When Nabila was a judge in Afghanistan’s Supreme Court, she granted divorces to women whose husbands were sometimes jailed for assaulting or kidnapping them. Some of the men threatened to kill her after they had served their time, she said.
In mid-August, as the Taliban poured into Kabul and seized power, hundreds of prisoners were set free. Men once sentenced in Nabila’s courtroom were among them, according to the judge. Like the other women interviewed for this article, her full name has been withheld for her protection.
Within days, Nabila said, she began receiving death threat calls from former prisoners. She moved out of her house in Kabul and went into hiding as she sought ways to leave Afghanistan with her husband and three young daughters.
“I lost my job and now I can’t even go outside or do anything freely because I fear these freed prisoners,” Nabila said by phone from a safe house. “A dark future is awaiting everyone in Afghanistan, especially female judges.”
gains made by women over the past two decades. Female judges and lawyers have left the courts under Taliban pressure, abruptly erasing one of the signal achievements of the United States and allied nations since 2001.
The women have not only lost their jobs, but also live in a state of perpetual fear that they or their loved ones could be tracked down and killed.
worked in Afghanistan for several years. She said she is representing 13 female lawyers and judges who are trying to leave the country.
nearly 90 percent of women experienced some form of domestic abuse in their lifetime, according to a 2008 study by the United States Institute of Peace.
These judges helped to bring some reform to many courts, particularly in urban areas, delivering justice to growing numbers of women and girls beaten and abused by husbands or male relatives.
The women defied a legal system that favored husbands, granting divorces to Afghan wives who in many cases would previously have been doomed to stay in abusive marriages. Among those now in hiding are former lawyers and judges who defended abused women or pursued cases against men accused of beating, kidnapping or raping women and girls.
the Taliban takeover on Aug. 15. She is trying to leave Afghanistan with her mother and two brothers, one of them a former government soldier, she said.
“I lost my job, and now my whole family is at risk, not just me,” Behista said.
shot and killed on their way to work in Kabul.
Understand the Taliban Takeover in Afghanistan
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Who are the Taliban? The Taliban arose in 1994 amid the turmoil that came after the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan in 1989. They used brutal public punishments, including floggings, amputations and mass executions, to enforce their rules. Here’s more on their origin story and their record as rulers.
Who are the Taliban leaders? These are the top leaders of the Taliban, men who have spent years on the run, in hiding, in jail and dodging American drones. Little is known about them or how they plan to govern, including whether they will be as tolerant as they claim to be. One spokesman told The Times that the group wanted to forget its past, but that there would be some restrictions.
Male judges and police officers often resisted reforms to the justice system, and pressured women to rescind their complaints from the court. A Human Rights Watch report released in August said the system had failed to provide accountability for violence against women and girls and had undermined progress to protect women’s rights.
The report said landmark legislation passed in 2009, the Elimination of Violence Against Women law, was often sabotaged by male officials despite some progress in bringing justice to victims under the law.
World Bank, more than half of all Afghan women lack national ID cards compared with about 6 percent of men. And for many of the women who do have documents, theirs efforts to escape are complicated by a husband or child who does not.
To assist Afghan women, Ms. Motley suggested reviving Nansen Passports, first issued in 1922 to refugees and stateless people after World War I and the Russian Revolution.
Some female judges and lawyers have managed to escape Afghanistan. Polish authorities recently helped 20 women and their families leave, Justice Glazebrook said, and 24 female judges have been evacuated to Greece since August, according to the Greek foreign ministry.
November 2016 suicide bomb attack on the German consulate.
“I was getting threats for the past five years,” Friba said.
In 2014, she secured a divorce for her sister who had been forced to marry a Talib at age 17 under the movement’s first regime. Her sister has since fled to Egypt with their three children. “He is still after her,” she said.
Mr. Karimi, a member of the Taliban cultural commission, denied that the former judges and lawyers were at risk. He said they were covered by a general amnesty for all Afghans who served the previous government.
“To those people who are living in hiding: We are telling them that they should feel free, we won’t do anything to you,” Mr. Karimi said. “It’s their own country. They can live very freely and easily.”
Justice Glazebrook rejected this.
“These women believed in their country, believed in human rights and believed in the importance of the rule of law and their duty to uphold it,” she said.
As a result, she said, “They are at risk of losing their lives.”
Niki Kitsantonis contributed reporting from Athens, and Ruhullah Khapalwak from Vancouver.
preliminary official results reported early Monday.
The federal German election agency posted the results at 4:30 a.m. local time.
The close outcome means the Social Democrats, with only 25.7 percent of the vote, must team up with other parties to form a government. And in the complex equation that can be required in Germany to form a government, it is possible that if the winning party fails to get others on board, the party that placed second could wind up leading the country.
It could take weeks if not months of haggling to form a coalition, leaving Europe’s biggest democracy suspended in a kind of limbo at a critical moment when the continent is still struggling to recover from the pandemic and France — Germany’s partner at the core of Europe — faces divisive elections of its own next spring.
Sunday’s election signaled the end of an era for Germany and for Europe. For over a decade, Ms. Merkel was not just chancellor of Germany but effectively the leader of Europe. She steered her country and the continent through successive crises and in the process helped Germany become Europe’s leading power for the first time since World War II.
Cheers erupted at the Social Democratic Party’s headquarters when the exit polls were announced early Sunday evening. A short while later, supporters clapped and chanted “Olaf! Olaf!” as Olaf Scholz, their candidate, took the stage to address the crowd.
“People checked the box for the S.P.D. because they want there to be a change of government in this country and because they want the next chancellor to be called Olaf Scholz,” he said.
The campaign proved to be the most volatile in decades. Armin Laschet, the candidate of Ms. Merkel’s Christian Democrats, was long seen as the front-runner until a series of blunders compounded by his own unpopularity eroded his party’s lead. Olaf Scholz, the Social Democratic candidate, was counted out altogether before his steady persona led his party to a spectacular 10-point comeback. And the Greens, who briefly led the polls early on, fell short of expectations but recorded their best result ever.
The Christian Democrats’ share of the vote collapsed with only 24.1 percent of the vote, heading toward the worst showing in their history. For the first time, three parties will be needed to form a coalition — and both main parties are planning to hold competing talks to do so.
Nevertheless, Mr. Laschet appeared at his party headquarters an hour after the polls closed, declaring the outcome “unclear” and vowing to try to form a government even if his party came in second.
The progressive, environmentalist Greens appeared to make significant gains since the 2017 election but seemed to fall short of having a viable shot at the chancellery. That positions the Greens, as well as the business-friendly Free Democrats, to join the next government. They will play a key role in deciding what the next German government could look like, depending on which of the larger parties they would like to govern with.
On the outer edge of the political spectrum, support for the far-right Alternative for Germany, or AfD, appeared roughly unchanged, while the Left party appeared to be hovering on the 5 percent threshold needed to win seats in Parliament.
In mid-October the election agency will present the official final results.
BERLIN — What do a traffic light, the Jamaican flag and a kiwi have in common?
Those watching German politics closely will know all three are nicknames for potential governing coalitions.
In the weeks following the election, the parties will try to form a coalition government that has a majority in the German Parliament. The winning party in the election will have the first chance to try to form that coalition, but if it doesn’t succeed the chance goes to the runner up.
