Corona protests: united in an aggressive stance

To analyse

Status: 22.12.2021 4:08 p.m.

The central German states are experiencing a new quality of protests against the Corona measures: increasingly radical and ready to use violence. Right-wing extremists are involved in many places.

An analysis by Thomas Vorreyer, MDR

Actually, it should not be so easy at the moment to demonstrate by the hundreds against the corona measures of politics. In Saxony-Anhalt, meetings have to be registered two days in advance, with more than ten participants, conditions, restrictions or even a ban are possible. In Saxony they are only allowed to be permanent and with a maximum of ten participants, in Thuringia with up to 35.

So much for the current legal situation. In practice, however, hundreds gather, some of them undisturbed, to protest against 2G regulations, further contact restrictions and a general or group-related vaccination requirement. The police often let them go, with a view to proportionality.

As in the rest of Germany, the protests flare up again after a rather quiet summer and often have an expansive effect here. In the south of Saxony-Anhalt alone, authorities counted more than 4,750 participants on Monday – spread across rallies in eleven cities. These were accompanied by only 200 officials.

In Saxony, state police president Horst Kretzschmar declared that one could not be on duty everywhere at the same time and had to “set priorities”. After weeks of criticism, his police are now intervening tougher, and are proactively blocking central places in isolated cases. But not everywhere.

Right-wing extremists are always there

The question of who is demonstrating under slogans such as “Peace, freedom, no dictatorship” and “Resistance, resistance” concerns many people. Above all, it is about the role of right-wing extremists who are always there.

The mobile consultations against right-wing extremism in the three federal states have identified a very heterogeneous field of people on the streets, which, however, can already be mobilized with individual Sharepics and messages via messenger services such as Telegram.

In a joint statement, the consultations demand that the potential for violence be taken seriously. The demonstrators are not united by right-wing extremism per se, but to a large extent by an “aggressive stance” against parliamentary democracy. Anyone who defends the virus containment measures, on the other hand, is quickly marked as an enemy (“systemling”).

“Protests” from “Pegida”

One is not surprised by the developments: Where the radicalization expert and social psychologist Pia Lamberty explains that increasing protests were to be expected in the face of increasing incidences and tightening of measures, the counseling centers also refer to the “protest experiences” of “Pegida”, Chemnitz 2018 and the Anti -Asylum demos in 2015 and 2016. The current movement is once again drawing on these – including “Eastern identitarian protest narratives” which exploit the protest against the SED in the GDR.

The sociologist and right-wing extremism researcher Matthias Quent told the “Magdeburger Volksstimme” that what was new about the protests was their wide spread. It is precisely this spread that poses major challenges for the authorities. Quent had already warned last winter that “a dangerous atmosphere” was brewing in some municipalities.

Right-wing extremists “Free Saxony” and AfD

A central group of the protests is the small Saxon party “Free Saxony”, founded in February of this year. In their Telegram channel they describe the Saxon Prime Minister Michael Kretschmer as “despots”, Bavarian federal police officers as “occupation militias”. Its core consists of people who have been organized from extreme right to extreme right for years. Almost 120,000 accounts read along. The party had also mobilized for a torchlight march in front of the private home of the Saxon Health Minister Petra Köpping.

Nevertheless, a demarcation of the demonstrators from right-wing extremists such as the “Free Saxons” is largely lacking. For Saxony, the President of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Dirk-Martin Christian, told the “taz”: “The erosion of the political center has already begun.” His authority has been monitoring the “Free Saxony” since April of this year with intelligence means and speaks of a “mobilization machine”.

The Ministry of the Interior in Saxony-Anhalt is also observing how new, smaller right-wing extremist groups are trying to instrumentalize the protests. They come from the environment of neo-Nazi parties such as NPD, Dierechte and III. Path. In Halberstadt, torches were distributed on Monday to give the gathering there its own aesthetic.

However, the role of the AfD is unclear. It advertises nearly all critical meetings on social media. Extreme right-wing MPs like Björn Höcke or Hans-Thomas Tillschneider speak regularly at rallies alongside other party politicians. A rally organized by the Magdeburg parliamentary group itself, with fewer than 500 participants, remained well below the number of participants in other gatherings at the same location.

What is the potential of the protests?

When dealing with the protests, it has become popular to compare the number of demonstrators with those who have recently been vaccinated or who have just been vaccinated. The message: the protesters are a minority. This image was also used by women politicians, including Saxony-Anhalt’s Interior Minister Tamara Zieschang (CDU).

It is questionable how great the real personal potential of the protests is so far. In Saxony-Anhalt, the authorities counted a total of 18,000 participants across the country on Monday, compared with 14,000 a week earlier. In Saxony, on the other hand, there is already a decline in the number of participants in some places.

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