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St. Petersburg victims deserve solidarity

Mannteufel Ingo Kommentarbild App
Ingo Mannteufel
April 4, 2017

A great deal remains unclear after the St. Petersburg metro attack. Yet the decision not to light up the Brandenburg Gate in Russian flag colors is morally and politically wrong, writes DW's Ingo Mannteufel.

Brandenburger Tor bei Nacht
Image: picture alliance/blickwinkel

At the moment, it is only certain that 14 people were killed and many others severely injured in the St. Petersburg metro blast. The place of the attack and the type of bomb fits with the pattern of Islamic terrorism. Russian authorities have named a suspect who reportedly comes from Islamist circles. However, only a day has passed since the explosion and much remains unclear.

After a terrorist attack, security authorities - Russian ones included - usually need some time to find reliable clues. This should be clear to everyone, even in an age when people expect answers, opinions and explanations in real time. The fact that a terrorist attack has occurred in Russia and hit Russians is very unfortunate. It is obvious that the Kremlin's Syria policy has put the country in the crosshairs of the so-called "Islamic State." Nonetheless, the investigation into the attack in St. Petersburg has by no means come to an end. Hasty political conclusions should thus be avoided.

Is there a correct way to react to terrorism?

Yet the public thirsts for quick judgments and allows law enforcement agencies and the media very little time for thorough investigations and fact-based reports. Sadly, this paradox has become a customary ritual after terrorist attacks.

Mannteufel Ingo Kommentarbild App
Ingo Mannteufel runs DW's Russian department

These days, incident-related hashtags begin circulating on social media within minutes of an attack. Shortly thereafter, politicians rush to tweet their sympathies. It is also standard practice to light up national monuments - like the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin - in the flag colors of the country hit by terrorism.

There are good reasons to view these gestures of sympathy as superficial and paltry political symbolism. But the problem is that once the practice has been established, then it should be repeated consistently. Anything else would have the semblance of scorn for the victims, as if one were saying "there were only so many dead." Taking all this into account, it is quite surprising that the colors of the Russian flag were not projected onto the Brandenburg Gate following Monday's attack. The excuse from the leaders in the German capital - that St. Petersburg is not a partner city of Berlin - does not hold up. Orlando is also not a partner city, yet following the shooting at a gay nightclub in June 2016, the Brandenburg Gate was lit by the colors of a rainbow - a symbol of the gay rights movement.

The Russian victims of terrorism deserve our sympathy and solidarity no less than the victims of attacks in Orlando, Paris, Brussels, London, Berlin, Nice, Istanbul or those in Iraq, Nigeria and Pakistan.

Victims of terrorism and their own leaders

Russia's controversial Syria policy does not justify the lack of compassion for the victims in St. Petersburg. Terrorism and violence against civilians is never warranted. Unlike citizens of Western democracies, regular Russians have never had the opportunity to decide in free and democratic elections whether they support the policies of their leaders. They are not only victims of terrorism, but also their rulers; they have no influence on politics.

Ever since the annexation of Crimea and aggressive policies in Ukraine's Donbass region kicked off a diplomatic row between Russia and the West, the West has reaffirmed its rejection of the Kremlin's policies. Yet Western countries also insist the Russian people are equals in Europe. If the West really means this and does not want to come across as hypocritical on Russia, then it is morally and politically obligated to show solidarity for the Russian victims of terror. The decision not to light up the Brandenburg Gate in Russia's colors was wrong - as a matter of fact, it was a disgrace.

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