For the first time since the founding of the federal republic 72 years ago, it looks as though it will take at least three parties to form a stable government.
Here’s how things might play out:
Traffic Light Coalition 🚦: This could be the most likely combination. Its name derives from the parties that would be included, the Social Democrats (red), the free market liberal Free Democrats (yellow) and the Greens (uh, green).
Jamaica Coalition 🇯🇲: If Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Union (black) should take the lead, Germany might be looking at a Jamaica coalition — named after the black, green and yellow of the Jamaican flag. That bloc would consist of the conservatives, the Greens and the Free Democrats.
And the kiwi 🥝? That would be a duo of the conservatives and the Greens, who have worked together in several state governments, but on current polling are unlikely to command a national majority.
Given the relatively low polling of the once-mighty Christian Democrats and Social Democrats, the topic of possible coalitions has dominated news coverage for weeks in Germany. For the past five years, the two big parties have governed Germany together in a “Grand Coalition,” but they don’t want to repeat that and it might not have a majority in any case.
The Social Democrats and the Greens have governed Germany together before — a prosaically named “Red-Green coalition” was in power from 1997 until 2005 — and have signaled their willingness to work together again. But this time they are not expected to win the seats necessary to get a majority on their own.
Seeing their popularity slip, Merkel’s conservatives and much of the conservative media have warned that an ascendant Social Democrats would turn to the far-left party, Die Linke, to round out their numbers.
They call it the “Elephant Round”: After the polls close and as the votes are being counted on Sunday, all of the heavy-hitting party leaders sit down together, live on public television, to discuss the outcome that is shaping up.
Those who are winning will exclaim, those who are losing will explain and smaller parties will jockey for position in a new government, cozying up to potential partners or coolly shunning others.
For Germans watching at home, the event, which is scheduled to start at 8:15, is a chance to read the tea leaves about their future government.
For the politicians sitting in the brightly lit studio, the round offers them a chance to try to set the tone for the weeks of negotiations that are expected to follow, given that none of the parties running are expected to win enough votes to allow them to govern alone. Leaders of the smaller parties use the opportunity to make their first demands and draw their lines in the sand.
It is a chance for grandstanding and, occasionally, for grinning. That happened famously in 2005, when Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s Social Democrats lost by a small margin to Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union. He nevertheless tried to claim victory, on grounds that his party had done much better than predicted in the polls. “We’ve won,” Ms. Merkel replied with a controlled smile. “And after a couple of days of reflection, the Social Democrats will realize that, too.”
This year, fate may be in the favor of the Social Democrats. Ms. Merkel is stepping aside after 16 years in power and Olaf Scholz, her vice chancellor and finance minister, led the polls in the final weeks of the race. His campaign portrayed him as coolheaded and in control. Come Sunday night, Germans will be watching to see whether he can keep that up when faced with the “elephants.”
In Germany, political parties name their candidates for chancellor before campaigning begins, and most of the focus falls on the selections who have a realistic chance of winning.
Traditionally, those have been the candidates of the center-right Christian Democrats (Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party) and those of the center-left Social Democrats. For the first time this year, the candidate for the environmentalist Greens is viewed as having a real shot at the chancellery.
Here are the leading hopefuls:
Current position: Co-leader of the Green Party
About her: Ms. Baerbock aims to shake up the status quo. She is challenging Germans to deal with the crises that Ms. Merkel has left largely unattended: decarbonizing the powerful automobile sector; weaning the country off coal; and rethinking trade relationships with strategic competitors like China and Russia.
“This election is not just about what happens in the next four years, it’s about our future,” Ms. Baerbock told a crowd in Bochum, a western German town, this summer.
Ms. Baerbock, who has not a position in government, has started off on a promising note, but her campaign has struggled as she has been a frequent target of disinformation efforts. She has also been accused by rivals of plagiarism and of padding her résumé, and her Green Party has been faulted for not being able to capitalize on environmental issues in the wake of flooding this summer.
Even so, there is almost no combination of parties imaginable in the next coalition government that does not include the Greens. That makes Ms. Baerbock, her ideas and her party of central importance to Germany’s future.
“We need change to preserve what we love and cherish,” she told the crowd in Bochum. “Change requires courage, and change is on the ballot on Sept. 26.”
Current position: Leader of the Christian Democratic Union; governor of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia
About him: Mr. Laschet has run North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state, since 2017 — a credential he has long said qualifies him to run the country. As the leader of the Christian Democratic Union, Ms. Merkel’s party, he should have been the natural heir to the chancellor. But his gaffe-prone campaign has struggled to find traction among Germans. Extraordinary flooding this summer in the region he runs exposed flaws in his environmental policies and disaster management. He was caught on camera laughing during a solemn ceremony for flood victims.
But Mr. Laschet is known for comebacks, and for surviving blunders.
Among his influences is his faith. At a time when more and more Germans are quitting the Roman Catholic Church, Mr. Laschet is a proud member. Another influence is Aachen, Germany’s westernmost city, where he was born and raised. Growing up in a place with deep ties to Belgium and the Netherlands, Mr. Laschet has been integrated into the larger European ideal all of his life.
Current position: Vice chancellor of Germany and federal finance minister
About him: When Olaf Scholz asked his fellow Social Democrats to nominate him as their candidate for chancellor, some inside his own camp publicly wondered if the party should bother fielding a candidate at all. What a difference a few months make. Today, Mr. Scholz and his once moribund party have unexpectedly become the favorites to lead the next government.
During the campaign, Mr. Scholz has managed to turn what has long been the main liability for his party — co-governing as junior partners of Ms. Merkel’s conservatives — into his main asset: In an election with no incumbent, he has styled himself as the incumbent — or as the closest thing there is to Ms. Merkel.
“Germans aren’t a very change-friendly people, and the departure of Angela Merkel is basically enough change for them,” said Christiane Hoffmann, a prominent political observer and journalist. “They’re most likely to trust the candidate who promises that the transition is as easy as possible.”
He has been photographed making the chancellor’s hallmark diamond-shaped hand gesture — the “Merkel rhombus” — and used the female form of the German word for chancellor on a campaign poster to convince Germans that he could continue Ms. Merkel’s work even though he is a man.
The symbolism isn’t subtle, but it is working — so well in fact that the chancellor herself has felt compelled to push back on it — most recently in what might be her last speech in the Bundestag.
It has been said that Germans are sometimes so organized that chaos reigns. Germany’s election system is no exception. It is so complex that even many Germans don’t understand it.
Here’s a brief primer.
Are voters choosing a chancellor today?
Not exactly. Unlike in the United States, voters don’t directly elect their head of government. Rather, they vote for representatives in Parliament, who will choose the next chancellor, but only after forming a government. More on that later.
The major parties declare who they would choose for chancellor, so Germans going to the polls today know who they are in effect voting for. This year the candidates most likely to become chancellor are Olaf Scholz of the Social Democrats or Armin Laschet of the Christian Democrats. Annalena Baerbock, a Green, has an outside chance.
Who can vote?
Any German citizen 18 or over. They don’t need to register beforehand.
How are seats in Parliament allocated?
