The Perception of Putin in Italy

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April 27, 2015

By Cristian Barberi


Fort Russ Italian blogger

Over the last 15 years in Italy there has been an evolution in the perception of Putin across the political spectrum. Since the early days of his first term in 2000, when Eltsin appointed him as Russian president, Putin has been a controversial figure for the Italian media to cover. 

In the early 2000s he was often portrayed as a pseudo-dictator by the left-wing media due to his obvious friendship with Silvio Berlusconi; a controversial figure himself. 

The perception of Putin in Italy can’t be understood without the understanding of the unique cultural similarities between Russia and Italy. Historically Italy has always been a deeply divided country from the cultural, political and economic perspective. Italy was the country with the greatest Communist party in the West that ‘accidentally’ also played host to the Vatican, the most important religious institution in the world. Italy’s shift from one extreme to another can in a certain way also be observed in Russia – a vast country that stretches over two continents, that has experienced deep atheism and deep religiosity in a matter of a few decades. These two countries have a unique tendency to jump to the extremes, two countries that are capable of experiencing polar political, religious and cultural phenomena in a relatively short period of time. Therefore it’s no surprise that Putin’s perception in this country is divided perfectly in two. The extreme right, the extreme left and the Berlusconians see Putin as a positive politician who challenges the Euro-Atlantic status quo and the financial dogmas imposed by IMF and the World Bank. The moderate left and the Catholic center see Putin as a dictator who invades countries, although the same terminology is not applied to other high profile world leaders for obvious reasons of political servitude. 

Probably the newspaper most critical of Putin is the deceitful centre-left “La Repubblica”, whose headlines range from “Putin: ‘For Crimea I Would Have Used the Nukes’” to “Putin won’t go to Auschwitz Celebration” without mentioning that he was never invited. 

“The Corriere della Sera”, the most important newspaper in Italy, is more or less balanced in Putin’s judgement; but once in a while publishes headlines like “This is Putin’s Supersonic Plane (Truth or Propaganda?)”. 

“L’Unità”, a newspaper that until 10-15 years ago was of the extreme-left, once headlined “Putin is Ready to Invade Crimea” without a single shred of journalistic evidence.  

All this media circus has been going on for almost 2 years now, in the case of “La Repubblica” it has been going on for almost 15 years, since the very inception of Putin’s appointment. 

As for the public opinion it is perfectly split in two as I said, but with a slight margin in favor of the anti-Putin camp. 

As a whole, the perception of Putin in Italy is by far more positive than in other EU countries such as Lithuania, UK, Poland and many others, without mentioning countries like the US, where propaganda is rampant and anti-Putinism is some kind of national sport with more fans than NFL. 

In the final analysis the more that propaganda is disseminated in Italy (and not only in Italy) the more people using the Internet become aware that there’s something wrong with the official version about Putin and his supposed misdeeds. 20-30 years ago the propaganda masters could have gotten away with it but in the 21st century when lies can be exposed in a few minutes, the so called propaganda is aimed at the most culpable layers of society, that is, to people with no education or older people with views still lingering in the past. 

The most paradoxical thing is that while the Fascists in Ukraine are anti-Putin, here in Italy they are pro-Putin, probably because in the end they are no longer Fascists but just people who care about the truth.

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