A Polish mayor has confronted Matteo Salvini – a supporter of Russia’s Vladimir Putin in the past – during the Italian far-right leader’s visit to meet Ukrainian refugees, a video on Italian media showed.
Salvini, leader of the League party, 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.
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On Tuesday, Wojciech Bakun, 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 refugees arriving via the Mediterranean, Salvini wrote on social media: “I’d give up two Mattarella for half a Putin.”
A proponent of tight immigration laws, Salvini blocked several rescue ships carrying refugees from docking at Italian ports while he was interior minister in 2019 – actions for which he is currently on trial.
Since the invasion of Ukraine, he 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.