By Angelo Amante and Crispian Balmer
ROME – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy is due to address the Italian parliament on Tuesday, but a small number of lawmakers say they will shun the speech, arguing that his appearance will not help restore peace.
Their snub highlights a strong pacifist strain in Italy, shaped partly by the country’s disastrous involvement in World War Two. But it also reflects a pro-Russia vein that runs deep through some of the country’s main political parties.
Unusually for a Western nation, Italy had strong links with the Soviet Union during the Cold War, and these ties improved during President Vladimir Putin’s long rule, making the country one of Russia’s closest allies within the European Union.
Prime Minister Mario Draghi has redressed the balance since taking office in 2021, promoting a vigorous, pro-NATO line, and all the major parties have condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, even those that had an especially close relationship with Moscow — Forza Italia, the 5-Star Movement and the League.
However, at least 20 lawmakers have said they will snub Zelenskiy’s appearance and criticised the decision to allow him to address both chambers — an honour previously awarded to just Spain’s King Juan Carlos and Pope John Paul II.
Zelenskiy has already spoken via video to parliaments in Britain, the United States, Israel and Germany, and is expected on Tuesday to repeat his calls for more help to combat Russia.
Senator Gianluigi Paragone told Reuters he would not be listening.
“We have already heard Zelenskiy’s preaching and if we did what he wanted, it would lead us straight to war in Europe,” said Paragone, who used to be in the 5-Star and has since formed an anti-EU group called Italexit.
ARMS AN ISSUE
Around 17 lawmakers in the Alternative group, almost all 5-Star dissidents, have also said they would boycott the speech.
“It is merely a marketing operation that will not help end hostilities,” the lawmakers said in a statement, calling on Rome to do more to promote peace talks and criticising the Italian parliament for having voted to send arms to Ukraine.
The vote in the lower chamber last week drew cross-party support, but dozens of parliamentarians failed to show up, including many members of the rightist League, whose head Matteo Salvini has previously praised Putin as a great world leader.
At least one League politician, Vito Comencini, confirmed to Reuters that he would skip Zelenskiy’s speech.
He declined to explain his decision, but he has made clear his pro-Russia stance on social media, visiting St. Petersburg last week and handing over aid for people from the Donbass area of eastern Ukraine which rose up against Kyiv’s rule in 2014.
“They are people who have been living in a war zone since 2014, guilty (only) of demanding that their demands be recognised,” Comencini wrote on Facebook.
Salvini himself has dialled down his previous fervent support for Moscow and has said he will listen to Zelenskiy.
However, he has also said he will struggle to back the dispatch of weapons to Ukraine when the motion goes to the Senate in the coming days.
“I say with full honesty, I am in difficulty because a democratic culture does not stop bombs with other bombs, but with democracy (and) dialogue,” Salvini told RAI TV last week.