The Century of Solidarity

The founder of SES Equality and Solidarity Association, Gülseren Onanç, wrote on the intellectual and behavioural changes in humanity and certain developments that raise hope for the future since the coronavirus hold the world captive.

On December 31, 2019, we celebrated the New Year, believing that 2020 would be better than 2019. We were almost certain that 2020 would bring good luck. Even some ungrounded thoughts, such as our political achievements in 2019 and two and zero lining up in a row, may have caused such an optimistic feeling. Maybe we wanted to believe that the future would be brighter than today.

121 days that changed the world

We learned from the article, “The 100 days that changed the world” published in the Guardian newspaper last week, on 31 December, a Chinese government website announced the detection of a “pneumonia of unknown cause” in the area surrounding the South China seafood wholesale market in Wuhan, an industrial city of 11 million people. Chinese Government initially tried to prevent news from spreading on social media, punishing a doctor from Wuhan, who compared the virus to Sars.

In the early days of January, while the world was focused on the tension between the US and Iran, and was worried whether it would turn into a third world war, the news from China confirmed that the virus is a human-to-human transmission and is highly deadly. The authoritarian Chinese government closed all the entrances and exits of the city of Wuhan, and began taking measures across the country.

At the very day of Britain formally exits the European Union, it was confirmed that coronavirus has reached the UK.  Spain and Italy detected their first cases. The measures did not prevent the virus from reaching Europe. Meanwhile, the director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO)Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said the disease’s international spread appears to be “minimal and slow”, though it could still worsen, and there is no need to unnecessarily to halt trade and travel on February 4th.

In February, it was announced that a woman, belonging to a secretive megachurch who attended two services in South Korea although there were signs of illness, exploded the spread of the virus. In the football match between Italian Atalanta and Spanish Valencia teams played in Milan on February 19, nearly fifty thousand Italian and Spanish fans watched the game side by side. Two days after the match, Italy reported the first death from Covid-19.

A few days before the first death in the UK occurred at the beginning of March, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that he went to the hospital the night before and shook everyone’s hands. He was diagnosed with corona on March 28th, and was taken to intensive care on April 5th. While European countries closed their borders, the global economy came to a halt. Since the day Trump and his administration announced that they were embarking on “the most aggressive and comprehensive effort to confront a foreign virus in modern history,” the US has been the center of the crisis.

On march 11th, when the World Health Organization announced that Covid-19 is a world-wide pandemic, the first case was detected in Turkey. The government, which has been confused since then and has the full authority and does not want to share it with anyone, is trying to manage the process with the Ministry of Health and Interior Affairs. While the presidential system tested with corona crisis resulted in increased authoritarianism, it also laid bare the truth that even masks could not be distributed properly to the public.

121 days have passed since the virus was first detected in Wuhan. As of today, in the live corona map of the New York Times, over 3 million people have been infected in 177 countries, and more than 230,000 people have lost their lives, and this number is constantly increasing.

On the other side, the economic toll of the coronavirus is mounting. The IMF said, the world economy will shrink 5% and the economy of Turkey is expected to shrink 3%. Although payments for the unemployed and aids for the companies in dire situation strives to reduce damage caused by the crisis, the measures taken by the existing political mentality does not produce sustainable solutions. Unemployment and poverty are increasing, the income gap between countries is increasing, income injustice is rising.

The efforts of those in power to return to normalcy or to the old order also continue. Cities in China are reopening their borders one after another and it is announced that the normalisation process in the US and Europe will be gradually implemented.

Let’s face it, it feels good to think these dark days will be over. We all miss the social life outside, commuting to work or children going to school, eating at a restaurant, going to a coffee shop or a barbershop, walking on the street, and many of our little freedoms. We want to go back to our old life as soon as possible.

It is not a health crisis but a political one

However, we have to understand that, the crisis we are in, is not a health crisis that the world will overcome in six months. Let’s name it, this is a deep political crisis. This is what those who want to dominate nature, refuse international cooperation, advocate nationalist policies bring to the world. It is a crisis created by a system that leaves the services of education, health, water, energy, etc. which are the most basic duties of the states, to the mercy of the market, that increases income injustice and poverty, and fuels conflicts and wars.

Whatever we call it, neoliberalism or something else, we have seen how those politicians who created this system and reinforced its power were helpless in the face of this crisis. We have experienced how rulers who want to monopolise the whole system in their countries were unable to even distribute masks to their citizens. We have witnessed how heads of states, who ignored the threat of the virus and thought that they could fight against it with an economic package were ridiculed.