Everyone going to the polls today has two votes. The first vote is for a candidate to be the district’s local representative. The second vote is for a party. Voters can split their votes among parties and often do. For example, a person could cast one vote for a Social Democrat as the local member of Parliament, and a second vote for the Christian Democrats as a party.
Parliament has 598 members, but could wind up with many more because of a quirk in the system. The top vote-getter in every district automatically gets a seat in Parliament. These candidates account for half of the members of Parliament. The remaining seats are allocated according to how many second votes each party receives.
But parties may be allocated additional seats according to a formula designed to ensure that every faction in Parliament has a delegation that accurately reflects its national support. So Parliament could easily wind up with 700 members.
Also: A party that polls less than 5 percent doesn’t get any seats at all.
What happens next?
It is very unlikely that any party will wind up with a majority in Parliament. The party that gets the most votes must then try to form a government by agreeing to a coalition with other parties. That has become mathematically more difficult because of the rise of the far-right Alternative for Germany party and the far-left Linke party.
The mainstream parties have ruled out coalitions with either of those parties because of their extreme positions. But it will be a struggle for the remaining parties to find enough common ground to cobble together a majority. The process could take months.
Voter turnout in Germany— as a measure of thepeople visiting polling stations — was down on Sunday when compared to the last election in 2017, officials said. But the number is misleading. Participation could be extraordinarily high once mail-in ballots are counted.
By 2 p.m., 37 percent of eligible voters had cast ballots in person, election officials said, down from 41 percent during the same period in 2017. But at least 40 percent of Germans were expected to vote by mail because of the coronavirus, potentially pushing turnout above the 76 percent recorded in 2017.
Despite the decrease in in-person voting nationwide, there were long lines at polling stations in Berlin, where voters were also choosing candidates for the local government. Some polling places reportedly ran out of ballots and had trouble getting more because many streets were closed because of the Berlin Marathon, which was expected to attract almost 30,000 participants.
With Chancellor Angela Merkel poised to step down after 16 years in office, the stakes are high. Polls showed a close race between the Social Democrats and the Christian Democratic Union, Ms. Merkel’s party, which could encourage turnout. Voting sites remain open until 6 p.m. local time.
The high number of mail-in ballots is not expected to delay the results in the same way that occurred in the United States presidential elections last year, when close races in some states were not decided for days. German officials will only count mail-in ballots that had arrived by Sunday, and should have a good idea by midnight at the latest of which party prevailed.
The Alternative for Germany, or AfD, which shocked the nation four years ago by becoming the first far-right party to win seats in Parliament since World War II, suffered a slippage in support Sunday but also solidified its status as a permanent force to be reckoned with.
“We are here to stay, and we showed that today,” Tino Chrupalla, co-leader of the party, told party members gathered on the outskirts of Berlin.
Early results showed the party with 11 percent of the votes, down from almost 13 percent in 2017. The AfD is likely to no longer be the largest opposition party in Parliament.
If those results hold in final tallies, that will still give the AfD a sizable delegation in Parliament, and the vote showed that the party has a core constituency even when immigration, its main issue, was not a major topic in the campaign.
At the AfD’s post-election gathering Sunday, activists took comfort in the poor showing by the Christian Democrats, the party of Chancellor Angela Merkel, who compete with the AfD for conservative voters. “The C.D.U. got what they deserved,” said Alexander Gauland, the leader of the AfD delegation in Parliament.
Alternative for Germany held its election party at an event space 45 minutes by subway from central Berlin, perhaps in an effort to discourage counter-demonstrators. Several dozen protesters gathered across the street from the AfD event, holding signs accusing the party of being fascist. But they were probably outnumbered by the police.
As AfD activists ate potato salad and wurst from a buffet, the prevailing view seemed to be that the party’s candidates would have done better if the media and the other parties hadn’t ganged up on them.
“We had to campaign against everyone,” said Daniela Öeynhausen, who appears to have won a seat in the state Parliament of Brandenburg. “It was still an impressive two-digit result considering the unfair attacks.”
Julian Potthast, who said he believed he had won election to a district council in a neighborhood of Berlin, portrayed the party — whose rhetoric has been linked to attacks on immigrants or people perceived as non-Germans — as itself the victim of violence. He said that his vehicle was vandalized and that graffiti was sprayed on his home.
The party was unfairly portrayed as fascist, he complained. But he also conceded the party might have made mistakes, for example in its stance against restrictions to limit the spread of the coronavirus. “It’s not as good as we hoped,” Mr. Potthast said. “We have to look very carefully at why we lost votes.”
Chancellor Angela Merkel will not disappear Sunday night after the votes are counted.
Until a new government is formed, a process that can take several weeks to several months, she will remain in office as head of the acting, or caretaker, government.
Ms. Merkel announced in the fall of 2018 that she would not run again and she gave up leadership of her party, the Christian Democratic Union. After that, her position as chancellor was weakened as members of the C.D.U. jockeyed to replace her. She had hoped to stay out of the election campaign, but as the conservative candidate, Armin Laschet, started to flounder, she made several appearances aimed at bolstering support for him.
Ms. Merkel is expected to try to take a similarly hands-off approach to steering the caretaker government — if world events allow. The last two years of her fourth and final term in office has seen the deadly coronavirus pandemic, what she herself has called “apocalyptic” flooding in western Germany and the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Once the new chancellor is sworn in, Ms. Merkel will vacate her office in the imposing concrete building that dominates Berlin’s government district for good.
But, after the last election, in 2017, it took 171 days — or nearly six months — to form a new government, which means she is likely to be around for a while.
What she will do next remains to be seen. In response to that question in repeated interviews, she has said that first and foremost she will take some time off to reflect and reorient herself before making her next move.
“I will take a break and I will think about what really interests me, because in the past 16 years, I haven’t had the time to do that,” she said in July, after receiving an honorary doctorate from Johns Hopkins University.
“Then I will maybe read a bit, and then my eyes might close because I am tired and I will sleep a bit,” she said, with a smile: “And then we’ll see where I emerge.”
BERLIN — German election officials are expecting mail-in ballots to break records in Sunday’s federal election. At least 40 percent and possibly a majority of ballots will arrive by mail, according to Georg Thiel, head of the agency in charge of counting the votes.
Although actual tallies will only be known after polls close, the authorities have seen requests for mail-in ballots grow this year as the pandemic fuels anxiety about crowded polling stations.
Mail-in balloting has been permitted in Germany for more than 60 years. When it was first allowed, in the 1957 election, only 5 percent of voters used the option; during the last federal election in 2017, 29 percent chose to mail in their choice. Vote counters are set up to handle a doubling of that number — nearly 60 percent — this year, Mr. Thiel said.
The postal service in Germany is one of the quickest and most reliable in the world, with letters usually delivered within a day to anywhere in the country. Still, an official warned voters last week that if they wanted their ballot to be counted, it should be in the mail by Thursday; only ballots received by 6 p.m. on Sunday — when polls close — will be tallied.
The populist Alternative for Germany party, segments of which have parroted former President Donald J. Trump’s claims of manipulated mail-in ballots in the U.S., has used slogans like “the mailbox is not a ballot box” to try to dissuade voters from using the option. But those concerns do not appear to have resonated with the electorate.
