The radicalization in Germany of the “anti-mask” movement in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, with Saturday a spectacular attempt to siege Parliament and 300 arrests, in particular of far-right supporters, scandalizes and worries the government.
• Read also: All the developments of the pandemic
• Read also: Police interrupt protest against sanitary measures
The images showing several hundred protesters forcing barriers and a police roadblock to climb the steps of the famous Reichstag building in Berlin and attempt to enter it, created a shock in Germany.
The seat of the Chamber of Deputies is a “symbolic center of our liberal democracy” and this type of slippage is “unacceptable”, Home Minister Horst Seehofer warned on Sunday in the Sunday edition of the daily Bild.
Protesters were narrowly prevented from entering the building by the police, who used spray to disperse the crowd and arrested several people.
The police seemed overwhelmed for a moment at the entrance to the Reichstag, with only a handful of officers attempting to block the crowd.
Place steeped in history
“We cannot be present everywhere and it is precisely these weaknesses in the device that are used, in this case to cross the security barriers in order to reach the Reichstag steps”, justified a spokesperson for the local police, Thilo Cablitz.
The Reichstag, where German deputies meet in plenary session, has a strong symbolic role in Germany.
The building and its famous dome were burnt down in 1933 by the Nazis, in an act seen as intended to bring to its knees what was left of German democracy from the interwar period.
Admittedly, “the plurality of opinions” is “a characteristic of the good functioning of a society”, estimated the conservative Minister of the Interior. But the freedom of assembly “reaches its limits where public rules are trampled,” he said in Bild
The Berlin municipality had tried to ban the gathering, arguing that it was impossible to enforce safety distances and barrier gestures, given the number of people announced and their determination. But justice, seized by the organizers, finally authorized the demonstration.
In total, it brought together 38,000 people according to the police, double the number expected at the start.
Around 300 people were arrested during clashes with the police, in front of the Reichstag, but also the Russian embassy, not far from there in the city center, where the protesters threw bottles and stones at the forces of the order.
The far right mobilized
The protesters gathered to denounce the measures imposed due to the new coronavirus pandemic, such as wearing a mask or the safety distances to be respected, which they perceive as an attack on their freedoms.
It came two days after Angela Merkel’s government announced new restrictions in the face of the observed upsurge in infections.
A motley crowd made up of anti-vaccine activists, conspirators, citizens genuinely concerned about the restrictions linked to the pandemic, but also, and increasingly according to the authorities, far-right supporters.
“We must stop the brown virus! Headline Sunday Bild, Germany’s most widely read newspaper.
“The Nazi symbols and other flags of the Empire have no place in the Chamber of Deputies”, denounced for his part the Vice-Chancellor and Minister of Finance Olaf Scholz.
Among the demonstrators who tried to make the seat of Parliament, some indeed waved flags of the German Reich which existed until 1919, in black, white and red colors.
“To see the flags of the Empire in front of Parliament is a shame,” Foreign Minister Heiko Maas also tweeted.
If the right to demonstrate is to be defended, “no one should go so far as to parade behind right-wing extremists,” he added.
Among the demonstrators arrested in front of the Russian embassy was one of the figures of the “anti-mask” movement in Germany, Attila Hildmann, who became famous as a vegan cook and now a self-proclaimed member of the “ultra-right”.