the outcome of an agreement reached with the Ukrainian Embassy, explained Rai 1’s Director Stefano Coletta, who also dismissed accusations of censorship. “Censuring President Zelensky seems complicated to me […] I smile at the idea of an RAI executive being able to censor a president.”
  • This news follows weeks of controversy over the Ukrainian President’s appearance, with some deeming it unfitting – even though Sanremo has always been a platform for politics and international figures, and similar speeches happened elsewhere, such as the Golden Globes awards.

Why it matters. Outside the limelight, this might be the first political blow dealt to Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, who’s staunchly pro-Ukraine, by her less-than-enthusiastic coalition partners. Those are Matteo Salvini and Silvio Berlusconi, both long-time admirers of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

  • The League’s Salvini – who is also Deputy Prime Minister and Infrastructure Minister – was the first politician to speak out against Mr Zelensky’s televised appearance when he expressed his hope that Sanremo would remain “reserved for music – something I think everyone expects.” Others followed suit.
    • Thus, Mr Salvini – who had once opposed sending weapons to Ukraine – positioned himself at the forefront of a wider anti-Zelensky movement that included a variety of pro-Russian voices.
  • President Zelensky’s planned video message “seems to me a quest for visibility that I find a little disturbing, I would rather not,” said Piersilvio Berlusconi, CEO of the private broadcaster Mediaset and son of Mr Berlusconi.

Downward pressure. Although it’s set to begin on Tuesday, the Festival has already been marred by controversy, noted Amadeus, as with all events that enjoy wide resonance. “Those who want to make controversy, go where there is a great light,” he quipped.

  • Indeed, it seems as if President Zelensky’s Sanremo appearance proved the perfect, safe and “light-hearted” platform to oppose him – so as to pander to a section of the electorate while remaining within the tracks of PM Meloni’s Atlanticist line.
  • RAI’s decision could be a consequence of political pressure from politicians who sought to clap back at PM Meloni, either for her support to Kyiv or other internal matters.
  • Nevertheless, considering RAI’s sensitivity to political pressure, the event casts a worrying shadow over Italy’s fully-pro Ukrainian stance, as parts of the majority are clearly not fully onboard.

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