Sixty million people are eligible to vote in the German national election on Sunday. There won’t be a new government that night, or the next day — it could take the rival parties weeks or even months to settle on a coalition with a parliamentary majority. But the ballots are tallied quickly, and the new shape of Germany’s political landscape is likely to be visible within hours.
Here’s what Election Day will look like, and what to watch for.
8 a.m. local time: Polls opened. Candidates are not allowed to campaign on this day, but some may be seen casting ballots.
6 p.m. (noon Eastern): Polling stations close. Not long after, the first exit polls should be available. These polls can be within percentage points of the final result. But this year, because the race is tight, it could be a few more hours before a clear picture emerges. Mail-in ballots, which have been part of Germany’s voting system since 1957, are expected to play an outsized role given the pandemic, as they did in the U.S. presidential election. Only mail-in ballots received by 6 p.m. Sunday will be counted.
Around 6:15 p.m.: The first projections based on actual counted ballots will be released. These get updated throughout the evening until a fairly clear picture emerges of which party is winning.
8:15 p.m.: The heads of all the major parties meet to discuss successes and failures of their campaigns, and they will signal who they would be willing to work with in a coalition government. This discussion is called the “Elephant Round,” and it lasts an hour.
8 p.m. to midnight: Nearly all votes should be counted.
Early, early morning: The election authorities release something they call the official temporary results. These usually come between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. — though during the last national election, they didn’t arrive until 5:30 a.m.
During her 16 years as Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel has become an international avatar of calm, reason and democratic values for the way she handled crises that included a near financial meltdown of the eurozone, the arrival of more than a million migrants and a pandemic.
Today Germany is an economic colossus, the engine of Europe, enjoying prosperity and near full employment despite the pandemic. But can it last?
That is the question looming as Ms. Merkel prepares to leave the political stage after national elections on Sunday. There are signs that Germany is economically vulnerable, losing competitiveness and unprepared for a future shaped by technology and the rivalry between the United States and China.
During her tenure, economists say, Germany neglected to build world-class digital infrastructure, bungled a hasty exit from nuclear power, and became alarmingly dependent on China as a market for its autos and other exports.
The China question is especially complex. Germany’s strong growth during Ms. Merkel’s tenure was largely a result of trade with China, which she helped promote. But, increasingly, China is becoming a competitor in areas like industrial machinery and electric vehicles.
Economists say that Germany has not invested enough in education and in emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and electric vehicles. Germans pay some of the highest energy prices in the world because Ms. Merkel pushed to close nuclear power plants, without expanding the country’s network of renewable energy sources enough to cover the deficit.
“That is going to come back to haunt Germany in the next 10 years,” said Guntram Wolff, director of Bruegel, a research institute in Brussels.
WÜLFRATH, Germany — Hibaja Maai gave birth three days after arriving in Germany.
She had fled the bombs that destroyed her home in Syria and crossed the black waters of the Mediterranean on a rickety boat with her three young children. In Greece, a doctor urged her to stay put, but she pressed on, through Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary and Austria. Only after she had crossed the border into Bavaria did she relax and almost immediately go into labor.
“It’s a girl,” the doctor said when he handed her the newborn bundle.
There was no question in Ms. Maai’s mind what her daughter’s name would be.
“We are calling her Angela,” she told her husband, who had fled six months earlier and was reunited with his family two days before little Angela’s birth on Feb. 1, 2016.
“Angela Merkel saved our lives,” Ms. Maai said in a recent interview in her new hometown, Wülfrath, in northwestern Germany. “She gave us a roof over our heads, and she gave a future to our children. We love her like a mother.”
Chancellor Angela Merkel is stepping down after her replacement is chosen following Germany’s Sept. 26 election. Her decision to welcome more than a million refugees from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere in 2015 and 2016 stands as perhaps the most consequential moment of her 16 years in power.
It changed Europe, changed Germany, and above all changed the lives of those seeking refuge, a debt acknowledged by families who named their newborn children after her in gratitude.
The chancellor has no children of her own. But in different corners of Germany, there are now 5- and 6-year-old girls (and some boys) who carry variations of her name — Angela, Angie, Merkel and even Angela Merkel. How many is impossible to say. The New York Times has identified nine, but social workers suggest there could be far more, each of them now calling Germany home.
Never before has the issue of climate change played such a role in a German election.
Though it still remained unclear who will lead Germany, nearly every party pledged to put climate change near the top of the agenda for the next government.
Despite entering office in 2005 with ambitions to reduce carbon emissions, four successive governments under Chancellor Angela Merkel failed to significantly reduce Germany’s carbon footprint. It remains in the top 10 of the world’s most polluting countries, according to the World Bank.
It has been young climate activists who have succeeded in bringing the climate debate to the forefront of Germany’s political discussion. This year, they successfully took the government to court, forcing a 2019 law aimed at bringing the country’s carbon emissions down to nearly zero by 2050 to be reworked with more ambitious and detailed goals to reduce emissions through 2030.
On Friday, people of all ages marched through the center of Berlin, then rallied on the lawn before the Reichstag, where Germany’s Parliament meets. Thousands turned out for similar protests in other cities across the country.
They were joined by Greta Thunberg, the 18-year-old climate activist who started the Fridays for Future protests in Stockholm in 2018 by skipping school as a way of shaming the world into addressing climate change, made a guest appearance at a protest in Berlin. Future Fridays were a staple in Germany until the pandemic hit.
“Yes, we must vote and you must vote, but remember that voting will not be enough,” she told the crowd, urging them to stay motivated and keep up the pressure on politicians.
“We can still turn this around. People are ready for change,” she said. “We demand the change and we are the change.”
BERLIN — In the prelude to Sunday’s federal election, one of the strangest questions faced by Armin Laschet, governor of Germany’s most populous state and one of the front-runners, was what his dragon name would be.
Mr. Laschet, apparently nonplused, exhaled loudly. “No idea,” he answered. “What kind of names do dragons have?”
As the vote neared and the competition to replace Chancellor Angela Merkel increasingly turned on the candidates’ characters, the contenders submitted themselves to an exhaustive schedule of interviews, debates and town hall-style discussions — including some inquiries from children. In fact, many of the most memorable moments were prompted by the younger questioners.
On one program, “Can You Do the Chancellery,” each of the main candidates was given 30 minutes to teach a classroom of 8- to 13-year-olds. During their separate sessions leading the class, candidates answered questions and had to explain complex themes (like global taxation or global warming) on a whiteboard.
Pauline and Romeo, the children who asked Mr. Laschet about dragons, were part of a segment on a late-night talk show. The two, both 11, threw Mr. Laschet no softballs. Among other things, they asked if he was planning on quitting smoking (a question he dodged, though he did offer that he did not inhale) and about a far-right candidate in his party.
When the 10-minute segment aired this month, Mr. Laschet was widely panned for his performance. (Two other candidates, Annalena Baerbock of the Greens and Olaf Scholz of the Social Democrats, survived Pauline and Romeo without making any headlines.)
But Mr. Laschet was not the only one to struggle. Tino Chrupalla, co-chairman of the populist Alternative for Germany party, also had a tough time with a younger interrogator.
