New Perspectives?

[Irina Lehner] Sunday, April 5, 2020

Whether I open a newspaper, go online on social media or have real-life conversations – wherever I look, Corona is there. How can it be that, suddenly, my mental, academic, and even physical horizon has been reduced so thoroughly to one single topic? This often induces an overwhelming feeling of anxiousness, and a certain claustrophobia in me. But yet I can’t evade this topic; I should neither try nor would I succeed to escape it. It is simply the reality that we live in.

So how to deal with this reality? For me, the answer to this question lies in many different ways of denial and escapism, anger, and tiredness. It is a very difficult situation to make sense of. But then again, I am very small. Perhaps the answer lies in reminding myself of that fact. In this crisis, I am becoming increasingly aware that me and my world are but a little and very privileged part of a whole planet. I read accounts from many other world areas and I am reminded of how many different perspectives there can be on this crisis, of the countlessly varying impacts this crisis can have. For example, I have read the blog of three NGO-workers in Myanmar, Burkina Faso and Peru in these Corona times.

The current crisis is especially eye-opening with regards to inequalities. Inequality of many kinds – security of income, access to healthcare, prevention of pre-existing conditions, access to basic sanitation and so much more – are exacerbated and perpetuated with the Corona crisis, both within the seemingly “developed world” and in developing countries (see the contribution by Dr. Octavio Ferraz). If there is no clean water available, let alone soap, it will be very hard to follow the universal hygiene recommendations to protect oneself against Corona. In urban areas tightly populated with those people that have nowhere else to go, self-isolating is next to impossible. For the working poor, chances are high that they will fall even deeper into poverty either because their workplace is closed or letting them go or because they get sick and need to quarantine (see Ferraz). Developed countries have the money and, if the political will is there, the possibility of remedying at least the worst parts of these inequalities with extensive “emergency packages” for the underprivileged like in the UK, Switzerland and the USA. But most lack even this option.

And thus, Corona worsens today’s inequalities. In addition to that, it also opens opportunities for modern-day autocrats to seize even more power like in Hungary (see Peer Zumbansen’s contribution to this blog) and puts into question basic rights even in established democracies such as Austria (see Alexander Somek’s contribution) or Switzerland. All of these perspectives put into question many assumptions I had taken for granted and, as a student of public law, especially open my eyes to the importance of fundamental rights. But if many people feel the same way, could the current crisis also create something new, make space for a new kind of global solidarity?

Maybe, realizing that we are all in the same boat and can only act in conjunction, but are also dependent on each other’s economies, arts and cultures, can produce a fresh start for global solidarity. For example, suddenly we realize that it is not enough for a Western economy to work that people in the consuming state are well, but it is also necessary that people in the producing state are well. This does not only relate to very basic health and physical capacity to “be able to work”, but might well go much further. After all, would the current crisis have taken place if an authoritarian state had not suppressed the freedom of expression in such extensive ways that the message of the Corona threat could not emerge until it was too late? The interdependencies of today are manifesting themselves to a shockingly whole new extent. On an optimistic day, one can imagine this leading to renewed efforts in advancing human rights all over the globe.

How small my own worries seem in the face of such a big challenge and such opportunities! So I try to let this crisis open my horizon by putting myself in the right perspective.

Irina Lehner | London & Zürich | April 5, 2020

Published by pzumbansen

law professor.

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