The Corona Pandemic
A Globalisation of Solidarity

If we take the mission to achieve solidarity seriously, this time of crisis could become Europe’s finest hour.
If we take the mission to achieve solidarity seriously, this time of crisis could become Europe’s finest hour. | Photo (detail): © Adobe

Dealing with the pandemic demands quite a lot from us. Two questions are crucial right now: How ready are we to learn from it? And what lessons will we learn? Which is why EU countries in particular should now move closer together to become a Europe of solidarity.

By Holger Zaborowski

What has the corona pandemic taught us? Has it taught us anything at all, or is it far too early to think about this question? Even if the news about promising vaccines gives cause for hope, the pandemic is far from over. Every week, every day produces new insights. We cannot foresee how high the number of infected, sick and fatalities will be, and what the long-term effects will be for those affected. We also have no idea of the long-term economic, social, political, and cultural consequences of the pandemic. We are already talking about a post-pandemic era. But how will this period differ compared to the time before?

Injustices become more visible

While some speak of the post-pandemic era with hope, others are shaken by fear of what might come. One thing is for sure, however, a lot will be different. But how different? Any attempt at interpretation can still only be taken with a pinch of salt. Politics moves in line with the prevailing conditions – and so does society and so do we all. There is no other way.
A pandemic, as the term borrowed from ancient Greek suggests, affects “all the people”. In today’s global world it is an event for the whole of humanity, as everyone around the globe is affected. Nevertheless, it is not the great “equaliser”, as can sometimes be read. Epidemics were never “equalisers”. In times of epidemics there were not only those who suffered or had to die a painful death, but also those who profited from the crisis or those who survived the crisis unscathed. The differences between people that can be traced back to a lack of justice and make many people’s lives worse, that shorten them and make them painful, are exacerbated in pandemic times. That, however, is by no means all – many a problematic development that was already looming on the horizon before the crisis is accelerated in the wake of the epidemic. Charitable work is no longer continued because help is needed elsewhere or there is a lack of strength. No, the virus doesn’t make us more equal. Quite the opposite, it makes existing inequalities stand out more clearly and reinforces them. The world viewed from the perspective of the corona pandemic, has become even more unjust, even more inhuman than it was before.

Acts of solidarity – across national borders

“Inhuman” – it is quite revealing to ponder the meaning of this word, because the inhuman is often deeply human, as it usually means something that belongs to humans, something that is normal or common. The prefix “in” in this word does not refer to something that would in fact not be human or belong to the human being. After all, we don’t call the ability to fly without any aid “inhuman”. Rather, the prefix refers to something that exists, but is not supposed to be. This word has an ethical dimension – people should not behave inhumanly, even if this is often very typical of human behaviour.
For this reason, the inequalities and inhumanities that are now becoming (more) apparent and intensified may show something that we should learn from the pandemic – that a certain form of human coexistence should not be. There will always be differences between people. These, however, must not become so great that the unity of humanity is broken, because, as the phrase the “Family of Humankind” shows, we are all related to one another. That, however, also means that we should be responsible for one another and show solidarity with one another.
At the beginning of the pandemic there was a lot of solidarity on a small scale – in families, among neighbours, in companies. What was largely missing, however, was solidarity on an international and global level. As a result, the European crisis, for example, worsened considerably. It has, however, been a little different since the summer. The fact that politicians are now calling for solidarity, even beyond Europe’s horizons, gives reason to hope. This alone, however, does not guarantee a more solidly united world. It is all well and good to demand things, but concrete decisions and actions are necessary – not only on the political, but also on the social and individual level. Those who have a lot must be willing to share some of their wealth. Existential hardship should be alleviated. Together we could look for models of global coexistence that are not only more social, but also more ecological and sustainable. Solidarity and unity of action must itself become contagious in view of the global spread of the corona virus.

Let’s make a start today

The fact that the virus has had such a devastating effect in some countries is also due to a long-term lack of solidarity and a widespread indifference to the suffering and needs of other people. Shouldn’t we once again start to think about justice and the basic principles of how we live together? Shouldn’t we, at least where it is in our power to do so, distribute the negative consequences and side effects of the pandemic as fairly as possible? Don’t we need a new, different approach to a global health policy? How the WHO will be financed in future, how the vaccines will be distributed, to what extent the COVAX initiative – the global association for vaccine development and distribution – will be successful, how we will shape the post-pandemic world and deal with the diverse consequences of the pandemic – all these things will show whether we are responding to the globalisation of technology, economy, and transport with a globalisation of solidarity.
If we in Europe take this mission to achieve solidarity seriously, this time of crisis could become Europe’s finest hour – a weakness from which Europe emerges stronger. A convulsion that again leads to the question of the basic principles of our coexistence. An uncertainty that leads to a deeper certainty about who we as Europeans are and want to be. In the past century, global crises – such as the two world wars – have led to such a deepening of what it means to be European. Why should this be any different in the current crisis? Because if one thing is clear, it is the fact that no European nation-state can cope with the pandemic and its consequences all on its own. If one thing is beyond doubt, it is the realisation that the countries of Europe, in particular, are very closely linked. And if one thing is clear, it is the fact that a Europe that is not even capable of solidarity internally, for which there were sad examples in the spring, will not show solidarity externally either. But would this still be Europe – a Europe that does not cherish the legacy of solidarity, neither internally nor externally? Europe once discovered the horizon of universality – and precisely because this horizon is universal, it cannot be just European. This horizon confronts us with demands. Solidarity with others is part of it – yes, with all people, especially with the suffering, the sick, and the weak.
Will we be able to summon up the necessary strength, will we avoid inhumanity and become more human? Perhaps in a few years’ time we, as humanity – either individually, in our families and circles of friends, in associations, civil society groups and religious communities or in the various states and confederations of states – will find that we learned either little or nothing at all from the pandemic apart from a few friendly, yet ultimately non-committal, words. That we overheard the call of what should be done in the face of inhuman conditions. There is much to suggest that this is not unlikely. We are longing for normalcy so much that as soon as normal living conditions have returned to a certain extent, we might forget the emergencies of the corona pandemic. The inhumanity of our coexistence might possibly be exacerbated even more. On the other hand, it might turn out very differently, so differently that we cannot even imagine it today. Let’s hope so, and let’s make a start today so that human life will indeed be very different.