Corona demo in Vienna: Austria’s anti-vaccination campaigners mobilize tens of thousands

Vienna On the Saturday before the lockdown, everyone is out and about in downtown Vienna. The terraces of the coffee houses are full, queues form in front of the sausage stands, and the shopping centers offer discounts to save at least part of the Christmas business. Only the horse-drawn fiakers on Michaelerplatz stand idle. “Demos always ruin our business,” grunts a coachwoman and points in the direction of the Hofburg and Heldenplatz.

Almost 40,000 people have gathered at the Burgring to protest against the government’s corona policy – one of the largest demonstrations in recent times. Their decisions to lockdown the whole country and to introduce compulsory vaccinations from February ensure that two to three times more people are on the streets than at comparable earlier demonstrations. Almost all of them came from other regions of Austria, in car pools, buses and trains. 1300 police officers watch the action in full riot gear.

A loose coalition of right-wing and right-wing extremist groups called for the manifestation: In addition to the right-wing populist FPÖ, the anti-vaccination party MFG, which is in parliament in Upper Austria, had mobilized strongly. Well-known neo-Nazis, soccer hooligans and the identities are also present. “Great exchange, great reset, stop the globalist filth”, it says on the poster that the activists at the head of the procession carry, and: “Control the border, not your people”.

The Viennese police speak of a “heated atmosphere” in some groups, which is why the situation at the castle gate briefly escalated towards evening: the officers use pepper spray against young men who throw objects at them. There are also reports of individual attacks against journalists and people with a migration background, as well as advertisements for anti-Semitic slogans and posters. Some people wear the “Jewish star” to protest against their alleged discrimination, some compare the Federal Chancellor to the Nazi doctor Mengele.

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There was, however, no sign of a generally aggressive mood during the demonstration; Vienna is a long way from street battles like in other European metropolises. Rather, one has the feeling of having got into a carnival of bizarre ideas, in a parallel world with brass music, self-proclaimed but “certified” shamans, saxophone players with aluminum hats, anti-vaccination opponents in hospital clothing – and thousands of ordinary people who have no problem with it to demonstrate right-wing muddleheads.

“Normal people”?

It is precisely this mixture that makes the protest so elusive. A somewhat absurd, hateful dispute has broken out among journalists in the Austrian Twitter sphere about whether one should speak of “normal people” among the demonstrators and whether the concerns should be taken seriously.

Anyone who speaks to them notices that they are driven by a generalized distrust of politics, the media and science – and the rejection of the compulsory vaccination. Two young women who, like everyone else, do not want to reveal their full names, cannot be immunized against corona or other diseases. “It’s about my freedom,” says one. “My body, my rules.”

Austria’s Federal Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg (ÖVP)

Schallenberg is criticized and insulted at the demonstrations.

(Photo: dpa)

Tanja from Styria, who is currently drinking a mulled wine at the Christmas market, specifically rejects the corona vaccination: “I rely on what God gave me, and that is my immune system.” All three speak of manipulated corona numbers and the media who spread propaganda. The pattern coincides with studies by the University of Vienna, which estimate the proportion of severe vaccination refusals in Austria at ten to 20 percent, with people with lower incomes and non-voters being disproportionately represented.

Unsatisfied nursing staff

Others, like Alex from Lower Austria, recognize that Corona is a problem, but criticize the government for its misguided policy. He does not understand why they are no longer providing hospital beds and increasing the wages of the nursing staff.

This is also occasionally present in the demonstration. A woman who works in a Carinthian intensive care unit tells of an extremely tense situation with a lack of staff and many unvaccinated patients. Nevertheless, the extent of the pandemic should not be exaggerated: “You have to see which patient population is on our ward. They’re hardly young and healthy, but old people with previous illnesses. ”She doesn’t want the vaccine. A vaccination requirement is an interference with their personal rights. She does not yet know what she will do when she comes.

The passers-by who were watching the demonstration from the sidelines that afternoon responded with incomprehension. The Scholl couple, who came from Salzburg for the day, are annoyed by the refusal of the vaccination opponents: “Because of the unreasonableness of small groups, our rights are just as curtailed,” they say of the lockdown for everyone. The government justifies this largely with the fact that the vaccination quota of 66 percent is significantly too low to be able to counteract the Delta variant. Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg apologized to those vaccinated and recovered on Friday.

Clear majority relationships

The media and the clear majority of the population criticize the government much more for not having taken decisive steps earlier to counter the record high new infections and the burden in the hospitals. The latest survey by Unique Research on Friday shows that, before the current tightening, just under a fifth considered the existing measures to be sufficient or called for their abolition. On the other hand, 41 percent were in favor of a general compulsory vaccination and a third in favor of a lockdown.

There can be no question of a split in Austria. The fact that the dissatisfaction with tough corona measures is concentrated among ÖVP and MFG voters and these parties are actively fueling them, however, will cause further political tensions. When it comes to the question of how to bring back those who have long since said goodbye to their parallel world, there is now complete perplexity.

More: For Austria’s economy, the lockdown is the lesser evil

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