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When fear reigns

by Anna Jikhareva and Anne Jung Monday, May. 04, 2020 at 2:44 PM

What was thought to be temporary has remained until today. Snowden warns of a similar process in the context of a real crisis. Surveillance is accepted The virus is dangerous. But the destruction of our rights is fatal because it is permanent, Snowden believes.

When fear reigns

Fundamental rights

With drones, apps and demo bans: In the wake of the Corona crisis, fundamental freedoms are being eroded. If we are not careful, they will remain so even after the lockdown - but the extreme situation also offers reason for hope.

by Anna Jikhareva

[This article published on 4/16/2020 is translated from the German on the Internet,]

Who can guarantee that the pandemic will not become a precedent, a blueprint for reintroducing emergency legislation?

Photo: Rupert Oberhäuser, Imago Image

They are just news snippets buzzing through the tickers, but they make you sit up and take notice: In Munich you get fined for sitting on a park bench, in Barcelona for taking a breath of fresh air after the home office. Only small groups are allowed to stay outside anyway, and in Rome homeless people who have nowhere to go during the lockdown are punished. Brave new world.

While freedom of assembly is suspended, digital control is spreading: In Aargau, police are monitoring public space in real time. In Geneva, drones control curfews, in Nice they rain official slogans on people. And hovering above it all is the promise of salvation of a surveillance app that can prevent the spread of the virus through contact tracing - another fine new word these days. This is what life looks like in times of pandemic, at least in its pessimistic version. Dystopia as the new normal state. The world under the spell of an infection curve.

So willingly, cuts have rarely been accepted. And even historians, who usually shy away from big comparisons, speak of a "unique situation". Everywhere, in the course of the corona crisis, freedoms are being restricted to an unprecedented extent, in dictatorships as well as in liberal countries. Billions of people are not allowed to leave their homes, epidemiological house arrest; gatherings are forbidden, as well as expressions of protest, freedom of movement is suspended.

Twenty EU states have passed "a kind of emergency legislation", the Vice-President of the EU Commission recently said. Governments that had previously shown authoritarian tendencies are moving ahead at a rapid pace. The fact that they pretend to prevent the collapse by the hardest possible means only makes them stronger.

A parliament signs off

Even in Switzerland, which likes to see itself as a model democracy, a lot is new in these weeks. Votes that had provided plenty of food for discussion were postponed indefinitely. The separation of powers: practically abolished. The courts are on holiday, and parliament has logged out right at the beginning of the crisis. A step which our neighbors did not dare to take and which remains incomprehensible, because democratically legitimized institutions should function precisely in the crisis. The army: mobilized for the first time in decades, with a relatively unclear objective. The main thing is to mobilize.

That is what it will be in 2020, the much-vaunted "hour of the executive". As far as its effectiveness is concerned, the writer Juli Zeh sees a "dubious punitive tactic" at work. "The announcement is: If you don't do what we demand of you, you will be to blame for a further spread of the virus and many deaths in the risk group," said Zeh in a sensational interview with the "Süddeutsche Zeitung". In this way, he said, politicians were giving people a guilty conscience and exerting moral pressure to stick to the rules. This dilemma creates an "artificial antagonism" - between human rights and human life.

That many of the measures are necessary because they save lives is beyond doubt, as is the fact that Switzerland is not Hungary. It is all the more dangerous that there is hardly any dispute about the radical measures, and that they remain mostly unquestioned. In an emergency such as the present one, all ways of flattening out the curve appear to be the right ones. While the powers of attorney are as comprehensive as they are rare, criticism is quickly seen as nest-pollution.

"Opposition is not rewarded and therefore does not occur in practice; in the hour of need, everyone must come together," writes the lawyer Uwe Volkmann in an article for the "Verfassungsblog", an international online platform of legal experts. What Volkmann says about Germany also applies to Switzerland. In times like these, vigilance falls victim to fear.

Snowden's gloomy scenario

Even if prevention seems to many to be the better option: many of the things that are now being introduced under the impression of the images of coffins in Italian ghost towns are unlikely to disappear so quickly even after the end of the pandemic. How long will the echo reverberate when the lockdown is over? And who will guarantee that the pandemic will not become a precedent, a blueprint for reintroducing emergency legislation in the next extreme situation? Finding an answer to these questions should be essential for any exit strategy.

Over two dozen countries have introduced new surveillance technologies or upgraded existing ones in recent weeks, according to evaluations by the British online guide "Top10VPN": Programs for analyzing cell phone data, apps for documenting contacts and creating motion profiles, technologies for facial recognition. In Switzerland, too, the discussion about a contact tracing app has long been launched. And Swisscom is willing to provide the Confederation with data.

