Zelensky yes, no, no. Ariston will listen to the message from the Ukrainian president. But he won’t see it on video. Sanremo, press conference on the eve. It is the director of Rai Prime Time Entertainment Stefano Coletta who makes the surprise announcement: on Saturday evening, during the final, Amadeus will limit himself to reading a letter from the Ukrainian leader. “On the afternoon of February 2, Ambassador Melnyk replied that the president would have preferred to send a text,” explains the Rai manager. «I’ll read it in Ukrainian, a language I know perfectly», jokes the artistic director instead. Trying to defuse the tension around a case that has been discussing politics and the world of entertainment for weeks and promises to go further.
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On Saturday morning, in front of the theatre, the anti-war front will take to the streets in protest against the appeal sent from Kiev, “video or written makes no difference”, thundered the organizers. From Ariston Amadeus is a firefighter. «It is very romantic to have a letter and be able to read it – explains the conductor, from tonight at the helm of the Festival for the fourth consecutive year – there was a lot of talk about this intervention: the desire of the Ukrainian president was to be there, but he had not said: « I will be in presence or by video message ».
Case closed? Not exactly. Maria Zakharova, spokesperson for the Russian Foreign Ministry, takes care of stoking the coals with impeccable timing. «Zelensky will not make a video message at the Sanremo Festival, but he will send the text. Well I don’t know, he could have won this competition with a rap »is the lashing via Telegram of the official closest to Vladimir Putin. In Moscow, where the Italian song festival is cult, the “Zelensky case” in Sanremo is already bread for propaganda. In Rome, meanwhile, the ranks of those who read a sought-after and obtained about-face in the change of plans are expanding. An Italian compromise. So much so that the controversy flares up again. Very tough Pier Ferdinando Casini, senator of the Democratic Party and former president of the Chamber. “Following the singular decision to read a message from Zelensky in Sanremo, but not to accept one of his video messages, Rai managed the singular feat of being ridiculed even by the spokesman of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs”. Even Carlo Calenda, skeptical about the Festival-Ukraine pairing, joins the chorus: «The moment you say you want it in Sanremo, you don’t then start censoring the president of a country at war», says the leader of Action with a view to viale Mazzini.
In the evening, public television returns to dot the i’s. “It is not true that Rai has refused to broadcast one of his videos – reads a note – on the contrary, Rai has always declared itself available to collect an intervention in video or audio form”. In short, the decision came from the Ukrainian side. Why? Was Zelensky annoyed by the Italian fuss? Yesterday afternoon, doubts swirled among members of the majority and Rai executives, starting with the members of the board engaged in a whirlwind of phone calls. A written message instead of the video? “I too learned it from the media this morning,” adviser Riccardo Laganà candidly admits.
The Ukrainian diplomacy, even if not officially, confirms the Rai version. However, Kiev reveals a certain irritation at the media can-can that Zelensky’s intervention – imagined on the sidelines of his recent interview with Bruno Vespa – has unleashed in recent weeks. “A surreal controversy”, defines it as an adviser to the president interviewed by Il Messaggero, “we have other things to think about”.
The Ariston stage and the maxi-share of the Festival – the Ukrainian president knows this – are a unique opportunity to allow the cause of the attacked country to pierce the screen and reawaken a slumbering public opinion in the face of war. But Zelensky’s gaze these days is directed elsewhere. To the visit scheduled (barring unforeseen events) for 9 February to Brussels, in front of the European Parliament to personally plead for EU membership and accelerate military aid. And then, yes, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s trip to Kiev, which could take place in the days preceding the anniversary of the war, February 24th. Sanremo? It can wait. After all, the message will get through. And without any censorship, Coletta assures in the press conference: «I smile at the idea of a Rai executive who can censor a president».
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