The unwanted Z in Germany // Grande-Synthe or the end of a dream of exile | Seen from Germany | DW

A hundred cars drove through Bonn city center on Sunday, March 27th. Most vehicles displayed Russian or Soviet flags as a sign of support for the war in Ukraine. Some protesters were also displayed with the Z symbol, but they were few compared to other demonstrations. Probably because the state authorities of North Rhine-Westphalia have threatened to prosecute anyone who wears this symbol in public.

AZ to rally the Russians behind Putin

Since February 24th, the Z has invaded space, in Russia and beyond. In spots on Russian television or in social networks that advertise the “special operation” – the official name for the Russian invasion – that Vladimir Putin carried out in Ukraine, but also on cars, buildings or clothing.

The Z has become the symbol of Putin’s war in Ukraine

Its origin is unclear – it appeared early in the war against Russian tanks in Ukraine – but it quickly became a symbol of Vladimir Putin’s war.

For historian Guilhem Zumbaum-Tomasi, it’s a way for the Russian president to rally a certain section of the population behind him.

“All forms of dictatorship or authoritarian rule need a symbol to rally the population behind them. Some say the Z stands for the broken swastika. In my opinion, it does not come directly from Putin. It must have started somewhere else, then Putin found it was a way to stand out from the western world and Ukraine. If they’re trying to find a form of gathering, it’s to reassure people in their 30s and 50s. Rallying these people behind Putin and making sure there is no democratic virus in these circles is a form of aggressiveness.

Despite the ban on Russian broadcaster RT, the Z has appeared in Germany in recent weeks. At demonstrations, but also in the form of supporters, at a church in Bavaria or on Ukrainian refugee cars.

The Z is punishable in Germany

Such a label, which was seen at a pro-Putin rally in Serbia in March, is punishable by imprisonment in Germany

Such a label, which was seen at a pro-Putin rally in Serbia in March, is punishable by imprisonment in Germany

The police will check whether the offenses could fall under Section 140 of the Criminal Code. Also on this article, which threatens anyone who “condones crimes” with criminal prosecution, some states have put forward the possibility of prosecuting anyone using this symbol in public spaces or on the internet. .

“The Z that we wear on our clothes is a symbol of approval of the war being waged by Russia in Ukraine, it is a conscious act.”explains Professor Christian Tomuschat, a specialist in international law. “A criminal defense attorney could very well take the position that wearing the Z is a gesture falling under this Article 140.”

The penalty can be up to three years in prison. And the concept of tolerating crimes also applies to violations of international law, and in the case of Russia aggression was found, emphasizes Christian Tomuschat once again.

“In international law, aggression is the most serious crime known to us, and there is no doubt about that. We know that many violations of international humanitarian law were committed in this war of aggression: bomb attacks on civilians, residential areas, attacks on hospitals, these are all criminal offenses under German and international law.”

Little chance of a ban

The insurer Zurich has announced that it will no longer advertise with its initial

The insurer Zurich has announced that it will no longer advertise with its initial

Some in Germany are going even further, calling for the Z sign to be banned outright, along with other symbols like the swastika. But according to Christian Tomuschat, this is unlikely.

“A ban could undoubtedly be enacted, but countries don’t want that because we would be getting into thousands of cases that would need to be prosecuted, binding the criminal courts indefinitely.”

The North Rhine-Westphalian state government has confirmed that, according to statements made by state justice minister Peter Biesenbach to WDR, it has no intention of banning the Z symbol. The legal hurdles are too high.

However, this does not prevent regional courts from examining in individual cases whether the use of the “Z” symbol is pro-war in violation of international law.

Like many others in Germany, historian Guilhem Zumbaum-Tomasi does not currently see the ban debate as a priority.

“When I see that the EU still cannot agree on accepting Ukrainian refugees, I tell myself that there are more meaningful and necessary discussions than this story from Z.”

Possible origin of the Z

The Z, along with A, O or V, is one of the letters seen on Russian armored vehicles… Different letters written in the Latin alphabet that define different areas of intervention – according to one of the theories. According to military experts, they would also serve to prevent Russian forces from attacking their own troops.

But the Z also symbolizes victory in the Russian expression “Za podebu” – “For victory”. And the Z has become, first of all, a propaganda tool of Russian power.


For many migrants, the British dream ends in Grande Synthe

Like this Iraqi couple, many migrants survive in harsh conditions in secret camps in northern France

Like this Iraqi couple, many migrants survive in harsh conditions in secret camps in northern France

In 2021, more than 28,000 people attempted to reach England, three times more than the previous year.

Several secret camps were set up along the coast of northern France, from Boulogne-sur-Mer to the Belgian border. Hundreds of migrants have settled there hoping to one day cross the English Channel.

These camps are regularly dismantled by the police. For lack of alternatives, migrants immediately resettle there. This is the case of the Grande Synthe camp, sandwiched between a secondary road and an industrial area.

Migrants live there in unsanitary conditions, with no running water or electricity. Some clubs help with tanks or generators, but everyday life remains difficult. Niklas Mönch went there for lakes from Germany.

Seen from Germany is a weekly radio magazine offered by Hugo Flotat-Talon and Anne Le Touzé, broadcast on Wednesdays and Sundays at 5:30 p.m. and also available as a podcast. You can find all numbers in the media library, to listen to online or to download in MP3 format. The podcast is also available on some podcast platforms.

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