Germany’s top-selling newspaper wants Soviet tanks removed from a World War II memorial in Berlin in protest against Russia’s actions in Ukraine.
The “Bild” tabloid has launched a petition to get rid of the two tanks, which stand on pedestals in front of Berlin’s Soviet war memorial.
The complex was built in 1945 just a stone’s throw from the Brandenburg Gate, a symbol of German unity since the end of the Cold War.
“In an era when Russian tanks are threatening free, democratic Europe, we don’t want any Russian tanks at the Brandenburg Gate,” Bild wrote on April 15.
The petition accuses the Kremlin of “threatening the freedom” of Ukraine by using “the force of arms” to annex Crimea and massing troops on Ukraine’s eastern border.
“Bild” urged its readers to sign and mail the protest letter to the Bundestag, Germany’s lower house of parliament.
Despite paying tribute to the “immense suffering of the Russian people during World War II,” the petition is likely to spark anger in Russia.
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Russian officials have long sought to counter what they describe as Western attempts to falsify history, and World War II – in which an estimated 20 million Soviet citizens lost their lives — remains a particular prickly topic.
“Bild” has formally filed its petition to parliament.
The Bundestag itself doesn’t have the authority to order the tanks unscrewed from their pedestals.
What it can do, however, is issue a non-binding recommendation to the German government backing the request.
The prospect is not unrealistic, considering the tabloid’s massive circulation — the sixth-largest circulation worldwide with more than two million copies sold every day – and its proverbial weight on Germany’s political life.
“We will examine it and decide whether it falls under our jurisdiction,” Arite Rochlitz, an employee at the Bundestag’s petitions committee, told RFE/RL. “If it is accepted, then it will go through the standard parliamentary procedure.”
This means at least one coalition and one opposition lawmaker would be appointed to study the petition and consult the appropriate authorities. If the proposal is deemed well-grounded, lawmakers would then decide on whether or not to ask the government to take action.
The process can take from several weeks to several years.
International treaties on Germany’s reunification, however, may preclude attempts to get rid of the Russian tanks.
“The memorial also has a war cemetery,” says Rochlitz. “There are bilateral agreements to maintain the site and take care of it.”
This is not the first time a Soviet war memorial has been the subject of controversy.
In 1991, a Soviet tank monument in Prague was painted pink by a group of art students. After Russia sent a note of protest, the tank was repainted green, only to be daubed again with pink paint.
In Estonia, the 2007 removal of a memorial featuring a Red Army soldier also riled authorities in Moscow and sparked clashes in Tallinn that left one person dead and more than 40 injured.