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Monday, 3 April 2017

The Missing Flag – Solidarity upon Conditions

After the Metro bombings in Saint Petersburg, the Berlin Brandenburg Gate was not illuminated with the victim's flag this time - there was no Russian flag on Brandenburg Gate, due to a "technicality" by the Berlin Senate.

There is a new tradition in Berlin, even though there are plenty of them in a vibrant city like Berlin: whenever there is a terrorist attack in any bigger city in the world, the Brandenburg Gate in the city centre gets illuminated with the flag of the affected country.
That was in particular the case after the terrorist attacks in Paris in November 2015, and also with any following attack that took place somewhere else in the world: in Brussels, Istanbul, Jerusalem, Nice, in Berlin itself – even after the attack on a Gay-club in Orlando in the US. In this latter case, the Gay-Pride flag was illuminated on the Brandenburg Gate.

After the first news of today’s terrorist attacks in Saint Petersburg Metro, Russia, officials and world leaders immediately expressed their condolences and solidarity with the Russian people and the citizens of Saint Petersburg. Even though it was a mayor topic in today’s news, you could feel that the solidarity is not quite the same as it was the case with Paris, Brussels, or even London very recently.
Personally, my thoughts this evening were drifting and wondering if Berlin would repeat this “new tradition” of displaying the affected country’s flag on Brandenburg Gate. Would the Russian flag be displayed in the same way as it was the case with the French tricolore or the Union Jack?
The answer came quickly and was: no!

Frankly, I was not surprised that this time there won’t be any Russian flag being displayed on Brandenburg Gate, considering the fact that it was not a Western European country or a country closely related to Germany as such. With deteriorating relations between Russia and the West, it would have been a small, but at least a symbol of mutual solidarity to show from the German side that any country and any city being hit by bombings can be sure to get compassion from around the world – especially from the city of Berlin that has also been hit by terrorism itself in December last year.

The question is: why was the Russian flag not displayed this time?
In a statement to the Berlin newspaper “Berliner Morgenpost”, the Berlin city senate justified its decision not to illuminate Brandenburg Gate with the Russian flag with a technical, yet very questionable reason: Saint Petersburg is not a partner city of Berlin and there can only be made a few exceptions.
Puzzling as it might sound, but does it depend on a city partnership if a country’s flag can be displayed or not? Even though the cities of Paris, Brussels, London and Istanbul are partner cities, Nice and Jerusalem are not – yet their flags have been displayed on Brandenburg Gate.

Therefore, this argument of non-partnership between Berlin and Saint Petersburg cannot be taken as a fact for non-illuminating and it is apparent that there are deeper reasons for not continuing this new “tradition”.

The most convincing reason is that Germany’s relations with Russia recently depend of four main factors:
1st: Russia’s continuing repressive domestic politics, in particular with opposition leader Alexei Navalny and the anti-Putin demonstrations in the past few days;
2nd: The ongoing Ukraine crisis and the sanction regime against Russia, which will not ease;
3rd: Russia’s involvement in the Syrian civil war and allegations of war crimes against the Syrian population;
4th: The Russian military presence alongside its borders to the Baltics, probably as a respond to NATO’s troop enforcement in its Baltic allies.

Even though it is a small, maybe insignificant symbol that Brandenburg Gate was not illuminated this time, it carries a profound subtle message to Russia: if Russia wants to receive full solidarity from all countries and people – in particular in the west, it has to make concessions to the West and agree on Western terms:
“Fulfil our criteria, our standards and play our game upon our rules, then maybe we can treat you equally”.

Conflicts can be defused with small steps and small symbols, but they can also escalate the same way. As things are right now, they tend to escalate with small steps. The Berlin senate’s decision and reasons not to display the Russian flag is a rather shabby decision and does not comply with its precious decisions, neither its own moral standards. There cannot be any double standards when it comes to bombings or terrorist attacks, and still they are used regarding Russia.

Apparently, sympathy and solidarity depend on the country itself and not on city-partnership or not.

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