Protests to commemorate May 9: Putin’s shadow extends to Berlin

May 9 is a public holiday in Russia – on this day the country celebrates the victory over Nazi Germany after immense sacrifices. Today, Putin is waging war on the former Soviet republic of Ukraine. This also leads to a test in Berlin.

Police ruled that no Russian flag should be waved at the Soviet memorial in East Berlin on Monday, May 9. But in the morning, he floated several times in blue, white and red down the steep stairs in front of the 30-meter-tall monument in Treptower Park, which appears to be in Moscow, not the German capital. The Russian Ambassador has just laid a wreath here and commemorated the victory of the Soviet Union over Hitler’s Germany. He and his large delegation all wore the Cross of St. George on their lapels, an honorary Red Army ribbon, which is now also considered Putin’s confession.

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

(Picture: Volker Petersen /

It is now 77 years since the Allies defeated Nazi Germany and World War II ended. While in previous years there was almost something like a commemoration routine, 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. Severe sanctions result, Ukraine gets weapons, they are enemies again. What does this have to do with commemoration?

Not everyone wants to talk to the press on this sunny Memorial Day. “Everything is twisted,” says one. “No time” or: “Don’t take it personally, you only have your directives”. Sabine Donath, meanwhile, explains why she is here. “In the GDR, it was more of a mandatory appointment,” she says. But now she feels the need to come. “Because I have seen what the Americans have done since reunification.” According to the 59-year-old, they have fought one proxy war after another. His coming has nothing to do with the war in Ukraine.

“For Putin, against the war”

Friedrich Stoller comes from the Bremen region. He and his wife are wrapped in flags, he carries the flag of the Soviet Union, his wife that of Russia. “We are for Russia and Putin”, they say. “But against the war.” It’s not good what’s going on there. They have lived in Germany for 26 years, the 48-year-old says. At the time, they were allowed to enter the country from Russia because of their German ancestry. But they believe Ukraine has a big problem with neo-Nazis, as the Russian government claims. And what showing the Russian flag is supposed to be banned here today? “The police see it and do nothing.” As a matter of fact. The day before, however, authorities had confiscated a Ukrainian flag that had been unfurled when Ambassador Andriy Melnyk laid a wreath at the Soviet War Memorial in Tiergarten.

It quickly becomes clear that these are two different things: commemorating the Soviet victory and making a statement for Putin and the war in Ukraine. Jochen Gester also sees it that way. He is one of the leftists who are often portrayed as Russian understanding, which is rarely well-meaning. The septuagenarian is there with some of his fellow activists from the “Association of Persons Persecuted by the Nazi Regime”, traditionally very left-wing and considered left-wing extremists in Bavaria. They hold up a banner that reads: “The Red Army was Armenian, Azerbaijani, Georgian, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Latvian, Lithuanian, Moldovan, Russian, Tajik, Turkmen, Ukrainian, Uzbek and Belarusian”. What they mean is that the Russians weren’t the only ones who defeated the Nazis. They want to pay tribute to the achievements of the former Soviet Union, says Gester.

He is definitely not for Putin, only the extreme 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, Afghanistan. The war in Ukraine must end, he says. But there has to be a compromise to save face for Putin and he is also against arms deliveries. They just prolonged the war. And he shares Putin’s assessment that NATO has expanded too much and provoked Russia.

“The German left must also understand this!”

People like Jochen Gester are probably referring to Taras Salamaniuk, who speaks a few hundred yards away at the “Mother Homeland” memorial, dedicated to mothers who mourn their sons. “It’s something that German leftists also need to understand,” said the 32-year-old player into a microphone in front of a few dozen people listening to him. “That Ukraine has the right to self-defense and arms deliveries are also right. Not everyone likes that. A grey-haired woman with a cane tries to reach him while swearing. “Fascist! she shouts at him as several men stand between her and the speaker with glasses and hair tied to the top of their heads. Now other people from the crowd come forward, suddenly two rows of young men face each other and look at each other. What the police officers present notice and intervene.

Salamaniuk told that he is from the “left-wing Ukrainian diaspora”. It is naïve that some in Germany still see Putin as a negotiating partner. The arms deliveries, but also the penalties are correct. They are a pacifist instrument because they prevented a war on German soil. “People show me pictures of the far-right Azov Battalion,” he says. “Yes, there are, but there are also many other battalions.” He says relatives of his were in Bucha and hid in a cellar for two weeks until they could escape. But the Ukrainians have also committed war crimes. They also need to be enlightened, and the Ukrainian government should do better than the Russians, who have always denied everything. According to experts, however, the scale of Russian crimes is much greater.

The Memorial Walk begins at the Brandenburg Gate

Half an hour later, around 11:30 a.m., the next protest is supposed to take place at the Brandenburg Gate. The title sounds more martial than the following: “Red Army Memorial Elevator”. A good 1,000 people gathered, carrying photos of Red Army veterans attached to stoles. This form of commemoration is called the “immortal regiment”. They are surrounded by police who use a large portable screen to inform people that flags and flags, as well as military symbols such as the cross of St. George, are prohibited. This military and marching music is also not allowed to be played.

Most can probably live with that. When the train starts a few minutes later, they chant things like “Thank you Grandpa for the win!” in Russian. or simply “Hooray!” or “Spassibo” (thank you). In the meantime, they sing solemn tunes in minor, once the Russian national anthem sounds briefly but is immediately extinguished again. 150 biker rockers from the Russian “Night Wolves” gang were also expected. But nothing can be heard from the rattle of the engine. Here and there, however, bull-necked guys with large crosses and leather garments stand around, some of whom hold motorcycle helmets in their arms. There is also a hippie who carries a guitar with a sticker against mandatory vaccinations on it.

The police are there with a massive contingent. It would also not be good if this memorial march turned into a Putin demonstration here, between the Brandenburg Gate and the Victory Column, a sort of living room of the Federal Republic. On the sidelines, the police take away a couple who complain loudly in German about the brutal grip of the police. Or the old lady who wears a Soviet red dress and is surrounded by several officials. Apparently, their personal details should be checked.

“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. Juni in Berlin.

(Picture: Volker Petersen /

Unlike Treptower Park, there are no Russian flags here, just red, white and blue balloons, or someone is wearing a blue top, white pants and a red jacket. Is this also a violation of the requirements? The move is peaceful and most of them are probably keen to commemorate their ancestors. There are some old babushkas among them who may remember what it was like when this war was finally over and the Nazis, the Germans, were defeated. Thanks to the United States, the British – and the Red Army.

It wasn’t just this morning that Putin drew parallels between the fight against the Nazis and Ukraine in faraway Moscow, though he didn’t say a word about the latter. In its propaganda, it is the same thing. Ukrainians also fought in the Red Army against the Wehrmacht.

“What is the purpose of these questions,” says a woman at the Soviet War Memorial on Strasse des 17. Juni. A journalist has just asked him questions about Putin, the Ukraine and the war. “These are political questions, today is a public holiday! Look, I not only have a Russian flag here, but also a German flag, because I am German!” Another woman says the day should be neutral and berates a man wearing a cap with a blue and yellow “Stop Poutine” sticker on it. Another man calls it “provocateur” after him. No one blames another young man. The outline of Russia can be seen on the back of his t-shirt and underneath it reads: “I am with Russia”.

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