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Italian city revokes permission for Russian propaganda event on 'rebirth' of Mariupol

by Elsa Court January 9, 2024 5:03 PM 2 min read
Damaged buildings are being demolished in Russian-occupied Mariupol, Ukraine, on March 16, 2023. (Photo by Stringer/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
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The municipality of Modena revoked the permission for an event on the "rebirth" of Mariupol after Russia's brutal siege, which was to be held in a civic hall on Jan. 20, Ukraine's Foreign Ministry spokesperson Oleh Nikolenko reported on Jan. 9.

The Russian Cultural Association of Emilia Romagna announced on Jan. 3 that an event would be held in a civic hall in Modena on Jan. 20 about Russia's "rapid reconstruction" of Mariupol in Donetsk Oblast.

The city came under siege by Russian forces between February and May 2022, leaving thousands dead and reducing the city to rubble. Satellite images showed the expansion of mass graves near the city in the months following the start of Russia's occupation.

The Facebook post about the event, written in Italian and Russian, refers to the "liberation" of Mariupol by Russia.

The event listed Russian Ambassador to Italy Dmitry Shodin as a speaker, as well as Eliseo Bertolasi, an Italian pro-Kremlin journalist who claimed to be a foreign observer of Russia's sham referendum in Russian-occupied territories of Ukraine in September 2022.

Ukraine's Foreign Ministry condemned the talk as a Russian propaganda event on Jan. 4. Both Ukrainians living in Italy and Italians, including some politicians, took to social media to ask the municipality to take action.

Mayor Gian Carlo Muzzarelli posted on Facebook on Jan. 6 that he planned to request on Jan. 9 that the municipality cancel the organizer's permission to hold the event.

The organizers had originally submitted an application for the event to be held in the civic hall "in compliance with municipal regulations," but information has since emerged that was not available when the offices considered the application," Muzzarelli said.  

"In particular, it has emerged that the profiles of some of the speakers, as highlighted by the media, are not always consistent with the signed commitment to respect the values enshrined by the Constitution," namely the ban on "practicing fascist and racist ideologies and behaviors," Muzarelli said.

Nikolenko said the ministry was grateful to the city mayor and those in Italy who brought international attention to the speakers and topic of the talk.

"We urge other cities in the world not to provide platforms for such Russian provocations," Nikolenko said. "This will be an important contribution to Ukraine's victory over Russian aggression."

In response, the Russian Cultural Association of Emilia Romagna claimed on social media that the municipality's decision was an attack on freedom of speech and that the organization will continue to work "so that there will be no more space for ethnonationalism and Russophobia."

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