Omas Gegen Rechts-Ost
In November 2017 Austrian Granny and Therapist Monica Saltzer and the Journalist Susanne Scholl established OMAS GEGEN RECHTS as a facebook page in reaction to the far right, anti-immigration Austrian Freedom Party, or FPÖ, being brought in to a coalition government with Sebastian Kurz of the Austrian Peoples Party. The Coalition Government has since collapsed after 18 months following the Ibiza corruption scandal.However, OMAS GEGEN RECHTS has since evolved from being solely a facebook page which had attracted 13,000 members moving to numerous group meetings and political demonstrations. It has spread it ‘s wings outwards from Austria to confront the proliferation of ‘Populist’ right wing ideology throughout Europe, the Grannie movement arrived in Germany the following year. There are now roughly 70 active regional groups of OMAS GEGEN RECHTS throughout the Bundesrepuplik Deutschland. Italy and the Netherlands are also developing Omas groups.
68-year-old Gertrud Graf, a retired Headmistress, is one of the pioneer activists in establishing OMAS GEGEN RECHTS in Berlin. Sitting in a café near her home in Kreuzberg in the German capital while ordering a late breakfast, she explains: ‘I was aware of the Grannies in Vienna and decided to develop a group here in Berlin. Grannies want to make a difference. To make a future for children in this world. `Graf spends a lot of her free time now assisting OMAS GEGEN RECHTS groups in the Eastern part of Germany, the former GDR, to establish themselves: ‘I travel to different Granny groups when asked with the idea of helping them to develop and grow in their own way. My inclination is to assist groups from the bottom up not to impose something from the top down.’ With a busy schedule and a political understanding of what’s at stake – the AfD polling as second political party in a lot of the East – she’s answered calls for assistance from Chemnitz, Erfurt, Halle (Saale) and Cottbus. Indeed, the list goes on and is constantly being updated. ‘We Grannies all have different backgrounds but we have a common ground in wanting to see a civilisation of life and culture which invites diversity. Each person is a gift to the world.’
It ‘s the first Friday of the month and 70-year-old Berlin Grandmother Ute Menzner enters the U Bahn system at Hallesches Tor bound for Alexanderplatz to attend an hour long vigil, "Mahnwache" in German, as part of the group OMAS GEGEN RECHTS Berlin. She ‘s accompanied, as usual, on this same date every month by other Grandmothers from the Berlin group. Clutching their banners and placards they just collected from their rallying point at a Café in Kreuzberg the Omas proceed to navigate the cities transport system.
‘I'm part of the generation that asked our parents how did this happen’- Ute is referring to the establishment of National Socialism under the Nazi regime of the 1930’s and 40’s in Germany: ‘and why did you do nothing to stop it.’ This questioning of why you as an individual did nothing to oppose the Nazi’s is a recurring theme for the Grandmother’s of OMAS GEGEN RECHTS, mostly born of the fabled 68 generation. ‘It ‘s my duty to stand up to parties of the far right because we know from history what comes from them’, says Ute, ‘We are old women that have a special kind of energy because we have lived in these times when cities were in ruins from war and people dead and injured. I have seen this and it should never be allowed to happen again.’
The May Day protest in Erfurt for 2019 was called by the German Trade Union Confederation and Left Wing Alliance in opposition to Björn Höcke from the AfD and his fledgling splinter group ‘Der Flügel’ parading in the city. By police estimates 800 far right activists rally to Höcke‘s call but 4000 citizens form part of its opposition.
64-year-old grandmother Uta Schumann who runs a clothing and jewellery shop in the city is there. Erfurt has just established its own branch of OMAS GEGEN RECHTS and the Grannies are on the march. ‘I’ve always been a political person. It comes from my own grandmother who taught me to ask the right questions. Such as who is actually benefitting from things. Right now it’s important that anyone who doesn’t agree with what right parties are saying need to stand up and start opening their mouths.’
With tensions and fears being amplified in these economically and environmentally uncertain times, populist far right parties proliferate with simplistic solutions of blaming others. The Scapegoats of history are still the same – foreigners, Muslims, Jews, a United Europe, internationalism. Uta Schumann concludes ’The Oma is a symbol. When you are a child and you become afraid, your Oma is always there for you to run to and protect you. The ideas of the far right are based on fear and hate but as a Grandmother I have to have hope.’
Back in the Capital Marion Geisler is standing near the Brandenburg Gate, Berlin. She ‘s holding her OMAS GEGEN RECHTS banner alongside other Omas and the group is about to add their presence to a demonstration for sustainable and ethical food production. When asked why she is involved with the Grannies she replies: ’Because I love this country where I was born. Because I never want to give it back into the hands of right wing ideology. Because I take responsibility for my own children and my eight grandchildren. For their freedom, which is not guaranteed and needs to be always defended. ‘Briefly pausing she then continues; ‘As a post-war child, the fear of my parents and grandparents of "authority" is written into my genes. But I do not want to be scared, that's why I'm standing here. I want to encourage myself to fight hatred, xenophobia, intolerance and stupidity. Freedom is our highest goal and it is necessary to defend it everywhere.’
© Craig Stennett