Blog / Corona Diary

Corona Diary

What short and long-term effects will the corona pandemic have on our social, academic and political life? IWM Visiting and Permanent Fellows as well as associated colleagues and friends of the Institute share not only an account of life under the current conditions of curfew in various corners of the world where they live or research on, but also reflect on the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic for democracy, sociality, solidarity, social justice, surveillance and the economy.

The following are contributions from our fellows and alumni during the initial lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic in the Spring and Summer 2020.

Coronavirus Crisis as a Missed Opportunity

In the last several weeks, many people are living with their books rather than other human beings. There is little else to do in the self-isolation imposed throughout Europe but to read. And the books one reads determine, to some extent, one’s perception of the coronavirus crisis. At the same time, the unfolding drama of the pandemic lends new meaning to what one reads. This is especially pronounced, I find, when one rereads a book.

The Virus of Disrespect: What the Pandemic Says about Public Debate in Poland

In the second round of the Polish presidential election on 12 July 2020, Andrzej Duda, the incumbent supported by Law and Justice (PiS), won with 51,03% of votes. The other 48,97% were cast in favor of Rafał Trzaskowski, the candidate of the Civic Coalition (Koalicja Obywatelska), the biggest opposition bloc in the Polish parliament. Turnout was high, 68,18% of eligible voters. This election was expected to shape Polish democracy for years to come, and Trzaskowski was seen as another Donald Tusk, the former Prime Minister (2007–2014), just more socially progressive and in favor of increased welfare benefits. Instead, the election campaign ended up being a bitter reflection on the quality of Polish public debate carried out in the shadow of the worldwide COVID crisis.

Der Corona-Impfstoff zwischen geostrategischem Instrument und globalem öffentlichen Gut

Wie sieht die Welt nach Corona aus? Was bleibt von der Krise? Führende Wissenschaftlerinnen aus den Geistes-, Sozial-, Natur- und Lebenswissenschaften geben im neu erschienenen Sammelband Jenseits von Corona (Details siehe unten) Antworten und Orientierung.

Post-Pandemic Russia. Political and Economic Uncertainty, Lack of Proactive Leaders and Putin’s Falling Rating

The pandemic was not the first crisis that Russia faced this year. It arrived in the country against a backdrop of falling oil prices and Putin’s announcement of changes to the constitution that would allow him to remain president forever. This announcement deeply shook elites, the business community and the intelligentsia, all of whom were left wondering: would Putin turn the country into another Central Asian dictatorship with his dramatic move?

Wird “Nach” Corona nichts mehr so sein wie zuvor?

Philosophische Gedanken anlässlich von „Lockerung“ und „Ver-rückung der Zeit“ Fast alle, die über eine Feder, eine Tastatur oder sonst einen kulturtechnischen Zugang zu den Medien verfügen, haben sich in den letzten Wochen bemüßigt gefühlt, sich zum derzeitigen Thema Nr. 1, der sogenannten Coronakrise, zu äußern. Dass die Philosophen sich dabei vergleichsweise zurückhaltend verhalten haben, hat seinen guten Grund. Es ist nämlich eine vom Altmeister des Deutschen Idealismus, dem Philosophen Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel in ein sprechendes Bild gefasste und seither sprichwörtlich gewordene Überzeugung, dass die Philosophie zum Verändern ohnehin zu spät komme; „die Eule der Minerva beginnt ihren Flug bei Dämmerung“. Wenn das aber zutrifft, dann könnte es sein, dass jetzt die Stunde der Philosophie schlägt.

Prodemocratic Protests and Movements During the Pandemic

Since the declaration of the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been many reports on the political misuse of the global crisis, on numerous authoritarian governments and autocrats strengthening their power. Much less has been reported on the prodemocratic, progressive revolts against the rising authoritarianism – revolts taking place not just in individual countries, but also at the international level.

The Political Meaning of Cataclysms

May 26, 2020. “In a time of collective disasters, democracy may be one of the first victims.” write Karolina Wigura and Jarosław Kuisz. In Thucydides’s Peleponnesian War, one of the most stirring historical testimonies of times of plague, we read what happens when a population-decimating disease comes to Athens. The most virtuous citizens die, inevitably becoming infected while nurturing the sick. Meanwhile, the worst, most selfish members of the community escape death by staying at home. The fear of inescapable death makes them think only of taking advantage of material goods and pleasures. Although the plague’s course and effects seem to be the mere sum of individuals’ actions, in the background we see the consequences for the political community: the fall of collective solidarity, the decline of the rule of law, the flourishing of conspiracy theories.

After the Lockdown Lifts

Austria’s lockdown has lifted. The chances of infection just now are extremely low, the virus is a phantom. We should trust that. But as I cycled down Mariahilfer Strasse, Vienna’s main shopping street, I didn’t feel very trusting. There were people everywhere, some masked, most not, no one keeping much of a distance. And long queues for the banks and larger shops.

