Europe’s diverse Covid passport protesters find unity in freedom


This week, a French protester against vaccines was arrested for brandishing placards suggesting that several well-known Jewish people were “traitors” responsible for what the marchers called the country’s “health dictatorship”.

The woman arrested in the eastern city of Metz on Monday was one of those who took to the streets of France for the fourth consecutive week to protest a new law that compulsory vaccination of caregivers and personal vaccinations. “Health Pass” to enter public places.

She is also a symbol of different groups joining other anti-vaccine protests in France, Germany, Italy and Greece. For example, thousands of other French protesters complained about the new health pass under the hashtag #PassNazitaire, believing that they were historical victims of Jews.

What unites the often conflicting beliefs of these groups is the strong opposition to their belief that they have lost their freedom under authoritarian government.

“There is a strong correlation between vaccine hesitation and populism,” said Karen Umansky, a researcher at Tel Aviv University, adding that when “the so-called enemy is to be blamed,” populism flourishes.

Anti-Semitism sign in Metz, France, displayed on Twitter © Twitter

One result of this is that protesters can often create a visibly disorganized group of people.

In Germany, a grassroots movement of hippies and neo-Nazis, leftists, and QAnon followers united against the “corona dictatorship.” During a protest in Berlin on August 1, a woman was caught on camera yelling to a reporter that she was a “Jewish bastard” while people around her chanted “Judas” and “Lügenpresse”, or ” Lying news”-this term is very popular in the Nazis.

But in other marches in Germany, Italy, and France, the protesters wore David’s yellow star with the words “not vaccinated” — echoing the yellow star that the Nazis forced Jews to wear.

As the number of protests increases — from the extreme right to the communists, from vaccinations to denial of the Knicks — some people worry that this colorful minority may evolve into a more unstable force.

“It is difficult to control because there is no leader,” said Marie-Paule Kieny, research director of Inserm, the French National Institute of Health and Medicine. “If we reach Yellow vest, This will be a disaster. ”

The protesters’ concerns seemed vague. German protesters who call themselves “Querdenker” or “horizontal thinkers” are not only concerned about vaccine passports, but about wider discrimination against unvaccinated people.

The placard reads
Participants held up placards that read “Against Corona Dictatorship” during the anti-blockade protest of the so-called “Querdenker” movement (Horizontal Thinkers) in Berlin on August 1. © Paul Zinken/AFP via Getty Images

The government said on Monday that from October 11, it will no longer provide free testing to people who choose not to be vaccinated. Querdenker calls it an indirect mandatory vaccination, but officials believe that taxpayers should not bear the burden of those who refuse to be vaccinated.

Nevertheless, many German candidates in the federal election in September this year carefully bypassed this issue. In contrast, in France, Macron bet that his new health pass law will be implemented smoothly.

Given the opinion polls, this may prove to be a relatively safe bet 60% Of French people approve of the new regulations, and now only 17% said they would refuse the vaccination-significantly lower than the 44% at the end of last year.

Either way, Macron’s success in next year’s presidential election will depend in part on whether his bets are paid off.

Of course, some extreme rightists in Europe hope to use anti-vax sentiment to win support for their political plans. The beliefs of many protesters in France and Germany echo the beliefs of the far-right, who have long believed that citizens live under oppressive systems run by a gloomy global elite.

On Monday, the leader of the French far-right National Unity Party, Marina Le Pen, criticized Macron’s “freedom strangulation” request, which requires a pass to enter several public places, saying it would “establish a mandatory comprehensive surveillance system.”

Germany’s far-right party, the Alternative for Germany (AfD), also used the protesters’ struggle for the freedom creed as its latest rally slogan even though its poll ratings have yet to improve.

Nonna Mayer, a professor at the Paris School of Political Sciences and a far-right expert, sees this as a sign of optimism. She believes that both left-wing and right-wing extreme parties are “trying to instrument dissatisfied alliances, but to no avail.”

Nevertheless, due to concerns about the consequences of strong opposition, some governments, including the United Kingdom, have so far avoided vaccination or “Covid passports”, as this may be interpreted as an excessive expansion of autocracy.

As for Spain, officials argued that the country’s high vaccination rate — the highest in the EU — means that enforcement is not required. The government is also unwilling to increase restrictions because some of the previous restrictions have been overturned by the court or attacked by the opposition.

Nevertheless, some regional governments such as Galicia still require vaccination certificates to be provided when dining in indoor restaurants. On Wednesday, the central government made a slight change. It also stated that nursing home staff who refused to be vaccinated would be tested at least twice a week and might be considered for a job change.

The high vaccination rate across Europe suggests that the fringe concerns of dissatisfied groups may eventually disappear. Some are not so sure.

“What will happen to those who have experienced [been] The past year and a half has become radical. .. Who is almost centered on this protest movement? Will they take radical measures? “Said Felix Steiner of Mobile Consulting, a German far-right monitoring organization based in Thuringia. “These are our concerns, and we can’t really say where this journey will take us.” “

Additional reporting by Laura Noonan


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