SHARE
COPY LINK

UKRAINE

‘No respect’: Polish mayor confronts Italy’s Salvini over Putin support

Italian far-right leader Matteo Salvini, known for his admiration of Russia's Vladimir Putin, had a frosty reception on a trip to Poland amid the invasion of Ukraine.

'No respect': Polish mayor confronts Italy’s Salvini over Putin support
Przemysl's mayor Wojciech Bakun (L) confronted Italian League leader Matteo Salvini (R) during his visit to Poland on March 8th over his admiration and support for the Russian president in recent years. Photo by STRINGER / ANSA / AFP

A Polish mayor mocked Matteo Salvini on Tuesday for his support of Russia’s Vladimir Putin during a visit by the Italian far-right leader to meet Ukrainian refugees, a video shared by Italian media showed.

The leader of the League party, Salvini has been photographed on more than one occasion wearing T-shirts emblazoned with Putin’s image, and for years has written pro-Putin messages on his social media accounts.

On Tuesday, Wojciech Bakun, the mayor of the southeastern Polish city of Przemysl near the Ukrainian border, held a press conference in front of the train station in which he thanked Italian organisations for their support of Ukrainian refugees.

Bakun then said he had a “personal remark” for Salvini, who was standing at his side, according to a video widely published in Italian media.

“I have a gift for you. We’d like to go with you to the border and to a refugee welcome centre to see what your friend Putin has done, what the person whom you describe as your friend, has done to these people, who are crossing the border to the tune of 50,000 per day,” he said in Polish.

He pulled out a T-shirt printed with a black-and-white image of Putin on the front and the words “Army of Putin” underneath – a copy of a T-shirt Salvini was photographed wearing in 2014 in Moscow’s Red Square.

“No respect for you, thank you,” Bakun said in English, addressing Salvini.

The League leader sought to interrupt, saying “Sorry, sorry… we are helping refugees” in English before walking away.

A member of the crowd shouted after him in English, “You have a chance to condemn Putin right now”, while another shouted out in Italian “Clown, buffoon!” and “Go home!”

Like many other European far-right leaders, Salvini has come under pressure since Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine for his attitude towards Putin.

In 2015, after Italian President Sergio Mattarella argued for a common European response to migrants arriving in the Mediterranean, Salvini wrote on social media that “I’d give up two Mattarella for half a Putin”.

While interior minister in 2019, Salvini tightened laws on immigration and obtaining Italian citizenship, and blocked several charity ships carrying migrants and refugees from docking at Italian ports.

Since the invasion of Ukraine, however, Salvini has called on Italians to open their doors to refugees.

“Salvini intends to work to help the arrival and welcome in Italy of children, women and families fleeing the war,” the League said of Salvini’s trip to Poland.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

ITALIAN POLITICS

Will Italy’s Five Star Movement split throw the government into crisis?

After the largest party in Italy's coalition government imploded over the country's response to the Ukraine war, Prime Minister Mario Draghi on Wednesday called for unity. Is another political crisis on the horizon?

Will Italy's Five Star Movement split throw the government into crisis?

Draghi has taken a firm, pro-EU line on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine: sending weapons to Kyiv, backing sanctions on Moscow despite Italy’s heavy reliance on Russian gas, and supporting Ukraine’s hopes of joining the European Union.

But there have been rumblings of unease within his coalition government, which burst into the open on Tuesday with a split in parliament’s biggest party, the Five Star Movement.

Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio announced he was leaving the party amid disagreements over how Italy should respond to the Ukraine war.

An estimated 60 lawmakers are following him into his breakaway group, named “Together for the Future” – just over a quarter of Five Star’s MPs.

READ ALSO: Italian government rocked by Five Star party split

The move risks upsetting the fragile balance of power in Draghi’s coalition government, a year before general elections are due and at a difficult time for Italians battling skyrocketing inflation.

A vote on Wednesday suggested parliament still overwhelmingly backs the premier, with the lower Chamber of Deputies approving by 410 to 29 a resolution supporting the Ukraine policy.

The Senate similarly approved it on Tuesday.

Luigi Di Maio (R) applauds after Prime Minister Mario Draghi (L) addresses the Italian Senate on June 21st, 2022. Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP

“Unity is essential in these moments because the decisions that must be taken are very difficult,” Draghi said before Wednesday’s result, which came one day before an EU summit in Brussels begins.

In an uncharacteristically combative address to deputies, Draghi accused those who disagreed with his policy of effectively calling on Kyiv to surrender.

“There is a fundamental difference between two points of view. One is mine – Ukraine must defend itself, and sanctions and the sending of weapons serve this goal,” Draghi said to applause.

“The other point of view is different. Ukraine must not defend itself, we shouldn’t do sanctions, we shouldn’t send armaments, Russia is too strong, why should we take her on, let Ukraine submit.”

Di Maio had made a similar attack on members of his own party at the weekend, paving the way for Tuesday’s defection.

Five Star leader Giuseppe Conte, the country’s former premier, has argued that Italy should focus on a diplomatic solution, warning against getting involved in an escalating arms race.

Conte and Di Maio have been at odds since long before the war, however.

Five Star leader Giuseppe Conte stressed that his party still backed the coalition, saying: “Support for Draghi is not up for discussion.”

Nevertheless, some commentators believe Draghi’s coalition government – involving all main political parties except the far-right Brothers of Italy – will start to splinter ahead of 2023 elections.

The Five Star split is likely to weigh on “the entire political system, starting with Draghi, who is now more shaky than before,” wrote La Stampa columnist Marcello Sorgi.

The defections in Five Star leave the anti-immigration League of Matteo Salvini as the biggest party in parliament, but it too is struggling with waning public support.

Media reports this week suggest this could work in Giorgia Meloni’s favour in the next election – the far-right Brothers of Italy leader is now being touted as potentially becoming the country’s first female prime minister, as her party remains the only one in opposition to Draghi’s coalition.

SHOW COMMENTS