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German-Russian relations: historical responsibility Russian Federation

04.06.2017 - Article

Foreign Minister Gabriel visited St Petersburg (2 and 3 June).

Almost 75 years ago to the day, a symphony that would become a legend was played in the midst of the cannon fire in the besieged city of Leningrad. The music, Symphony No. 7 (“Leningrad”) by Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich, will always be associated with the history of the city and is a symbol of the resistance against the oppression by the occupying power.

Sigmar Gabriel pays tribute to the victims of the Siege of Leningrad
Sigmar Gabriel pays tribute to the victims of the Siege of Leningrad© Trutschel/photothek.net

The Siege of Leningrad by the German Wehrmacht during the Second World War lasted almost 900 days. The blockade and fighting claimed the lives of over one million people. On Friday (2 June), Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel visited St Petersburg, as the city has been called again since 1991. At the Monument to the Heroic Defenders of Leningrad, he recalled one of the most brutal chapters in the history of the world. “Time and again, it is amazing that the people of Russia are friendly towards us Germans today although so many crimes were committed here in our country’s name,” he said.

Keeping the channels of communication open

Talks on current conflicts: Sigmar Gabriel met Vladimir Putin
Talks on current conflicts: Sigmar Gabriel met Vladimir Putin© Trutschel/photothek.net

Relations between Russia and Europe are not always easy at the moment. Eastern Ukraine and Syria are conflicts on which Germany and Russia repeatedly try to find common ground. It is thus all the more important to keep the channels of dialogue and cooperation open. Foreign Minister Gabriel said that he and Russian President Vladimir Putin had exchanged differing views during their bilateral meeting. “The fact that we must try to achieve a solution to the Ukraine conflict is ultimately also in the interests of the Russian side. In the long term, we cannot leave the people in eastern Ukraine in this disastrous situation.”

Differences and common ground

Germany and Russia have many ties of both an economic and a cultural nature. A further item on the Foreign Minister’s schedule was thus a visit to the State Hermitage Museum, where an exhibition by German artist Anselm Kiefer is currently on display. The title of the exhibition, “Fates of Nations”, also points to the close ties between Germany and Russia.

Learning from the past

Visiting the State Hermitage Museum
Visiting the State Hermitage Museum© Trutschel/photothek.net

Even after over 70 years since the end of the Second World World, Leningrad’s history serves to remind us that blockades are not the way forward and that we must try to maintain dialogue wherever possible. It is said that Shostakovich’s Leningrad symphony could also be heard in the German soldiers’ trenches. This music remains a symbol of opposition to war, terror and violence.

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