Netherlands, Denmark, Germany: hotbeds of anger over health restrictions

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As the threat of the coronavirus continues, anger has ended up erupting here and there against the health restrictions. Part of the population is mobilizing on social networks or in the street to cry out its thirst for freedom. This fed up with violent opposition. The urban riots in the Netherlands, a country not used to such a show of force, are a sign of a growing threat. The discontent is expressed in several European countries such as Denmark or Germany. Panorama.

■ In the Netherlands, the trauma of the riots

The imposition of a curfew, a first in the Netherlands since World War II, sparked an outbreak of violence at the end of January. Covid-19 screening center burned down, hospital attacked, cars burned, shops robbed: several gatherings have turned into chaos, as a warning signal for all of Europe. A worrying situation marked by a strong statement from the mayor of Eindhoven, worried about the outbreak of a “civil war” in the country after the sacking of the station in his city and the looting of a department store. The crowd consisted of malcontents from various backgrounds, from the libertarian movement to conspiratorial spheres. “Protesters who no longer believe in anything, who no longer even support people taking science seriously,” said sociologist Jan Willem Duyvendak in a article from World.

Social unrest goes beyond the health emergency. The rejection of the measures underlines the attachment of the Dutch to individual freedoms. “The Dutch authorities, as well as scientists, are very cautious with regard to measures which constitute an attack on personal space”, analyzes the Belgian newspaper The standard, Quoted by International mail. Sign of great heterogeneity, some socially weakened protesters wanted to do battle with the police to oppose an “elite”. Prime Minister Mark Rutte on Tuesday announced an extension of most health restrictions to limit the spread of the British variant. An announcement that has not yet provoked new eruptions of violence.

■ In Denmark, the threat of “men in black”

The protest emerged on a Facebook group called “Men in Black”, with more than 18,500 subscribers. The tone is set in the presentation of the page: “We are the children of Denmark! Regardless of our age, beliefs and opinions, we walk all over the country with our eyes open. ” This movement draws its strength from the circles of supporters and hooliganism, but not only. “This is not the expression of a big popular opposition, but that of people hard hit by the restrictions, who were perhaps already a little marginalized before the pandemic and who are even more so today”, notes a journalist from the national daily Politics questioned by The world, and who investigated the phenomenon.

The protest has gone beyond the screens. Since mid-December, rallies have been held in several cities across the country, leading to clashes with police. Dressed in black, protesters cover their faces with Guy Fawkes masks, appropriating the emblem of hacker collective Anonymous. At the end of January, the hanging of a model bearing the image of the Prime Minister, Mette Frederiksen, increased the pressure a notch. Burned down, the installation was accompanied by a threat: “She must be and will be put to death.” Faced with the unanimous condemnations of the political class, a bearded man left his reserve: Morten Jakobsen. The founder of the “men in black” movement condemned the violence, while denouncing a “witch hunt” against those he defines as “the people”. “Freedom fighters”, in reference to the Danish resistance fighters against the Nazi occupier, faced with health restrictions, the hypothesis of compulsory vaccination, the supposed infantilization of the population by the authorities. Mette Frederiksen recently brushed aside criticism of the measures taken by her government.

■ In Germany, a movement under close surveillance

Germany is also facing worrying anger. In recent months, the sectarian movement Querdenker (“those who think differently”) has been at the origin of a series of large-scale rallies against health restrictions. In the middle of the summer, demonstrators attempted to storm the Reichstag in Berlin, raising serious concern on the part of the authorities. The group is subject to increased surveillance by national intelligence agencies. Far-right activists are suspected of having infiltrated the collective, including people from the neo-Nazi movement.

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At the head of the movement: Michael Ballweg. Aged 46, this entrepreneur from Stuttgart appropriates the slogan “Where one of us goes, we all go” from the conspiracy movement QAnon, several of whose figures invaded the US Congress in January. During the holiday season, the man had called, in a video message posted in encrypted Telegram messaging, to end the mobilization indefinitely and for no apparent reason. His statement actually came days after German media revelations about his funding methods. Michael Ballweg charged his appearances in public and asked his supporters to send money to a bank account that was not that of the movement, but his own. The lull was only short-lived. At the end of January, in his city of Stuttgart, a parade of cars was organized. According to police, several hundred vehicles took part in the parade, which stretched for several kilometers through the city. According to a survey carried out by ARD-DeutschlandTrend, citizens increasingly perceive health measures as a burden. In January, nearly half of those surveyed (49%) believed that containment was a problem for them, significantly more than in previous surveys.