May 9th anniversary performances: Putin’s shadow stretches all the way to Berlin

May 9 is a public holiday in Russia – on that day the country celebrates the victory over Nazi Germany after enormous sacrifices. Now, Putin is waging war against the former Soviet Republic of Ukraine. This also leads to distress in Berlin.

Police decided not to raise Russian flags at the Soviet memorial in East Berlin on Monday, May 9. But in the morning he fluttered several times in blue, white and red on the steep staircase in front of the 30-meter-high monument in Triptower Park, which looks as if it should really be in Moscow, and not in the German capital. The Russian ambassador just laid a wreath here and celebrated the anniversary of the Soviet Union’s victory over Hitler’s Germany. He and his large delegation wore the Cross of Saint George on the lapel, the honorary ribbon of the Red Army, now also considered Putin’s acknowledgment.

Despite the ban, Russian flags were raised at the Soviet memorial in East Berlin.

(Photo: Volker Petersen/ntv.de)

It has now been 77 years since the Allies defeated Nazi Germany and World War II ended. While there was something like a memorializing routine in previous years, this year everything is different. There is war again in Europe, exactly where the Wehrmacht once raged. Russian President Vladimir Putin has sent his soldiers to the neighboring country in a war of aggression that violates international law. The result was severe sanctions, Ukraine is getting weapons, and they are enemies again. What does that have to do with the anniversary?

Not everyone wants to talk to the press on this sunny Memorial Day. Someone says: “Everything is crooked.” “No time” or: “Don’t take it personally, you just get your directions.” Sabine Donath, on the other hand, explains why she’s here. “In the GDR, it was more mandatory,” she says. But now she feels the need to come. “Because I’ve seen what the Americans have done since Reunification.” According to the 59-year-old, they fought one proxy war after another. Her coming has nothing to do with the war in Ukraine.

‘Putin is against the war’

Friedrich Stoller came all the way from the Bremen region. He and his wife are wrapped in flags, he is holding the flag of the Soviet Union, and his wife is the flag of Russia. They say, “We are with Russia and Putin.” But against war. What is happening there is not good. The 48-year-old says they have lived in Germany for 26 years, at which time they were allowed to enter the country from Russia due to their German ancestry. But they believe that Ukraine has a big problem with the neo-Nazis, as the Russian government claims. And that showing the Russian flag is supposed to be forbidden here today? “The police see it and do nothing.” In fact. But the day before, officials confiscated a Ukrainian flag that had been hoisted when Ambassador Andrey Melnik laid a wreath at the Soviet War Memorial in Tiergarten.

It soon becomes clear that they are two different things: commemorating the Soviet victory and issuing a statement to Putin and the Ukraine war. Yoshin Jester sees it that way too. He is a leftist who is often described as Russian educator, which is rarely meant so well. The 70-year-old is there with some of his fellow activists from the Association of People Persecuted by the Nazi Regime, which is traditionally very far from the left and considered a left-wing extremist in Bavaria. They hold a banner that reads: “The Red Army was Armenian, Azerbaijani, Georgian, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Latvian, Lithuanian, Moldavian, Russian, Tajik, Turkmen, Ukrainian, Uzbek, Belarusian.” What they mean to say is that the Russians were not the only ones who defeated the Nazis. Jester says they want to pay tribute to the achievements of the former Soviet Union.

He is certainly not with Putin, only the far right sympathizes with him. But he agrees when asked if he thinks the United States is as bad as Russia. Starting with Vietnam, then Iraq, then Afghanistan. He says the war in Ukraine must end. But there must be a face-saving middle ground for Putin that is also against arms surrender. They only prolong the war. Putin shares his assessment that NATO has expanded too much and raised Russia.

“The German left should understand that too!”