In a publicly broadcast interview, Mr. Chrupalla told a teenage reporter called Alexander that his party wanted to see more German poems and songs being taught in classrooms. But when Alexander asked him what his favorite German poem was, Mr. Chrupalla struggled to name one.
Unusually long lines at polling stations on Sunday caused several Berlin voting locations to remain open for hours after the 6 p.m. closing deadline. That extension may add hours to the time it will take Germany to tally the votes.
The culprit seems to have been a combination of higher-than-expected in-person voting, missing or wrong ballots, and a road-blocking marathon that delayed restocking supplies.
Paco Mallia, 18, who looked forward to voting for the first time, turned back when he saw the long line at his polling station in the central neighborhood of Moabit on Sunday morning.
When he returned just before closing time, the line remained long, but an election worker assured Mr. Mallia that he would get to vote.
At other polling stations in the city, handwritten notes informed voters that as long as they stood in line by 6 p.m. they could cast a ballot.
Mr. Mallia decided to stay. “This election is kind of a big deal for me,” he said.
Although delays were reported in other jurisdictions, Berlin — where residents also voted in state and local elections — seems to have been hardest hit.
Dirk Behrendt, a Green Party city official, demanded an investigation into the delays.
As Germany heads into an election that will see Angela Merkel step down after 16 years as chancellor, she leaves behind a country profoundly changed — and anxious about changing more.
By Katrin Bennhold
Photographs by Lena Mucha
STUTTGART, Germany — The small silver star at the tip of Aleksandar Djordjevic’s Mercedes shines bright. He polishes it every week.
Mr. Djordjevic makes combustion engines for Daimler, one of Germany’s flagship carmakers. He has a salary of around 60,000 euros (about $70,000), eight weeks of vacationand a guarantee negotiated by the union that he cannot be fired until 2030. He owns a two-story house and that E-class 250 model Mercedes in his driveway.
All of that is why Mr. Djordjevic polishes the star on his car.
“The star is something stable and something strong: It stands for Made in Germany,” he said.
But by 2030 there will be no more combustion engines at Daimler — or people making combustion engines.
parental leave in Catholic Bavaria. The married gay couple raising two children outside Berlin. The woman in a hijab teaching math in a high school near Frankfurt, where most students have German passports but few have German parents.
successive crises and left others unattended, there was change that she led and change that she allowed.
phase out nuclear power in Germany. She ended compulsory military service. She was the first chancellor to assert that Islam “belongs” to Germany. When it came to breaking down her country’s and party’s conservative family values, she was more timid but ultimately did not stand in the way.
Konrad Adenauer anchored Germany in the West. Willy Brandt reached across the Iron Curtain. Helmut Kohl, her onetime mentor, became synonymous with German unity. Gerhard Schröder paved the way for the country’s economic success.
Ms. Merkel’s legacy is less tangible but equally transformative. She changed Germany into a modern society — and a country less defined by its history.
She may be remembered most for her decision to welcome over a million refugees in 2015-16 when most other Western nations rejected them. It was a brief redemptive moment for the country that had committed the Holocaust and turned her into an icon of liberal democracy.
“It was a sort of healing,” said Karin Marré-Harrak, the headmaster of a high school in the multicultural city of Offenbach. “In a way we’ve become a more normal country.”
lingering inequality between East and West three decades after reunification is still evident, even though taxpayers’ money has flowed east and things have gradually improved. With the government planning to phase out coal production by 2038, billions more in funding are promised to help compensate for the job losses.
But as Mike Balzke, a worker at the nearby coal plant in Jänschwalde, put it: “We don’t want money — we want a future.”
Mr. Balzke recalled his optimism when Ms. Merkel first became chancellor. Because she was an easterner and a scientist, he expected her to be an ambassador for the East — and for coal.
Instead, his village lost a quarter of its population during her chancellorship. A promised train line from Forst to Berlin was never built. The post office shut down.
Mr. Balzke, 41, worries that the region will turn into a wasteland.
That anxiety runs deep. And it deepened again with the arrival of refugees in 2015.
Two Fathers and Two Sons
was up in arms, but only a decade later, it has become the new normal.
Ms. Merkel never backed same-sex marriage outright, but she allowed lawmakers to vote for it, knowing that it would go through.
Mr. Winkler left the party again in 2019 after Ms. Merkel’s successor as conservative leader, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, disparaged same-sex marriage. But he acknowledged his debt to the chancellor.
On June 30, 2017, the day of the vote, he wrote her a letter.
“It is a pity that you could not support opening marriage to same-sex couples,” he wrote. “Still, thank you that you ultimately made today’s decision possible.”
Then he invited her to visit his family, “to see for yourself.”
She never replied. But he and his family used to live just around the corner from Ms. Merkel, who never gave up her apartment in central Berlin. They would see her occasionally in the supermarket checkout line.
“There she was with toilet paper in her basket, going shopping like everyone else,” Mr. Winkler’s partner, Roland Mittermayer, recalled. Even after 16 years, they are still trying to figure the chancellor out.
“She is an enigma,” Mr. Winkler said. “She’s a bit like the queen — someone who has been around for a long time, but you never feel you really know her.”
The Post-Merkel Generation
Six hours northwest of Berlin, past endless green fields dotted with wind farms and a 40-minute ferry ride off the North Sea coast, lies Pellworm, a sleepy island where the Backsen family has been farming since 1703.
Two years ago, they took Ms. Merkel’s government to court for abandoning its carbon-dioxide emission targets under the Paris climate accord. They lost, but then tried again, filing a complaint at the constitutional court.
This time they won.
“It’s about freedom,” said Sophie Backsen, 23, who would like to take over her father’s farm one day.
Sophie’s younger brothers, Hannes, 19, and Paul, 21, will vote for the first time on Sunday. Like 42 percent of first-time voters, they will vote for the Greens.
“If you look at how our generation votes, it’s the opposite of what you see in the polls,” Paul said. “The Greens would be running the country.”
Pellworm is flush with the sea level and in parts even below it. Without a dike ringing the coastline, it would flood regularly.
“When you have permanent rain for three weeks, the island fills up like a bath tub inside the dikes,” Hannes said.
The prospect of rising sea levels is an existential threat here. “This is one of the most important elections,” Hannes said. “It’s the last chance really to get it right.”
“If not even a country like Germany can manage this,” he added, “what chance do we stand?”
Christopher F. Schuetze contributed reporting from Berlin.
EVIA, Greece — Amid twisted cages and scorched trees, Harilaos Tertipis stepped out of his ruined stables dragging the charred corpses of his sheep — burned, like so much else, in the wildfires that have raged across Greece.
As the survivors of his flock huddled together on a roadside hill below, the bells on their necks clanging and their legs singed, he said that if he had stayed with his animals instead of rushing home to protect his family and house, “I wouldn’t be here now.”
scientists have now concluded is irreversible.
before we reach irreversible tipping points.”
But a string of disasters this summer has left many to wonder whether that tipping point is already here, driving home the realization that climate change is no longer a distant threat for future generations, but an immediate scourge affecting rich and poor nations alike.
Turkey and Algeria, virtually no corner of Europe has been untouched by a bewildering array of calamities, whether fire, flood or heat.
