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Austria’s Stark and Deepening Divide: Anti-COVID Protests in Vienna by Tristan Vanheuckelom

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Austria’s Stark and Deepening Divide: Anti-COVID Protests in Vienna

About 44,000 Austrians gathered at the capital’s Heldenplatz once more last Saturday to protest their government’s measures to combat the ongoing COVID pandemic, Kleine Zeitung reports.

With measures in place such as lockdowns for the unvaccinated and mandatory inoculations starting February, the country currently maintains the strictest policy in Europe. The protest had been organized by the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ), a right-wing, national-conservative party. Around 1,400 police officers were present to oversee the event—the country’s latest in a series of weekend protests going on for four straight weeks.

From a podium, speakers uttered phrases like “who of you is afraid of death,” calling government politicians “angels of death,” with Herbert Kickl, FPÖ Chairman, accusing the government of wanting to set up “an apartheid regime.”

In his speech, Kickl spoke of how gratifying it is to be “fighting against a regime that is getting more and more foolish every day.” Kickl expressed his hope that the government would soon “go to the dogs” and promised “not to let the sovereign be turned into servants.” 

“Stand firm in your resistance,” Kickl told protestors—”You are right and the others are wrong.”

Kickl went on to strike back against previous criticism from Elisabeth Köstinger, member of the conservative Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) and Minister for Agriculture: “Wer mir ausrichtet, dass ich Blut an den Händen habe, dem richte ich aus, dass er nur Mist im Kopf hat.” (Anyone who tells me that I have blood on their hands, I tell them that they only have crap in their head.”)

According to police, reports were drawn up for use of pyrotechnics and disregarding the requirement to mask up. The final tally of arrests made was four. Troublemakers, some of whom threw snowballs and chunks of ice at representatives of the media were quickly identified and stopped, they said.

Such acts of aggression came under criticism from the Social Democratic Party of Austria (SPÖ): “It is unacceptable that the FPÖ tolerates right-wing extremists at their demonstrations who ruthlessly attack the police and media representatives,” said SPÖ Security spokesman Reinhold Einwallner in a broadcast. “Once again a violent bloc took the lead in the FPÖ demonstration, spurred on by Herbert Kickl, who legitimized this violent behavior with his aggressive rhetoric.”

Before the demonstration however, Kickl had appealed to participants to act in a peaceful and orderly manner.

With a population of 8.9 million people, Austrian authorities have confirmed 1.2 million infections and more than 13,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

About 68% of the country’s population is fully vaccinated, one of the lowest rates in Western Europe.

During the past weekend other smaller demonstrations—largely ignored by the media were held, for example, in Luxembourg, Madrid and Barcelona

Tristan Vanheuckelom writes on film, literature, and comics for various Dutch publications. He is an avid student of history, political theory, and religion, and is a News Writer at The European Conservative.

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