German police arrested 300 far-right protesters earlier this month. According to a BBC report, around 38,000 people had participated in a widespread protest in Berlin. While they were mostly peaceful, they were later joined by several hundred, many of which were affiliated with the far-right movement.
Far-right protesters, among the rest, had taken to the streets of Berlin to protest recent coronavirus measures that Germany has put in place to deal with the pandemic. In opposition to these measures, a few hundred protesters reportedly attempted to “storm the Reichstag parliament building.” According to Euro News, German police stated that “several hundred protesters, some far-right supporters, broke into through barriers and a police cordon to climb the steps leading to the entrance of the Reichstag.” German police rapidly responded and stopped the protestors from entering the building. According to Euro News, the police prevented protestors from entering the building by using pepper spray and arresting several people.
Germany’s Interior Minister, Horst Seehofer, explained that “the Reichstag is the ‘symbolic center of our democracy’” and said that “it is unacceptable to see extremists and trouble-makers use it for their own ends.” In response to the right to protest, Seehofer added, “Plurality of opinion is a characteristic of the good functioning of society but freedom of assembly reaches its limits when public rules are trampled on.”
While this anti-COVID protest was the latest one to take place in Germany, it was not an isolated event. Demonstrators have been known to take to the streets in the wake of the pandemic to protest COVID-19 rules and regulations. According to Euro News, “Police in Berlin disbanded an earlier protest against coronavirus and arrested 300 people after demonstrators failed to social distance and wear masks.” Additionally, according to BBC, authorities have blamed the far-right protesters for creating much of the disturbance during these demonstrations. They stated that in an earlier rally, around 200 people were arrested for throwing stones and bottles at police officers.
According to Euro News, during the protests, some demonstrators, reportedly “waved German flags and shouted ‘Merkel must go!’ – a chant often used by the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.” It was also reported that “several others carried the flag of the German Reigh, which was used up until 1919.” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas tweeted, “To see the flags of the Empire in front of the parliament is shameful.” According to the BBC, some of the protesters “had insignia from the far-right Reichsbürger (Reich Citizens) movement.”
While people do have the freedom to demonstrate publicly, it is important that citizens do their part to protect themselves and vulnerable communities from the spread of COVID-19. Thus, protesting should be permissible but in accordance with COVID-19 guidelines. The risk of spreading the virus is too high and although there may be some, according to the BBC, who believe the virus to be a “hoax” it is crucial that they do their part in following the necessary precautions that others depend on to feel safe. On that same note, authorities should keep their response as nonviolent as possible. Potentially, working with some of the protesters to ensure safety measures are taken could be a useful step to avoid escalations at these protests.
In addition, Government officials should take note of far-right symbols that were seen during the protests, including the German Reich flag and the insignia from the far-right movement. Germany has had a recurrent problem with far-right support and even far-right and neo-Nazi infiltration within the highest ranks in the military. Therefore, it is essential that they consider what other threats they may be facing in the country and how they will address them.
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