Sweltering temperatures have set off wildfires in Sweden, Finland and Norway. Formerly once-in-a-millennium flooding in Germany, Belgium, Switzerland and the Netherlands killed at least 196 people. Places in Italy hit more than 118 degrees this week, while parts of the country were variously scorched by fire, battered by hailstorms or inundated by floods.
“It’s not just Greece,” said Vasilis Vathrakoyiannis, a spokesman for the Greek fire service. “It’s the whole European ecosystem.”
But the shifting epicenter of natural disaster has now fallen on Evia, a densely wooded island northeast of Athens, once best known for its beekeepers and resin producers, its olive groves and seaside resorts, and now a capital of the consequences of a warming planet.
This week, as firefighters scrambled to put out rekindling fires and helicopters dropped seawater to sate licking flames, acres of burned hillsides and fields lay under white ash, as if dusted with snow.
I drove through winding roads riddled with fallen trees and electric wires. Smoke hung low, like a thick fog. The trunks of mangled trees still smoldered and the hive boxes of beekeepers looked like burned end tables abandoned in empty fields. Miles away from the fires, the smoke still left an acrid taste in my mouth. Ash drifted around cafes where waitresses constantly watered down tables and the sun imbued the dense haze with a sickly orange hue.
“We lived in paradise,” said Babis Apostolou, 59, tears in his eyes as he looked over the charred land surrounding his village, Vasilika, on the northern tip of Evia. “Now it’s hell.”
This week, the fires covered new ground. In the southern Peloponnese, where wildfires killed more than 60 people in 2007, a long stretch of fire tore through forest and houses, prompting the evacuation of more than 20 more villages. But many Greeks have refused to leave their homes.
When the police told Argyro Kypraiou, 59, in the Evia village of Kyrinthos to evacuate on Saturday, she stayed. As the trees across the street blazed, she fought the airborne barrage of burning pine cones and flames with a garden hose. When the water ran out she beat back the fire with branches.
“If we had left, the houses would have burned,” she said across from the still smoldering ravine. A truck rolled by and the driver leaned out the window, shouting to her that there was another fire in the field behind her house. “We keep putting out fires,” she shouted back. “We don’t have any other job.”
Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the prime minister of Greece, has called the recent days “among the hardest for our country in decades” and promised to compensate the afflicted and reforest the land. Residents across the seared north of Evia complained that the government had failed to fly water-dropping aircraft out to them fast enough or that it had waited too long to ask the European Union for help.
Greece’s top prosecutor has ordered up an investigation into whether criminal activity could possibly have sparked the fires, perhaps to clear land for development. Many here blamed mysterious arsonists for starting the fire.
“This is arson,” said Mr. Apostolou. “I had heard they want to put in wind turbines.”
Mr. Tertipis said, “I hope the person who set these fires will suffer as much as my animals.”
But it was also possible that the finger-pointing at arsonists stemmed from a feeling of powerlessness and the need to blame someone — anyone — for a crisis that at least some acknowledged was everyone’s fault.
“We all have to make changes,” said Irini Anastasiou, 28, who expected the fires to keep happening around the world as the planet warmed. She looked out from the front desk of her now empty hotel in Pefki, one of the hardest-hit towns, and saw an opaque wall of haze over the sea.
“Usually, you see clear across to the mountains,” she said. “Now you can see nothing.”
The residents of Evia did what they could. In the town of Prokopi, volunteer firefighters set up base in the Forest Museum (“focused on man and his relationship to the forest”).
Hundreds of boxes packed with supplies for the displaced cluttered the log cabin. They brimmed with crackers and cereals and granola bars. Soft stacks of children-and-adult diapers reached up to the windows. Boxes held medicines and burn creams, aloe vera, Flamigel, hydrogel and Flogo Instant Calm Spray, under a sign promoting TWIG, the Transnational Woodland Industries Group.
An international group of emergency workers operated out of the cabin. Some of the 108 firefighters sent by Romania coordinated with Greek Army officials and local authorities to put out the flames. Some volunteers went out with chain saws to cut down trees while those returning leaned against a wall of bottled water and ruminated on what had gone wrong.
Ioannis Kanellopoulos, 62, blamed heavy snowfall during the winter for breaking so many branches and creating so much kindling on the forest floor. But the intense heat did not help.
“When the fire broke out it was 113 degrees in the shade,” he said.
He said the previous benchmark for destruction in the area was a 1977 blaze. This fire had far eclipsed it, he said, and guaranteed that it would not be surpassed for years.
“There’s nothing left to burn,” he said.
“It’s not California,” added his friend Spiros Michail, 52.
That there was nothing left to burn was the island’s common refrain. The punchline to the terrible joke nature had played on them.
But it wasn’t true. There was plenty more to burn.
At night the fires came back, appearing on the dark hillsides in the distance like Chinese lanterns. The fires burned on the sides of the roads like ghostly campsites.
Stylianos Totos, a forest ranger, stood rod straight as he looked through binoculars at a hillside near Ellinika.
“How do we get access to that one,” he called to his colleague in a truck carrying more than a ton of water. He worried that the wind would change direction from east to west and feed the fire with fresh pines. Just before 9 p.m. Tuesday, one of the small flames flared up, lighting all the barren land and twisted branches around it. “Andrea,” he shouted. “Call it in.”
But any help, and any change in global behavior, had come too late for Mr. Tertipis and his flock.
Mr. Tertipis, 60, who lost his mother and suffered permanent scarring on his left arm in 1977’s fire, rushed back from home to his stables before dawn on Sunday. The fire had consumed half his flock, but left a plush green pine tree and verdant field untouched only a few dozen yards away.
“That’s how it is, in five minutes, you live or die,” he said, adding, “the fire just changes all the time.”
For two days he could not answer the phone or do much of anything other than weep. Then he started cleaning up, wading through the remains in galoshes, dragging load after load away, using a sled he fashioned from a hook and a broken refrigerator door.
He had been raising animals all his life, and he said he had no choice but to keep going, no matter how inhospitable the weather around him had become.
“Things may have changed,” he said with a shrug. “What are you going to do? Just give up?”
ATHENS — Firefighters continued to battle blazes across Greece on Saturday after another difficult night that saw thousands more people fleeing their homes and hundreds being evacuated by sea, as southern Europe grapples with one of its worst heat waves in decades.
Wildfires are also still raging in Turkey, which is in its 11th day of trying to extinguish flames that are ravaging its southern coastline and that have killed at least eight people and destroyed hundreds of acres of land.
High winds in Greece hampered nighttime firefighting efforts on Friday as wildfires tore through swaths of forestland north of Athens, the capital, and through mountains and farmland on the island of Evia and on the southern Peloponnese peninsula.
As flames ravaged Evia’s coastline, hundreds of residents and tourists were evacuated by ferry, dramatic scenes of which were captured on video by the National Observatory of Athens’s online weather service, Meteo.
North of the capital, police officers went door to door to urge people to abandon their homes, and they evacuated a detention facility for migrants, a day after moving asylum seekers out of another camp in the area.
