Authoritarian states use the crisis to present themselves. Democracies also limit citizens’ rights. They are anything but immune from mistakes and temptations by the government.
A film is rife on Youtube in which the World Health Organization WHO seems to be embarrassed to the bone. Millions of people watched a young television reporter video-ask a leading WHO representative about how he sees Taiwan’s significant progress in the fight against Corona. The island state of Taiwan is not part of the People’s Republic of China but is claimed by it. The man remains silent for a little while, then claims that he did not understand the question, prefers to “move on to another question” and finally hectically turns off the screen. It is the same expert who said: if he developed COVID-19, a clinic in China would be his first choice.
The WHO, whose independence is now so important, is crawling on the cross to avoid saying a word that the Beijing regime could interpret as a hint of criticism. The People’s Republic, which operates a predatory capitalism economically and a late communist surveillance state domestically, has an enormous influence on the organization. It is also doing this to spread its version of the corona crisis: the People’s Republic has defeated the pandemic and is now the helper and best friend of all the countries concerned.
The message that authoritarian governments are particularly happy to accept: Our social model is the more efficient, better suited to protecting citizens from crises. It is a direct declaration of war on democracies, whether they want such system competition or not. Winston Churchill once said about democracy, which he helped save from Nazi Germany in a much bigger crisis in 1940: It was an imperfect form of government, but unfortunately, no one had shown him a better one. The corona crisis confirms how true this sentence has remained.
Yes, democracies also limit citizens’ rights in a way that was unimaginable weeks ago. They are far from immune from mistakes and temptations by the sovereign; already have, for example, the constitutional judges of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania to prevent excessive excesses of the state government. But there is a fundamental difference between whether democracies curtail temporary rights because the disease cannot be contained in any other way, whether it is controlled by constitutional courts and critically observed by voters, and whether the greatest admonisher of course also exercises his fundamental right to freedom of expression – or not.
Censorship, intimidation, state brutality, on the other hand – the DNA of anti-democratic systems – will only become more rigorous under the tougher conditions, and authoritarian regimes will become even more authoritarian.
In China, for example, digital surveillance under the banner of disease control has reached a dystopian dimension reminiscent of George Orwell’s horror vision “1984”. And it is also a fairy tale that the hard hand rules more effectively than, for example, the democracy of particularly badly hit Italy: who, like in China, where the epidemic broke out first, criminalizes doctors who gave early warnings and limits the flow of information and the exchange of medical knowledge, makes the fight against the disease even more difficult. Amnesty International rightly criticizes: If the government in Beijing had not played down the danger for so long, the world would have had more time to prepare for the pandemic.
Not all people are equal before the virus. The extent of the danger also depends on the system in which they live. In the most absurd cases, state leaderships such as those in North Korea or Turkmenistan have declared Corona as non-existent in the country, Belarus’ autocrator decrees vodka against the virus. But Iran and other countries also keep the true numbers of the pandemic secret, even from Russia there is no precise information. And it is no coincidence: where old democracies are governed by populists, the crisis tends to be devastatingly incompetent, as is the case in the United States, whose misleading president flaunts while people in New York dig up mass graves.
The USA is paralyzed by a confused isolationism, which is why international institutions like the G7 and G20 are unable to act. This would be the hour for Europe to overcome its timidness and to prove the value of the only form of government for which human dignity is paramount and not a threat to maintaining power. Because another monumental task will come: The crisis will hit the poorer part of the world with force. He’ll need our help, a lot of help even. If democracies don’t, others will – at a political price that would end up being very high, even for the world of the West.