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Opinion

Opinion: Merkel's symbolic tardiness to Putin's WWII celebration

Chancellor Merkel will not to take part in Moscow's parade to mark the end of World War II on May 9, but she'll be there a day later. No doubt a difficult choice, but it was the right one, says DW's Christian F. Trippe.

In the end, it was merely the timing of the decision that was unexpected. Even those closest to German Chancellor Angela Merkel expected her to take more time over her decision, to wait and see how the situation would develop in eastern Ukraine and to hold on to this bargaining chip of a highly symbolic nature for as long as possible.

"Victory Day" is of paramount importance in Russia. There is no other public holiday whose emotional impact even comes close to that of May 9. The day Germany surrendered in World War II is a day of vital significance. It carries more weight than Constitution Day or May 1, and it's far less contentious than any religious holiday.

World War II existential battle for Russia

For the Soviet Union, World War II was about far more than victory or defeat. The Russians fought for the survival of their people; Russia fought for the survival of its cultural realm. Seventy years on, Russian society still bears the scars of the war against Nazi Germany, a war that claimed the lives of more than 20 million Soviets.

01.2012 DW Europa aktuell Moderator Christian Trippe

DW's Christian F. Trippe

Merkel is well aware of this. As a student traveling in Russia, she was able to see the impact World War II has had on the Russian people.

And yet, she has refused the invitation to attend the official celebrations on May 9. After all, we cannot be sure that Russian units suspected of taking part in Russia's undeclared war in eastern Ukraine or Russia's annexation of Crimea will take part in the Russian parade.

In World War II, Russia resisted German fascism. But Russia is devaluing this historic fact and achievement through misplaced propaganda - by comparing its aggression against Ukraine with its fight against Nazi fascism. This time, according to the propaganda, against the "junta" in Kyiv.

All that may have played a role in Merkel's decision not to attend the parade on Moscow's Red Square - only a stone's throw from where opposition politician Boris Nemtsov was killed at the end of February.

Russia a threat to many today

But Merkel's decision is different from those of other European countries like Poland, Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia, who refuse to attend because they associate the end of World War II with a new age of repression symbolized by the advance of the Red Army and, even more importantly, because they feel threatened by Russian President Vladimir Putin's neo-liberal politics today.

Merkel, however, has decided to honor the remembrance of the suffering Russia experienced at the hands of German troops.

One day after the official and ostentatious military celebrations, she will, alongside Putin, lay a wreath at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Kremlin wall. A silent and solemn act of remembrance at a time when each act of noisy posturing can cause diplomatic ructions.

The Russians will know how to interpret the chancellor's gesture.

At the moment, it is unclear whether, as representatives of the Soviet Union's World War II allies, US President Barack Obama, UK Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Francois Hollande, will attend the celebrations. What we know for sure is that North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un will be there - though why he's there is anyone's guess. That's a question Angela Merkel will now not have to worry about.

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