How Political Establishments Sponsor Protests They Want, Suppress the Ones They Don’t, and Tread Carefully When Clients Go Off-Message
A brief consideration of how the German state has treated climate, pandemic and pro-Palestinian demonstrators.
Western liberal democracies cultivate a range of fictions about their nature and function. In the myths they tell about themselves, the people are sovereign and politicians merely enact their wishes. In reality, and as in all political systems democratic or otherwise, it is the leaders who exercise power and who strive to herd the people in convenient directions. Democracy imposes various constraints on their actions but does not meaningfully hinder the unilateral decisions of the establishment. To disguise these uncomfortable truths, democracies eagerly engage in various democratic liturgies, among them the popular protest. Leaders prefer protests which favour their prior political programme, and they sponsor these wherever possible, and with as much publicity as possible, to draw attention away from those less convenient demonstrations that they find it necessary to marginalise or even violently suppress.
Since 2021, Letzte Generation have engaged in a monotonous programme of vandalism and civil disturbance. For their trouble, activists have received mostly fines and some mild chiding from politicians. When police were caught on activists’ cameras roughly handling two climate-gluers last week, the German press collectively hyperventilated and police departments swiftly announced investigations against their own officers. The regime very clearly views Letzte Generation as important if sometimes unruly collaborators. They demonstrate on behalf of the core political goals of the Scholz government and lend substance to the fiction that climate measures are an organic, grassroots demand that flows above all from the people.
Protestors against pandemic restrictions received vastly different treatment. Their demonstrations were routinely forbidden and suppressed with considerable violence. Videos of this suppression were so shocking that they even drew objections from the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. In December 2021, when the Koblenz police thanked pandemic demonstrators for their peaceful comportment and wished them a good evening, the press was swift to condemn them and a police spokesman apologised. Our laughable Interior Minister Nancy Faeser even called upon Germans to “express [their] opinion without gathering together in many places at the same time.”
Originally published on the author’s Substack
One of our country’s most important freedoms is that of free speech.
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