One person who is afraid of this new "normal state" is Edward Snowden. Hardly anyone has dealt so extensively with the efficiency of state surveillance as the whistleblower, as he himself worked for the US Secret Service for years, whose data collection rage he later uncovered. It was this same Snowden, from his exile in Moscow, who spread a rather gloomy scenario in recent weeks: "While authoritarianism is spreading, emergency laws are spreading and we are sacrificing our rights, we are also robbing ourselves of the opportunity to stop the slide into a less free world. What is being built is the architecture of oppression," he told Vice magazine.

The years since the attacks of September 11, 2001 have proven that this architecture is more of a continuum than an innovation. During this time, a narrative has been established that seems to fit again: in the fight against terror, it is necessary to choose between freedom and security; in the face of any kind of danger, freedom must be renounced. If one speaks now of the "war against the virus", even a health crisis can quickly become a security crisis that justifies repressive measures.

In the years of the "war on terror" the categories have shifted. "The former right of exception has increasingly been brought into the law of the normal situation and immigrated into it", says constitutional law expert Volkmann. There are plenty of examples of this: In reaction to the attacks of 2001, the "Patriot Act" came into force in the USA - and helped the government to gain unprecedented powers while at the same time severely restricting basic rights.

The years since the attacks of September 11, 2001 have proven that this architecture is more of a continuum than an innovation. During this time, a narrative has been established that seems to fit again: in the fight against terror, it is necessary to choose between freedom and security; in the face of any kind of danger, freedom must be renounced. If one speaks now of the "war against the virus", even a health crisis can quickly become a security crisis that justifies repressive measures.

What was thought to be temporary at that time has remained until today - even under Barack Obama and even more so under Donald Trump. The situation was similar in France, where the state of emergency was extended after the attacks in Paris until its temporary rules became law.

Learning from the oppressed

Snowden now warns of a similar process: in the context of a real crisis, surveillance is accepted on an unprecedented scale, the civil rights activist said in a video talk with Glenn Greenwald from the news site "The Intercept". "Governments are taking a communications infrastructure that we were assured would not be used for surveillance - and using it for that very purpose. They say it is necessary to save lives, there is no alternative. That's not true." Of course the virus is dangerous. "But the destruction of our rights is fatal because it is permanent," Snowden believes.

Mass surveillance of citizens is likely to reach new dimensions with the Corona crisis. Meanwhile, it is to be feared that freedoms that are restricted today could remain so in the future. Amnesty International warns in a recent statement that it is crucial that current interventions are "appropriate and proportionate, temporary, transparent and verifiable".

But while mobile phone tracking is at least being discussed more and more widely, resistance to the restrictions on assembly, protest and movement is largely absent. "Amazing", Juli Zeh remarked, "that people care more about their mobile phone than their freedom of movement. Long before the Corona crisis, many countries intervened in these rights. The police laws in German states, the emergency laws in France or Spain: they gave the authorities far-reaching instruments to make dissent more difficult.

At present, the police seem eager to break up demos "for epidemiological reasons" - even if activists observe distance rules. In Zurich, for example, the police are said to have broken up a rally of five people who painted footprints on the asphalt.

Similar examples are also known from Germany. It is unclear under which rules this happens. Or why are long queues allowed to form in front of Migros while people are being fined for sticking cardboard signs in the air? Where powers are extended, arbitrariness is sometimes not far away.

Meanwhile, freedom of movement, even in the "normal" state, is only selective. It is currently difficult to predict when the borders will be reopened and for whom they will remain closed. It is likely, however, that it will not be the right of asylum that will be the first to be reintroduced - and that the world's enormous economic crisis will hit the poorest people hardest.

In his reflections on the concept of history while fleeing from the Nazis, Walter Benjamin wrote: "The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the 'state of emergency' in which we live is the rule. Perhaps he describes the current crisis best; after all, fugitives and other disenfranchised people have long since been living in that state of emergency to which the privileged do not want to become accustomed; their hardships have only increased in the Corona crisis. But what can be learned for the future from Benjamin's "oppressed"?

What is certain is that vigilance must not fall victim to the fear that many are currently feeling - whether of the virus itself or its economic consequences. At best, the biographical break of these days opens the eyes of the privileged among us: for the fact that the "normal state" is not given, that it does not simply return overnight. That the legal "normality" that should apply to everyone is always a matter for negotiation, and even more a battlefield: human rights for everyone are guaranteed, but they only have an effect if they are fought for again and again.

The relaxation exercises, as the states now promise, must therefore be accompanied by exercises in law and democracy: control the privacy settings of every app now or never install them at all. If possible, go back to demos and make sure that they are not subject to new regulations. And finally, almost most importantly, lift the state of emergency in your head as well. Dystopia also manifests itself in words like "social distancing" and "contact tracing". We, as collective beings, should not use them.


The gaps in the market-oriented health care system

International solidarity

The coronavirus is exacerbating an international health crisis that has existed for some time. Anne Jung, spokeswoman for global health at Medico International, on the situation in the countries of the South.

Anne Jung, Medico International

[This interview published on 4/15/2020 is translated from the German on the Internet,]

WOZ: Ms. Jung, in the corona crisis, the situation in Switzerland, Europe and the USA is receiving a great deal of attention. Are we forgetting the Global South?

