Photo : CNN
05 January 2022, Wednesday | NIAS Europe Daily Brief #90
By Padmashree Anandhan
Mapping COVID-19 protests in Europe: Who, Why and How
On 02 January, Amsterdam witnessed demonstrations despite the ban on public gatherings. The protestors later escalated to clash with the local police,who were to clear away the crowd. According to the statement released by the police, amongst the protestors, four were injured, and 30 were detained.
On 04 January, Czech firefighters, police officers and rescue workers voiced out and signed a petition to withdraw the COVID-19 vaccine mandate. The protests were a direct consequence of the fear built up due the potential loss of jobs and imminent staff shortage. Similarly, Germany also experienced a wide range of protests in different parts where protestors engaged in violent demonstrations against COVID-19 measures.
Nature of protests
First, a mapping of protests. When compared with other regions, Europe has seen more protests. Within Europe, Germany and the countries surrounding it like Austria, Vienna, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg have witnessed the most number of protests.
Second, the trigger. Countries like Austria and Belgium saw more than 35,000 people gathering against the COVID-19 measures in recent months. The Netherlands is the only country experiencing a wave of protests, despite strict warnings from the government. The major trigger for these protests has been the partial lockdown of public spaces such as restaurants and theatres, government inability to provide effective treatment and the vaccine mandate for the working population.
Third, the intensity. In recent protests in the Netherlands, although the count of protesters decreased, the nature of the protests became more aggressive. From protesting for a ban on the vaccine mandate, the Amsterdam protests demanded freedom and less repression from the government. Instead of mass demonstrations, protesters threw glass bottles, sprayed chemicals at police, and some were even demanding a change in government. The larger reason behind the changing nature of these protests can be due to change in the demography of the protestors. With the participation of people from various social, religious and political groups, the protests have incorporated a political element into the COVID-19 protests, questioning the capacity of the democratic states.
Who are the protestors?
In the entire protestor population, most of them who belonged to the working class or a particular group of workers were pushed to get vaccinated. The anti-vaxxers’ population accumulated in these COVID-19 protests, but in reality these demonstrations include people from different social and religious groups. It is especially true in the case of Vienna, where the protestors belonged to the far-right Freedom Party of Austria. There were also supporters from the members of the ultra-conservative Catholic community in promoting the gatherings.
In Germany, the torch-lit rally outside the house of Germany’s Health Minister Petra Köpping was carried out by the Free Saxons, classified as a right-wing extremist group. The group has also accepted the same out loud via Twitter. Such demonstrations show how such political groups are manipulating the protests for their benefit.
In the Netherlands, there was no division in terms of religious groups. However, both evangelical Christians and hooligans were involved in the protests. Apart from them, there are also political supporters involved in aggravating the protests against the present government. Therefore, the protests are moving slowly from the focus of COVID-19 measures to pursuing their own motivations.
On 05 January, as the new variant cases surged in France, President Emmanuel Macron warned that the lives of the people would be made difficult if they remained unvaccinated; they would be strictly barred from coffee shops to any public place. In Amsterdam, many were detained by the Dutch police, and as the protests escalated to throwing bottles and chemical sprays, the protestors were handled by the police with pepper spray, force and even dogs. The handling of the protests is more important now than ever as it is important to keep up with the domestic goodwill and international reputation, especially for a few leaders who are nearing elections like Macron and those who have just taken up the leadership like Germany’s Olaf Scholz. Germany, which is yet to introduce compulsory vaccination, is already facing protests. The top officials of the party have recommended to Germany to pass the vaccination campaign and regulate to control the protests. The former German Chancellor Angela Merkel followed a tight health model by shifting from 3G to 2G+ rule. Under the 3G rule, only the employees were asked to submit their vaccination proof and negative tests done in the last 24 hours. In the 2G+, the same was mandated but not only in workplaces but to all public places. If the new coalition continues such repressive regulations, the result will be more protests of extreme nature in Germany.
To conclude, protests in Europe show the following trends. One, the right-wing politician will utilize these protests to sabotage the image of the ruling government. Two, despite three waves of COVID-19, not all European countries are prepared to handle the fourth wave. Three, there will be a shift in the mindsets of the protestors from losing confidence in the government to asking for individual freedom.
“Amsterdam: Thousands protest COVID measures despite ban on gatherings,” Deutsche Welle, 02 January 2022.
“Covid: President Macron warns he will 'hassle' France's unvaccinated,” BBC, 05 January 2022.
“What is behind the COVID protests across Europe?,” Deutsche Welle, 09 December 2021.
“Germany: Torchlit rally against COVID measures in Saxony prompts outcry,” Deutsche Welle, 06 December 2021.
