Berlin to fly flags at half-mast for Gorbachev’s funeral

The German capital on Thursday ordered official flags to be lowered to half-mast during Mikhail Gorbachev's weekend funeral as calls grew for a fitting tribute to the last Soviet leader.

Berlin's Brandenburg Gate in summer. The capital will lower flags for Mikhail Gorbachev's weekend funeral.
Berlin's Brandenburg Gate in summer. The capital will lower flags for Mikhail Gorbachev's weekend funeral. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christophe Gateau

“We want to appropriately honour the accomplishments of our honorary citizen Mikhail Gorbachev in bringing about the political transformation of (communist) East Germany,” Berlin’s interior minister Iris Spranger said in a statement.

Announcing the ceremonial flagging for Saturday, Spranger said Germany also owed an enduring debt to Gorbachev for allowing its reunification after the Cold War.

Officials from across the political spectrum expressed their gratitude to Gorbachev, with some calling for a street or square in Berlin to be renamed for him.

READ ALSO: Gorbachev died at a time of failed Russian democracy, says Scholz

Appeals grew for a memorial ceremony in Germany to honour a man credited with allowing a peaceful end to the Cold War and paving the way for democracy to sweep through central and eastern Europe after the Berlin Wall’s fall.

“Germany has a lot to thank him for, he is one of the fathers of reunification and gave millions of people their freedom,” Markus Söder, the conservative premier of southern Bavaria state, told the daily Münchener Merkur.

Veteran far-left MP Gregor Gysi hailed Gorbachev’s contribution to “peace, disarmament and German unity” in an interview with news website Der Spiegel.

He called for a commemoration that would “point up the difference” between Gorbachev and the current Russian president, Vladimir Putin.

Gysi said such a gesture would ensure that “the strong criticism of Putin doesn’t lead to rejection of Russia as a whole” in the wake of the Ukraine invasion.

While the changes Gorbachev set in motion saw him lionised in the West and Germany in particular, they earned him the scorn of many Russians after the country was plunged into economic chaos and saw its international influence decline.

Gorbachev’s funeral ceremony will be held on Saturday in the Moscow Hall of Columns, historically used for funeral services of high officials, including Joseph Stalin in 1953.

However, Putin’s spokesman said the president would not attend due to his “work schedule”.

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German parliament to hold urgent debate on citizenship

Politicians will gather in the Bundestag on Thursday afternoon for an urgent session on Germany's planned changes to citizenship law.

German parliament to hold urgent debate on citizenship

According to information on the Bundestag website, the urgent discussion was scheduled on the request of the opposition CDU party, who have been fiercely critical of the planned reforms in recent days.

The debate, which is scheduled to start at 2:50pm and last an hour, will see MPs air their views on the government’s planned changes to citizenship law.

Interior Minister Nancy Faeser (SPD) is currently in the process of drafting a bill that will simplify and speed up the naturalisation process in Germany, which she said this week is “as good as done”.  

The law will end a ban on dual nationality for non-EU citizens, meaning people from places like India, the USA and the UK can naturalise as Germans without losing their current citizenship – or citizenships. 

It also foresees a dramatic reduction in the amount of time it takes to become eligible for German citizenship.

In future, people would be able to naturalise after five years of residence in the country rather than the current eight, while people who speak good German or fulfil other integration criteria could naturalise after three years rather than six.

Additionally, the Interior Ministry wants to grant automatic German citizenship to the children of foreign parents – provided their parents have been in the country at least five years – and remove language requirements for members of the guest-worker generation who want to become German. 


‘We don’t need reform’

High-profile politicians from the CDU have slammed the government’s plans to ease citizenship rules, with parliamentary leader Thorsten Frei describing the move as an attempt to “sell-off” German passports as a “junk commodity”.

“We don’t need reform,” Frei told public broadcaster ZDF. “There would no majority whatsoever in any party’s supporters for this change.”

Earlier this week, CDU leader Friedrich Merz had argued that expediting the naturalisation process would damage integration and allow people to immigrate into the benefits system more easily. 

“The CDU will not close its mind to a further modernisation of immigration law and the citizenship law of the Federal Republic of Germany,” Merz told a meeting of CDU and CSU MPs in Berlin on Tuesday.

“However, we also attach importance to the fact that the granting of citizenship takes place at the end of an integration process and not at the beginning of it.” 

The CDU and CSU have previously been vocal opponents of permitting dual nationality, arguing that holding more than one citizenship would prevent people from fully integrating into German life. 

Nevertheless, it remains unclear if the opposition will be able to block the legislation in any meaningful way.

If there aren’t any substantial changes to the core of the citizenship bill when the amendments are made, the Interior Ministry believes it won’t need to be put to a vote in the Bundesrat – the upper house where the CDU and CSU hold a majority.

Instead, the parties of the traffic-light coalition – the Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and Free Democrats (FDP) – would simply be able to vote it through in the Bundestag. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Could Germany’s conservatives block dual citizenship?