In 1346 an invisible enemy started crawling across Asia to Europe. Scientists are still arguing about the exact way of how it spread. Rats were previously thought to be the carriers, but later on, fleas were proved to most likely be the origin. In any case, the Mongol troops who besieged the city of Azov brought it with them and with the catapults thrown into the city, corpses passed it to the Genoese defenders.
From Azov, the plague spread into the Mediterranean, and then into Europe and North Africa. Meanwhile, the plague, with its other tentacles reached Asia. Somewhere between 30% and 60% of the population of Europe and approximately a third of the world’s population have died as a result.
Today, six centuries and a half later, the world has a new pandemic – the coronavirus COVID19. The media rushed to announce the virus for the new plague. From a historic and medical point of view, this is an absurdity. The only similarity between the two is the high level of contagiousness. COVID19 is not as deadly or dangerous during the sickness period. Much of the gloomy aura of the disease comes from panic and hysteria triggered not by the disease itself but the mass inadequacy in reaction from governments and media.
The reasons for this inadequacy can be traced back to the international context of the last ten years where its progenitor of hysteria will undoubtedly be the World Trade Crisis from 2009. It has unleashed a wave of apocalyptic predictions and accelerated the process of transforming social networks into an alternative source of information. This easy-to-manipulate information environment has been used with increasing intensity by various governments and corporations. The aggressive use of the Internet was so widespread that the military forces around the world had to formally add a fifth dimension to military affairs – cyberspace.
The so-called asymmetric war surfaced after Russia’s entry into Ukraine in 2014 and Syria in 2015. What followed was the battle for the European opinion around the migrant wave of 2015-2017 and then the US presidential campaign. What was created was an extremely tense media environment with too little critical thinking and at the same time too much sensitivity to any information flow.
As the media hive was shaken, the political leaders were being tested too, and they failed catastrophically. The financial crisis and the ensuing recession were accompanied by all kinds of mistakes. Many of them, such as the fictitious maintenance of poorly managed banks, have been implemented through pure lobbying and preservation of personal relationships at the expense of the public good. In order to maintain their position in crisis situations, many governments have allowed restrictions on the personal freedoms of citizens, and especially the freedom of speech.
The environment was somewhat of a paradise for both authoritarian regimes and those democracies that wanted to move towards self-authoritarianism. Under the pretext of fighting fake news, inconvenient critical media was chased. The tabloids themselves remained untouched and, on the contrary, their owners became an instrument in the hands of the status quo, which raised government stability in a political axiom. In order to survive, many major media companies have gone down the tabloid road to enjoy government benevolence. Governments themselves have put in place a system of pressure tools to control media they did not directly own.
And so, here it came – the spring of 2020. Governments are in shock – clearly, there is a threat, but how to deal with it? Europe is accustomed to fixing problems with financial tranches. We will pour money into PIGS (*Portugal, Italy, Greece, Spain) until they stabilize. We will pay for Turkey and Libya to withhold migrants. We will sanction Putin in exchange for his obedience. None of these measures seemed to have worked in practice. Where progress has been made, it has happened due to alternative ways. Now once again – rescue financial transactions for billions and trillions. But how? What for? By what plan? There is no answer, only readiness for cashflow based on the old saying that if something does not work out with a lot of money, it will surely work out with a lot more money. This turns out to be false.
So here comes the comparison with the plague. The big difference between the plague and COVID19 is that the plague has killed people and the crisis around COVID19 will kill the economy.
Following the Black Death, Europe experienced decades of catharsis. But the economic recovery lies in higher demand for specialists and the restructure of the feudal economy into a capital one by opening access to business to wider parts of society. The lack of people leads to higher wages, legal norms reforms and better guarantees for workers.
Back to the coronavirus, people remain, thank God, alive as the mortality rate is relatively low for a pandemic and affects mostly the people beyond working age. However, panic measures and lack of adequate planning are killing the business. In Europe, following the plague, there was a lot of work to be done and little people. In Europe, after COVID19 there will be many people and little work to be done. Overconsumption of goods along stockpiling, coupled with bankruptcies and the shutting down of business initiatives will leave job hunger with no means to feed it. If the situation deepens, hunger will not be just for jobs.
More reasonable governments have already taken steps to create rescue packages for businesses. Whether they will be sufficient is not yet clear, but at least they are implemented. In Bulgaria, newer and newer restrictions are being introduced without any guarantees for the survival of the business, especially the small and medium ones. Civil rights and freedoms are being harmed in a careless manner on the basis of a hasty and ill-considered emergency state. The National Crisis Group is talking about saving the business, but words and deeds seem to diverge dramatically.
In our current state, it is important for people to realize that a pandemic is a serious problem, but not a long-term one. In the next 3-4 months, the situation will have developed and will start phasing out. The question is what will be the state in which we wake up after the nightmare and whether the economic impact of the crisis will plunge us into an even deeper and darker nightmare. At the same time, it is a good idea to think about the state of our civil rights currently and consider how long we can stay at that level. It is worth quoting Benjamin Franklin, who astutely points out that, „those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety“.
Original text in Bulgarian by Alexander Stoyanov, translation by Mia Babikyan