They call themselves “Querdenker” in German, a term that can be translated as “unconventional”. Their ranks are growing from month to month. From around fifty people on November 7 in Zurich, opponents of the anti-covid restrictive measures gathered, according to their counts, some 3,600 people in Aargau in February, around 6,000 in Graubünden in early March and more than 8,000 in Liestal on March 20. But the horizon of protesters is shrinking, while fewer and fewer municipalities agree to see them parade on their territory.
A mostly German-speaking phenomenon, it is beginning to affect French-speaking Switzerland: last Saturday in Sion, some 200 people took to the public square to express their dissatisfaction with the health measures, during an authorized demonstration. Who are these individuals in Switzerland who are pounding the pavement against restrictions? Are they ready to take more radical action?
The latest gatherings have drawn a nebula of organizations, most created in the context of the pandemic and based in German-speaking Switzerland. “We are not protesting against something, but for the respect of human rights”, asserts, bombastically, Richard Lüthi, spokesperson for Stiller Protest. The association created last December has 400 members, he says. She wants to be talked about, without excess: “We do not break, we do not leave dirt behind us. We are calm. We have nothing to do with the extremists, ”he emphasizes.
Stiller Protest is distinguished by its staging caricaturing the hygienist discourse of the authorities: its members parade in white protective suits, face covered with white masks. Their French-speaking counterpart, the “White Bonhommes” were in Sion last Saturday. A form, too, of diversion from the imposition of the hygienic mask.
To make itself heard, this group relies above all on street demonstrations. An increasingly difficult exercise. At the beginning of the week, the organization met with another refusal, in Rapperswil. The Saint-Welsh municipality justified its ban by the increasing curve of contaminations and the fact that previous demonstrations have shown that it was difficult to apply health measures.
After Altdorf, this is the second setback since the beginning of March for the “Querdenkers”, who have long since removed Zurich or Bern from their list: “Too many police officers.” The movement has secured the help of several lawyers and retaliates via appeals. His complaints also target several “mainstream media” whom he accuses of failing in their duty to seek the truth. But Stiller Protest says it does not want to demonstrate illegally.
Ditto on the side of “Mass-voll!”, The latest arrival on the protest scene. The organization wants to embody the widening of the protest movement against anti-covid measures and shows a pragmatic face. It was created by students from Lucerne at the start of the second lockdown: “We could not accept any new restrictions,” said Carla Wicki, 24, a law student at the University of Zurich, co-founder. The young woman argues that there are many more people who suffer from the decisions of the authorities than from the covid itself. “The virus is there. But health measures are not working and causing more harm than the pandemic, ”she said.
Isolation, lack of exchanges between peers or even uncertainties about the future: “Young people are paying the heaviest price for the crisis even though they represent the population least affected in terms of their health. But we don’t listen to them. ” The tone is more offensive in the speeches made during the protests, the videos of which circulate on Telegram, the main communication channel of the organization, with nearly 4,000 subscribers: “Politics are breaking an entire generation.” “Inhumane measures destroy our future.” “Stand up, protest, fight for your freedom!” chanted the co-founder Nicolas Rimoldi, also a member of the PLR.
“Mass-voll!” calls for an immediate end to anti-covid measures, but also for the creation of a public commission of inquiry to examine political decisions related to the pandemic, or even reparations for the damage caused by the restrictions. Carla Wicki assures him: there is no room for conspiracy theories. “We have ten administrators who take turns moderating our chat constantly.”
“Mass-voll!” masters communication. But his speech does not stand out from other organizations challenging the measures. “I see it more as a sign of professionalization of the movement than its enlargement,” underlines Robert Schäfer, co-author of a study on the protest movement against anti-covid measures.
With two other sociologists from the University of Basel, he explored the protests in Switzerland, Germany and Austria, mixing polls and ethnographic observations. In all, sociologists collected 1150 questionnaires. “Our study is not statistically representative,” warns Nadine Frei, co-author. All the same, it allows us to draw up the profile of the opponents of the measures: older and more educated than the average Swiss population.
Politically heterogeneous, the movement has many independents (25%). It is “well entrenched on the left, but slips clearly to the right since the pandemic”, still estimate the sociologists. Another common point of the protesters: the tendency, for nearly half of them, to adhere to conspiracy theories. A marked distrust of the media. And the strong presence of anti-vaccines, followers of alternative medicine or people registered in the anthroposophical movement. Hence, perhaps, the predominance of demonstrations in the German-speaking world, where the spiritual movement of Rudolf Steiner is well established. “The anthroposophical component is found in the criticism, which is very present in Germany, of rational, modern society and of traditional medicine”, underlines Robert Schäfer.
Potential for radicalization
The researchers finally note “a considerable immanent potential for radicalization”. “In Switzerland, radicalism is above all verbal”, they specify. The requirement to wear a mask is described as “torture of children”. We talk about “dictatorship” or human rights violations, strong terms. The reported altercations are incommensurate with the excesses observed in Germany, where right-wing extremists are grafted onto the demonstrations. “Switzerland remains preserved because the political culture there is more moderate”, notes Robert Schäfer. “And neo-Nazi groups are less organized,” adds Nadine Frei.
But recourse to violence is not excluded. The radicalization of a part of the protesters appears in some Telegram chats, where the tone rises and where calls for shock actions rub shoulders with anti-Semitic comments and conspiracy theories, as the Sunday view. In parallel, a call to go out in the street “to walk” peacefully on Easter Saturday circulated in the groups, by way of circumventing the ban on assembly. Will it be followed?