Germany will pursue the use of the letter Z as a symbol of support for the Russian invasion of Ukraine | International

The letter zeta, converted into a symbol by the defenders of the war of aggression that Vladimir Putin has launched against Ukraine, is in the crosshairs of the German authorities. Exhibiting it as an expression of support for the invasion can now have criminal consequences. “Everyone can express their opinion in Germany,” assured the Bavarian Minister of the Interior, Georg Eisenreich, who issued this warning: “But freedom of expression ends where the Penal Code begins.”

Two German states have already warned of the display, in demonstrations and other public events, of the white z that began to appear painted on Russian military vehicles at the beginning of the invasion of Ukraine. There are different theories about its meaning – for some experts it could be an abbreviation of the phrase “for victory”; others think that it could be equivalent to “West’”—, but there is no doubt that it has become a show of support for the invasion of Ukraine.

Both Bavaria and Lower Saxony have announced that their prosecutors will be very aware of this type of demonstration and that they will prosecute them criminally. The Berlin Minister of the Interior also announced that they will act before the public display of this symbol and several parliamentary groups in other regions want it to be explicitly prohibited. “The Z as a symbol of Putin’s fascism should be banned throughout Germany,” liberal Joachim Stamp, Minister for Family, Refugees and Integration in North Rhine-Westphalia, wrote on his Twitter account.

The police of both States have orders to verify if the use of the Z is related to the war in Ukraine and, if so, to denounce the authors. Those who “publicly express their approval of Russian President Putin’s war of aggression against Ukraine using this symbol will face criminal consequences,” warned Lower Saxony’s Interior Minister, Social Democrat Boris Pistorius. The prosecution of these crimes is covered by the application of an article of the German Penal Code, 140, which prohibits supporting illegal acts that disturb public order. It is punishable by fines and up to three years in prison.

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How to ban a letter?

The application of this prohibition raises many questions because, unlike other clearly recognizable symbols, the Z for war support is simply a letter of the Latin alphabet. The federal government admits that it will not be easy to demonstrate when it is used as an exaltation of the bloody attack against Ukraine, so it leaves that interpretation in the hands of the courts to which these complaints reach. “The letter zeta as such, of course, is not prohibited,” a government spokesman said on Monday. “However, in individual cases, their use may represent approval of Russian-approved warfare and thus be prohibited under the Criminal Code.”

The authorities are aware that this symbol is already being used in Germany, the spokesman added. For now, its use has been limited to street graffiti, although it has also been seen on posters at public events. There is also evidence of acts of vandalism, such as ripped truck tarpaulins following the silhouette of the letter z, which the police will consider as property damage. “Russian war of aggression against Ukraine is criminal,” stressed the spokesman for the German Interior Ministry. “For this reason, whoever supports it publicly can be prosecuted. We welcome the announcements made by several Federal States that they will examine these cases,” he added.

As the invasion progresses, the Z symbol has spread to social networks, billboards, building facades and even stickers throughout Russia. T-shirts and sweatshirts with the letter, which does not exist in the Cyrillic alphabet, are also sold. Some days ago, Russian gymnast Ivan Kuliak stood on the podium at the Qatar Gymnastics World Cup with the Z embroidered on the shirt. The International Federation of Gymnastics assured in a statement that it will open a disciplinary procedure.

The popularity of this symbol has grown so much that the Swiss insurance company Zurich has decided to remove the Z from its logo (the white letter on a blue background) on social networks because it does not want it to be misunderstood as supporting Russia in the conflict. . In the avatars of the company on Twitter and Facebook, the full name now appears on a blue background. “We temporarily stopped using the z on our social networks, where it appears separately and could be misunderstood,” the company told Reuters.

In Germany, representatives of all political parties have spoken out in favor of banning the Z in public spaces, considering it comparable to other unconstitutional symbols. The German Penal Code explicitly prohibits several of them in another of its articles, 86: the swastika, the Hitler salute and the Nazi party anthem. The swastika may not be used on flags, insignia, uniforms, nor the anthem in greetings or songs under threat of fines and imprisonment for up to three years.

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