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Demonstrators on the street in Nuremberg. © -/dpa

The pros and cons of the Corona measures are driving thousands of people onto the streets. The police see themselves provoked – and often attacked. Is something going wrong?

Berlin – Almost every day now this cat-and-mouse game, this new confusion in the Corona protests on Germany’s streets. Thousands were on the road again on Monday evening. “Pedestrians” who arrange to meet on Telegram but do not register a demonstration.

Peaceful opponents of compulsory vaccination and corona requirements, who wrongly see themselves lumped together with right-wing extremists. Counter-demonstrators who appear as the last bastion of reason. Is the rule of law reaching its limits when it comes to the right of assembly in the third year of the pandemic?

Jörg Radek wouldn’t leave it like that. The deputy head of the police union prefers to put it this way in an interview with the German Press Agency: “It’s a police challenge because we have very small gatherings in different places and we have to try to be in these places at the same time.” Where the police are present, they enforce the law. “It becomes difficult if you have meetings in 170 places in Saxony on one day.” The state and federal police would have to help each other.

protests across Germany

The Federal Ministry of the Interior noted more than 1000 protest actions against corona measures nationwide on Monday a week ago and 188,000 participants. This Monday again: Thousands in Berlin, at least 21,000 in Thuringia, surrounded demonstrators in Rostock. For a long time, the protests seemed primarily an East German thing – but the scenes in Hamburg or Düsseldorf, Freiburg or Munich have long been similar.

The events are becoming more and more fragmented, the “spreading” is making it more and more difficult for the authorities, said Federal Interior Minister Nancy Faeser on Deutschlandfunk. You can demonstrate in registered meetings. “I don’t have to try to trick the security authorities for that.”

The “walks” are not registered because conditions can then also be imposed, such as maintaining distances or wearing a mask. But anyone can go for a walk. Couldn’t you just let people go? “Some people really just go for a walk at first,” admits Radek. “But it’s in the nature of the right of assembly that you want to signal what you’re demonstrating for. At some point there will come a point when slogans will be shouted.” He calls it perfidious that corona requirements and the protection against infection by officials are deliberately disregarded.

Increasing propensity for violence

“We meet more and more violent participants, the potential for aggression increases,” says Rostock police chief Anja Hamann. At the beginning of January, the Magdeburg police inspectorate reported that officers had been thrown bottles and pyrotechnics had been used. In Lichtenstein near Zwickau, violent demonstrators injured 14 officers. A week ago, nine police officers were injured, for example in Bautzen, Braunschweig, Gera and Magdeburg. “There is spitting, physical attacks, colleagues are exposed to the risk of infection, adults with children on their shoulders go close to the police lines to provoke,” says trade unionist Radek.

Hitting, spitting, provocations with children: Who is actually taking to the streets? The question has been coming up again and again for months. Meanwhile, warnings of infiltration by extremists are piling up. Interior Minister Faeser speaks of an instrumentalization of the protests. Some of these were not aimed at the Corona measures at all, but against the state. At a Berlin demo on Monday evening, it was said: “Merkel, Spahn, Steinmeier, Drosten in jail”. A speaker complained that the “German media” were “conformed” like in 1933.

Protection of the Constitution concerned

The President of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Thomas Haldenwang, even sees a new scene of enemies of the state among the Corona demonstrators, who are breaking down categories such as right-wing and left-wing extremism. “You fundamentally reject our democratic political system,” Haldenwang told the “Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung”. The police are increasingly viewed as enemies. “Response forces are increasingly being attacked not only during the protests, but also in virtual space and defamed, for example, as “mercenaries” or “murderers of the system”.

One has absolutely nothing to do with extremists, however, emphasized the organizers of #peacefultogether at a weekend demonstration in Berlin. They expressly distanced themselves from “Nazis, anti-Semites, Holocaust deniers and all extremist worldviews”. They turned against restrictions on the unvaccinated such as 2G or 3G and against a possible vaccination requirement. Pictures of the demo showed peaceful people in down coats. However, banners also warned against allegedly manipulated media and an alleged “dictatorship”.

Such dictatorship comparisons, in turn, not only upset the Berlin pastor Aljona Hofmann. She speaks for the Gethsemane Church, a meeting place for the democratic opposition in GDR times. “2022 is not 1989,” Hofmann emphasized in a tweet a few days ago and reported disruptions to devotions “through bullying to the Hitler salute.” Again and again on Mondays, the Gethsemanekiez initiative mobilizes against “dictatorship trivializers and corona protesters”.

Counter-protests in many places

There are now such counter-initiatives in many places. In Saxony, “Bautzen Together” or “#We Love Freiberg” were founded against right-wing extremist protests. Dozens of people demonstrated in Jena on Monday under the motto “Walk out” and met about the same number of opponents of the Corona measures. Similar situation already at the weekend in Freiburg in Baden-Württemberg: first 2,500 people against corona trivialization, then 6,000 people against compulsory vaccination.

The police are in the middle. “The fact that there are demonstrations and counter-demonstrations is not a new phenomenon,” says Radek. “We as the police have to recognize: Who are those who want to provoke the state?” dpa


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