Europe's COVID mandate protests are getting big and violent

Anti-COVID mandate protests have been going on for a while now, led by Europe, North America, and Australia.  Various international groups over the weekend held a global day of COVID mandate protests, which some ignorant reporters labeled "anti-vax" protests but, in fact, were anti-vaccine mandate protests.

One thing was different from the past protests: they are turning violent.  Here's the Politico report from Brussels:

Protests in Brussels against coronavirus restrictions spiralled into violence on Sunday as protesters clashed with police officers and vandalized the offices of the European External Action Service, the EU's diplomatic arm.

In one of the largest demonstrations against COVID-19 measures in the city, an estimated 50,000 people poured onto the streets, including groups traveling from outside Belgium, according to a police spokesperson. The demonstration was organized by the EU-wide network Europeans United for Freedom and other groups that oppose health restrictions.

Police used teargas and water cannons to clear the Cinquantenaire park near the EU institutions after groups of protesters threw objects at officers and charged at them. Live footage showed protesters at street level hurling metal fences and a burning dustbin at policemen below them in the entrance to a metro station. An escalator was later shown burning.

Hooded and masked demonstrators shattered the glass exterior of the EEAS office while police were inside.

"The side entrance was vandalized," said a Commission spokesperson, adding that nobody was in danger. Top diplomat Josep Borrell visited the offices to inspect the damage and tweeted his condemnation of "the senseless destruction and violence."

Another Francophone territory got violent as well:

Other protests were largely peaceful.

Why is it that Belgium's and Guadeloupe's protests turned violent?

Perhaps some clues can begin from the protesters themselves.  One reporter, Amy Jones, writing at Unherd, went and asked what was at the root of the protests, interviewing protesters in the U.K.:

It would be easy to paint this protest as "antivax", but as I spoke to the NHS staff who were protesting, it became apparent that doing so would be simplistic at best and disingenuous at worst.

While some mentioned their belief in natural immunity, and antibodies in lieu of vaccination, the vast majority of people I spoke to were less concerned about the vaccine itself and more worried about what the mandate represented — not only for themselves, but for their colleagues, and the NHS in general. Many were vaccinated, but chose to stand against the policy in solidarity with their unvaccinated colleagues.

Some, such as Anne, a midwife with 8 years' service, were worried about the impact on staffing. While she had been vaccinated, she was adamantly opposed to the mandate, explaining: "I don't want them to sack my colleagues. We are so short-staffed. This will destroy us".


Others were concerned about what kind of precedent this mandate would set. Many feared that it would give the NHS the power to alter employment terms and conditions retrospectively, which could result in them losing their jobs.

But the central theme to have emerged from my conversations with protesters — vaccinated and unvaccinated — was the importance of bodily autonomy and consent. As Alice, an emergency nurse practitioner explained: "It's about the principle. I cannot advocate for consent for my patients and deny it for myself and my peers". This sentiment was shared by Dr Steve James in his interview with UnHerd as well.

Bodily autonomy was the top reason; staff shortages and arbitrary government power were two others.

Over in Guadeloupe, a French overseas department, the restrictions seemed to be particularly harsh:

The protests were called for by unions to denounce France's COVID-19 health pass, which is required to access restaurants and cafes, cultural venues, sport arenas and long-distance travel. Demonstrators were also protesting France's mandatory vaccinations for health care workers.

In Belgium, where the protests were also violent, an organizer cited the country's ruined democracy to Politico:

"Our main demand is that emergency measures are introduced in a democratic and balanced way," Tom Meert, chairman of Europeans United for Freedom, wrote on the group's website.

"We do not deny that there are diseases. Our arguments would be the same in the case of a natural disaster or any other crisis: a country's policies must be deliberate and founded on the principles of the democratic rule of law."

Why did it come to what it came to in Belgium and Guadeloupe?  Perhaps because the people feel more powerless and voiceless, their protests happening again and again, and always coming to nothing.

Anne Applebaum a few weeks ago examined the strange new problem of mass protests being ineffective in an Atlantic piece called "The Bad Guys are Winning."  She spoils her piece with gratuitous shots at President Trump, but the beginning effort is pretty good.

All of us have in our minds a cartoon image of what an autocratic state looks like. There is a bad man at the top. He controls the police. The police threaten the people with violence. There are evil collaborators, and maybe some brave dissidents.

But in the 21st century, that cartoon bears little resemblance to reality. Nowadays, autocracies are run not by one bad guy, but by sophisticated networks composed of kleptocratic financial structures, security services (military, police, paramilitary groups, surveillance), and professional propagandists. The members of these networks are connected not only within a given country, but among many countries. The corrupt, state-controlled companies in one dictatorship do business with corrupt, state-controlled companies in another. The police in one country can arm, equip, and train the police in another. The propagandists share resources — the troll farms that promote one dictator's propaganda can also be used to promote the propaganda of another — and themes, pounding home the same messages about the weakness of democracy and the evil of America.

This is not to say that there is some supersecret room where bad guys meet, as in a James Bond movie. Nor does the new autocratic alliance have a unifying ideology. Among modern autocrats are people who call themselves communists, nationalists, and theocrats. No one country leads this group. Washington likes to talk about Chinese influence, but what really bonds the members of this club is a common desire to preserve and enhance their personal power and wealth. Unlike military or political alliances from other times and places, the members of this group don't operate like a bloc, but rather like an agglomeration of companies — call it Autocracy Inc. Their links are cemented not by ideals but by deals — deals designed to take the edge off Western economic boycotts, or to make them personally rich[.]

While Applebaum focuses on pariah dictators who get away with their misdeeds every time, impervious to the crowd sizes and condemnation of global opinion, what she describes seems reasonably apt for what is happening in places like Belgium, where officials have become entangled with corporate interests, science suffers, and locals have reached their wits' end.  They now seem to have turned to violence in desperation — entangled government and corporate interests, which limit personal freedom every time.

Both Belgium and France are well known for the arrogance of their bureaucrats, and this was evident before COVID came along, so they must be nightmares now.  Remember this Benelux guy?  Remember this charmer?  Remember this showdown from famous Brexiteer Nigel Farage?  This is what's on offer in places like Belgium and France.  In February, I compared France's Michel Camdessus to Dr. Rochelle Walensky of the CDC, which was pretty interesting.  Back in 1998, when Camdessus led the IMF, he left capitols on fire across Asia.  He was the ultimate arrogant bureaucrat.  Now COVID has supercharged the Camdessus-ian arrogance.  And sure enough, the arrogance has come full circle: Europe's cities are on fire. 

Image: Twitter screen shot.

If you experience technical problems, please write to