The return of harsh corona measures gives the corona protests in southern Saxony new impetus. The fact that a large part of the organization and information can be traced back to right-wing extremists does not deter large parts of society. The police are in a difficult position.
Today, Monday evening, the Saxon Office for the Protection of the Constitution has another appointment in the 7000-inhabitant town of Zwönitz in the Ore Mountains. If the critics of the Corona measures come together again for one of their unannounced demonstrations, disguised as “walks” in the tried and tested manner, right-wing extremists will probably come along again. This is what it says in the monthly reports for the protection of the constitution and this fact should also be known in the small town in the Ore Mountains. The participants do not care: The alliance against an impending vaccination requirement and against requirements to contain the pandemic hardly knows any red lines. The demonstrators think of the “enemy” elsewhere, with the Saxon Prime Minister Michael Kretschmer, who is vilified as a “traitor”, or with the police who are dubbed “Kretschmer’s henchmen”.
In Saxony, something has changed dramatically during the pandemic months: In the federal state with the lowest vaccination rate and the most dramatic corona situation, numerous people have distanced themselves from the institutions of the social center in the past year and a half: from the politicians of the moderate parties, by the professional media, even by the majority of doctors and scientists.
“Free Saxons” take on a harsh tone
Nowhere is this aversion as pronounced as in the Erzgebirge district and in the Bautzen district, where only 45 and 47 percent of people, respectively, are fully vaccinated. Taken together, there are more than 300,000 unvaccinated people in two circles, many of whom take part in corona demos, walks and other forms of protest – convinced that they have to defend themselves against a kind of emerging dictatorship. Hardly anyone seems to be questioning who is organizing their protest, who is flooding all the Facebook groups, Telegram chats and YouTube channels with disturbing content and combative calls.
Many actors in these alternative media were politically active long before Corona, namely in the right-wing extremist scene or at least in the right-wing extremist AfD and its environment. These include the Chemnitz city councilor Martin Kohlmann, chairman of the “Free Saxony” collection movement, which was founded in February 2021 and aims to bring together “liberal and patriotic” initiatives and groups. Its main channel on Telegram alone has more than 85,000 members, with reports circulating that “militias” are “harassing” innocent citizens in Saxony. What is meant is the enforcement of the corona requirements by the police.
On their website, the Free Saxony distribute stickers with the call to “arrest Kretschmer”. The sub-group of the “Free Ore Mountains” is promoting VW employees in Zwickau to elect representatives of the group to the works council. It’s about much more than the pandemic: Those who have always rejected the Federal Republic of Germany use their skepticism about the corona policy to infiltrate large circles for larger goals. Kohlmann, for example, is classified in the annual report of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution in Saxony as a “neo-National Socialist”, long-time scene activist and supporter of the Holocaust denier Ursula Haverbeck.
Corona skepticism is mainstream south of Dresden
“By taking up the partially existing view that the protective measures taken were disproportionate and only served to restrict basic rights, the right-wing extremist scene was not concerned with objective criticism, but rather with delegitimizing state action in its entirety,” the Office for the Protection of the Constitution observed in the past year. This trend has continued since then. In the so-called B96 protests, in which people gather every Sunday morning for “walks” along the federal road of the same name between Sassnitz and Zittau, imperial flags and imperial citizen symbols are common, but they do not deter the average citizen from participating. Not all Saxons, but an astonishingly high proportion of them, apparently have a completely different idea of what is normal and what is not than the majority of German society
From Plauen, via Zwickau and Chemnitz to Pirna Bautzen and Görlitz – i.e. everywhere south of Dresden – there is a broad protest across all ages and incomes, which was recently given further impetus by the upcoming facility-related compulsory vaccination and the debate about a general vaccination requirement. In addition to the usual many small demos on Sunday morning and Monday evening, the Chemnitz Police Department found unannounced protests in Chemnitz, Freiberg, Aue, Schneeberg, Zschorlau, Zwönitz and Zschopau on Saturday evening. Further collections in smaller locations are not even listed individually in the press release. On the other hand, the police did not report any dissolution of the meetings, investigations or even the identification of persons.
AfD member of the Bundestag at an unannounced “demonstration”
In Zschopau, following a call also made by the Free Saxons, people came together in front of the Central Ore Mountains Clinic to demonstrate against the compulsory vaccination. The AfD member of the Bundestag, Thomas Dietz, who was directly elected in the Erzgebirge with 32 percent of the votes, was among the participants and was very touched by the many participants in the “demonstration” in a Facebook post, although none was officially registered. Dietz links to a video report by Michael Michel Wittwer, who, like Kohlmann, is active in the right-wing extremist alliance Pro Chemnitz and now also in the Free Saxony. In the state, the personnel overlap between right-wing extremists, nationalist activists and AfD politicians is known to be close.
Wittwer speaks of 200 participants in his video. The Chemnitz police headquarters reported on Sunday that their patrol officers had noticed 40 people with candles in front of the clinic in Zschopau. The recordings speak more for Wittwer’s numbers. When asked by ntv.de why the unannounced meeting was not dissolved and no other measures were taken, the Chemnitz Police Department referred to the lack of a meeting character. The people appeared in small groups following the current regulations. That looks different in Wittwer’s video.
The Saxon police are finding it difficult to deal with the mostly peaceful and mostly bourgeois law enforcement officers. Especially in the country, where you know each other and the state capital with its Corona policy is more than just an hour and a half drive away.
What is an assembly, what is not?
The same can be observed in the Erzgebirge town of Zwönitz: On Thursday, the CDU mayor Wolfgang Triebert described “more and more displeasure” with the “government decisions that are hardly comprehensible to me” as “expected”. Nevertheless, he asked the Zwönitzers to refrain from “demonstrative walks” until the New Year so that the Christmas peace would not be disturbed by renewed police operations. Distancing looks different. Zwönitz’s city council had tried to get around the Christmas market ban with a long Saturday of shopping, on which stalls were supposed to offer “typical Advent foods and drinks”.
The fact that this action was canceled on the same morning – presumably on instructions from the state government – led to renewed frustration among local Corona skeptics on Saturday – according to entries in social media. “Around 6:00 p.m., around 60 people were found standing alone or in small groups in the area of the market in Zwönitz,” said the police on Sunday and stated: “There were no indications of a meeting.” When asked by ntv.de, a police spokesman explained that there was no gathering character. The “meeting” had “nothing to do” with the walks taking place on Fridays and Mondays. The police will come back on Monday evening and try to prevent “walks” – if they discover any.