The ex-MP thrown out of the Sochi Olympics

Vladimir Luxuria, a former Italian MP made headlines this week after being thrown out of the Winter Olympics in Sochi for campaigning for gays rights. The Local delves into her background.

The ex-MP thrown out of the Sochi Olympics
Vladimir Luxuria was ejected from the Sochi Winter Olympics. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

Who is Vladimir Luxuria?

Born in Foggia, Puglia in 1965, Vladimir – or ‘Vladi’ – Luxuria is an actress, TV personality and writer.

She was also a Communist member of the Italian parliament between 2006 and 2008, making her Europe’s first openly transgender parliamentarian.

Luxuria lives as a female but has not undergone a sex change, so remains legally male.

She has been a fierce crusader for transgender and gay rights, a campaign which landed her in trouble in Sochi earlier this week.

So what did she do wrong?

Well, the Russian authorities do not take too kindly to the lesbian, gay and transgender community, and last year enacted a law banning the promotion of homosexuality among children.

A tide of homophobia has since swept through the country, with many using the high-profile Olympic games as a platform for protest.

One of these people was Luxuria, who on Sunday, dressed in rainbow colours, headed off to a hockey game in Sochi holding a banner saying ‘Gay is OK’. She is also said to have shouted the message during the game.

The tactic irked Russian police, who turfed her out of venue and confiscated her Olympic pass.

Officers are reported to have treated her with respect during her brief detention, although she was told that displaying pro-gay slogans in public was forbidden.

Luxuria arrived back in Italy on Tuesday, after saying on her website that she had been declared “persona non grata” in Russia.

And how did the International Olympics Committee (IOC) react?

The IOC defended her ejection from the Games, saying the Olympic Park and venues were not the place for demonstrations.

Luxuria was once a member of parliament. What challenges did she face as a transgender?

Well, in the lead-up to her election in 2006, she had a fennel (‘finocchio’ in Italian, which also means ‘faggot’) thrown at her.

Alessandra Mussolini, granddaughter of the dictator Benito Mussolini, also said it was “better to be a fascist than a faggot”.

And once elected, Elisabetta Gardini, an MP with Forza Italia, called for the creation of a third washroom in parliament after describing Luxuria’s presence in the women’s loos as a “sexual violence”.

Despite the challenges, Luxuria used her time as a politician to campaign for gay rights, calling for civil unions for same-sex couples to be allowed and for Italy to provide asylum to gay people who risk death in their home countries.

She also campaigned for gay couples to have cohabitation rights, and eventually won the support of the left.

What did she do beyond politics?

After losing her seat in the 2008 elections, Luxuria appeared in the reality show ‘L’Isola dei Famosi’, Italy’s equivalent of ‘Survivor’.

She won the show, beating showgirl Belen Rodriguez, and said of her victory that the “Italian public had shown itself to be more forward-looking than our politicians”. She gave half of her €200,000 winnings to a children’s charity.

Luxuria has also written books, acted in films and theatre productions, and is a TV personality.

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‘Look for the rubles. Good luck’: Salvini fends off Russia claims

Salvini is fighting tooth and nail against suggestions that his far-right League party tried to get covert Russian payments during talks in Moscow last year.

'Look for the rubles. Good luck': Salvini fends off Russia claims
Matteo Salvini has claimed his support for Russian president Vladimir Putin comes "for free". Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP
But the revelation by news website Buzzfeed of a conversation recorded in a Moscow hotel between one of Salvini's top lieutenants and three Russians discussing covert payments has put him on the back foot.
The first reports of these meetings surfaced in the Italian press in February. But the scoop by online news website Buzzfeed — based on an audio recording of the talks — pushed it back centre stage and was widely reported in Italy.
The deal under discussion was to covertly divert $65 million (58 million euros) to the League by means of discounted Russian oil transactions through intermediaries.
Buzzfeed identified Gianluca Savoini of the League as one of three Italians talking to three Russians. It said the talks took place in October.
Former journalist Savoini, 56, is married to a Russian and is president of the Lombardy-Russia association. He is considered one of the League's main contacts with Russia.
“A hoax, a fraud, a piece of dirt,” Savoini told Italian daily La Repubblicca, describing the Buzzfeed story.
When the story broke on Wednesday, Salvini denied it. “Never taken a ruble, a euro, a dollar or a litre of vodka in financing from Russia,” he said in a statement.
But he has never hidden his admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who visited Italy only last week. And during his visit, Putin referred to a cooperation agreement between his United Russia party and Salvini's League.
Salvini's says his support for Putin, his fight to overturn European sanctions imposed against Russia for their 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, comes “free”. His position is a matter of conviction, he insists.
 Ongoing investigation
According to reports in the Italian press, prosecutors are already investigating Savoini, put on the trail by earlier accounts of the Moscow meetings published in the Italian press.
Under the terms of a deal it reached last September, the League is already paying back 49 million euros of fraudulently obtained election expenses claimed between 2008 and 2010, before Salvini took over as leader in 2013.
The agreement the party reached with Genoa prosecutors to pay the money back over a period of decades went down very badly with opposition parties, and Salvini has had to take the heat from that agreement.
In parliament, opposition deputies held up signs reading “65 million” and “49 million” to link the two affairs. Former prime minister Matteo Renzi of the centre-left Democratic Party described Savoini's talks in Russia as “high treason”.
This latest affair bears some resemblance to the scandal that brought down Austrian nationalist Heinz-Christian Strache in May.
Leader of the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe), Strache resigned on May 18 after a hidden-camera sting filmed in a luxury villa on the island of Ibiza, in which he appeared to offer public contracts in exchange for campaign help from a fake Russian backer.
But Buzzfeed is convinced that its recording is not of a sting but of talks between genuine players on both sides — even if Savoini is not as senior a figure as Strache was.
“I've never met him personally,” said Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte of Savoini. The latter, however, was among the guests to a formal dinner given in Putin's honour in Rome last week.
He appears in a photo of the event, standing in the background as a smiling Putin and Conte exchange toasts.
“He wasn't invited by the interior ministry,” said Salvini at a press conference Friday.
With an exasperated air he said: “Guys, let me do my job seriously. Look for the rubles — good luck. And me: I'll do my job. I think this investigation is ridiculous.”
But the story was still making headlines Saturday. “Salvini couldn't not know” said one in La Repubblica.
International lawyer Gianluca Meranda wrote to the paper to identify himself as one of the other people recorded at the October meeting in Moscow.
He confirmed negotiations, but said that the talks about an oil deal had not in the end led to anything. He denied any question that this was about getting funding for the party. But he was happy to talk to prosecutors, he added.