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Germany: Easter peace marches amid backdrop of Ukraine, Gaza

March 30, 2024

Germany's top politicians sought to reconcile calls for peace with supporting Ukraine, raising defense spending, and a slow road to de-escalation in Gaza. They warned against naivete given the threat posed by Russia.

People carrying peace banners march in Cologne
Organizers said more than 10,000 people took part in peace movement marches across GermanyImage: Christian Knieps/dpa/picture alliance

Some 70 marches or events calling for peace took place around Germany on Saturday, an annual tradition at Easter in a country that developed a strong pacifist movement in the decades following its defeat in World War II. 

The motto chosen this year is "Now more than ever, together for peace." 

Leaders of the coalition government in Berlin, themselves from parties with close traditional connections to this movement, issued Easter messages trying to reconcile their desire for peace in principle with their policies of providing weapons to Ukraine in its defensive war against Russia and increasing German defense spending and weapons supplies.

Demonstrators pose holding a banner with an image of a battleship, a tank, and military plane on it. The German-language slogan translates as, "They kill people, the climate, and the environment. Disarm now!" Chemnitz, Germany. March 29, 2024.
The German-language slogan for this banner showing military hardware translates as: 'They kill people, the climate, and the environment. Disarm now!'Image: haertelpress/Imago

They also urged demonstrators not to "confuse victims with perpetrators" in Ukraine, or to pit groups against each other amid the conflict in Gaza during their marches. 

According to preliminary figures from the Peace Co-operative Network which organized the marches, more than 10,000 people took to the streets around Germany in favour of peace and disarmament on Holy Saturday.

"We are satisfied with the turnout," said network spokesman Kristian Golla with the number being roughly at the same level as last year.

People hold a placard reading "Win the peace - not the war - Stopp the war in Ukraine!" in Berlin
Numerous large traditional Easter marches take place throughout Germany to protest against warImage: John MacDougall/AFP/Getty Images

Olaf Scholz: 'There is no peace without justice' 

Chancellor Olaf Scholz issued a video message on Saturday in which he said, "We all yearn for a more peaceful world." 

However, he said that peace without freedom was repression and that there could be no peace without justice. 

"That's why we are supporting Ukraine in its fight for a just peace — for as long as is necessary. We're also doing this for ourselves, for our safety," Scholz said. 

Scholz said that Russian President Vladimir Putin had broken the principle that borders should not be redrawn using violence. 

"But it's in our hands to reassert this principle. By continuing to support Ukraine — resoutely and circumspectly," the chancellor said. 

Recent comments from Scholz's fellow Social Democrat (SPD) Rolf Mützenich about seeking to "freeze" the conflict in Ukraine and seek peace negotiations had drawn criticism from within the party and particularly from the other two members of the coalition government, the Greens and the Free Democrats. 

How Ukraine's war became Germany's watershed moment

Robert Habeck: 'We must adjust to the threat level. Anything else would be naive.'

Green Party politician and Deputy Chancellor Robert Habeck, whose party's roots were so anchored in the peace movement that it originally advocated for then-West Germany to leave NATO, issued a long video address on Good Friday where he recalled the decision in February 2022 to break a longstanding policy, which has seen some exceptions, in Berlin and permit weapon deliveries to a conflict zone. 

He acknowledged the political debate surrounding the issues in recent weeks and said he wanted to lay out his thinking on the decision.

He said he had respect and understanding for those who might disagree with him on sending weapons to Ukraine, whether stemming from religious or political convictions, but not for those making this argument who "confused victim with perpetrator" and who "see in Putin's Russia an answer for Germany." 

"We yearn for peace. Yes. But the sad, honest answer is: It doesn't look like there will be a swift and good end, even if we might wish otherwise," Habeck said. 

Given Russia's aggression and it putting its economy on a "war footing," he said, "We must adjust to the threat level. Anything else would be naive." 

He said Germany and other EU members were right to seek to increase defense spending and capacity in this backdrop because "we must protect ourselves comprehensively, also against military attacks." 

Fortifying borders: Is Ukraine shifting to defense?

Ambassador to Israel calls for real Gaza peace with release of all hostages 

Germany's ambassador to Israel, Steffen Seibert, issued a greeting to Christians in the region on social media, saying he realized that wishing a happy Easter "sounds almost naive these days." 

He said Hamas' October 7 attacks had "brought war" over the region.

"There is immense pain in Israel and in the Palestinian communities, and both can break your heart," Seibert said. "Easter is about hope being born out of pain. Easter should be a cry for real peace, for the release of all the hostages."

A UN Security Council resolution passed last week calling for a cease-fire in Gaza and the immediate release of Israeli hostages, with the US abstaining and the rest of the Council supporting the motion, but hostilities have continued.

Onboard an aid airdrop mission in Gaza

With a view to the peace marches in Germany, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, also of the Greens, warned against pitting Israelis and Palestinians against each other. She said humanity was indivisible and that any other approach was "highly dangerous." 

Meanwhile, she said that in Ukraine's case "we cannot pit our desire for peace against peace in Ukraine."

CDU's Merz says marches' message should be to Putin

The leader of the opposition Christian Democrats (CDU), Friedrich Merz, said in an email to supporters that demonstrating in support of peace was anything but condemnable. But he said the subsequent question was how to secure the conditions for lasting peace. 

"And there, a willingness to be peaceful alone is not a sufficient answer," Merz said. He said he hoped this year's marchers would direct their message, above all, to Vladimir Putin, calling on him to halt the invasion of Ukraine immediately.

The peace demonstrations in Germany always had a fringe contingent, but that's become more apparent and more codified over the past two years. While the country's mainstream political parties all more or less endorse the current stance on Ukraine, the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), the socialist Left Party, and its new offshoot called the Sahra Wagenknecht Alliance (BSW) all call for fewer or no weapons deliveries and a push for peace talks. All three of these parties, in turn, face regular criticism regarding their stance towards Putin's Russia. 

msh/sms (AFP, dpa, epd, KNA)

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