A few years ago, I wanted to prove to myself that I could still comprehend German, so I bought Thomas Mann’s “Death in Venice” as an e-book. I had to struggle to get through the book. In the beginning, only philosophical thoughts and reflections expressed in a most complicated language with all verbs at the end of the sentence, while nothing really happened. But I had decided to read the book, and I did. What I remember best is the mood, a mood I have now experienced in reality.
The shopping trip on Thursday March 12 was like being a statistician in a disaster movie. Stores that ordinary Thursdays are half empty were full of people. Hamstring of food, toilet rolls and more to cope with the coming siege. And everyone talks about corona. We meet a couple we know and the man shows us his corona app on the cell phone. There he receives continuous updates on the number of sick and dead in covid-19. We understand his anxiety. He belongs to the risk group, maybe we do too. But despite, or perhaps because of, the special mood, we experience a strange excitement, a sense of being involved in a big event.
Then comes the feeling of sadness. Because we can’t attend the concert we’ve been looking forward to. Because the retirement gym we do twice a week is cancelled. Because everything that is nice and fun is stopped. And all this to allow Chinese to go to food markets and buy bats for dinner! How can this be allowed in a dictatorship that otherwise shows so much force?
After all, they stopped the political and diplomatic relations with Norway when the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the imprisoned Chinese democracy and human rights fighter Liu Xiaobo the Nobel Peace Prize, and the Norwegian Prime Minister’s – according to tradition – congratulated the award winner!
And they put a million Uyghurs in concentration camps to learn how to become true Chinese!
They also kidnapped Gui Minhai, a Swedish citizen and publisher in Hong Kong, on October 17, 2015 from Pattaya, Thailand, while on vacation. Four weeks ago he was sentenced to 10 years in prison in a secret, false trial in Ningbo outside Shanghai. A special scene in this protracted humiliation of democratic and human rights was when Gui Minhai, accompanied by Swedish diplomats, on a train to Beijing to receive medical treatment, found the train suddenly invaded by 10 Chinese agents, and he was again abducted – a direct and targeted degradation of Swedish diplomacy!
Unfortunately, the protests against these human rights abuses are lame. It seems more important to court the dictatorship to safeguard financial gains in trade with China, a trade that has increased explosively over the last 15 years.
For supporters of globalization, increased trade and contacts are something that is only described in positive terms. It is argued that increased contacts result in democratization. This may have been justified optimism regarding China during the SAR epidemic in 2003-2004, but it no longer applies. Instead, it is China that requires submission and obedience of us to allow us trade with them.
An increase in the production and transport of goods results in increased greenhouse gas emissions; this also applies to increased travel. It is therefore of great concern when long-distance transport by air of goods and people since 1947, when the Chicago Convention came into force, still provides economic benefits. The Convention prohibits the taxation of aviation fuel. If the airline industry paid as much in environmental taxes and value added tax as any other business, prices would have been almost twice as high as today.
When you buy a garment, you can choose one that is marked Fair Trade, when you buy a flight, you can climate compensate it. On the other hand, if you purchase a product manufactured in a dictatorship, you will not see any mark showing that, nor can you “dictatorship compensate” a trip to Thailand, the United Arab Emirates, Cuba, China or Vietnam.
We are now hit by an epidemic that paralyses our entire society, endangering human health and life, causing enormous financial damage and making our lives desolate and sad. It took 15 years for the Black Death to come from China to Norway; for covid-19 it took three months before the whole world was hit. We’ve got a community that, despite all scientific advances, has proved extremely vulnerable. When will the next virus come and how fast will it spread? Nobody knows.
In the midst of a societal crisis, decision makers may not be prepared to deal with anything other than the acute problems. But the long-term perspectives must not be forgotten. Despite the glorification of the economic benefits of globalization, the stock exchanges now have the biggest crash ever. What are we willing to pay to continue as before after the corona epidemic has subsided? With increasing risk of new epidemics? With increasing climate impact? With increasing threats to democracy and human rights? The answers should be obvious.