A citizen of Hamburg, Germany, was fined by an appeals court €4,000 for emblazoning his car with the letter Z after he appealed an initial fine of €2,800.
The man, a 62-year-old resident from Schenefeld (Pinneberg district), was signaled on March 29, 2022, driving his vehicle along the Grindelallee in Hamburg adorned with a capital Z on his rear windshield—an offense punishable with up to three years in prison in Germany.
“In the courtʼs opinion, this means approving the war in Ukraine, which is a war of aggression within the meaning of the International Criminal Code, in addition to showing solidarity with Russia,” a spokesman for the Hamburg District Court said, according to the German newspaper Spiegel.
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While the defendant did not deny he had attached a size A4 sheet of white paper with a blue capital Z to his vehicle; he contended that it didn’t mean he was supporting Russia in its Ukrainian invasion; it was just a letter from the alphabet.
The Mecklenburg-born-man also offered possible alternative explanations for the Z-sign. It could allude to the French-Algerian (Costa Gavras) feature film “Z,” he said, or a former eponymous pub in Hamburg.
His defense lawyer also suggested to the press it could hint at “Generation Z.”
However, the Hamburg District Court judge did not buy this explanation and fined the man €2,800 (approx. US$2,790) to be paid in 60 daily rates of 30 euros each, against which the man appealed.
The appeals court judge, however, raised the fine to €4,000 (approx. US$3,986) consisting of 80 daily rates of 50 euros each. The sentence, nonetheless, hasn’t come into effect yet.
The Hamburg driver was not an isolated case. Since the law’s inception earlier this year, an Austrian truck driver was fined €2,500 for taping a capital Z on his van, accompanied by the text “[expletive] NATO,” according to a report by Transinfo.
Reportedly, a 47-year-old truck driver was spotted at a service area near Illertissen in Bavaria and was only allowed to continue his journey after he had stripped his car of its pro-Russia paraphernalia. The case was put under criminal investigation, the outlet said.
Laying the legal groundwork
The white “Z” has become a symbol of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as many army vehicles and equipment were sprayed not only with the elusive Z, but also O, X, A, and V were in common use and have sown much speculation about their meanings.
Z and V, the most common ones, are not in the Russian Cyrillic alphabet.
A spokesperson of the Russian defense ministry indicated it stands for “za pobedu,” or how the words “for victory” are pronounced in Russian.
Whatever the case, the Z-sign is associated with the Russian invasion of Ukraine and has thus become a sign of support for the Russian case in this conflict. German lawmakers have described their restrictions on the use of “Z” as necessary to resist greater evil.
“The ‘Z’ has become a symbol of an authoritarian regime, which is conducting a terrible war of aggression, breaking international law, gagging freedom of expression, and making lies the norm,” said Michael Roth, a member of Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democrats and chairman of the Bundestag’s foreign affairs committee said on Twitter.
“Anyone in our country who uses the ‘Z’ is making themselves into a vassal of the Russian regime and must be punished,” Roth added.
Wolfgang Kubicki, an MP from the liberal Free Democrats, and fellow member of the ruling coalition also added in support, “A liberal constitutional state must be able to withstand a lot when it comes to freedom of expression and assembly.”
However, Kubicki added, “Publicly condoning ongoing criminal wars of aggression using propagandistic symbolism is no longer part of that if it disturbs the public peace,” Politico reported.