Can the pandemic trigger our social reflexes?
Amidst the coronavirus crisis we need to rethink the structure of our societies, and of our economic and healthcare systems.
Greece’s prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, called for a curfew on Sunday night. This decision followed media reports during the previous week that Greeks have behaved irresponsibly during the crisis. Is this a medically-wise choice, or a move to restrict freedom and human rights?
DiEM25 Advisory Panel member Naomi Klein explained how the coronavirus pandemic has been leading to actions based on the “ideas that are lying around”. Thus, let us examine the context of the Mitsotakis government: strict law-and-order measures, harsh anti-immigration policies, further abandonment of social provisions and increasing police force but not medical personnel. With the coronavirus hitting Greece, the government has pushed for campaigns that highlight the individual’s responsibility: Stay at home.
In the broader context, the European Union has been playing the role of the observer (both in the health and economic sectors) after it has been pushing for austerity measures and other cuts in social spending (including hospitals) in Greece for ten years now. It was not long ago when governments were turning one social group against the other: taxi drivers, teachers, and doctors that were supposedly a financial elite. Expectedly, social cohesion networks collapsed and communities were led into disarray, thus paving the way for the general approval on strict policing and state surveillance in times of a pandemic. Needless to say, the proposals of MeRA25, DiEM25’s electoral wing in Greece, for the restoration of the social role of hospitals, have not been heard.
Greece has been, and still is, the canary in the mine — acting as an early warning of things to come under such austerity measures and cuts. As COVID-19 has surfaced the flaws of Greek society, it has also done the same throughout the world. States like Taiwan have showcased how non-resilient our western societies are: we have built communities, economies and health systems that are not ready to cope with severe crises, even when we have been warned.
Instead, individual responsibility is emphasized. This effectively shifts the focus and isolation burden onto individuals. We are asked to conduct ‘auto-surveillance’ and self-quarantine because of understaffed hospital facilities, inadequate testing infrastructure and numbers of testing kits. We are policed on the streets and fined if we test positive, despite a lack of shelters and social support measures. Such initiatives overlook that human beings are part of communities and need social interactions; it is inherently wired in us. Social distancing is “flattening the curve”, but could also have damaging consequences on people’s mental health or sense of identity.
As we struggle to contain COVID-19, we must look at the roots of this crisis: the faulty larger social structures that we live in and not irresponsible citizens. We need to speak in social terms and regain our lost “social” language. We need to re-imagine our societies and a response devoid of increased policing and surveillance.
And let us go one step further and demand accountability for those politicians who enacted austerity measures, and implemented cuts on healthcare and housing, for presidents and prime ministers who have been slow to act and promoted fake news, for corporations that won’t give their employees sick leave. Surely, they have contributed to the spread of the pandemic and endangered lives.
In DiEM25, we believe that social distancing should only be physical, and that this crisis offers a unique opportunity to increase our social bonding and cooperation in safe ways. We can do so not only in Greece, but across the world. We need to offer alternatives to increasing policing and surveillance throughout Europe and beyond.
Once we combat the pandemic, we need to restructure societies with much more resilience, equity and social justice. We do not stay silent; we launch initiatives like DiEM25 TV [see here and discuss in our forum here] as well as keep rethinking the world through our postcapitalist vision.
Let us revisit the ideas of social cohesion, empathy and solidarity. Join us!
DiEM25 and coronavirus: You are not alone, we are in this together!
Aris Telonis is a member of DiEM25 and coordinator of the New York City Collective.
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