German Chancellor Angela Merkel enraged local activists after she appeared to suggest that the Kremlin was pulling the strings behind student climate protests. But her spokesman later said that she supported the demonstrations.
Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert was left to do some urgent damage control after the chancellor appeared to pin the blame for schoolchildren-led environmental protests across Europe on the long arm of Moscow.
Speaking at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday, Merkel highlighted the threat of Russian “hybrid warfare” – a mix of cyberwar and cunning disinformation campaigns – that, according to the German PM, “can be felt every day in every European country.”
Warning of the omnipotent threat to Europe’s security from Russia, Merkel noted that such warfare is “hard to detect, because you suddenly have movements that you wouldn’t have thought would appear.”
Seemingly citing an example of such an artificially concocted movement, Merkel mentioned the mass student demonstrations that see German schoolchildren skipping their lessons every Friday to protest against the government’s lukewarm response to climate change.
“In Germany now, children are protesting for climate protection,” she said. While conceding that it was “a really important issue,” Merkel appeared to cast doubt on its grassroot origins.
“But you can’t imagine that all German children, after years, and without any outside influence, suddenly hit on the idea that they have to take part in this process,” she said.
Merkel’s innuendo is not uncommon, as Moscow has been blamed for a range of international interferences by media and foreign governments, from Brexit in the UK, Yellow Vests in France, and – most recently – the global measles outbreak.
However, Merkel’s suggestion did not sit well with environmental activists at home, who were fuming at the suggestion.
‘Fridays for Future Germany,’ the movement spearheading the protests in the country, posted a stark rebuke to the German chancellor’s remark on Twitter.
“Merkel puts us on a par with hybrid warfare. We don’t accept this. We are a self-organized movement of students,” the group tweeted.
Taking a swipe at Merkel, ‘Fridays for Future Germany’ activist Linus Steinmetz tweeted that “the Chancellor, apparently, lacks the imagination that young people can organize themselves politically and stand up for their own future.”
Anscheinend fehlt der Bundeskanzlerin die Vorstellungskraft, dass Jugendliche sich politisch organisieren und selbst für ihre Zukunft eintreten können. Ich finde es tragisch, dass uns Jugendlichen nicht zugetraut wird für unsere eigenen Anliegen einzutreten. #FridaysForFuture
— Linus Steinmetz (@linus_steinmetz) 16 февраля 2019 г.
As the controversy grew, Markus Winkler, social media specialist for World Wide Fund (WWF) Germany, asked Seibert to clarify what made the German government allege that the protests were the work of Russian masterminds.
The request for evidence, which is often lacking in cases where Russia is to blame, saw Seibert backpedaling on Merkel’s remark. He said that Merkel merely mentioned ‘Fridays for Future’ as an “example of mobilization through social media campaigns.”
READ MORE: Got a problem? Just blame Russia
The chancellor’s spokesman added that she “expressively approves” of the movement.
According to the protests’ organizers, some 26,000 people turned up across 35 German cities to protest against the government’s failure to tackle climate change on Friday. Some 15,000 people took to the streets in the UK for the same cause.
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