A planned video appearance by Volodymyr Zelenskyy at Italy’s upcoming Sanremo song festival, which is the country’s top-rated TV event, is sparking protests from local politicians of different stripes.
The Ukrainian president has been invited to appear on the song fest with a pre-recorded video message to be aired on Italian state broadcaster RAI. The former actor and comedian in a brief speech is expected to thank Italy for its support against the Russian invasion. But his presence on the show is stirring animosity.
On Monday during a tense RAI board meeting several members of RAI’s politically controlled board stopped short of cancelling Zelenskyy’s Sanremo appearance, but demanded to see the two-minute tape in advance, according to Italian press reports.
Zelenski’s address, scheduled to go on air Feb. 11 during Sanremo’s conclusive night, before the performance of the event’s five finalists, has been drawing fire from various sides of the Italian political spectrum ever since the leader’s presence at Sanremo was announced by prominent Italian TV journalist Bruno Vespa in mid-January after he travelled to Kyiv to interview the Ukrainian president.
Last week Italy’s deputy premier Matteo Salvini, who is leader of the right-wing League party, lashed out against RAI’s decision to have Zelenski appear on the song fest by saying: “Let’s hope that Sanremo will remain the Italian song festival and nothing else,” before going on to add: “I hope that the war will end as soon as possible and that the stage of the city of flowers [Sanremo] remains reserved for music.”
Salvini and Silvio Berlusconi, who are allies in Italy’s current right wing government, are known to be longtime admirers of Russian President Vladimir Putin. However despite their personal views, Italy’s right-wing prime minister Georgia Meloni is a staunch supporter of Ukraine and under her leadership Italy has maintained a firm official stance in defense of Ukraine against the Russian invasion.
Meanwhile, within Italy’s current opposition ranks, Giuseppe Conte, a former premier and leader of the populist 5-Star Movement, has pointed out that, while he had been “very happy” when Zelenskyy was invited to address Italy’s parliament last March, he does not think its was necessary for Zelenskyy to appear within Sanremo’s “light context.”
Another opposition leader, Carlo Calenda of the centrist Azione party, in a similar vein, has written on Twitter: “There is little doubt about our line of support for Ukraine. However, I consider it a mistake to combine a musical event with the message of the President of a country at war.”
Zelenskyy has previously appeared with pre-recorded video messages at last year’s Grammy Awards, at ceremonies during the Cannes and Venice film festivals and, two weeks ago, at the Golden Globes.
The Sanremo song contest, which regularly draws multi-million eyeballs and a more than 50% audience share on RAI, will take place in Sanremo, a seaside town on Italy’s Ligurian coast, over five nights Feb. 7-11 at the Teatro Ariston. During the fest 28 Italian artists will duke it out for the top prize. Recent winners include Grammy-nominated Italian rock band Måneskin, who will be attending as special guests, as will the Black Eyed Peas.