Tens of thousands of Italians marched through Rome on Saturday calling for a halt to arms shipments to Ukraine and a ceasefire, highlighting the resistance that Giorgia Meloni’s new government could face in providing further military support for Kyiv.
Waving rainbow flags with the word ‘peace’ and ‘non-violence,’ members of labor unions and Catholic associations, scouts, students and a range of social demanded an end to fighting and a serious international diplomatic initiative to negotiate a solution to the conflict.
“Ukrainians are dying, Russians are dying and there is no meaning for this,” said doctor Cynthia Masini, 56. “We send weapons while our sons and daughters are warm and comfortable in their beds, and children there are dying. It’s not tolerable.”
Citing Italy’s own history of violent conflict, marcher Spartaco Geppetti, 70, a member of an antifascist organisation, called for dialogue to resolve the issues between Russia and Ukraine. “We are against the war and only want peace,” he said. “This is not good for Europe, or the world. They must stop.”
Other marchers waved placards with slogans such as, ‘weapons down, wages up,’ ‘enough arms to Ukraine,’ and ‘we don’t want war. No weapons, no sanctions. Where is diplomacy?”
Meloni, sworn in as prime minister two weeks ago at the head of a new rightwing government, is a staunch supporter of the Ukrainian cause, and has vowed continuity with her predecessor Mario Draghi’s tough stand against Russia.
But she faces resistance to further arms shipments as Italy’s economy reels from the effects of the conflict, including slowing growth, and inflation that hit nearly 12 per cent in October, the highest level in almost three decades.
Meloni’s own alliance partners, Matteo Salvini, leader of the League, and Silvio Berlusconi, the 86-year-old former prime minister, both have past ties with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, and have expressed ambivalence about Draghi’s hard line against Moscow.
Berlusconi recently caused a stir by telling Forza Italia lawmakers he had recently exchanged gifts of fine alcohol and ‘sweet notes‘ with Putin, in reviving a long time personal friendship.
Meanwhile, Five Star leader Giuseppe Conte, who threw weight behind the Rome peace march, has also warned against further weapons shipments to Kyiv.
“Ukraine is now fully armed — we need a breakthrough towards a ceasefire and peace negotiations,” Conte, who triggered the chain of events that led to the unexpected collapse of Draghi’s government, told reporters.
“No one thought that Ukraine should be left alone, and we did not declare ourselves indifferent or equidistant,” Conte said. “But this strategy is leading only to escalation.”
Many march participants echoed the concern that arming Ukraine is only prolonging the devastating conflict, and could lead to the use of nuclear weapons.
“The drama in Ukraine must not be underestimated — the way to peace must be urgently sought,” Andrea Riccardi, founder of the influential Catholic social organisation, Sant’Egidio, said. “The atomic threat is not a phantom, but a possible threat . . . We are not neutral but we stand for peace.”
Riccardi urged Putin, “out of love for his people to bring Russia out of the spirals of war’ and asked [Ukrainian President Volodymyr] Zelensky “to be open to serious proposals for peace.”
Giovanni Timoteo, a member of the Confederation of Italian Workers, said, “I am absolutely against sending new weapons to Ukraine. Today, people want peace with weapons. It is inconceivable. Ukraine has the right to defend itself, but we need a big UN initiative for peace.”
Yet even as the heart of Rome filled with peace marchers, Carlo Calenda, leader of the centrist Azione party, organised a counterdemonstration in Milan, with strong support from Italy’s large Ukrainian community.
“Those who call for peace but also to disarm Ukraine call for the surrender of Ukraine,” Calenda told reporters ahead of the Milan even.
Among Milan demonstrators, Oles Horodetskyy, president of the Christian Association of Ukrainians in Italy, was critical of the Rome marchers, asking ‘are they pro-peace, or pro-Putin?’
“Not giving weapons to those defending themselves from attackers means to favor those who attack,” he added.