The Novel Corona Virus Crisis as Pedagogical Opportunity: History of the Present

As the COVID-19 crisis hit the United States and our students were sent home to complete the semester remotely, my colleague and I were teaching an introductory lecture course called “History of the Present.” The class seeks to introduce new students from across the university to historical thinking more broadly construed than it is in their high school curricula. We cover a range of contemporary topics looking beyond the immediate histories so often covered in op-eds and other reporting, focusing instead on the histories leading to our categories of understanding contemporary experience. My last lecture was announced in the syllabus as an exploration of the representation of historical trauma in entertainment film. In light of the pandemic, I decided instead to offer a review of the course themes and materials through the lens of what the students and all of us are currently living through.  

Don’t Stand So Close To Me. Recht und soziale Regeln des „Social Distancing“

Die ubiquitäre, universelle Reichweite der Norm des “social distancing” maßregelt unser aller Leben sowohl im Öffentlichen als auch im Privaten (bis hinein in das Intime) durch präzedenzlose Verbote und Gebote.

Trusting in the Difficult

We have no reason to harbour any mistrust against our world, for it is not against us. If it has terrors, they are our terrors; if it has abysses, these abysses belong to us; if there are dangers, we must try to love them. And if only we arrange our life in accordance with the principle which tells us that we must always trust in the difficult, then what now appears to us as the most alien will become our most intimate and trusted experience. How could we forget those ancient myths that stand at the beginning of all races, the myths about dragons that at the last moment are transformed into princesses? Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.

On Talking Morality in Modern Politics: The Coronavirus Crisis and Europe

What comes across is not just political weakness expressed in the sense of confusion, erratic behaviour, and lack of initiative on part of the EU – all of which is bad enough. What comes across looks very much like moral callousness and what appears to be an almost stubborn refusal to care in the face of tragedy and death.  

Transformation of Holocaust Memory in Times of COVID-19

The restrictions posed by the COVID-19 pandemic on Holocaust commemoration intensified the development of distinct modes of social media memory. When the COVID-19 pandemic reached Europe in March 2020, and from there spread throughout the world, among several cultural institutions that closed their doors to visitors were also Holocaust memorials. On March 12, the Auschwitz-Birkenau memorial closed its site, followed by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) the next day. The day after, former concentration camp sites in Germany performed a similar step. The same day, on March 15, the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem also closed its museum for visitors.

Propheteering has no Future

A friend of mine once said there are two kinds of people in the world: those who think humans are basically good and those who think we’re essentially bad. Most bad politics, she believes, are rooted in the latter position. If she’s right, there are some horrendous politics in circulation right now.

Making Democracy Safe for an Age of Pandemics

We are not only witnessing a medical emergency, but the COVID 19 pandemic is also testing our democratic way of life.

Defending Press Freedom in the Time of Coronavirus

The coronavirus crisis has provided a welcome pretext for soft authoritarian regimes the world over to strengthen their hold on power, with their declared states of exception potentially becoming the new normal.

Grabbing power by spreading chaos

An almost total ban on abortion, a law introducing a two-year prison sentence for offering sex education and another on protecting state property against Jewish claims – these are the pressing matters the lower house of Polish parliment debated on April 15. In normal times, those laws would be subjects of heated debate and street protests. But these are not normal times. Poland, like the rest of the world, is in lockdown.

Operation COVID?

Amid the unabated tensions between democratic and authoritarian global and regional powers, the Covid-19 pandemic provides a fertile soil for disinformation, propaganda and conspiracy theories.  

Social Solidarity

“What was normal before? And what will look normal afterwards, when the crisis finally abates? Which individual lives did the social solidarity of recent times enable to flourish and which others did not in consequence?” These questions are being discussed by Steven Lukes, former IWM Visiting Fellow.  

The Potential of Omnipotence and Impotence

It’s a period of more questions than answers. Lots of perplexing paradoxes. The sudden halt of so many familiar realities reveals all that has gone unnoticed due to the extreme pace of the immediate past.

Sheltered Lives …

People who live under authoritarian rule invent different means to establish distance from the daily injustices, political pressure, and ‘unacceptable and unbearable’ policies that confront them daily.

Pandemie-Politik: Optionen und Konflikte

Es ist ethisch zumindest zweifelhaft, rechtlich schwerlich zu begründen und politisch kaum durchzusetzen, dass das “Recht auf Leben” für alle und unter allen Umständen Vorrang genießen soll gegenüber sämtlichen anderen Grundrechten – von der Religions- über die Berufs- bis zur Eigentumsfreiheit und darüber hinaus, schreibt Claus Offe, Professor em. of Political Sociology an der Hertie School und IWM Non-Resident Permanent Fellow.

Keeping the Bull at Bay: Notes from Sri Lanka

A popular saying amongst Sinhalese in Sri Lanka for describing a double calamity is, ‘It is as if a man who fell from a tree is gored by a bull.’ For the country, the corona virus and the health crisis it has ushered in could not have come at a worse time.