These authoritarian politicians intensify oppression as it is happening in our country, in order to cover up their despair by restricting the authority of local governments, increasing social media control, and punishing the media. They are afraid of those politicians close to the people, the decision-making mechanisms, the active citizens who develop solutions for the society, and the solidarity of people. They are afraid of this system, in which a person helps another person, a neighbour helps another neighbor. If those in power who can not provide aid and prevent others from doing it,  are only left with oppressive state device, we have to find a solution to this political crisis just like we do the same against the coronavirus.

We are freer, another world order is possible

Although we think the opposite, a wide range of freedom has been unraveled for us since we keep our hands off from the world and stay inside our homes. We now understand that another education system, another health system, another kind of work system is possible.

The whole world could not have had such an experience in another condition at the same time. Professor of History and Philosophy at Paris University, Justin E.H. heralds that we can establish a new world order in an article he wrote for The Point Mag: “Any fashion, sensibility, ideology, set of priorities, worldview or hobby that you acquired prior to March 2020, and that may have by then started to seem to you cumbersome, dull, inauthentic, a drag: you are no longer beholden to it. You can cast it off entirely and no one will care; likely, no one will notice.”

Studies have shown that that intellectual and behavioral changes occurred in humans since the coronavirus hold the world captive. Four important changes that I find important excite me and increase my hope for the future:

 1. The value of human, labor and science is acknowledged

While the confidence in the central health system decreases in almost every part of the world, support for doctors and nurses is increasing. It is understood that the real value is not coming from the buildings of big-city hospitals but to the dedicated well equipped people working in those hospitals.

After Boris Johnson got out of the intensive care which lasted 4 days, he said that he owes all the doctors and nurses for saving his life. He especially thanked two nurses from New Zealand and Portugal. The fact that he who signed the Brexit agreement two months ago said two intensive care nurses from other countries saved his life, was a confession of how valuable freedom of movement was.

On the other hand, the vital importance of science and scientists has been appreciated more with this crisis. Scientists who have been writing and saying that climate change is threatening the world for many years will be taken more seriously from now on.

2.  The importance of local governments is acknowledged

As the exclusionist authoritarian powers are losing their problem-solving capacities, the important role local governments play in times of crisis is clearly understood. Citizens locked down in their homes, appealed to the nearest public units for all kinds of needs regarding infrastructure, transportation, and social support.

This process made the demand for a strong local government more visible and empowered the mayors and governors.  In Turkey, the ruling party felt uncomfortable by the fact that mayors from the opposition party stood out by organising relief campaigns. Trump turned state governors who are representatives of the Democratic Party in the USA, into a target. But this did not prevent the growing popularity of the mayor of Ankara Mr. Mansur Yavaş and Governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo in the US.

3. Cooperation and solidarity is increasing

While the uncertainty causes fear and anxiety, the most obvious change in behaviour is observed towards the desire for cooperation and solidarity.

We have anonymous heroes who are closing the grocery debt of people they don’t know. Supporting those who are in difficult situation gives meaning to our lives in this period. A network of solidarity, starting from the neighborhood, is being built with initiatives such as Ahbap and Bi Komşu. We compiled great examples of cooperation and solidarity on SES Equality Justice Women Platform.

4. The need for international solidarity is understood

During this crisis, where countries close the borders and the nationalist discourse rises, it is possible to say that our identity as a human being has surpassed all our identities. Death news from Italy, Spain, the US, or another country hurt us. I wrote, “Now we know: If the virus comes and finds us even when we close our doors, roads, airports and borders if we have no place to escape, humanity has no chance other than to cooperate for a more liveable world” in my previous article.

As a matter of fact, two weeks ago, Global Citizen managed to bring together hundreds of artists and collect 128 million worth of donations to combat coronavirus through an event called “One World: Together at Home.” This campaign, which took place after Trump announced that it would halt support World Health Organization funding, over coronavirus revealed the importance given to international solidarity.

About 50 vaccine samples and drug treatments have been developed by private companies and laboratories to find a vaccine against coronavirus, which is the only condition for life to return to normal. Still, it requires 12 to 18 months period. The article, published in Bloomberg magazine, says that there is a need for regulating patent rights and global cooperation between governments to shorten the very expensive and long vaccine development process.

“Solidarity with developing countries is thus a matter of both morality and long-term vision. Failure to pass this solidarity test would leave deep psychological wounds in left-behind countries, paving the way for all manner of extremism and new crises” says Kemal Derviş in his article published in Project Syndicate.

Bringing the world to a halt, the corona crisis changes the way people think and behave and also gives us the opportunity to establish a new order. Today, we have a very important opportunity ahead of us to make the twenty-first century a century of solidarity. We can ensure that 2020 will go down in history as a very good year in which the world reconstructs itself.

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3 Mayıs 2020