President Zelenskyy’s planned appearance at Italy’s Sanremo Music …

A planned guest appearance by Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy at Italy’s Sanremo Music Festival has sparked controversy.

The annual song contest, which has often been used as a method for choosing the Italian entry for the Eurovision Song Contest, is a huge cultural event in Italy. It has promoted Italian music around the world since it started in 1951. Recent winners include Italian rockers Måneskin, who will be attending as special guests this year.

It will be hosted at the Teatro Ariston in the seaside town on Italy’s northwest coast, where Zelenskyy is scheduled to appear via a video message on the final night, on 11 February. This has attracted cross-party criticism.

“Let’s hope that Sanremo will remain the Italian song festival and nothing else”, said Matteo Salvini, Italy’s deputy premier and leader of the right-wing Lega party. “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 also added that “an appearance at Sanremo will not put an end to this war”.

This is not the first time that Zelenskyy has appeared with pre-recorded video messages and has courted international A-listers to help with the war effort in Ukraine. He has done so at last year’s Grammy Awards, and at ceremonies during the Cannes and Venice film festivals and, two weeks ago, at the Golden Globes.

But patience seems to be running out in Italy… 

Giuseppe Conte, former premier and leader of the populist Movimento 5 Stelle, said that he had been “very happy” when Zelenskyy was invited to address the Italian parliament last March but stressed: “I frankly don’t believe that it is so necessary for President Zelenskyy to (appear) in a light context such as Sanremo.”

Carlo Calenda, leader of the centrist Azione, wrote 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.”

He added: “My concern is that Zelenskyy’s presence at Sanremo could backfire on the Ukrainian cause and be instrumentalised by the pro-Putinists who have already used his presence at entertainment events in the past in this sense. I may be wrong. Or maybe you are wrong. These are opinions.”

Gianni Cuperlo, a leadership candidate of the centre-left Partito Democratico, wrote on Facebook that if state broadcaster RAI wished to show a message from Zelenskyy then it should be screened separately to Sanremo.

A group of left-wing politicians and intellectuals is also planning to stage a protest on the streets of Sanremo on 11 February, and has launched an online petition against “the spectacularisation and militarisation” of the song contest.

Conversely, Italian TV journalist Bruno Vespa, who travelled to Kyiv to interview Zelenskyy last month, told news agency ANSA that he “frankly doesn’t understand all the uproar” over the president’s appearance at Sanremo.

“Zelenskyy was a guest at the Cannes and Venice Film Festivals, as well as at the Golden Globes, and I regret this ill will towards a man who is fighting with extraordinary courage to save the freedom of his people”.

The 2023 Sanremo Music Festival takes place from 7-11 February.


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