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Antivax protests are on the rise in Europe, but can they last?

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By Sandor Zsiros
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Antivax protests are on the rise in Europe, but can they last?
Copyright  FRED TANNEAU/AFP

Protests against mandatory vaccinations and restrictions for the unvaccinated are now being held weekly in Brussels and many European capitals.

And their influence on politics is beginning to increase.

Belgium United for Freedom is just one of many organisations across Europe trying to convert this anger into political influence.

The group's leader, Sarkis Simonjan, told Euronews that his concerns are valid.

"The anger of people is legitimate. It's normal that people get angry because people get pissed off with the situation," Simonjan said.

Could this anger disappear with the ending of restrictions, though?

In the short term, some anti-vax movements are already influencing elections, but this could backfire in the French presidential election, according to Jacob Kirkegaard from the German Marshall Fund.

He says that Emmanuel Macron has been playing the card of blaming the unvaccinated for the continuation of the pandemic.

"I actually think it's a strategically wise move by Macron because all public polling in France suggests that the vast majority, more than two-thirds of the French people, support him in this tough line against the unvaccinated anti-vaxxers," Kirkegaard told Euronews.

In the upcoming Hungarian parliamentary elections campaign, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is following a completely different strategy.

According to polls, 30% of the country's adult population refuses any vaccine, and more than 50% oppose mandatory vaccination. Hungary's government does not want to repel this large group of voters, so it has instead opted for a relatively relaxed set of anti-COVID measures.

"He wants to actually please this constituency, and I think quite clearly from his point of view, it's trying to mobilise his base," Kirkegaard said. 

"He needs every far-right voter to come to his side because as polling indicates, you know, he's going to lose most of the urban areas he's going to lose, you know, better-educated people."

Most European countries are now well prepared for regular anti-vax demonstrations, but this is not the case when it comes to their impact on politics.