Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 99, 27 May 2020

As Europe reopens, far-right driven anti-lockdown protests emerge in Germany and Spain
Aarathi Srinivasan

 In the news

On 23 May, people took to the streets of Germany and Spain to protest against the lockdown measures. The protesters criticized the government for their handling of the coronavirus pandemic, holding them responsible for the rise in unemployment and argued that the lockdown measures violated their constitutional rights to individual movement.

In Spain, Madrid, saw protesters travelling in cars and motorbikes waving the Spanish flags while calling for the resignation of their Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez, and deputy PM Pablo Iglesias. The protests were conducted on 23 May despite the Prime Minister's announcement to open the borders for tourists from July and to recommence the football league from 8 June.

In Germany, thousands of people protested against the restriction, flouting social distancing rules, and not wearing face masks. The protests also saw new groups such as Resistance 2020 and COMPACT which questions the official COVID statistics and helps the "information offensive" respectively. The German government raised concerns about the protests being hijacked by the far-right and conspiracy theorists.

Issues at large

First, the anti-lockdown protests have provided a political space for the far-right. The demonstrations against the governments' lockdown measures involved the right-wing parties such as the Vox party in Spain and Alternative for Germany (AfD) in Germany. The far-right political parties have blamed the government of using the pandemic to curb individual freedoms, thereby politicizing the issue and influencing the people to garner support.

Second, the countries face economic fallout due to the pandemic. The pandemic has forced people into unemployment, apart from its blow on the health sector and accruing loss to self-employed workers. Spain's economy is expected to contract by 12 per cent and Germany with 6.6 per cent. Hence, there is a call for bold measures away from the strict lockdown and steer the countries from the impending recession. 

Third, both countries imposed stringent measures to ensure that the virus is contained. The measures were intended to benefit the entire society, but it affected certain pockets of the population more than others. Further extension of the state of emergency in Spain instigated protesters to blame the government for trying to gain power. The high death rate despite stringent measures in Spain leads to disappointment among the population.

In perspective

First, the protest can be seen as an unwise step during the pandemic, especially when there is a possibility of a second wave. Given the possibility of economic instability in the near future, a second wave of the virus will be devastating for both the countries and it will in turn, affected the region severely.

Second, even if the second wave does not happen, the protests can lead to political instability due to polarisation between the political parties. The pandemic calls for political unity, but the far-right party is unwilling to come to a common ground to cooperate during the pandemic. To avoid political and economic instability, it is important for individuals to have a greater sense of responsibility. 

Aarathi Srinivasan is a Research Intern at the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS). The author is pursuing a Masters in International Studies from Stella Maris College, Chennai. 

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