Voices for the silent march

I was not really planning to write about the White March again after “1,200 ignorant people”. I assumed — wrongly, as it turned out — that all the important things had already been said and there was no need to repeat them. 

But when instead of 1,200 people in white, no less than 4,000 people had rallied to demonstrate publicly against the government measures, then we are dealing with something new altogether.

The journalists/photographers from Luxemburger Wort who made the trek to the Philharmonie on Friday 15 October might have been thinking the same. 

My husband spontaneously approached the journalists:

– “Hello, may I ask a question please?” 

– LW: “Yes, of course.” 

– My husband: “Where were you 2 weeks ago, when 1,200 people were here? I pay 300 euro per year for a subscription and I am not getting information about what happens in this country, do you think this is normal? What am I really paying for here?”

The journalists, somewhat embarrassed, replied:

– “Last time we were not sent here.”

– My husband continued: “So you find it normal that I pay so much money and only get to read about things you are sent to cover and not about what is really happening in our country? What kind of yes-man journalism is that? Do what you are told? ” 

– LW: “That’s why we are here NOW.”

This reply was hardly testament to courage in seeking “rightness and truth”.

The silent march in the press

Luxemburger Wort

Like almost all participants, the two gentlemen from the Wort were not wearing masks, which makes their report of 16 October all the more surprising. Because in the Wort article written by the two journalists, precisely the “non-wearing of masks” was denounced as a violation of the Covid law, as masks are still mandated for events with 300 people or more. 

Also in the report of Monday 18 October, the non-wearing of masks was again brought up as one of the main points of criticism. In the latter report, there is also an embarrassing, not to say hackneyed, attempt to discredit Dr. Benoît Ochs. 

But at a time when people prefer to pick on others rather than engage with their arguments, such an approach is apparently part of the “new normal”. For this lofty purpose, useful untruths may then also be employed to convey one’s own convictions. So, the journalists actually wrote this: 

“The mortality rate of the vaccine is higher than the mortality rate of Covid disease, claims the controversial physician Dr. Benoît Ochs in an interview with Expressis Verbis, an alternative news site. The vaccine has killed 40 million people. It is because of such and similar claims that the doctor from Junglinster has come under criticism. He has been suspended from exercising his profession for one year.” 

The cited original video is freely available in our video library, and we invite any interested reader to watch this closely against the background of the Wort report. In fact, Dr. Ochs has made no such absurd claim in any of his interviews with us. 

At 5:40 minutes into this video — which you can still watch using this link — Dr. Ochs is talking about 40 vaccine deaths out of 1 million vaccinated people. The original statement in this video, translated into English, is this: “40 declared, 40 deaths per million vaccinated”. Here, Dr. Ochs was referring to official and publicly available statistics in the context of the novel vaccination.

Admittedly, Dr. Ochs often speaks very quickly. After all, French is his mother tongue. But even for Luxembourgers, for whom French is a foreign language, what he actually said clearly differs from what the Wortjournalists heard. If they were trying to put false statements in his mouth, that would surely be an additional task for Dr. Ochs’ lawyers. 

On the other hand, Expressis Verbis is referred to as an “alternative news site” in Luxemburger Wort, which already comes very close to fulfilling our wish to round out the reporting. So they seem to have understood – at least secretly – that their media offerings echoing the state may also be viewed from a critical perspective.

The silent march in L‘Essentiel

On 15 October 2021, the newspaper L’Essentiel carried a brief report saying that: 

“Between 3,500 and 4,000 people [cheered] the controversial Dr. Ochs, who was found guilty by the Medical Council of infractions against a dozen articles of the professional code of ethics.” 

Here, L’Essentiel seem to be as unaware of the difference between judgment and appeal procedure as they are about the presumption of innocence. One would think that a person who had a judgment go against him once would then also remain guilty on appeal and apparently also after a possible review. 

Like other media, L’Essentiel seem to assume that Dr. Ochs is one of the organizers of the silent marches. 

It is interesting, though, to note the undercurrent of pejorative judgment toward the 3,500 to 4,000 people cheering an alleged criminal. Inevitably, the 1891 work The Criminal Crowd by the Italian lawyer and criminologist Scipio Sighele springs to mind. The Italian expert on mass psychology believed that completely normal people could be corrupted and turned into criminals under the influence of mass phenomena. Then at least you know — based on the subtle hints of L’Essentiel — what you must think about this cheering crowd of people — some of whom were clearly also L’Essentiel readers.

The silent march in Tageblatt

Eric Hamus presented a balanced account of the silent march in Tageblatt. Already the introduction seems to reflect correctly the plurality of the participants’ concerns:

“In addition to some anti-vaxxers and radical Covid deniers, many concerned citizens had gathered who feared a split in society or still had questions regarding vaccination and certain Covid measures.”

Here, then, it seems that not all critics of the “sanitary-political situation” are portrayed without further proof or argumentation as wafflers or conspiracy theorists, as is the rule in Syndey Wiltgen’s texts.

Hamus points out that for many participants it is about the fear that the current measures and public discourse will lead to a situation where “society risks becoming divided and common coexistence thrown off balance” – to my mind, a not unjustified fear. 

Thus, one of the intentions of the participants was also to “unite citizens beyond their differences and to give renewed meaning and hope”. The silent march should therefore “send a strong signal … to the government”. Because for numerous citizens, Hamus said, “too many questions … are still unanswered”.

