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Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Germany protests: Who was behind the agitation against pandemic restrictions?

Mostly composed of protesters without any allegiance to fringe views, the rally against coronavirus restrictions had also in attendance German far-right groups, supporters of Trump and Putin, and conspiracy theorists.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi | Updated: September 2, 2020 9:05:17 am
Mostly composed of protesters without any allegiance to fringe views, the rally against coronavirus restrictions had also in attendance German far-right groups, supporters of US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, and conspiracy theorists.

Germany on Saturday saw a massive agitation against pandemic restrictions, with 38,000 turning out in capital Berlin. The largely peaceful demonstration had a wide assortment of participants, including members of the German ultra-right, QAnon supporters, and those protesting for freedom of speech and assembly.

Although the mammoth rally was dispersed by authorities for breaching social distancing norms soon after it assembled during the day, a smaller group of far-right activists later unsuccessfully tried to storm the Reichstag, Germany’s parliament.

Germany: A protest with diverse hues

Mostly composed of protesters without any allegiance to fringe views, the rally against coronavirus restrictions had also in attendance German far-right groups, supporters of US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, and conspiracy theorists. The protest drew crowds from various parts of Germany, and included families and children.

Among the rally’s organisers was Querdenken 711, a group based in the southwestern city of Stuttgart (“Querdenken” meaning lateral thinking and “0711” being the city’s area code), which believes that Germany’s pandemic restrictions violate constitutional freedoms.

According to a Deutsche Welle expert, while the protest drew a large variety of people, it was the country’s fringe groups that largely co-opted it. Attendees from the far-right included those from the Reichsbürger movement, which believes that the modern German state is illegitimate, and maintains that the German Reich, its pre-World War II predecessor, continues to exist.

Some called on Trump and Putin– both revered by ultra-right groups– to “liberate” Germany.

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Flags and symbols that dotted the rally were as diverse: the black-white-red “Reichsflagge”, peace flags, neo-Nazi insignia and banners of the US and Sweden– a country that has chosen not to enforce strict lockdowns to deal with the pandemic.

The protest also drew supporters of QAnon– a conspiracy theory that propagates the unfounded belief that Donald Trump is waging a secret war against a Satan-worshipping cabal of globalists, Democratic party figures, Hollywood stars, business leaders and journalists engaged in child sex trafficking and paedophilia.

American anti-vaccine campaigner Robert F. Kennedy Jr, the nephew of former President John F. Kennedy and son of presidential aspirant Robert F. Kennedy, also joined the rally.

In the evening, hundreds of far-right supporters tried to storm the German parliament, only to be intercepted and removed by the police.

Pictures of Saturday’s scuffle sparked outrage, and German politicians have since lashed out at the fringe elements. Foreign Minister Heiko Maas called the appearance of the Reichsflagge outside the parliament “shameful”, and said, “NOBODY should follow around right-wing extremists, endanger police officers and expose many to the risk of infection.”

Also in Explained | What is QAnon, sprawling conspiracy theory gripping America’s ultra-right

Germany’s Covid-19 response

Germany has been praised for its effective response to the pandemic, especially for keeping the death rate low among older Covid-19 patients. It has so far recorded 2.45 lakh cases (2.16 lakh recovered) and 9,371 deaths, considerably lower than Spain, Italy, and the UK.

Since the virus first reached its shores, Germany maintained an impressive rate of testing, and kept physical distancing restrictions in place until early April.

After a spike in cases in August, the German government last week introduced fines to enforce the wearing of face masks where they are mandated.

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