Tensions rise in Basel as Russian Victory Day approaches

Tensions rise in Basel as Russian Victory Day approaches

On May 9 every year, the Russian state and people celebrate Victory Day - a commemoration of the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two. With the Russian invasion of Ukraine ongoing, the city of Basel is debating whether the only Victory Day celebration in Switzerland can go ahead this year, with fears that the event could become a battlefield for pro, and anti-Putin demonstrations.

Graveyard in Basel used to commemorate Russian Victory Day

The Hörnli graveyard in Riehan is home to the graves of four Soviet soldiers who were shot as they crossed the border to reach safety in Switzerland. Their bodies were subsequently buried in the cemetery in Basel, where they remain to this day. 

Over the years, 19 more names have been added to the grave as a memorial to Soviet fighters who died in Switzerland during the conflict. The grave is maintained by the Russian Embassy in Bern, which uses the site to commemorate Victory Day on May 9 every year.

The event, the only one of its kind in Switzerland, usually attracts hundreds of people from the Russian Diaspora in Switzerland and from other former-Soviet nations like Ukraine. For years, the residents of Basel largely ignored the small ceremony, that was until Russia invaded Ukraine.

Basel fears pro-Putin rallies and support on May 9

According to the Tages-Anzeiger, the Basel city council is concerned that the vigil might be co-opted by supporters of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. In recent weeks, global analysts have shown how the Russian media and state have used the imagery of the Second World War to drum up support for the invasion.

Many expect Russian President Vladimir Putin to use May 9 as an opportunity to align the invasion of Ukraine with the fight against Nazism in the Russian public's mind, and perhaps officially "declare war" on Ukraine.

Talks between the Russian Embassy and the government are already underway as to how the event can proceed. Despite its long tradition of neutrality, Switzerland has mostly come out in favour of Ukraine, with the Federal Council imposing sanctions on Russia and regular people doing what they can to help Ukrainian refugees.

Victory Day in Basel poses serious challenge for Swiss police

Basel government spokesperson, Marco Geiner, said that the event posed serious “security issues” as protests, counter-protests and a strong presence of Swiss police are expected at the vigil. When asked whether the event should be cancelled, Geiner said, "No comment until the end of the talks with the embassy and Federal Department of Foreign Affairs." 

In the past, both Russians and Ukrainians used to stand together at the vigil to commemorate their losses in the Second World War. Now, with tensions rising, the fate of the event remains to be seen.

Jan de Boer


Jan de Boer

Jan studied in York and Sheffield in the UK, obtaining a master's in broadcast journalism and a bachelor's in history. He has worked as a radio DJ, TV presenter, and...

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