The Russian-speaking population in Germany suffers from infringement of their civil rights by local authorities more than any other ethnic minority. Human rights lawyer Henry Murray, who defends the rights of Russian immigrants, believes that Russian immigrants in Germany find themselves in a "penal military unit," from which there is no escape.
"Why did you decide to take up human rights defense?"
"Me and my parents came to Germany in 1992. I graduated a university with a specialization in "Private International Law" and received a Master of International Law. I became interested in the subject of human rights during my studies. Just because I saw that our former compatriots, who had moved to Germany, were not protected from the arbitrariness of the authorities. Their human rights are violated in many cases.
"When we opened an office of the German League for Human Rights in Cologne (this is one of the oldest human rights organizations in Germany, it started working almost 100 years ago and was banned from 1933 to 1948), we saw that people were scared to express their views on the existent situation. They feared that they and they families could face pressure from the authorities. For example, people could be deprived of social benefits and health insurance, problems could occur at work too.
"I am convinced that there is no rule of law in Germany, unlike, for instance, in the UK, Switzerland, France and the USA. Few people know that in almost 70 years of its post-war existence, Germany has not obtained its own constitution. Even though German authorities continuously trumpet at every corner that there is constitution in Germany - it is not true. It is the temporary Basic Law from 1949 that replaces it.
"Nearly all laws in the country are aimed at protecting the government, courts and police. Federal referendums are prohibited. Litigations are extremely expensive. The government seems to grant the right for a free lawyer, but it will be a lawyer on the part of the court, and therefore, the trial will be lost in 70-80 percent of cases. A court of second instance takes place even without your participation: it is only the judge and the lawyers of the parties. That is to say, you can be convicted, even without your participation.
"Finally, the most amazing aspect is that the judge never signs the verdict personally. We have repeatedly submitted requirements to provide us with original documents, but we'd always get a copy with the name of the judge printed on it without his signature. Perhaps this is because a judge here is not an elected position as it is in other European countries. A judge is appointed by the Justice Minister of a certain territory. It is possible, though, that the main reason lies in the absence of responsibility of the state for the damage incurred by the actions of a public body or a public official. Each "official" carries responsibility by their personal property under Article 839 of the German Civil Code. Why would a judge take the risk?
"Thus, it is clear that a "sentence" without judicial signature from a legal point of view is void and completely deprived of legal force.
"What are the main challenges that you face in protecting the rights of Russian citizens?"
"One of our first high-profile cases was the defense of Eugene Skvortsov. His story is very indicative in terms of the attitude of the German judicial system to Russian-speaking citizens.
"The young man was invited to his friend's birthday on the outskirts of Düsseldorf. The company gathered in a local park. Eugene did not stay there all the time - he left to pick up his fiancé, and came back when everyone was about to leave. A police car approached the company at that moment. Several people, including Eugene, were arrested. As it turned out later, there was a fight in the park between a drunk Russian guy and police officers. However, it was Eugene Skvortsov who was charged with showing resistance to police.
"Prior to the court session, I noticed how happy police representatives and the judge were to shake hands with each other - as if they had parted only yesterday after a picnic. The interpreter, whom the court provided, was telling us all the time that we should not disturb the judge with our claims. When Eugene protested and said that he would find his own interpreter, he was denied the right to do that.
"By the way, this is a recurring problem. The court does not consider it necessary to provide an interpreter to a Russian-speaking citizen. This contradicts to the ruling of the Constitutional Court of Germany that says that the verdicts that can affect the destiny of a person should be translated simultaneously and literally. But if a person does not know his or her rights, the rights can easily be broken.
"That was the first time when I came across undisguised Russophobia on the part of authorities. One of police officers told the court that "if many Russian-speaking people gather in one place, one shall expect trouble." Russians always drink themselves into a stupor in the park, the officer added.
"The officer also said that he heard shouts in Russian which made them drive to the park. I asked him to that: "Do you know Russian?" The judge immediately took me up sharply - it was irrelevant to the case. I asked why because there are many languages that sound alike - Polish, Bulgarian, Serbian, Ukrainian. The judge responded as follows: "I want you to shut your mouth, and I don't want to hear it." I had to stir up a scandal by saying that it was a trial, at which the man was judged for being Russian. After that, the charges were dropped."
"What is the reason for this Russophobia? It seems that the war ended a long time ago."
"The war may have ended, but the Germans are not aware of it. As the saying goes, the enemy is not informed. The children of a good friend of mine have recently brought a rhyme from the kindergarten, which they learned there: "You give us oil - we punch you in the teeth, you give us gas, we punch you in the eye!" This is quite revealing, isn't it?
"Local authorities turn a blind eye on virtually all offenses committed by the local population against Russian-speaking individuals. I recall a shocking case when an employee of the German Embassy in Moscow ran over two students at a pedestrian crossing driving his Porche Cayenne at a high speed. The students were killed.
