The freedom we are used to is not deeply rooted in history. Oppression has been extensive and still occurs. Restricted liberty is a necessity of a pandemic and an important reminder to not take freedom for granted.
In 2020 our freedom became a threat to our safety. What we knew as daily life became a means for spreading the most dangerous virus in decades. Giving up certain freedoms was crucial, but difficult. There is no point in fighting for one’s personal freedom when the health of our fellow citizens is at stake. Complain yes, fight no—and eventually we adapt.
As we kick off the new year in some degree of lockdown, limited freedom now seems reasonable and necessary. In fact, many are asking their governments to impose even stricter measures to keep society safe while people are being vaccinated. Now there is movement and action instead of standstill and uncertainty. We know what we are waiting for and what needs to be done for us to get our freedom back. After all, freedom without safety is not freedom at all. At least not how we have come to know it.
Oppression as a Rule
We are in a state of abnormality. Historically speaking, freedom and human rights have not been the norm. Quite the contrary. Oppression has been the main rule, not the exception. If the world ended tomorrow, the years following the Second World War up until the early days of 2020 could perhaps be described as The Freedom Era. Not for all people everywhere, but probably for most people at the same time.
Of course, the inhabitants of Deutsche Democratishe Republik (DDR) did not have freedom the way my generation has come to know and enjoy it. But when The Wall came down in ’89 not everyone embraced the liberties of the west. “Ostalgie” soon became a term describing the nostalgia for Communist East Germany. After all, DDR provided jobs, in a sense safety and control for its inhabitants. Freedom comes with a price. Taking responsibility for your own life and pursuit of happiness is a dramatic contrast to the attitude of accepting government control.
Breaking in a horse takes time. At first, the animal fights against the attempt to be controlled. It fights for its freedom. Eventually it will surrender.
Depriving People of Human Rights
Studies suggest that some governments may be taking advantage of this global state of emergency. A report on the impact of Covid-19 on global freedom, published by Freedom House in October 2020, finds that since the coronavirus outbreak began, the condition of democracy and human rights has grown worse in eighty nations. The report says the deterioration is particularly acute in struggling democracies and highly repressive states. As one respondent in the report said of Turkey, “Coronavirus was used as an excuse for the already oppressive government to do things that it has long planned to do but had not been able to.”
It is a sad and disappointing fact that Covid-19 laws are being misused to gain control and deprive people of their human rights. This is alarming and undignified. Furthermore, such laws and policies can be difficult to reverse once implemented. Some of us are lucky enough to live in countries where we trust that the people in charge are acting in good faith, on behalf of the greater good and executing the people’s will. But this is no guarantee. The people will always need to hold those in power accountable for restrictions of personal freedom.
Pandemic Within the Pandemic
Oppression can take many forms. It can be political or cultural or within groups of society. It can also be personal. Domestic abuse during Covid-19 has been described as a pandemic within the pandemic. There is reason to believe that cases have risen worldwide because of lockdown and reduced contact with other people. The community which used to look out for one another cannot remain in place during social distancing.
We are told to stay home to prevent spread of the virus but not every home is safe. Some homes are abusive and violent. To the oppressor, power and control derives from being feared by the oppressed. It is rooted in a belief that some people are worth more than others and therefore can control them. This is a deep and dark misunderstanding. Human rights are the most efficient tools in the fight against oppression. We all have the same worth.
The UK is again under lockdown. People are told to stay at home to prevent the spread of Covid-19. One of the exceptions for stepping outside is escaping domestic abuse. Reducing the risk for contracting covid may impose other threats. And that is when lacking personal freedom really becomes dangerous.
I sincerely hope—and believe—that the liberties we currently do not have will be returned to us once it is safe. The pandemic and our history should remind us in the future why freedom—and safety—must be the main rule and not the exception going forward. In a nation, within a community and at home.
The freedom era has only just begun. No matter who might be reading this and where you might be; value your freedom and never surrender to any kind of oppression. •
Kristin is a professional commentator and communications director.