22:19 / 18.09.2021.

Author: Katja Miličić

Thousands protest COVID restrictions in Zagreb

Anti-restrictions protesters in Ban Jelačić Square

Anti-restrictions protesters in Ban Jelačić Square

Foto: Matija Habljak / PIXSELL

Several thousand people gathered in Bank Jelačić square on Saturday to protest COVID-19 restrictions and the vaccine. 

This is the second year that anti-restrictions activists have organized the so-called Festival of Freedom to protest the government's COVID response. They claim COVID-19 is being used to attain political goals and that the restrictions are doing more harm than the virus itself.

"There is no concrete scientific evidence or argument that COVID certificates can be used to protect public health because those who are vaccinated can transmit the virus as well," said activist Alma Demirović, a physician who also opposes mandatory vaccine schedules for children. Demirović said she is not against people taking the COVID vaccine but believes it should be a personal choice.

Many of the speakers tried to emphasize that they were not fringe conspiracy theorists.

“We are not going to let them enslave us. We are not flat-earthers nor do we leave lower IQs than the vaccinated. Nobody here believes the coronavirus does not exist,” said Predrag Livak, a local politician from Požega.

Despite these appeals not to brand them as conspiracy theorists, many speakers did refer directly to conspiracy theories that existed before the pandemic but have now been adapted to include COVID-19. Retired pediatrician Nada Jurinčić spoke about COVID-19 being a plot by the global elites to benefit powerful capitalists, a conspiracy theory widely shared on Facebook, the leading platform for the spread of COVID misinformation.

The protest was also attended by some high-profile hard-right political figures, including Stjepo Bartulica and Igor Peternel from the Homeland Movement, and Zaltko Hasanbegović from the Croatian Sovereignists.

Prime Minister Plenković described the protest and its use of the word freedom as "pathetic" and underscored that 12 people had died of COVID the previous day.

 “These are people who obviously have not been to another country, seen their restrictive measures. I'll say again: our schools are open, our transportation network is working, our economy is open, industry is working, and we have social lives," he said.

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