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Why some Swiss Covid sceptics are now supporting Russia’s invasion

The two issues seem to have a relatively minimal ideological connection, but prominent members of the Swiss Covid sceptic scene are now throwing their weight behind Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Covid sceptic protesters during a rally in the Swiss city of Bern. Photo: Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP
Covid sceptic protesters during a rally in the Swiss city of Bern. Photo: Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

Just 69 percent of Switzerland is fully vaccinated against Covid, a rate much lower than most of Western Europe. 

While the reasons for the low rate of vaccination are many and varied, one major factor is Switzerland’s strong and increasingly radicalised anti-vaccination scene. 

Protests were common throughout the pandemic. While these were most prominently seen in German-speaking parts of the country, protests were also seen in French-speaking cantons and Ticino. 

READ MORE: Why is German-speaking Europe lagging on Covid vaccines?

Swiss news outlet 20 Minutes reports that several anti-vaccine networks on social media, primarily using Russian messenger service Telegram, but also Twitter and WhatsApp, have now begun incorporating pro-Russian and pro-invasion views.

This includes noted German conspiracy theorists and sometime musicians Xavier Naidoo and Michael Wendler, both of whom have large online followings. 

While there may appear not to be a significant link between Covid denial and support for Russia’s invasion, online groups have argued that Western governments have sought to whip up interest in the conflict to switch the focus from the pandemic. 

20 Minutes, which elected not to name the online groups, quoted one saying the Ukraine invasion was the “perfect occasion for governments and media to distract from the damage caused by the corona measures and vaccination”, while several others sought to emphasise “We stand by Russia, by President Putin.”

Several other Covid sceptic groups have not directly endorsed Putin or the invasion, but have been heavily critical of Switzerland’s decision to support EU sanctions, saying it amounts to a “suspension of neutrality”, including groups like Aufrecht Schweiz, Aktionsbündnis Urkantone (AU) and Massvoll. 

AU issued a statement saying “(due to) the current sanctions against Russia, Switzerland’s constitutional neutrality, which has proven itself over the past 200 years, has been broken and completely thrown overboard.”

While experts agree with the Swiss government’s contention that neutrality does not mean doing nothing in the face of aggression, those on the far-right – including prominent members of Switzerland’s right-wing Swiss People’s Party – have echoed comments that Switzerland has sacrificed its neutrality. 

READ ALSO: ‘A weapon of war’: Swiss politician calls for neutrality referendum

Why are Switzerland’s anti-vaxxers now pro-Putin?

Experts highlight several reasons for the shift, including a desire to sit on the fringes of all political discussions and trust of Russian state media. 

Dirk Baier, a conspiracy theory expert from the Zurich University of Applied Sciences, said the main thread linking opposition to vaccines and support for the invasion was not anything directly related to the issues, but a desire to position oneself against the “mainstream”. 

“Had it not been for the war in Ukraine, it would be a different issue on which these individuals would have gone in opposition to the widely held interpretation shared by the majority of society,” Baier told 20 Minutes. 

Baier points out that Covid sceptic groups had developed a sense of identity and connection, which began to be lost as Covid fell from the front pages. 

As a result, the energy and drive that had been centred around Covid scepticism has been repurposed into ‘critical thought’ on other prominent matters of the day. 

Baier said the role played by Russian state-run media outlets like RT in promoting anti-vaccine views has meant these sources, which have continually towed the Kremlin line on the reason for invasion and have downplayed the brutal nature of the conflict, are seen to be more trustworthy than other sources. 

Marko Kovic, a conspiracy theory expert, told Switzerland’s Watson news outlet that Russian news services have established Putin as a bullwark against the western liberal order. 

“In conspiracy ideological circles, the Putin regime and its outlets are seen as sources of truth that heroically oppose the global conspiracy. This conspiracy narrative is actively being served by the Kremlin” Kovic said. 

Citing the ‘sunk costs fallacy’ principle of economics, Kovic also pointed out that many conspiracy theorists stay loyal to their ideas, even if they are radically illogical, as they are close to their identity and it would hurt too much to give up on them. 

“People in the pro-action movement have invested a lot of time and energy in their worldview. Giving up hurts. Therefore: the show must go on; a new conspiracy is needed; everything is connected with everything.”

Sanctions on Russia: Is Switzerland still a neutral nation?

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Rapping, breakdancing Ukrainians win Eurovision in musical morale boost

Ukraine won the Eurovision Song Contest Sunday with an infectious hip-hop folk melody, boosting spirits in the embattled nation fighting off a Russian invasion that has killed thousands and displaced millions of people.

