“Something like last Saturday must never happen again”: Bettel

Prime minister Xavier Bettel (DP) speaking in parliament in October Library photo: Romain Gamba / Maison Moderne

Prime minister Xavier Bettel (DP) speaking in parliament in October Library photo: Romain Gamba / Maison Moderne

Prime minister Xavier Bettel (DP) on Tuesday condemned the radicalisation of protesters against coronavirus measures, saying police presence would be strengthened and calling for all parties to work together to combat the polarisation of society.

Bettel spoke in parliament after a demonstration in the capital on Saturday saw splinter groups storm Christmas markets and vandalise his home.

“This is about the foundation of our rule of law,” he said about combatting the escalation of the demonstration that targeted the government’s pandemic measures and vaccination policy. “Something like last Saturday must never happen again.”

Interior security minister Henri Kox (Déi Gréng) earlier in the day had told lawmakers that police presence in the capital would be increased over the weekend when more protests are expected.

Bettel also addressed those who had peacefully protested. “Don’t let yourself be instrumentalised by incendiaries who want to destroy our democracy and our social coexistence,” he said. “Don’t take part in protests that call for violence and hate in advance.”

“It is your right to have your opinion. It is your right to say this opinion. It is your right to demonstrate and as a democrat I will defend this right. But you must accept when I tell you that global science doesn’t share your opinion,” he said. “Covid-19 exists and it’s not just a light flu. Hospitals are once again full of patients that in some cases are severely ill and over the last days we have seen people die every day. These are facts. They are indisputable,” he said. “Vaccination is the best way out of this pandemic and science is clear on this point.”

But the premier also called for all political parties to work together to combat radicalisation that had shown “its ugly face” in Luxembourg. “Ignorance, hate and violence don’t have a place in Luxembourg.”

While parties unanimously spoke out against Saturday’s violence, the government also faced criticism, however.

“Not everyone who isn’t vaccinated is a radicalised anti-vaxxer,” said Martine Hansen (CSV), adding that the government had failed to address people’s concerns and fears. “We have all failed to deescalate the situation,” said Nathalie Oberweis (Déi Lénk), adding that people who had questions about the vaccine were often rebuffed and found answers among anti-vaxx and conspiracy groups. “Since September, there has been an accusatory manner in how people who didn’t want to get vaccinated are spoken about.”

Homophobia and anti-Semitism

During Saturday’s protest, splinter groups had gathered outside of Bettel’s home, throwing eggs at the building and scratching a car parked outside. Protesters also gathered outside of family minister Corinne Cahen’s house (DP).

“Is it a coincidence that the mob met outside the door of an openly gay prime minister and a confessed Jew or does this have a deeper, more sinister background than the criticised covid measures,” said Georges Engel (LSAP).

“The question why exactly these two politicians were targeted again can be answered in two words: homophobia and anti-Semitism,” said Josée Lorschée (Déi Gréng), adding these phenomena must be prosecuted according to the law.

All parties condemned comparisons made between the treatment of people who are unvaccinated and the persecution of Jews during the Holocaust.

Many also pointed out the paradox that protesters claiming to live in a dictatorship are free to express their opinion. “We don’t live in a dictatorship. The fact that you have been able to demonstrate and voice your opinion without censure publicly for weeks is the best proof,” Bettel said.

“I can only recommend this person when they speak of dictatorship to do an internship in Belarus and protest outside the house of Mister Lukashenko and see what he would say about dictatorship and democracy,” said Gilles Baum (DP) about a statement published on social media.

“You cannot claim to live in a dictatorship only because your own opinion isn’t followed,” said Sven Clement (Pirate Party). “What kind of state would it be in which a minority that has declared its opinion as absolute truth would make all decisions,” he said. “That would be a dictatorship.”

Roy Reding under pressure

Several members of parliament called for the resignation of Roy Reding (ADR), who had published the contact details of a journalist on a messaging app. The journalist had been researching a piece on the anti-vaxx movement in several groups and was uncovered by Reding.

Hansen called the behaviour “unworthy” of an elected representative.

“At no point was it my intention to pillory the journalist or publish their phone number,” Reding said, adding that he had accidentally shared the contact details when sharing a message he had received from the writer.

“Journalists were threatened. One of our pillars of democracy is at risk,” said Bettel. 

The ADR politician had also called for resistance and wrote that he would travel to South Africa to bring back the omicron variant to Luxembourg. “You are politically responsible for what happened on Saturday,” said the DP’s Baum.

“I called for strike and resistance, and I don’t withdraw this,” said Reding, adding he had acted out of desperation. “You despair when you are excluded from public life,” he said, refusing calls to resign. “Your 2G rule means nothing else.”

Fernand Kartheiser, who spoke on behalf of the ADR, said the party condemns the violence but added: “Stop discrediting and discriminating people only because they have another opinion.”

Kartheiser said the ADR would continue advocating for a freedom of choice on vaccination, oppose the tightening of CovidCheck and advocate free coronavirus testing. He also shifted the responsibility for overwhelmed hospitals to the LSAP, which has led the health ministry during consecutive governments, blaming the party for shrinking the number of hospital beds.

The ADR did not sign a resolution by the parties represented in parliament in defence of democratic values, saying it had not seen the document ahead of the plenary.