How do people get time to protest?

Corona protests: "Hygiene demos are a diffuse, short-term phenomenon"

After it had become a bit quiet about the hygiene demonstrators, the protests against the corona policy have recently gained strength again. Who is demonstrating with whom, how do other countries view what is going on in Germany, and how should politicians react? Six questions for Dieter Rucht, one of the most famous protest researchers in Germany. He is a board member of the Institute for Protest and Movement Research and Professor Emeritus for Sociology at Berlin's Humboldt University.

ZEIT ONLINE:Last week, according to police reports, 20,000 people took to the streets against the government's corona policy, and another demonstration has been announced in Stuttgart this weekend. Would you already speak of a movement?

Dieter Rucht: Basically, social movements have four characteristics: First, they are more than a group, but a network of different groups. Second, the followers of a movement share a collective identity. Third, as a means of protest, choose movements in public space. And fourthly, their goal is profound social change, i.e. no small changes in the law or the like. While the first three characteristics apply to the corona demonstrations, the last is not fulfilled.

ZEIT ONLINE:But you agree that you reject the hygiene measures of the federal government?

Rucht: That's right, but these people don't have a common idea of ​​what society should look like. They form a negative coalition of highly different and ideologically even partly incompatible groups. The demos are an open platform onto which anything can be projected. Many of the demonstrators don't care what their neighbor is asking, who is walking next to them and holding up a sign. Diffuse dissatisfaction is their only common denominator.

ZEIT ONLINE:20,000 demo participants are not a small number, but not many compared to the total population. The big question that drives politics is: How many sympathizers does this rejection of the corona policy have in the population?

Rucht: It's difficult to say, unfortunately there are no reliable surveys on this. The fact is, however, that the hygiene demonstrations draw from the considerable right-wing populist potential: there is a large overlap between the people who take to the streets because of Corona and supporters of right-wing ideologies. People who stylize themselves as the people who are allegedly harassed by corrupt politicians who ignore the needs of the population. This is a right-wing populist motive that many of the demo participants share.

ZEIT ONLINE:Are hygiene demonstrations a purely German phenomenon? Or are there protests against the state-imposed corona measures in other countries?

Rucht: Encouraged by Trump, there were street demonstrations in the United States, too, but protests of this magnitude are only found in Germany. Of course, they are also noticed abroad. There the reaction is sometimes with applause, for example in Poland, and sometimes with amazement, for example in countries severely affected by Corona such as Italy and Spain.

ZEIT ONLINE:Why is this such a big issue in Germany in particular? Compared to countries like Spain and France, for example, the politically imposed restrictions were much lax here, and the state aid particularly generous?

Rucht: Precisely because Germany got through the crisis relatively well, people here can claim that there was no crisis at all and that the measures were excessive. According to the motto: I don't know anyone who has Corona, so it doesn't exist either! Anyone who says something like this in northern Italy, where the authorities and hospitals were completely overwhelmed and thousands of people have died, will be declared crazy.

ZEIT ONLINE: The participants ignore hygiene requirements, do not wear masks and thus risk a further increase in the number of infections. How should politics react to this?

Rucht: It is not entirely unusual for demonstrations to be ignored. There is, for example, a ban on masking that is repeatedly ignored in the radical left-wing milieu. But now the protest shows itself through the practice of supposed normality, i.e. the appearance without a face mask. Politicians and the police are reacting increasingly critically and energetically, especially as the number of infections is rising again.

ZEIT ONLINE:What's your forecast? What's next with the hygiene demonstrations?

Rucht: In my opinion, the potential is slowly being reached. Of course, the approval rate can go up again, depending on whether there is a big second wave and the restrictions and measures with which the government reacts - hesitantly or harshly and rigidly. Overall, however, the hygiene demos are more of a short-term, diffuse phenomenon - also because their supporters are nothing more than a pseudo-community that has neither grown organically nor ideologically consolidated over the years.