Anne Jung: The situation is new for us all. It is understandable that the insecure population, some of whom are themselves getting into a precarious situation and are worried about friends and relatives, cannot widen their gaze at first. Nevertheless: Containing the pandemic can only succeed with a global effort. This is above all a task for politicians. Although politicians are currently emphasizing the need for "solidarity", a closer look reveals that we are often only dealing with nationally conceived solidarity.

What might global solidarity look like?

Even the protective measures must be based on distributive justice: How are existing face masks and disinfectants distributed? In severely affected Italy, for example, the first medical aid came from Cuba, while Germany had initially imposed an export ban on medical aids. This must change. The World Health Organization (WHO) must be strengthened in its importance for global health policy by the member states and must organize the distribution of protective equipment according to needs. This is all the more important when a drug and vaccine protection against Covid-19 is being developed. The only problem is that the WHO lacks funds just as much as the UN, which has been destroyed by the international community. It recently proposed a "Global Humanitarian Plan" for the countries of the South and now has to beg for the money.

What are the specific problems of the South?

There was an international health crisis even before Corona - 1.3 million people worldwide die every year from tuberculosis, half a million from malaria. This situation will now worsen massively when Covid-19 no longer guarantees the treatment of other diseases. The situation in the south is generally much more existential than in the north. Physical distance is not possible in many places, protective material for poor people is almost non-existent, and access to clean water is often not available. A large proportion of the people have no financial reserves whatsoever, and curfews put them in existential distress. Nevertheless, it is important not to describe the situations too monocausally.

What do you mean by that?

In some African countries, such as Rwanda, preventive measures were taken very early on. Through experience with past epidemics, early warning systems have worked better than in Europe. In many countries of the Global South, such as Lebanon, Brazil or South Africa, it is civil society actors who provide the best possible information to the population and at the same time demand responsible action from the government. A central demand is that the much better-equipped private hospitals should be opened to provide emergency care for all. Community Health Workers, who in many places are cushioning the gaps in the ailing public health system and taking over local basic care in the poorest districts, are also fighting for better working conditions.

Is the economic crisis now beginning to make itself felt at a global level?

The economic crisis precedes the outbreak of Corona. This is due to the dependencies of the Global South along supply chains. In European city centers, clothing stores were closed, the corporations stopped their orders and no longer collected goods that had already been ordered. In Pakistan and Bangladesh, hundreds of thousands of people became unemployed from one day to the next and an entire economic sector collapsed.

The Corona crisis is also bringing to light things in Europe that are otherwise known mainly from the Global South - people are starving in southern Italy.

In the Global North there are increasingly conditions that we normally know from the South. In Lebanon, the rich upper class has the best access to high-tech medicine, while the majority is dependent on the miserably equipped public health structure. Such spheres of the Global South are increasingly spreading to Europe. As a consequence of the austerity policy, it is no coincidence that Italy and Greece in particular are heavily affected by Corona.

In what way?

The forced austerity measures imposed by the EU following the sovereign debt crisis in Italy and Greece put the health of millions at risk. Hospitals were privatized, public health care was cut back - the consequences were dramatic even then: People died of curable diseases because they could no longer pay for the medicines or the diseases were detected much too late. The current situation must be seen as a consequence of such wrong decisions.

How can the health systems be reorganized?

The health sector, which has been restructured in accordance with profit interests, is less and less oriented towards the needs of the population. This applies to Kenya as well as - to a lesser extent - to Germany. Health must be reclaimed as a public good. This also includes patent protection: neither research nor the production of drugs must be subjected to the market. The problem is that even French President Emmanuel Macron is currently calling for something similar.

What is the problem with that?

In the pandemic, the gaps in the market-oriented health system are being expressed in a lethal way. That is why it is very popular to publicly criticize it. But we have seen, both after the Ebola epidemic in West Africa in 2014 and after the financial crisis in 2008, that many announcements - such as the establishment of nationwide health systems or better control of the financial markets - have been scaled back faster than we could count to three. That is why we need strategies to make it more difficult for governments to collect such announcements immediately. This can only work with public pressure.

What can we learn for the future from past epidemics like Ebola?

To put it bluntly, you could say that no matter what the question is, the answer is always: strengthen health systems! With Ebola, it took a dramatically long time before the disease was even detected. If there had been a functioning health care system in rural areas, the outbreak could not have developed into an epidemic. In Sierra Leone, a country with five million inhabitants, there are still fewer doctors working than at the Frankfurt University Hospital. It's like climate policy: we cannot afford to go down the wrong road.

Anne Jung (50) is a political scientist and spokesperson for global health at Medico International. She has worked for the aid and human rights organization for twenty years and lives in Frankfurt.

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by you idiot Monday, May. 04, 2020 at 4:11 PM

there is no fucking virus, no fucking disease, no fucking pandemic :

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