After the Virus

Yet perhaps there is a feasible, reachable future that will involve something like a ‘conceptual reawakening’ – a revival of a sense of mutual interdependence, writes Steven Lukes, former IWM Visiting Fellow.

Beyond Fear and Hope

Bucharest, April 6, 2020: By the end of 2019, we had all read about the situation in Wuhan. At that point, everything still seemed distant enough that it wouldn’t reach Romania. But when Covid-19 arrived in Italy, I realized that the problem was not far away. In my country, worries really started in February: a young man tested positive after coming into contact with an Italian who had visited his wife’s relatives in southern Romania. This case and the subsequent epidemiologic investigation filled the news for several days. Since then, confirmed cases have multiplied alongside society’s anxiety levels. Restrictions to ensure social distancing and progressive lockdown measures have been imposed, although the political elites’ immediate goals were not consistent with the growing pandemic. The liberals pushed for pre-term elections while the social democrats, who are the biggest party in Parliament, wanted to maintain the status quo in order to regain some of the popularity they had lost after last year’s European Parliament and presidential elections. But COVID-19 changed everyone’s plans. At this moment, Romania has reached stage four of the virus transmission.

Political Farce Rather Than “Emergency”

Mindya, April 6, 2020: I’ve known for decades that the time would come when I would have to entrench myself at my “ancestral seat” on the northern slope of the Balkan mountain range. Which is why I spent years making the place self-sufficient, down to generating my own solar electricity.

Our Neoliberal War on the Pandemic

April 3, 2020: In fighting the pandemic, our societies are deploying the very same policy logic that created our current predicament. Neoliberalism – the policy doctrine that has prevailed in Western democracies since the 1980s has two pillars: (1) individuals are held responsible for a thriving society; (2) governments are held responsible for a thriving business environment. Conspicuously absent is the third ingredient that allows privately affluent societies to truly thrive – a robust public sector. One great intellect had commented on the nascent tendency as early as 1958 and warned against the deleterious consequences of that trend for both our societies and our natural environment. John Kenneth Galbraith’s The Affluent Society became a best-seller and a classic of economic thought. Yet center-left and center-right governments embarked with zeal on reducing budgets for essential public services (including for healthcare), and privatizing public enterprises – a trend which the financial meltdown of 2008 not only did not reverse, but deepened further. This policy logic is now guiding the fight against the coronavirus epidemic.

European Far Right and the Rival Virus

Vienna, April 2, 2020: The pandemic of coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) is already changing our societies and recently started changing the political fabric of European nations. The entire scope of mid- and long-term political consequences of the pandemic is impossible to predict – not least because of the ongoing character of the pandemic and uncertainty about its further development – but some political changes are taking place right in front of our eyes.

„Liebe Österreicherinnen, liebe Österreicher…“. Wie eine Pandemie zur (Re-) Nationalisierung Europas führt

Wien, 31. März 2020: „Zack zack zack“: so schnell ging es, die europäischen Binnengrenzen wieder hochzufahren, demokratische Grundrechte wie die Versammlungsfreiheit abzuschaffen, den europäischen Zusammenhalt grundsätzlich in Frage zu stellen. In Polen wird die Einhaltung der Quarantäne inzwischen per Smartphone-Daten kontrolliert; Zuwiderhandlungen drohen Polizeieinsätze und Geldstrafen. Andere Staaten, auch Österreich, ziehen diese Maßnahme derzeit ebenfalls in Erwägung. Ob sie nützlich ist, überhaupt verfassungsrechtlich zulässig, darüber lässt sich streiten. In Ungarn hat der Ministerpräsident in der aktuellen Ausnahmesituation überhaupt eine Gelegenheit erspäht, um das Parlament gänzlich auszuschalten und per Dekret zu regieren – angeblich vorübergehend. Wo die Europäische Union in diesen Tagen bleibt, ist eine berechtigte Frage. Was nach der Krise aus ihr geworden ist, das wollen wir an dieser Stelle gar nicht erst in Erwägung ziehen.

Kommunikation in und über die Corona-Krise

Wien, 30. März 2020: Kaum hatten wir uns an den Kommunikationsstil der türkis-grünen Koalition seit dem Beginn des Jahres gewöhnt, sind wir aufgrund der Corona-Krise ganz neuen Diskursstrategien ausgesetzt. Jetzt können die Minister und Ministerinnen wie auch der Bundeskanzler und Vizekanzler nicht mehr auf das Regierungsprogramm verweisen, in dem alles – so wurde Mantra-artig auf jede Frage, egal zu welchem Thema reagiert – festgeschrieben stünde. Alles würde zunächst auch evaluiert und mit ExpertInnen diskutiert werden, so bekam man zu hören; tatsächlich taucht der Begriff „Evaluation“ im Regierungsprogramm 126 Mal auf. Mit anderen Worten: bevor viele Vorhaben umgesetzt werden können (vor allem in Bezug auf die Klimakrise) müsse erst recherchiert, diskutiert, evaluiert und dann gemeinsam entschieden werden, um die einzelnen Vorhaben präzisieren und budgetieren zu können.