The reference to the annoyance that everyone would be “lumped together” also seems extremely interesting to me: concerned citizens, conspiracy theorists, anti-vaxxers, pandemic deniers and supporters of radical right-wing ideas who want to profit from the opportunity to spread their questionable beliefs in public. At the same time, many people have perfectly legitimate questions that are not being answered because of the current mood.

This separation of various political and ideological elements in the otherwise indistinguishable brew is, of course, particularly welcome in the case of Tageblatt. And maybe we can see a true sign in this moderate, realistic account. 

Let us also look at Marco Goetz’ Tageblatt editorial of 19 October.

Goetz reminds us that even in a democracy, the majority does not necessarily equate with truth and rightness. Goetz also knows “that it is important to question things”. Indeed.

It also seems interesting here that Goetz is able to distinguish at least theoretically between, on the one hand, vague political statements that our “gut feeling” tells us are rather flippant or emotional, and on the other hand, the articulated concepts of political science analysis. As an aside, let us not forget that many of our journalists, despite their elitist intellectual self-image, hardly practice the latter themselves on such a regular basis that they could hold themselves up as an example of it. 

Unfortunately, even Goetz, despite all good intentions, is not able to grasp the conceptually more relevant grain of truth in the accusations of “dictatorial posturing”. That the Covid measures are an “imposition on democracy” (Angela Merkel) is not something merely suggested by the vague gut feelings of demonstrators. Coupled with perfect Covid amnesia regarding previous political pandemic constructs and a massive Europe-wide crisis of representative democracy, the small and rather head-teacherly exposé on democratic theory then unfortunately still ends up being nothing but a know-it-all surface coating.  

The silent march in Radio 100.7

In the nicest school-essay manner, at least the public radio station did write that many participants are critical of the current media coverage. Even if the author copied Dr. Ochs’ suspension from her equally ill-informed colleagues, I am pleased with the otherwise balanced reporting in three paragraphs and six sentences.

Comments in the (a)social media 

The social media posts do not really warrant any further comment. This is where otherwise normally respectable people out themselves with the verbal gestures of sinister shooting-gallery figures. Out of self-respect, I will not respond to such nonsense here. 

Nevertheless, in this context I would like to address briefly the statements and comments of the Secretaire général adjoint of the Chamber of Deputies. A few days ago, for example, one could read the following public post on his Facebook wall: 

The smug sarcasm of one of the country’s top officials speaks volumes. He gives us a clear and deep insight into the self-image of various members of high officialdom and the world of politics (see Alex Bodry’s and Sven Clement’s comments on the same page). For these people, the concept of herd immunity seems to have a very special meaning. 

Let us leave aside the fact that the patriotic public servant managed 3 spelling mistakes in 2 sentences. Incidentally, he was surpassed in this by his hygiene-conscious interlocutor, who made 4 spelling mistakes in his shorter answer. Intellectually and linguistically outstanding gentlemen indeed!

So, the monarchist Reiter, nostalgic for aristocracy, and his high-placed friends, seem to believe that the demonstrating stupid voters have no business dwelling at the square housing the exalted representatives of the people. And if such creatures should nevertheless stray onto the not-so-democratic steps of the parliament palace, they should be disinfected from the filth of the disgusting mob.

So maybe we can then also understand the deeper motives of the mask compulsion of various real or imaginary rulers: masks protect against the obnoxious stench of the uncouth herd. The People: The Great Unwashed

For all their educated arrogance, Mr. Reiter and his state friends seem to forget that the introduction of modern democratic parliaments also meant a drastic loss of status for the aristocracy. The bet is on that none of our journalists will respond to such statements, which would directly cost the careers of officials and politicians abroad.

The Police 

Last but not least, from all the participants in the White March – which in fact has no specific organizer – a special thank you must go to the Police. They were very nice, very calm and completely professional. They had the situation under control, despite being hopelessly outnumbered. Maybe because they were just nice. One policeman even said it was more relaxed with us than at some football game or other.

However, to conclude, I would like to relate a conversation that I happened to overhear and was very moved by. 

We were standing at the corner of Rue Philippe II and Grand-Rue. A gentleman approached a policeman and said nicely and politely, “I would like to address you with a request. You don’t have to answer me now because I know you are not allowed to. But: if it continues like this with the political capriciousness, or maybe even gets worse, would you please remember that you are there to protect the people and not the politicians? I’m sure you also have children or want to have children. If you feel it would be better not to see them grow up in a world where politicians do this to the people, then don’t think about us, who are standing in front of you now. Think about your children and their future. For me, it doesn’t matter, I’m old. But the children of our society … should they really grow up in a dictatorship, a mixture of Brave New World and 1984 and in this lies-and-money quagmire? Please remember that you are there to protect the people and their future children.”

The policeman kept his professional stoicism. His body language did not reveal much either, except that he had leaned toward the older gentleman to hear him better. But his eyes seemed genuinely moved, filled with empathy, understanding and, it seemed to me, some despair. Tears welled up in my eyes: I think he understood the man’s fears.

In the 18 months of wearing masks, we have learned a lot; among other things, to recognize moments of coming eye to eye both in the literal and figurative sense. And this was one such “eye-to-eye” moment that held something really meaningful for me. 

The next “White March“, we are told, will be held on 29 October.

Nathalie Meier

(PS: I would like to thank Thierry Simonelli for his excellent assistance with this text.)