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Petra Hůlová, Author

By Petra Hůlová

Petra Hůlová © Petra Hůlová

What would you say are symbols of your current situation or the current situation in your country?

The facemask is Czechia’s symbol for the current situation. The initial scarcity of facemasks is a story of the failure of the Czech state. The necessity to wear a mask is a story of disciplining the Czech nation to wear facemasks, a story of Czech people’s compliance. The whirlwind production of homemade masks is a story of the Czech DIY spirit, ingenuity and solidarity. And the quick follow-on production of 3D-printed respirators is a story of technological innovation and altruism working hand in hand with enterprise.

How will the pandemic change the world? What do you see as the long-term consequences of the crisis?

A crisis is supposed to be a situation in which we choose between catastrophe and alternatives. That’s how the Czech philosopher Václav Bělohradský once put it. This idea is quite fitting to the current crisis, which I see as an opportunity for change. What we are all currently experiencing is pushing the boundaries of our imagination. We have always been told that we live in a system that cannot be changed, one for which there are no alternatives. Yet, now we see how radically life can change within a matter of days. This experience in itself is valuable.

People’s self-discipline and compliance have taken me by surprise. Positively in terms of people’s self-restraint and willingness to limit their activities, and negatively in terms of their unquestioning obedience. We had defined ourselves as a society that was highly individualistic, where the state played an ever-diminishing role. The epidemic has proven this to be contrary. The role of the state has been strengthened – it will now be more confident. And people have demonstrated solidarity, even if under conditions that have not ‘hurt’ too much.

What gives you hope?

I see hope in the potential of change. The past is responsible for the state in which we have found ourselves, and that’s why simply restoring things as they were is not desirable. I see linkages between coronavirus and climate change and capitalism, the virus an embodiment of an ailing nature and society. I am hopeful that we will learn from this experience. Coronavirus is our cross trainer, teaching us to see the world and ourselves in a new light. If it doesn’t break us, it’ll make us stronger. And the greater the challenge it presents, the stronger we will become. In fact, I hope it will hurt us (economically) quite a bit, and that it will take us a long time to recover. Otherwise we would quickly forget and nothing would be gained. Indeed, my greatest fear is that everything will get back to where we started, just like after the 2008 financial crisis. Just as quickly as the epidemic brought on the loss of a ‘normal world’, our memories of the epidemic could too be lost soon after its passing. Only the inner core would remain shaken and more fragile. What will be the next ‘big threat’? A drought?

What is your personal strategy for dealing with this situation?

Firstly, the situation is constantly changing. Both through the media and through the influence of changing moods, fuelled by the current situation. I am learning to accept uncertainty as the status quo, one that is here to stay for a long time. When I am able to do this, I feel good. Other than that, I find it most helpful to either immerse myself in creative work or to be fully engaged with my children.