Germany blames Covid-19 protests for rising extremism

Measures unveiled to tackle increased anti-Semitism linked to coronavirus conspiracy theories

German police intervene during anti-lockdown protests in Berlin after hundreds took to the streets despite a court-ordered ban. AFP
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Germany will increase funding to tackle right-wing extremism, amid warnings that anti-lockdown protests have increased anti-Semitism in the country.

Education Minister Anja Karliczek said conspiracy theories had gained popularity on the fringes of the Querdenker movement, a group of self-styled “lateral thinkers” who protested against Covid-19 restrictions.

Coupled with wider polarisation, this meant that Jewish life in Germany was “as threatened as it has been for a long time”, she said.

“The poison of anti-Semitism, the poison of nationalism and of far-right extremism continue to take hold in our country,” Ms Karliczek said.

“We have to fight this poison with all our determination. This fight can only be won if we pull together as a society.”

The Querdenker protests attracted an assortment of fringe figures including anti-vaxxers, conspiracy theorists and far-right groups.

Some protests have descended into violence, while others were broken up for breaching Covid-19 restrictions. Hundreds took to the streets in Berlin last weekend despite a court-ordered ban.

Germany’s domestic intelligence service placed some of the movement’s followers under observation over concerns of right-wing extremism.

Some of the conspiracy theories that grew up on the fringes of the Querdenker movement were aimed at Jews, the minister said.

This came alongside a “generally noticeable radicalisation and polarisation of society, which made the climate worse for minorities”.

Demonstrators walk along Bismarckstrasse in Berlin during a protest against coronavirus restrictions. AP

The new measures are part of a wider purge against extremism, which began after a series of attacks that rattled Germany.

Ministers promised to strengthen security services, clamp down on enemies lists and convene a special task force on hatred against Muslims.

Last year, there were more than 23,000 far-right crimes registered in Germany, the government said.

Concerns over anti-Semitism increased in May when Israeli flags were burnt and protesters marched on a synagogue during the Israel-Hamas conflict.

The education ministry announced €35 million ($41.5m) of new funding on Wednesday for several projects to tackle racism.

They include efforts to track anti-Semitism on social media and train people in how to spot it on German websites.

Everyone can do something to put anti-Semitism in its place
Anja Karliczek

“Reliable knowledge about the current forms of anti-Semitism, far-right extremism and racism are essential as a basis for action,” said Felix Klein, the government’s commissioner on fighting anti-Semitism.

“We will get a clear picture of these phenomena and the relationships between them.”

Another project funded by Berlin will develop teaching materials for children in Germany and other EU countries.

Ms Karliczek said there had been cases of anti-Semitic behaviour among children, stigmatising victims at a young age.

“Everyone can do something to put anti-Semitism in its place in this country,” she said.

She criticised calls from some quarters, including the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), to draw a line under Germany’s remembrance of its Nazi past.

The AfD’s manifesto for next month’s general election says that Germany’s remembrance culture should “not just focus on the low points of our history”.

Mainstream parties pledged to strengthen teaching on the Nazi era.

Updated: August 04, 2021, 10:37 AM