At first light on Saturday, firefighters and aircraft from several countries — including Croatia, Cyprus, France, Israel, Sweden and Ukraine — joined their Greek counterparts in battling blazes dotting the mainland and islands. Romania and Switzerland were also sending help, followed by the Czech Republic, Egypt, Germany and Spain.
Fifty-five fires were active around the country, the largest of which were north of Athens, on the island of Evia and in Fokida, in central Greece, according to Nikos Hardalias, the deputy civil protection minister, speaking at a briefing early Saturday afternoon. He added that the situation had improved slightly since Friday, but that fires were constantly rekindling as winds strengthened.
Dozens of firefighting aircraft and thousands of firefighters have been working to control the wildfires, but overnight, TV reports said, flames moved north, reaching a new town and forcing six neighborhoods to evacuate.
Earlier Saturday in Greece, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said his government’s priority was protecting human lives, and then, as possible, people’s properties.
A 38-year-old volunteer firefighter from Ippokrateios Politeia, a settlement north of Athens affected by the fires, died on Thursday of head injuries after being hit by a falling electricity pylon.
More than 20 people have suffered burns, including four firefighters, two of whom were critically injured. President Katerina Sakellaropoulou visited those firefighters on Saturday at a hospital in Athens.
The fires have razed tens of thousands of acres of forestland, but the number of homes that have been destroyed remains unclear.
Officials have said that at least three people have been arrested and are facing arson charges in connection with blazes in Kryoneri, north of Athens; in Fthiotida, in central Greece; and in Kalamata, in southern Greece.
ATHENS — Shells of houses and cars left gutted by flames. Stretches of forest reduced to ash. Tourists evacuated by boat from once idyllic beaches where the skies are thick with smoke. As southern Europe grapples with one of its worst heat waves in decades, deadly forest fires have engulfed stretches of the region, bringing a newly reopened tourism industry to a halt and forcing mass evacuations.
The raging fires pushed residents from their homes in villages on the Greek mainland and islands and across neighboring Turkey, and forced tourists to abandon beachside destinations across the region.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan over the government’s handling of the deadly disaster, with opponents denouncing the lack of aerial support for the firefighting efforts.
Hundreds of square miles of forest burned as more than 180 fires blazed across the country. At least eight people died, hundreds were injured and dozens lost their homes.
in a video posted on Twitter. “My forest is in flames right now.”
Firefighters were able to control a fire approaching a power plant in Milas after working through the night to save the facility. Trees on the grounds of the power plant were burned, but the main site was not seriously damaged, officials said.
Greece battled multiple large fires across the country that killed scores of people.
While scientists have not yet had time to evaluate the connection between the current wave of extreme temperatures and global warming, it fits an overall trend that has seen climate change play a role in extreme weather in Europe. Research has shown that in major heat waves across Europe in recent summers, climate change has been a significant worsening factor.
Efthymis Lekkas, a professor of natural disaster management at the University of Athens, warned of “an enduring nightmare in August,” and urged the authorities to be ready for potential flooding after the destruction of large stretches of forest.
Greece’s General Secretariat for Civil Protection warned of an “extreme” risk of fires on Friday, as intense winds are forecast to worsen the situation.
Niki Kitsantonis reported from Athens and Megan Specia reported from New York.
Hotel flexibility will vary, so read the fine print
By now, most of the large American-run chains have reverted to their pre-Covid cancellation policies for reservations made before a certain date (that has come and gone), and for travel through a certain date (that has come and gone). But some companies are still being flexible: Hilton has always had generous cancellation policies, and Four Seasons has been consistently easy about changes and cancellations during the pandemic.
Travel-industry insiders also have noticed flexibility among independent hoteliers.
“We’ve felt that small, family-run luxury properties are actually more nimble than some of the big hotel chains,” said Louisa Gehring, the owner of Gehring Travel, an affiliate of Brownell, a Virtuoso luxury travel agency. “Rather than lay off all their employees or point to an overarching corporate cancellation policy, they’ve had flexibility to keep the teams on, work with clients on a case-by-case basis and really step up to the plate.”
Policies vary by property, she added, but even some of the more rigid ones now include exceptions for Covid.
One thing to watch for is the credits-versus-refunds flash point: Even in cases when a hotel won’t swallow a deposit or prepayment outright, will you get a cash refund or will you be asked to rebook? Last year, Greece and Italy both passed laws allowing hotels and other travel companies to issue credits, rather than cash refunds, for canceled bookings. Although vaccines, the eagerness to travel and pandemic fatigue may make the idea of a credit less odious than it seemed last spring, always ask about policy specifics, including blackout and expiration dates.
Realize that Paris won’t look exactly like the Paris you remember
The Palace of Versailles is open and President Emmanuel Macron is sipping espresso outside Parisian cafes, but nightclubs will remain closed even after France’s countrywide curfew ends in June. At restaurants and bars in Madrid, groups are capped at four people inside and six people outside. Germany and the Netherlands remain closed to American tourists.
“Clearly, we will not come back to ‘normal’ straight away, and travelers will have to be conscious of health measures and respect rules at the destination,” said Eduardo Santander, the executive director of the European Travel Commission, a Brussels-based nonprofit that represents the national tourism boards across the continent. “We all — destinations, businesses and guests — cannot let the guard down too soon both for our own health and for the safety of people around.”
In short, any trip to Europe this summer will come down to managing expectations.
“Save the ‘must check all the boxes’ trip to Europe for a bit later, once all new protocol kinks have smoothed out,” Ms. Gehring said. But you may still have an unforgettable experience regardless.
WARSAW — Since his teenage years as a rebellious high school student in Belarus and continuing into his 20s while in exile abroad, Roman Protasevich faced so many threats from the country’s security apparatus — of violent beatings, jail, punishment against family members — that “we all sort of got used to them,” a fellow exiled dissident recalled.
So, despite his being branded a terrorist by Belarus late last year — a capital offense — Mr. Protasevich was not particularly worried when he set off for Greece from Lithuania, where he had been living, earlier this month to attend a conference and take a short vacation with his Russian girlfriend, Sofia Sapega.
But that sense of security was shattered on Sunday when they were snatched by Belarus security officials on the tarmac at Minsk National Airport after a MiG-29 fighter jet was scrambled to intercept his commercial flight home to Lithuania from Greece. Mr. Protasevich, 26, now faces the vengeance of President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, the 66-year-old Belarusian leader from whom he once received a scholarship for gifted students but has since defied with unflinching zeal.
In a short video released on Monday by the authorities in Belarus, Mr. Protasevich confessed — under duress, his friends say — to taking part in the organization of “mass unrest” last year in Minsk, the Belarus capital. That is the government’s term for weeks of huge street protests after Mr. Lukashenko, in power since 1994, declared a landslide re-election victory in an August election widely dismissed as brazenly rigged.
Nexta, the opposition news organization where Mr. Protasevich established himself as one of Mr. Lukashenko’s most effective and unbending critics.
“By his character Roman has always been very resolute,” Mr. Putsila said. “He refused to live in fear.”
Since Mr. Lukashenko took power in Belarus in 1994, however, that has been a very perilous proposition.