"In Germany, where he had fled after the incident, he was sentenced to one year on probation. He also received a driving ban for a month and a fine of 5,000 euros. However, under the German law, a violation of traffic rules and the rules of operation of transport, resulting in the death of several people, the driver can be sentenced to ten years in prison."
"What problems do Russian immigrants come to you with?"
"Last year we had over 1,500 complaints about violations of human rights. In total, there were almost 4, 000 of them over the past few years. I would like to say that all immigrants from Russia have their own problems. Those who don't have them yet will surely find them.
"This is what happened to former Russian biathlete Sergei Zaets. Returning home after jogging, he saw police removing the license plate from his car. It turned out later that there was a mistake at the insurance company. He asked them to explain what was going on. In response, the officers attacked him, shouting: "Get out of here, if you don't like it." The man was severely beaten, he was hospitalized. However, prosecutors accused him of attacking several armed police officers.
"Sixty-two-year-old Georg Scharf was beaten senseless in his own apartment, after special forces stormed his place. Later, however, it turned out that they simply got the wrong door. We had to take enormous efforts to receive a compensation for depriving the man of his ability to work.
"There's also a story of Yuri Medvedev, who had his four children taken away from him. The man moved to Germany from Zheleznovodsk and married a Russian woman there. Problems began when Yuri tried to figure out why his family had been deprived of a part of social assistance.
The city authorities started to torment the man's family afterwards. Child protection services took the family under tight control - they were literally watching their every move. They soon took their elder son when the boy was at school. When Yuri tried to go to Russia with his other children, he was detained at the border with Poland.
He is now allowed to see them only two hours a month. Speaking Russian is strictly forbidden, according to the written notice from a custodial official. But in Germany there is no law which forbids parents from communicating with their children in their native language. This is a violation of international conventions on human rights and children's rights. Yet, some petty officials do not care - they decide everything.
"Lily Vanzidler has been fighting for the right to raise her own son for several years. They tried to recognize her a mentally unstable individual. The conclusion was made by the "doctor" recommended by child protection services. The doctor had talked to the woman once, and then he ruled that it was dangerous to leave the child with the woman. Alternative expertise conducted by one of the most experienced psychiatrists in Germany revealed the absurdity of previously conducted expertise, and there are many of such examples."
"The Russian press wrote about the wild situation with pensions, which were deducted from social benefits of Russian immigrants."
"Russian pensioners in Germany are subjected to inexplicable discrimination. Local authorities deduct about 150-200 euros from their retirement benefits, which is the sum of the Russian pension. To do this, they are forced to go to a Russian Consulate General in Bonn and register the pension on their homeland there. Even if they do not do that, the authorities still deduct the amount.
"It is worthy of note that for many years after the end of World War II the German authorities were paying large reparations to victims of the Holocaust around the world. Nowadays, the Russian pensioners of Jewish religion residing in Germany are forced to pay "pension reparations" to the German budget. This can be a clear indicator of the sharp rise of anti-Semitism in the bodies of state power in Germany.
"This rule does not apply to pensioners from Moldova, Ukraine, Georgia and all other countries of the CIS - it touches upon only immigrants from Russia. Pensions are too small in other countries - German authorities can not be bothered with such a thing of no importance. Russia raises payments, and officials take it for additional income, which should be taken away from elderly people. A war veteran, a disabled person, may go on trial soon, if he does not return his pension of the last 20 years to the German authorities - in the amount of 12,000 euros.
"Officials accused Russia of this lawlessness saying that Russia has not entered into an appropriate agreement. However, such problems do not arise with Turkey, Italy or Greece."
"But then a question arises: if everything is so bad, why don't people leave?"
"In fact, many of them do. A few people are left from the first wave that brought me to Germany: some died, some returned to Russia. Each year, the inflow of migrants from Russia decreases further on. I think that the number of those leaving Germany will grow every year. However, it is a tough decision to make for those in their forties and fifties - they have nowhere to go.
"We are often called (or at least used to be called) traitors. But believe me, we all pay our price for his so-called "treason." One may say that we got our "penal military unit" here."
"What about human rights issues in Germany?"
"Here, the topic of criticism of Germany for the violation of human rights is a very painful and strictly tabooed issue. For example, me and my colleagues, our loved ones, were subjected and continue to be subjected to the cruel pressure from the German authorities for our efforts to defend the interests of our clients and inform the general public about horrific violations of human rights in Germany.
"During all these years we've never been able to reach the German press, although the facts that we provided were published abroad easily - in the Russian Federation, France, Czech Republic, Canada and the United States. But not in Germany. At first they would respond like this: it is interesting, we will contact you. Afterwards, they began to respond with irritation: the topic is irrelevant. Only reporters from Bild and Express whispered to us in their offices that if they published that, they would lose their jobs and wouldn't be able to find new jobs anywhere. To our great regret, we can say that most of Russian-language publications in Germany are afraid to criticize the local authorities. They have to praise the state system, not to get into trouble.
"As for well-known human rights organizations, everything is clear with them too. For example, the German Helsinki Group has its office in the Bundestag. Will it attack the German government? This is a rhetorical question."