Perhaps he means people like Jochen Jester Taras Salamanyuk, who speaks hundreds of meters away in the “Motherland” memorial, dedicated to mothers grieving their sons. “This is something German leftists should understand too,” the 32-year-old said into a microphone in front of a few dozen people listening. “Ukraine has the right to self-defense and arms shipments are also right.” Not everyone likes that. A gray-haired woman with a stick tries to reach him, and curses him. “fascist!” She throws him in the face while several men stand between her and the spectacled speaker with his hair tied at the top of his head. Now the others from the crowd are stepping forward, and suddenly two rows of young men are facing each other and staring at each other. What police officers attend and intervene.

Salamanyuk told ntv.de that he belongs to the “left-wing Ukrainian diaspora”. It is naive that some in Germany still see Putin as a negotiating partner. Hand over weapons, as well as penalties are valid. It is a peaceful tool because it prevented war on German soil. “People showed me pictures of the far-right Azov Battalion,” he says. “Yes, but there are many other battalions.” He says his relatives were in Bucha and hid in a basement for two weeks until they managed to escape. But the Ukrainians also committed war crimes. They also need enlightenment, and the Ukrainian government should do better than the Russians, who always deny everything. But according to experts, the scale of Russian crimes is much greater.

The Memorial Walk begins at the Brandenburg Gate

Half an hour later, around 11:30 in the morning, the next demonstration is supposed to take place at the Brandenburg Gate. The title sounds more militaristic than it actually does: “Red Army Memorial Elevator.” Well 1,000 people gathered, with portraits of Red Army veterans hanging on their shawls. This form of memorialization is called the “Immortal Regiment.” They are surrounded by police officers who use a large portable screen to inform people that flags and flags, as well as military symbols such as the St. George’s Cross, are prohibited. Military music and marching are also not allowed.

Most people can probably live with that. When the train started moving a few minutes later, they chanted phrases like “Thank you grandpa for the victory!” In Russian. Or just “Hooray!” or “Spassibo” (thanks). In between they sing small solemn tunes, once the Russian national anthem is briefly played but is immediately stopped again. Also expected are 150 rocker passengers from the Russian “Night Wolves” gang. But nothing can be heard from the rumble of the engine. But here and there, ox-necked men with wide crosses and leather gear stand, some holding a motorcycle helmet in their arms. There’s also a hippie guy wearing a guitar with a poster against mandatory vaccinations on it.

The police are there in huge units. Nor would it look good if this memorial march turned into a demonstration of Putin here, between the Brandenburg Gate and the Victory Column, in a sense the living room of the Federal Republic. On the sidelines, the officers took in a couple complaining loudly in German about the police officers’ harsh fist. Or the old lady in the red Soviet uniform surrounded by a number of officials. Apparently, their personal data should be verified.

“What are these questions?”

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“I stand with Russia” is written on this man’s back at the Soviet War Memorial on Strasse des 17. Johnny in Berlin.

(Photo: Volker Petersen/ntv.de)

Unlike Treptower Park, there are no Russian flags here, but red, white and blue balloons, or someone is wearing a blue shirt, white pants and a red jacket. Is this also a violation of the requirements? This move is peaceful, and most of them were probably interested in commemorating their ancestors. There are a few old babushkas among them who might remember what it was like when this war finally ended and the Nazis and Germans were defeated. Thanks to the United States, the British – and the Red Army.

It wasn’t just this morning when Putin compared the fight against the Nazis to Ukraine in distant Moscow, even if he didn’t say a word about the latter. Everything is the same in his advertisement. The Ukrainians also fought in the Red Army against the Wehrmacht.

“What is the point of these questions,” said a woman at the Soviet War Memorial on Strasse des 17. Johnny. A journalist just asked her about Putin, Ukraine and the war. “These are political questions, today is a public holiday! Look, I have not only a Russian flag here, but a German flag too, because I am German!” Another woman says the day should be neutral and reprimands a man wearing a blue and yellow “Stop Putin” hat. Another man he calls “the instigator” after him. No one is accusing another young man of that. An outline of Russia can be seen on the back of his shirt and underneath it says: “I stand with Russia.”

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