Mr. Protasevich has been resisting his country’s tyranny since he was 16, when he first witnessed what he described as the “disgusting” brutality of Mr. Lukashenko’s rule. That began a personal journey that would turn a gifted student at a science high school in Minsk into an avowed enemy of a government that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in 2005 called “the last remaining true dictatorship in the heart of Europe.”
video posted on YouTube . “Just as an example: Five huge OMON riot police officers beat women. A mother with her child was thrown into a police van. It was disgusting. After that everything changed fundamentally.”
A letter from the security services to his high school followed. He was expelled and home educated for six months, as no other school would take him, his mother said.
The family eventually negotiated a deal with the Ministry of Education. Mr. Protasevich could attend school, though only an ordinary one, not the elite lyceum he had been enrolled in before, but only if his mother resigned from her teaching job at the army academy.
“Imagine being a 16-year-old and being expelled from school,” Ms. Protasevich said. “It was this incident, this injustice, this insult,” that drove him into the political opposition, she said. “That is how he began his activism as a 16-year-old.”
Mr. Protasevich studied journalism at Belarusian State University but again ran into trouble with the authorities. Unable to finish his degree, he worked as a freelance reporter for a variety of opposition-leaning publications. Frequently detained and jailed for short periods, he decided to move to Poland, working for 10 months in Warsaw with Mr. Putsila and others on the Nexta team disseminating videos, leaked documents and news reports critical of Mr. Lukashenko.
Convinced that his work would have more impact if he were inside Belarus, Mr. Protasevich returned in 2019 to Minsk. But the political climate had only darkened there as Mr. Lukashenko geared up for a presidential election in 2020.
denounced as trumped up drug charges as he was trying to cross the border into Poland.
interview last year. “No one else is left. The opposition leaders are in prison.” Mr. Putsila said that Mr. Protasevich never advocated violence, only peaceful protests.
Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the principal opposition candidate in the August election who had been forced to flee. With Mr. Lukashenko’s other main rivals in detention, Ms. Tikhanovskaya had become the main voice of the Belarus opposition.
In November, prosecutors in Belarus formally charged Mr. Protasevich under a law that bans the organization of protests that violate “social order.” The security services also put him on a list of accused terrorists.
Nashe Nive, a Belarusian news site.
Mr. Putsila said he was stunned that Mr. Lukashenko would force a commercial airliner to land just to arrest a youthful critic but, with the benefit of hindsight, thinks the operation should not have come as a big surprise. The autocrat, he said, wanted to show that “we will reach you not only in Belarus but wherever you are. He has always tried to terrify.”
A measure of that was that when the plane was forced to land in Minsk on Sunday, Belarus security agents arrested not only Mr. Protasevich but Ms. Sapega, 23. Ms. Sapega, a law student at the European Humanities University in Vilnius, in Lithuania’s capital, appeared to have been arrested over her association. She was not known to be a target in her own right. Her lawyer said Wednesday she would be jailed for at least two months and face a criminal trial.
Mr. Putsila noted that Nexta had received so many threatening letters and abusive phone calls that Polish police officers stand permanent guard on the stairwell leading to the office.
“The Lukashenko regime considers Roman one of its main enemies,” he said. “Maybe it is right.”
Another colleague, Ekaterina Yerusalimskaya, told the Tut.by news service that she and Mr. Protasevich once noticed a mysterious man tailing them in Poland, and reported it to the police. Still, Mr. Protasevich remained nonchalant. “He calmed himself by saying nobody would touch us, otherwise it would be an international scandal,” Ms. Yerusalimskaya said.
Mr. Protasevich’s mother said she worried about his safety but, breaking down in tears as she contemplated her son’s fate after his arrest in Minsk, added: “We believe justice will prevail. We believe all this terror will pass. We believe political prisoners will be freed. And we are very proud of our son.”
Ivan Nechepurenko contributed reporting from Moscow.
The chorus of condemnation and outrage from across the European Union swelled on Monday as leaders began discussing possible penalties they could direct at Belarus for its forcing down of a civilian passenger jet.
The actions at their disposal are, however, somewhat limited, given that there are already E.U. sanctions against Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, the brutal and erratic leader of Belarus who has clung to power despite huge protests against his government, and dozens of his immediate associates.
In a summit taking place Monday evening, European leaders were expected to discuss adding aviation-related sanctions.
The options may include designating Belarusian airspace unsafe for E.U. carriers, blocking flights from Belarus from landing in E.U. airports, and imposing sanctions against the national flag carrier, Belavia.
said that the government was responding to “unprecedented threats” from Belarus and that it would push for the European Union to impose further measures.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis of Greece, where the flight originated, said it was critical that the European Union take determined action, especially in light of the bloc’s frequent paralysis over foreign-affairs issues, including a recent failure to agree on a statement regarding the Middle East conflict.
“Our inability to reach a consensus on recent events in Israel and Gaza — where as a union we failed to present a unified stance — must not be repeated,” Mr. Mitsotakis told The Financial Times. “The forcible grounding of a commercial passenger aircraft in order to illegally detain a political opponent and journalist is utterly reprehensible and an unacceptable act of aggression that cannot be allowed to stand.”
Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, promised action at the leaders’ summit.
“The outrageous and illegal behavior of the regime in Belarus will have consequences,” she said in a tweet Sunday evening, adding that there must be sanctions for those “responsible for the#Ryanair hijacking.”
It has all of the elements of a Jason Bourne plot: A commercial flight carrying a dissident journalist is intercepted by a MiG-29 fighter jet under orders from the strongman president of Belarus.
This protagonist is very much real. His name is Roman Protasevich, and on Sunday, he drew worldwide attention because the Belarusian government and its authoritarian leader went to extraordinary lengths to stop him.
Mr. Protasevich, 26, was traveling by commercial airline from Athens to Vilnius, Lithuania, when the Belarusian air force scrambled a fighter jet. The flight, on the Irish airline Ryanair, was diverted to Minsk, the capital of Belarus, where the millennial opposition figure was taken into custody.
The widely condemned tactic was the latest attempt by Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, the country’s authoritarian leader, to suppress the influential voice of Mr. Protasevich.
NEXTA channel on the social media platform Telegram, which has become a popular conduit for Mr. Lukashenko’s foes to share information and organize demonstrations against the government.
He fled the country in 2019, fearing arrest. But he has continued to roil Mr. Lukashenko’s regime while living in exile in Lithuania, so much so that he was charged in November with inciting public disorder and social hatred.
As a teenager, Mr. Protasevich became a dissident, first drawing scrutiny from law enforcement. He was expelled from a prestigious school for participating in a protest rally in 2011 and later was expelled from the journalism program of the Minsk State University.
What happened on Sunday?
Mr. Protasevich was returning to Vilnius from an economic conference in Greece with the Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, Greek officials said.
Twitter on Sunday for its detention of Mr. Protasevich. He called it a “brazen and shocking act to divert a commercial flight and arrest a journalist.”
“We demand an international investigation and are coordinating with our partners on next steps,” Mr. Blinken said. “The United States stands with the people of Belarus.”
What kind of punishment is he facing?
The government’s main security agency in Belarus, called the K.G.B., placed Mr. Protasevich’s name on a list of terrorists. If he is accused and convicted of terrorism, he could face the death penalty.
The charges of inciting public disorder and social hatred carry a punishment of more than 12 years in prison.