Rapping, breakdancing Ukrainians win Eurovision in musical morale boost

Riding a huge wave of public support, Kalush Orchestra beat 24 competitors in the finale of the world’s biggest live music event with “Stefania”, a rap lullaby combining Ukrainian folk and modern hip-hop rhythms.

“Please help Ukraine and Mariupol! Help Azovstal right now,” implored frontman Oleh Psiuk in English from the stage after their performance was met by a cheering audience.

In the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, the triumph was met with smiles and visible relief.

“It’s a small ray of happiness. It’s very important now for us,” said Iryna Vorobey, a 35-year-old businesswoman, adding that the support from Europe was “incredible”.

Following the win, Psiuk — whose bubblegum-pink bucket hat has made him instantly recognisable — thanked everyone who voted for his country in the contest, which is watched by millions of viewers.

“The victory is very important for Ukraine, especially this year. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Glory to Ukraine,” Psiuk told journalists.

Music conquers Europe

The win provided a much-needed morale boost for the embattled nation in its third month of battling much-larger Russian forces.

Mahmood & BLANCO  performing for Italy at Eurovision 2022

Mahmood & BLANCO perform on behalf of Italy during the final of the Eurovision Song contest 2022 in Turin, Italy. (Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP)

“Our courage impresses the world, our music conquers Europe!” he wrote on Facebook.

“This win is so very good for our mood,” Andriy Nemkovych, a 28 year-old project manager, told AFP in Kyiv.

The victory drew praise in unlikely corners, as the deputy chief of the NATO military alliance said it showed just how much public support ex-Soviet Ukraine has in fighting off Moscow.

“I would like to congratulate Ukraine for winning the Eurovision contest,” Mircea Geoana said as he arrived in Berlin for talks that will tackle the alliance’s expansion in the wake of the Kremlin’s war.

“And this is not something I’m making in a light way because we have seen yesterday the immense public support all over Europe and Australia for the bravery of” Ukraine, Geoana said.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the win “a clear reflection of not just your talent, but of the unwavering support for your fight for freedom”.

And European Council President Charles Michel said he hoped next year’s contest “can be hosted in Kyiv in a free and united Ukraine”.

‘Ready to fight’
Despite the joyous theatrics that are a hallmark of the song contest, the war in Ukraine hung heavily over the festivities this year.
The European Broadcasting Union, which organises the event, banned Russia on February 25, the day after Moscow invaded its neighbour.
“Stefania”, written by Psiuk as a tribute to his mother before the war, mixes traditional Ukrainian folk music played on flute-like instruments with an invigorating hip-hop beat. The band donned richly embroidered ethnic garb
to perform their act.
Nostalgic lyrics such as “I’ll always find my way home even if all the roads are destroyed” resonated all the more as millions of Ukrainians have been displaced by war.

Kalush Orchestra received special authorisation from Ukraine’s government to attend Eurovision, since men of fighting age are prohibited from leaving the country, but that permit expires in two days.

Psiuk said he was not sure what awaited the band as war rages back home.

“Like every Ukrainian, we are ready to fight as much as we can and go until the end.

Britain’s ‘Space Man’

Ukraine beat a host of over-the-top acts at the kitschy, quirky annual musical event, including Norway’s Subwoolfer, who sang about bananas while dressed in yellow wolf masks, and Serbia’s Konstrakta, who questioned national healthcare while meticulously scrubbing her hands onstage.

Coming in second place was Britain with Sam Ryder’s “Space Man” and its stratospheric notes, followed by Spain with the reggaeton “SloMo” from Chanel.

After a quarter-century of being shut out from the top spot, Britain had hoped to have a winner in “Space Man” and its high notes belted by the affable, long-haired Ryder.

Britain had been ahead after votes were counted from the national juries, but a jaw-dropping 439 points awarded to Ukraine from the public pushed it to the top spot.

Eurovision’s winner is chosen by a cast of music industry professionals — and members of the public — from each country, with votes for one’s home nation not allowed.

Eurovision is a hit among fans not only for the music, but for the looks on display and this year was no exception. Lithuania’s Monika Liu generated as much social media buzz for her bowl cut hairdo as her sensual and elegant

Other offerings included Greece’s “Die Together” by Amanda Georgiadi Tenfjord and “Brividi” (Shivers), a duet from Italy’s Mahmood and Blanco.

Italy had hoped the gay-themed love song would bring it a second consecutive Eurovision win after last year’s “Zitti e Buoni” (Shut up and Behave) from high-octane glam rockers Maneskin.