by Thorsten Koch
This weekend, demonstrations were held in several cities against the limitations taken due to the corona pandemic. Protests occurred, for instance, in Stuttgart, where the largest rally with 5000 participants was held. Other cities with demonstrations were Munich, Frankfurt am Main, and Berlin.
Masks were required, and the minimum distance of 1.5 meters had to be observed. The number of participants was limited. It was criticized that the Corona conditions were restrictions on fundamental rights. The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution complained that extremists were beginning to exploit the demonstrations. Peaceful citizens currently make up the majority of Corona protesters.
There were a number of violations at the Cannstatter Wasen in Stuttgart to be noted on Saturday. Police issued some orders to leave. Germany flags were shown visibly, individual demonstrators shouted “Popular Stupidity” and accused the press of lying. Many protesters did not wear protective masks.
In Munich, 1,000 participants were admitted to the demonstration station against the hygiene regulations. One of the speakers announced that they would “stand here with 10,000 people next week”. In the capital, according to police, the minimum distance was respected.
Conspiracy theories spread during the protests
Around 1,500 demonstrators showed up in Frankfurt. Conspiracy theories against Microsoft founder Bill Gates were spread at Goetheplatz/Rossmarkt. A team from the broadcasting network ZDF was hasseled in Halle, which required police protection. Finally, in Hamburg, demonstrators argued with opponents of conspiracy theories.
As the president of the Israelite cultural community of Munich and Upper Bavaria, Charlotte Knobloch, regretted, anti-Semitism slogans surfaced at the rallies against the Corona requirements this weekend. Extremist positions against the Jewish religious community as well as conspiracy theories were spread, she said.
Former Federal Minister of the Interior, Gerhart Baum (FDP), confirmed his position that the restrictions on fundamental rights are legally proportionate. The demonstrations are increasingly infiltrated by extremists, he deplored. Federal Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht warned: “Denying and distorting facts can endanger life in this pandemic.” In the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, she complained that myths about the development of the corona virus had repeatedly been linked to racist and anti-Semitic agitation. Criminal measures are possible in case of sedition, threats and insults, she said.
Office for the Protection of the Constitution: a heterogeneous audience
The President of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Thomas Haldenwang, told the Welt am Sonntag: “We see a trend that extremists, especially right-wing extremists, are instrumentalizing the demonstrations.” Right-wing extremists called on supporters to get involved in the basically bourgeois protests, he explained. “There is a danger that right-wing extremists might use their images enemity and promote state-destroying goals within the Corona demonstrations.” Most who carried out the protests are citizens abiding by the constitution, Haldenwang stressed. However, the protest audience is heterogeneous, he stated.
Interior Minister Georg Maier (SPD) from Thuringia, who chairs the German Conference of Interior Ministers, spoke of attempts at infiltration. However, it was “problematic to condemn all protests in bulk”. North Rhine-Westphalia’s Interior Minister Herbert Reul (CDU) told the Welt am Sonntag: “There are a lot of wolves in sheep’s clothing on the move, trying to sneak into the middle of society with their anti-democratic slogans”.
Conspiracy theories were rejected in counter-protests on Roncalli Square in Cologne and Berlin Alexanderplatz, for instance. A spokesman for the “Alliance against Right” called for the organizers of ‘hygiene demos’ to distance themselves consistently from right-wing extremism. At the beginning of the event, a formal statement was read out in Stuttgart, in which the organizers distinguished themselves from racism and right-wing extremism. Nevertheless, the flag of the German Empire was recognizable on many T-shirts, among protesters. “Many of the protests are organized by a troubling mix of Reich citizens, right-wing extremists and conspiracy ideologues,” warned Felix Kolb of the NGO Campact.
Kretschmer campaigning for respect
Saxony’s Prime Minister Kretschmer (CDU) explained the corona restrictions to protesters in Dresden. A situation like that in Bergamo, Italy, had been prevented. Some decisions were bitter and also gave him sleepless nights. Kretschmer campaigned for respect for divergent political positions. In a tweet, Kretschmer also promoted a “reasonable discussion culture” this weekend.
North Rhine-Westphalia’s Prime Minister Armin Laschet (CDU) does not want to see the protests equalized with the Pegida movement: “Pegida was and is a movement against the alleged Islamization of the West, which is directed against the fundamental rights of others.” This time, people advocated fundamental rights, he said.