By Joeana Cera Matthews and Ashwin Dhanabalan
Alaskan Malamute keeps injured hiker warm for 13 hours before being rescued
On 04 January, The Guardian reported an eight-month-old Alaskan Malamute to have saved a hiker who was injured in the Velebit range of the Croatian mountains. The dog named North, lay on an immobile Grga Brkic, for 13 hours to keep him warm until rescue services arrived. After they were rescued, Croatia’s mountain rescue service took to Facebook, posting: “Friendship and love between man and dog have no boundaries.” The post also accompanied a photo of Brkic on a stretcher with North lying on top of him. (“'A real miracle': dog saves injured hiker stranded in Croatian mountains,” The Guardian, 04 January 2022)
Greens support another term for President Steinmeier
On 04 January, the German Green party released a joint statement extending their support to President Frank-Walter Steinmeier for another term in the Presidency. The Party leaders said: “(Steinmeier is a) very good and highly respected Federal President who earned great merits for our country in his first term of office… We are convinced that he will continue to support and guide our society on the difficult way out of the pandemic.” Steinmeier has held the office since 2017 and is the only presidential candidate running for the February 13 parliamentary elections. Steinmeier is also backed by his Social Democratic Party and the Free Democrats. (Thibault Spirlet, “Frank-Walter Steinmeier set for second term as German president, after winning Greens' support,” POLITICO, 04 January 2022)
Presidential elections to be held on 24 January
On 04 January, President of the Chamber of Deputies Roberto Fico released a statement via Facebook announcing that the presidential elections for the country were set to be held on 24 January. He said: “I have convened the Parliament in a common session for the election of the President of the Republic on January 24 at 3 pm.” The elections will have a series of voting rounds and will see 1,009 electors casting secret ballots. Although Italy does not have official candidates, those vying for the position include present Prime Minister Mario Draghi, former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, former lower house speaker Pierferdinando Casini, former Prime Minister Giuliano Amato and the current Justice Minister Marta Cartabia. The victor will replace incumbent President Sergio Mattarella for a seven-year term. (Thibault Spirlet, “Italy's parliament set to vote for new president on January 24,” POLITICO, 04 January 2022; Gavin Jones and Angelo Amante, “Italy parliament to begin voting for new head of state on Jan. 24,” Reuters, 04 January 2022)
Serbia: Renewed protests against lithium mining plans in the country
On 03 January, hundreds of protesters in Serbia’s Novi Sad region took to the streets and blocked roads in multiple locations, demanding the government to stop lithium mining plans. One of the protest leaders Aleksandar Jovanovic said: “They (the government) could only implement this project with police and the army. There’s nothing to talk about any more, this agony has to stop.” The protestors took to the streets as they were concerned about the environmental ramifications of the mine to the lithium-rich western Serbia. Protestors threatened more action unless the company Rio Tinto’s application was rejected. The Balkan countries have become more environmentally aware due to the rising problems of waste management, as well as air and water pollution. The Serbian protestors were worried about their homes and lands as they would be relocated if the mines were opened. (“Hundreds block roads in Serbia against lithium mining plans,” The Washington Post, 04 January 2022; Stefan Goranovic, “Hundreds of protesters in Serbia call for an end to lithium mine plan,” Euronews, 04 January 2022)
France: Macron says unvaccinated will be “hassled”, restricted from public life
On 05 January, French President Emmanuel Macron said: "I really want to hassle them, and we will continue to do this - to the end," as he warned the unvaccinated people in the country that he would pester them until they were vaccinated. He added: "I won't send [unvaccinated people] to prison…So we need to tell them, from 15 January, you will no longer be able to go to the restaurant. You will no longer be able to go for a coffee, you will no longer be able to go to the theater. You will no longer be able to go to the cinema." His comments sparked criticism from the opposition as the word "emmerder" that he used has a vulgar connotation in French implying “to annoy something”. France has the highest vaccination rates and has inoculated at least 90 percent of its population. On 04 January, France reported 271,686 cases, which is the highest rise in daily cases since the pandemic's start. ("Covid: President Macron warns he will 'hassle' France's unvaccinated," BBC, 05 January 2022; Jon Henley, "Macron declares his Covid strategy is to 'piss off' the unvaccinated," The Guardian, 04 January 2022)
France: Rising cases of femicide under Macron's Presidency
On 04 January, feminist groups in France called on the government for failing to protect women against domestic violence and raised concerns about the increasing atrocities against women. As reported by Deutsche Welle: "…three women were found dead in different parts of the country on New Year's Day, in suspected domestic violence attacks." Prime Minister Jean Castex was concerned about the recent murders and raised the issue in the Parliament stating: "There were more than 100 femicides in 2021 and already since the start of the year three new murders committed in scandalous conditions." France has one of the highest femicides per capita, where at least one woman is killed every three days. Two feminist groups Féminicides Par Compagnons ou Ex and #NousToutes in France commented on the issue saying they denounced "the silence of Emmanuel Macron and the government in the face of sexist and sexual violence in France". The government had taken measures to combat femicide by setting up sensitivity training for police officers and a 24/7 helpline, but the recent murders have questioned its effectiveness. ("France vows action on femicide after 3 more women killed," Deutsche Welle, 04 January 2022; Josephine Joly, "Feminist groups denounce French government's 'silence' after New Year's Day femicides," Euronews, 04 January 2022)
Lithuania: President Nauseda calls naming the Taiwan office “a mistake”
On 04 January, Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda said it was a mistake to have opened a Taiwan office termed 'Taiwan" and not "Chinese Taipei" in the country. Nauseda said he was not consulted when the office's naming was decided and this led to heightened tension with China. Nauseda added: "The name of the office has become the key factor that now strongly affects our relations with China." China has restricted issuing visas to Lithuania, while Vilnius closed its embassy in Beijing and recalled its last diplomat. Nauseda stated that he would take this up with the EU, saying: "We have to be extremely active and make it very clear to the European Union that this is an attack, a kind of pressure on one of its member states." Lithuania still plans to open a trade office in Taiwan, while Taiwan has recently bought 20,000 bottles of Lithuanian rum that was headed to China. China blocked the commodity from entering the country due to the recent diplomatic debacle with Lithuania. ("Opening a Taiwan Representative Office was 'mistake', says Lithuanian president," Euronews, 04 January 2022; "Taiwan buys 20,000 bottles of Lithuania rum destined for China," BBC, 05 January 2022)