Germany is going to become more and more divided

Afterthoughts about the Berlin-demonstrations and manifestations against the state’s corona policies

by Karl Jürgen Müller

On 1 August a lot of people participated in a demonstration against the government’s policies to fight the Corona-pandemic. After the demonstrations a manifestation was scheduled on the “Strasse des 17. Juni” situated between the Triumphal Column and the Brandenburg Gate. The manifestation’s slogan was “End of the Pandemic – Beginning of Freedom.” The demonstration and its manifestations were organised by a Stuttgart group named “Mavrick 711”1 – 0711 being Stuttgart’s  dialling code.
    As early as shortly after the demonstration began, the police tried to break up the manifestation. This was reported in a police press release dated 2 August 2020: “The definite majority of the demonstrators disobeyed the hygiene concept and the requirement to wear masks (mouth and nose-protection) so that the police’s intervention became necessary. After continuously disregarding police requests and announcements and since the gathering’s leaders refused to call off the manifestation, the assembly was finally broken up by the police.2 

The information about the number of people attending the manifestation vary very much: The Berlin police press release of 2 August3 spoke of 20,000 – the event organisers, sympathising groups and alternative media – among them a six-hour livestream4 – spoke of 1.3 million attendants. When scrutinising the pictures of the demonstration it becomes obvious that 20,000 was a grave understatement as the number of 1.3 million was a grave overstatement. When you estimate the space from the Triumphal Collumn up to the Brandenburg Gate, taking into account the width of the street and the density of the assembly you may estimate, however, a number of more than one hundred thousand people.

Nearly all reporting lacked objectivity

Factual media contributions about the manifestation and the participants are rare so far. The German mainstream-media sound unanimous, they all report these very low attendance numbers published by the police and judge the demonstration and its participants altogether negatively. They all emphasise that there were people attending from the right-wing political spectrum, whereas the alternative media which supported the event regarded it as a history-charged event. So in a widely-spread alternative medium: “Today is a historical event reaching beyond our country’s borders. The people arise, the numbers are magnificent. No-one thought this possible. It is the deepest fall of the Merkel system – and of the mendacious press. […] Today’s 500,000 plus have been glorious. No regime can stand this for long. Now we must hang on!”
    Those commentaries show that there is more to it than protest against the state’s measures to contain the Corona Pandemic. Obviously interested circles are searching for instruments to pursue far-reaching political goals and use all kinds of “dissatisfied” individuals and groups. Pesonages with a very different “Weltanschaung” entered the stage, among them Oliver Janich, Thorsten Schulte or Clemens Kuby. – one alternative medium discovered the long-awaited ‘Querfront’ (counter front) in them.

There was talk of peace, Freedom and Love …

Speakers in Berlin talked of peace, freedom and love, one could hear love-songs and see hands formed as hearts. There was a great poster near the stage showing Ghandi. The organisers spoke moderately with the police. Obviously any violence was to be avoided after the police’s early break-up anouncement and the police was not attacked by the participants. It all came across rather like a public festival – and an extensive report even compared the event to the “Love Parade”.5 There were no substantial contributions to be heard dealing with the actual political, economic or social problems and how to solve them.

… while legal regulations were deliberately disregarded

Policemen, even single ones were picked out and filmed from closest distance and exhibited where possible and attacked verbally. A rapper performing at the beginning presented himself as radical  social critic. Event organisers and participants were determined to break the rules. They ignored the legal protection measures aiming at the pandemic’s containment – more than one hundred thousand marchers did indeed not obey the rule of social distancing and did not wear masks. Quite the contrary, the slogan was to unmask “those in power” and these irresponsible dealings with the factual danger for all participants and many more people was converted into an act of “political resistance”.

Anti-state battle slogans

The police’s repeated request to break up the manifestation were answered by loud callings like “We will stay” or “resistance”. There was talk like “We are here, we are noisy, because your are stealing our liberty”. The organisers demanded the participants to sit down on the floor in order to prevent an evacuation by the police. With the open appeal to break the law the organisers did not assume their responsibility. Are they aware whom they are serving this way? And what shall one make of what another widely read alternative medium wrote on 3 August: “Saturday’s assembly was the perhaps biggest government critical demonstration since 4 November 1989.6 The government’s decision to break it up and the following impotence of the stately authorities to do so point the way to politically new ground.” What sort of politically new ground might the author of this sentence have in mind?

Why have the media lost all objectivity?

Another question is why the main stream media did not report objectively and why politicians reacted hardly adequately. The president of the Social Democrats Saskia Esken called the demonstrators once again  “COVID Idiots”. This is not the way to do justice to the more than one hundred thousand demonstrators. The recordings show many very different people, most of the speakers did not at all seem radical – but  all those who spoke were “dissatisfied”. The reasons may be manifold, “corona” is a catalyst. What are the perhaps serious commitments? This did not become clear in Berlin, either. It was too much of an “event”. Risking one’s own health and that of others was not very responsible – and may later charge a bitter price and unfortunately one has to reckon with more such unreasonable acts. The counter-demonstration taking place simultaneously did not offer more. So it was apparent that the division of the German society is going to proceed and an honest dialogue will become ever more difficult. It is well-known that such a dialogue requires the acceptance of the opponent – in all directions.

Questionable historical comparisons

The manifestation’s participants may have felt like 1989 in the former (East) German Democratic Republic (GDR) –  chanting “We are the people” and stressing the parallel to the rebellion of 17 June 1953 by pointing to the street name. However, to what degree is the comparison of today’s Federal Republic to the former GDR – and above all to the situation of the citizens and the factual dangers by their rebellion against a dictatorship realistic? Unfortunately it happens often in political dispute to refer to historical comparisons. However, are they any meaningful? Do they provide any aid in solving real problems?
    To break fundamental principles of the rule of law – as done with the deliberate offence of the valid hygiene concept and the request to wear a mouth-and nose-protection – as  well as the disregarding of the state’s monopoly on the use of force, or in other words: the disregard of the police’s orders, are a dangerous slippery slope. This way might prepare the ground for aggressive acts – as was the case in Stuttgart und Frankfurt.

Politics as well must assume responsibility

Politics as well have to assume responsibility. It is the politics’ task to win over the citizens for their principles of the constitutional state and democratic procedures – not by words but by many definite deeds. All this is in a sorry state as well. More of direct democracy could be an alternative. The sovereignty of the people could be reinforced that way and the search for appropriate solutions could be shared by a broader basis. This as well could be a means to avoid that the rifts widen and society becomes even more divided.      •

2 from 2 August 2020
3  ibd. from 1 August 2020
5 from 2 August 2020
6   The demonstration on Alexanderplatz in Berlin was the greatest demonstration in the history of the GDR. The demonstration took place on 4 November 1989 in East-Berlin and it was the first officially allowed demonstration in the GDR, that was not organised by the government. The demonstration and the final manifestation on the ‘Alexanderplatz’ were organised by members of the East-Berlin Theatre and was directed against the violence of the state and pleaded for constitutional rights, freedom of the press, freedom of opinion and assembly. The Alexanderplatz demonstration was attended by one million people. However, these numbers are controversial. The demonstration is regarded as the milestone event to the peaceful revolution in the GDR.

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