May 9 at the Soviet Memorial in Berlin – Politics

Natalia Tokareva has lived in Berlin for ten years and since then she regularly comes to the Soviet War Memorial in the Tiergarten on May 9, surrounded by two tanks. She wears a rather tight red dress, a blazer and a strong black headband. In her right hand she holds a dozen pink roses and a stand with her grandfather’s picture attached to the top. He was one of the Soviet soldiers who fought to liberate Germany from Nazism. In 2004 he passed away.

Until then, the whole family lived together in Omsk, Siberia, says Ms. Tokareva. “On May 9 there was always a big table and a lot of food. Then we watched the parade in Moscow on TV,” the granddaughter recalls. “It was very important to him.” And now, the war against Ukraine? “Yes, it’s a very difficult situation,” she said. “But you have to keep that aside.” One is history, the other is the present.

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But on this day of commemoration in Berlin, it seems difficult not to mix the two. This is already apparent from the wreaths that were laid early in the morning in front of the memorial in the Berlin district of Treptower. Only the closest allies want to celebrate this day with Russia. Armenia for example, Uzbekistan or Belarus. Andriy Melnyk, the Ukrainian ambassador, was already at the Tiergarten on Sunday to pay tribute to the victory over the Germans.

The day before, the Ukrainians were already commemorating the liberation.

(Photo: Christophe Gateau/dpa)

More than 20 demonstrations had been registered for Monday, including one entitled “Thanks to Soviet soldiers for the liberation from fascism”, another entitled “Stop the war! Peace and freedom for Ukraine!”. Security authorities were particularly concerned about the so-called Night Wolves, a Putin-linked rocker group that had announced their presence. But they remained more of an evil ghost, only a handful of them were spotted by the police.

Military flags, uniforms and insignia are prohibited

In order to avoid clashes, Berlin Interior Senator Iris Spranger (SPD) sent 1,700 civil servants to the streets. In addition, comprehensive regulations for performances around the 15 most important memorials have been published. These include a ban on showing flags, wearing uniforms and wearing the Ribbon of St. George, an originally Russian military badge. There are only exceptions for World War Veterans and Embassy events.

The prohibited list runs on a ticker on the back of a police car for you to read. About 500 participants in the “Red Army Memorial Elevator”, the largest demonstration announced that day, trotted behind. They carry photos of Red Army soldiers who died in World War II and sing Russian songs. Among them is the ambiguous classic “Katyusha”, a love song that bears the same name as a Russian rocket launcher. One protester donned a blue workman’s suit and a Red Army cap. Looks like he’s wearing a uniform.

Again and again, the police enforce the long list of regulations, collect flags or a small Z, the symbol of the Russian campaign in Ukraine, which a woman has pinned to her lapel. The ban on displaying flags in particular has been heavily criticized. Even from the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine in distant kyiv. “Berlin made a mistake by banning Ukrainian symbols. It is deeply wrong to equate them with Russian symbols,” Dmytro Kuleba wrote on Twitter. Conversely, supporters of Russia were annoyed that Soviet flags were not allowed to be displayed.

The flag dispute was something of a quintessence of those days of memory. Each side has exploited the ban for its own purposes. Stefan Evers, secretary general of the Berlin opposition CDU, even announced that he wanted to take legal action against the regulation. But like ruling mayor Franziska Giffey (SPD) before, police chairwoman Barbara Slowik also defended the decision. This was “to ensure a dignified commemoration and to avoid disputes, including verbal, at the places mentioned”.

Elena Gaeva, 24, wears the flag under her right eye. He is painted like a football fan and shows only the colors blue and white, the colors of the Russian anti-war demonstrations. But since they are also flags, she had to leave the space in front of the Tiergarten memorial. Gaeva, a slender, lively woman, has set up camp across the street. With some of her campaign comrades, she presents a photo exhibition on the opposition to Putin in Russia. It is about how opponents of the Moscow regime are harassed and imprisoned. Moreover, the music is played again and again on a small stage and there are interviews about the situation in Russia. “We also want to show our position here,” says Gaeva. “Above all, we want to show that not all Russians are Putin supporters.”

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