A rally in Berlin that was organized to draw attention to growing hostility towards Russians in Germany but included supportive demonstrators of the invasion of Ukraine has drawn sharp criticism from politicians and diplomats.
About 900 protesters in a 400-strong motorcade took part in the demonstration on Sunday that culminated in a gathering at the Olympic Stadium. Cars were draped in the Russian flag, and one bore the symbol “Z”, meant to signify solidarity with the Russian war. Participants reportedly sang patriotic Russian songs.
Christian Freier, a car mechanic identified as the organizer, displayed a Star of David on the front of his car above the slogan “Will we be next?” He compared what he called the victimization of Russians in Germany since the outbreak of the war with the persecution of Jews under the Nazis, and said participants were also angry at what he called propaganda about the invasion being spread in German schools.
Ukraine’s ambassador to Germany, Andriy Melnyk, said he was appalled that the demonstration, which was apparently registered in advance with the police and had its protection, was allowed to go ahead, in particular on a day when atrocities against hundreds of civilians in the town of Bucha, north of Kyiv, were reported.
“For heaven’s sake, how could they allow this motorcade of shame to take place in the middle of Berlin?” he tweeted, focusing his criticism of him mainly on Berlin’s mayor, Franziska Giffey, and the police.
Giffey responded: “I understand the anger and condemn any utterance that plays down the Russian war of aggression.”
Berlin’s senate has expressed concern about upcoming sensitive anniversaries, such as the end of the second world war on 8-9 May, which they believe Russian nationalists may try to exploit.
Torsten Akmann, the state secretary for Berlin’s interior ministry, said no demonstrations for those dates had yet been registered with the police and “we are keeping a very close eye on things”.
Freier, who has lived in Germany since 2001 having moved from Russia, said his main aim had been to draw attention to the growing hostility being shown towards Russians or people of Russian origin in Berlin. He told the newspaper Bild he had been surprised by the large turnout.
“I had expected about 30 cars to show up,” he said. “I am still in shock that so many came.” He said he was “100% against the war, as is everyone I am demonstrating with,” but said many Germans did not understand the anger among many Russians.
He said it had been a mistake to put a Star of David on his car, which the police had made him remove.
At least one demonstrator was removed from the protest for displaying the pro-invasion “Z” symbol, which has been forbidden from public places in three German states including Berlin.
A counter-demonstration that aimed to block the motorcade was prevented by police from doing so as it had not been registered with the authorities. Participants in that now face public nuisance proceedings.
Herbert Reul, the interior minister for the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia, said he was appalled by the demonstration and the fact it was allowed to go ahead with police protection. “In view of the atrocities and the pictures of the past few days, it is personally beyond me to see how someone can embrace war criminals in this way,” he said.
Germany’s federal minister for justice, Marco Buschmann, said open endorsement of the Russian war was a criminal offence, and his FDP colleague Stephan Thomae called the rally “macabre and tasteless” and said there was a case for examining whether participants could be prosecuted.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism