After one in the afternoon, the famous Belarusian opponent Svetlana Tijanóvskaya takes off her mask to make statements to a group of journalists in a corridor of the German Bundestag and call for democracy for her country. Not far from there, Alexei Navalni, an arch enemy of the Kremlin, struggles to regain the mobility of its members after a Russian military poison left him on the brink of death. The Nobel Prize for Literature Svetlana AlexievichShe is also in the German capital, for medical reasons and to write away from the brutal repression in Minsk. These days, Berlin could well be a Cold War scene, in which post-Soviet dissidents seek refuge and shelter in Germany, a country that accumulates political weight and whose relations with Moscow are becoming increasingly strained.
They are quite different cases, which respond to diverse humanitarian and political circumstances, but which at the same time reflect an indisputable phenomenon: Berlin has a magnet for the post-Soviet rebels. Partly because of its geographical proximity, but above all because of the political weight of a Germany that this semester holds the rotating presidency of the European Union and is governed by a Chancellor, Angela Merkel, who speaks Russian and who understands like few foreign leaders the Soviet reality, in whose orbit she herself grew up (in the former German Democratic Republic).
When Tijanóvskaya is asked why she has come to Berlin, the Belarusian opposition responds bluntly to this newspaper: “The main reason is Merkel. She is one of the most important leaders in the world and understands Germany’s role as a conflict solver ”. Tijanóvskaya has just appeared in Parliament’s Foreign Committee; one of the last appointments of the trip he has made this week to the German capital, where he has received treatment close to that of a state visit, with a meeting with the German leader included. “I have spoken with the chancellor and she has given me very good advice on how she sees the situation in Belarus,” he says. A few meters beyond where Tijanóvskaya speaks, the walls of the Reichstag building with the Cyrillic graffiti made by Soviet soldiers in 1945, after defeating the Third Reich,
A few hours after the visit to the Bundestag, the urgent messages arrived announcing that Moscow had declared in search and capture of Tijanóvskaya, exiled since this summer in Lithuania after confronting the Aleksandr Lukashenko regime for the electoral fraud that keeps him at the head of Belarus despite to the massive protests of the population. Russia assured that it included the opposition on the list for technical reasons, in the context of relations with Belarus, framed in the State Union agreement between the two countries. The announcement was interpreted by analysts as a provocation by Moscow and a gesture of support for Minsk.
Jörg Forbrig, director of Central and Eastern Europe of the German Marshall Fund, considers that critical voices with the Kremlin and its allies in the post-Soviet space end up in Berlin “because they know that Germany has political weight and they seek support.” “It is not a The strategy of the German government to turn the country into a refuge for dissidents is a response to different circumstances in which Berlin has acted in a morally correct way ”, he says.
Forbrig believes that it is evident that Moscow is not amused by the media and political attention that the Russian dissident Navalni is receiving in Berlin, nor the treatment that Tijanóvskaya has received, but he also thinks that the deterioration of relations between the two countries is inexorable. at this stage. “Berlin knows that the Kremlin is not really interested in having a relationship with this country. In return, they send operatives to murder people in this city. ”
This expert refers to the murder of a Chechen rebel in broad daylight in a Berlin park in August 2019, allegedly at the request of Russia and whose trial started this past Wednesday. Headshots fired from a bicycle in the Kleiner Tiergarten, in the heart of the German capital, dealt a devastating blow to diplomatic relations between Berlin and Moscow, already strained after the Bundestag email accounts were hacked five years ago , and of which Germany accuses Russia.
Bark without biting
Manuel Sarrazin, deputy of the Greens and responsible for the policy with Eastern Europe of the formation, does not feel that the parade of opponents represents a real affront against Putin and believes that the German government “barks, but does not bite they know”. When reminded that Merkel has personally gone to visit Navalni at the Berlin hospital where he was admitted at the end of August after being poisoned, to inquire about his health and wish him a speedy recovery, Sarrazin argues that the key lies in the nature of the visit. “It was a private visit, in secret. [In the German government] they want to appear tough, but in reality, they don’t want to provoke the Kremlin. ” His thesis is fueled by the fact that the sanctions against Russia proposed by Paris and Berlin in retaliation for the poisoning ofNavalni are directed against individuals and leave the controversial Nordstream II gas pipeline, vital for Russia and that will take gas directly to Germany, outside the sanctions package that the EU plans to negotiate this Monday.
In addition, Sarrazin believes that Germany would have the possibility of sheltering more Belarusian dissidents if there was a more determined political will, because Germany has good medical centers, a certain exile community and NGOs capable of financing the activities of the diaspora. This deputy calls for the granting of visas from Minsk to be accelerated, as happened in 2010 when a program for victims of repression was launched.
Peace of mind for a Nobel
The Nobel Prize for Literature Svetlana Alexiévich has also visited Berlin these days. His case is special, because he has had a strong connection with Germany for years. Those who know his situation closely explain that he had pending medical appointments in Germany and that he will stay for a while to write. “In Belarus there is a lot of pressure. She cannot move freely around the country and for someone like her, over 70 years old, this psycho-terror environment is not a sustainable situation, ”says analyst Jörg Forbrig. In this context, the visa procedures and the search for financing so that the writer could spend time in Germany accelerated.
In 2011, Alexievich already spent a year in Berlin, selected by a publicly funded program for artists and intellectuals of the DDAD (German Academic Exchange Service), within the framework of German foreign policy. It is the same program that, for example, Nobel Prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa spent a season in Berlin years ago. Silvia Fehrmann, director of the DDAD Berlin Artists Program, explains that former scholars like Alexievich have the right to be invited again, as has happened now. “You need time and tranquility to write,” says Fehrmann, at the head of the program that was born with the idea that Berlin is “a space for freedom and creation.”