This is undoubtedly an important lesson of this crisis, even if this paradox must be put into perspective by the support that a large part of the population continues to give to the German government. A study by the University of Heidelberg published last July revealed that 68.3% of the German population considered the government's handling of the crisis to be satisfactory or very satisfactory, while 64.7% of those questioned considered that the measures adopted were proportionate to their social usefulness. While the protest movement emerges from this study as a relatively marginal phenomenon - with 24% of respondents declaring themselves dissatisfied with the management of the crisis - this study also highlights the "conspiracy bias" (Verschwörungsmentalität) affecting the majority of respondents hostile to the policy.
The issue with the mask
The strong presence of conspiracy theories circulating amongst demonstrators largely contributed to undermining the credibility of the protest movement. However, particular attention must be paid to the driving forces behind this mobilization, and in particular to the "uncertainty" that prevails in political decision-making, denounced by some of the demonstrators as the driving force behind their opposition. During the crisis, the German government sought to present its decisions not as political choices but as the product of scientific rationality, gradually exposing the uncertainties of science with regard to the epidemic.
In both Germany and France, the change in the discourse on the usefulness of the mask has fuelled mistrust of the measures imposed by the government. As the daily Die Zeit recalled in its edition of August 13, 2020, experts unanimously denounced the usefulness of masks worn by the entire population at the beginning. On January 29, the World Health Organisation ruled that only people with symptoms should wear masks, and the famous virologist Christian Drosten, as well as Lothar Wieler, President of the Robert Koch Institute, continued to state until April that there was "no scientific evidence that there is any benefit to the wearing of masks by citizens". Even today, a country like Sweden refuses to encourage its population to wear a mask whose usefulness is not scientifically proven, fearing that wearing a mask could generate a false sense of security and a relaxation of respect for social distancing.
Germany has only gradually changed its position on the mask. The city of Iena was the first to impose the mask in the public space from the end of March, managing to demonstrate a significant drop in the number of contaminations. At the end of April, wearing masks in shops and on public transports was made compulsory, and on August 27, 2020, the Federal State and the Länders (with the exception of Saxony-Anhalt) decided to impose a fine on those who refused to wear it. The obligation to wear a mask thus crystallized opposition to government policy in Germany.
The new faces of radicalism