Political rights

Swiss corona protests: conspiracy theories against political rights


Police took a firmer stance on Saturday March 16 in Bern, barring protesters from entering Parliament Square. Keystone / Peter Klaunzer

Switzerland is now well into phase two of its three-step easing of Covid-19 restrictions, but that hasn’t stopped citizens from rallying to protest the government’s measures.

This content was published on May 20, 2020 – 09:28

Alexandre thoële

Domhnall O’Sullivan, with contributions from Alexander Thoele, swissinfo.ch

For three weekends in a row, they defied the ban on political demonstrations – as well as a blanket ban on meetings of more than five people – and rallied small but strong to protest the restrictions on freedom.

What do they represent?

On the one hand, activists are worried about the suspension of political rights and the extraordinary powers the government has to fight the virus.

“It’s not a demonstration, it’s a vigil,” one of the Bernese organizers, Alex Gagneux, told swissinfo.ch last week. For him, such a “vigil” is necessary in front of the parliament because “the constitution has been suspended” by the “disproportionate” actions of the government.

Posters at the events carried slogans such as “Democracy RIP, 1291-2020” (referring to the year Switzerland was born) and “#Stay awake for freedom and self-determination”. It is about freedom in the broad sense of the term, and a fear that the political freedoms swept away by the Covid-19 will not be returned quickly enough.

Freedoms or fictions

Freedom is a big word, however, and beyond the right to protest – a right that authorities have clarified this week is not suspended for protests of fewer than five people – the protests have also drawn a series of less fundamental issues.

Other signs seen over the past weekends included:

“To give [Bill] Doors no chance ”

“No to forced vaccinations!

“Stop Corona’s hysteria!” “

In other parts of Europe, the Covid-19 has led to events such as burningExternal link 5G masts, considered to be linked to the virus. In Switzerland, too, the protests drew a number of disgruntled voices and made the term “conspiracy theory” appear in the media (it also inspired fact-checking effortsExternal link).

Why the bloom of such ideas?

In a 2018 book, “Total bullshit: going to the heart of post-truth”, neuroscientist from Friborg Sebastien dieguezExternal link writes how the idea of ​​”bullshit” – defined as a contempt for the idea of ​​truth, rather than the lie as such, is central to many contemporary issues, including conspiracy theories.

Such ideas easily spread in an environment of false information and skepticism, he told swissinfo.ch. They are often “intentionally vague” which also makes them very difficult to refute. “They’re subject to the law of asymmetry of bullshit: it’s much harder to refute than to invent them in the first place.

And often, he adds, in addition to being top-down stories invented for political ends, such theories can also come from below, pushed by people who go beyond healthy skepticism to simple reluctance to believe the facts told to them. .

“Some people just read what confirms what they want to believe,” he says. At the individual level, he says, “you have to ask them to explain what they are trying to say and get them to support it with an argument. On a larger scale, there is fact checking, there are laws, fake news algorithms, but it is very difficult to counter.

Political headache

Likewise, it is difficult to draw the line between legitimate political protests, conspiracy-induced disruption, and public health concerns. Do people have the right to protest whatever belief they choose to have?

Dieguez is not for the ban on demonstrations – which are also increasing in Switzerland. But he says such conspiracy theories, especially when used opportunistically in times of crisis, are dangerous to him. The demonstrators “are part of a trend of social rupture that is deeply anti-science, anti-elite and populist,” he said. Nothing the government says or does can change their mind – “they will be ‘against’ anyway.”

In his editorialExternal link last week on the protests, the Berner Zeitung adopted a more conciliatory line: for him, the government “did not explain clearly enough its access to freedom and economic freedoms”. Its title: “Not all dissidents are weirdos”.

Daniel Koch, the government’s senior health official on the crisis, and its main communicator on emergency measures, was also forced to wade through the waters on Monday when asked about the protests and the danger for public health. He said the issue was political.

With the government due to discuss the issue by the end of the month, according to the The weather newspaper, the answer will also be political. In the meantime, other events are planned this weekend.

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