Irish media and sources close to Web Summit’s CEO confirm The Grayzone was banned from the gathering as the result of a personal campaign waged by Olena Zelenska, the wife of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
The Grayzone was disinvited from Web Summit, a tech industry mega-event in Lisbon, Portugal this November, following a personal lobbying campaign spearheaded by Ukrainian First Lady Olena Zelenska. Zelenska was the surprise keynote speaker at Web Summit, addressing conference attendees on November 1.
This outlet learned of Zelenska’s role in our cancellation from several sources close to Web Summit CEO Paddy Cosgrave. Their accounts were confirmed in a November 3 report by the Irish Examiner, which noted that The Grayzone’s Max Blumenthal and Aaron Mate “had been cancelled from the event at the insistence of the first lady of Ukraine Olena Zelenska…”
According to a source privy to internal communications among Web Summit organizers, Zelenska “and the highest levels of the Ukrainian government” threatened to “apply significant influence on sponsors” if the summit did not cancel The Grayzone and academic Noam Chomsky, who had also been invited to speak.
“She basically said she was gonna yank the whole tablecloth off of the table and break everything,” the source said.
Always, we aim to have a wide spectrum of views represented and to have opinions strongly challenged.
At this time, we have listened to advice and to the views of our attendees. We are taking action to withdraw the Grayzone invitation.
— Web Summit (@WebSummit) October 26, 2022
The source explained that in order to prevent the possible sabotage of his event, Web Summit chief executive Paddy Cosgrave decided to “give up” Blumenthal and Mate in exchange for “keeping” Chomsky.
Additionally, The Grayzone’s Anya Parampil was unable to access her Web Summit ticket upon arriving in Lisbon despite having been granted a press credential for the event.
A second source close to Web Summit organizing discussions emphasized the Ukrainian First Lady’s influence over the event, explaining Zelenska “would have been able to get quite a number of people to pull out, big companies or whatever, I would say that was a strong possibility.”
“The bottom line is you were dropped because that’s what she [Zelenska] wanted,” the source stated.
Yet Zelenska demands did not end with her call to cancel The Grayzone.
Zelenska cancels nuclear button memes
At previous Web Summit opening events, the headline speaker kicked off the summit by hitting a large red button. This year, however, a Web Summit source revealed the Ukrainian First Lady refused to participate in the ceremonial gesture, insisting the red button too closely resembled a trigger for nuclear war.
“She knew that there’d be lots of memes generated because of that,” the organizer said. “You can imagine it would just go viral, the picture of her pressing a red button. It would be too good. And they know it’s just not the look that they’d want.”
When Zelenska appeared by surprise on the evening of November 1, the button had been removed. Several summit attendees described her address as akin to “a corporate elevator pitch.”
During the Web Summit, Zelenska said she hoped Elon Musk’s call for peace between Ukraine and Russia “was a chance mistake.” In other words, she pleaded for listeners to give war a chance.
The Ukrainian first lady is due to remain in Lisbon throughout the week to lobby government officials and tech bigwigs to support the Ukrainian war effort.
A Web Summit source said their colleagues were well aware that “a small group of Atlantic Council people and Bellingcat people” helped coordinate the social media campaign to disinvite The Grayzone.
The Atlantic Council and Bellingcat are NATO-related lobbying groups which rely on funding from the US and British governments, as well as assorted pro-NATO oligarchs. The former organization, a DC-based think tank which has hosted Bellingcat founder Elliot Higgins as a resident fellow, has also received funding from the corruption-stained Ukrainian gas company, Burisma.
The Ukrainian Ministry of Digital Transformation and Ukrainian embassy in Portugal also participated in the censorship blitzkreig, delivering a letter to Web Summit organizers which demanded The Grayzone’s staff be banished from the conference.
Since the US-backed Maidan coup in 2014, Kiev has maintained an iron grip on the flow of information. All opposition media has been effectively banned under the watch of Zelensky, and of the 400-some journalists listed on the Ukrainian government’s semi-official “hit list,” known as Myrotvorets, at least a dozen have been murdered. Now, Zelensky and his wife have brought their government’s war on the press and free exchange of ideas well into the heart of Western Europe.
The Grayzone attends private dinner with Web Summit organizers
On the evening of November 2, The Grayzone’s Max Blumenthal, Aaron Mate, and Anya Parampil attended a private dinner in Lisbon organized by Web Summit chief executive Paddy Cosgrave. There, they and other guests discussed the proxy war in Ukraine, the dangers of NATO expansion, and the upcoming US midterm elections.
The Grayzone’s presence at the private dinner generated headlines the following day in the Irish Examiner and the Business Post, the latter of which tasked two reporters with covering the story.
Two reporters bylined here on this explosive scoop about me and @MaxBlumenthal's dinner plans last night: https://t.co/yRcEUureQH
— Aaron Maté (@aaronjmate) November 3, 2022
Asked during a November 3 press conference about our invitation to the dinner, Cosgrave stated, “Web Summit should remain a big tent. People should disagree with each other and they should disagree fiercely.”