To Vienna with love: I am disgusted that you call us “East”

Bohdana Ondrášková, Bratislava

“We are the first Western European country to use masks.”
(Sebastian Kurz, March 30th, 2020)

This statement by your Chancellor is disgusting me. Why this emotion? Maybe because I feel like you don’t care about us and look at us with subconscious disgust and prejudices that I don’t understand and that I don’t think they exist at all.

Prejudices are as old as human life itself. Just like fear, they should beware us of our future failures and risks of possible dangers. When the prehistoric man burned himself by fire, he created the prejudice not to touch it anymore. In the Middle Ages, we no longer needed empiricism to know what to fear. And today we don’t need experience or reason to know what to think. (Especially about our neighbors.)

Sebastian, what is your fabulous “West”?

Your Chancellor Sebastian Kurz declared that Austria was “the first Western European country to use masks.” I don’t understand the intent of this statement, but it strikes me as mythical as “Sebastian” and as shortsighted as “Kurz”.

[The Orang-Utans of Schönbrunn Zoo are the first monkeys in Vienna which are hiding from the rain. A great model study, but without the crucial mention that all other Orang-Utans in nature are doing this in every storm. So what?]

In this case, is geography a crucial aspect? Probably not, because then you would be Central Europe, not Western.

Does the size of the country matter? Okay, let’s assume that the residents of major and larger countries (sorry, but here Austria falls out again) could have the arrogant impression that the disease is not directly related to them. On a larger scale, everything is further away. However, even a monkey can perceive a threat without having to experience it personally.

Is it meant economically? Possibly – after hours of studying Eurostat data. Okay, residents of an economically advanced country might feel that the state will take care of them if the worst happens. In this case, however, both experience and common sense fail. First, modern European history has not yet experienced such a large pandemic, and second, all data (also from your country) show that the number of intensive care beds is not sufficient for the critical cases, if we don’t stick to restrictions.

We in Slovakia usually wear masks and gloves, keep personal distance and voluntary quarantine, because experts convinced us above all. More important than the individual effectiveness of masks and quarantine is to set a trend that everyone can see and an understanding of the democratic principle “I protect you, you protect me – the whole society is protected”.

We are not all agreed on this, and before the regulation came into force, not all of us wore it, but the intelligent majority did. (Or maybe just one third, because I don’t have the exact data and don’t want to overdo it).

I’m not afraid of the state, I’m afraid of your statement.

… and especially how arrogance can rape democracy instead of strenghtening it. And this is where the core of your prejudice comes out. We do not protect ourselves because we are stupid sheep of autocratic regimes or because we fear the state and its persecution.

To be honest, we don’t care about the state, but about democracy. In this case, I believe that we protect ourselves because we honor democracy and fear that it will be lost if we start to limit the rights of others. For example, one of the most important – the right of health (not just the right of healthcare that heals wounds caused by others or by ourselves) and that no one can threaten you with their own arrogance.

Of course, this attitude here in Slovakia is also shaped by distrust of the healthcare that has been robbed in the past few decades, but I still believe that the desire for health and the maintenance of a free society are more important than our fear of infection and bad Hospitals. And for this freedom, as you may recognize in these times, something has to be done sometimes. Freedom is not a status quo. Freedom is a damned work.

Your reliance in freedom seems to have made you lazy and flatly discussing, while you literally are losing lives. One day means one week or one month in an epidemic dimension, and you have been still arrogant, still not wearing it, and have waited for the moment when Father State puts it in your spoiled hands through the Baby Chancellor. With that attitude, as asymptomatic carriers, you possibly infect the elderly involuntarily and actually put them at deadly risk. What is the seniors’ freedom in this situation? Is it worth less than others’ to wear no protection and not to stay at home? In this way you are losing democracy and I don’t want to dive too much into your past, but it also smells of fascism.

No, we are not more responsible because we have learned the authoritarian regime as the only reason for our “obedience”. This would be a kindergarten level causality. Why, for God’s sake, should we be mentally bound to something that obviously didn’t work? The human psyche usually oscillates to the opposite extreme, then calms down and begins to search for its own new ways, nuances, directions and forms. Like our own (otherwise raped) democracy.

We don’t even know communism!

There is also another thing that you have not noticed: The present generation in the post-communist countries, which is currently on the front line, has not experienced any communism at all. There are only a few burnt-out sociologists (no matter from where) and self-regretting or pseudo-civilized people, who attribute a complex to us that we never had and ask us completely unnecessary questions that we would never ask ourselves.

When the regime fell, I was three years old. I remember my childhood in the 1990s full of shimmering colors and outdoor games in similarly colorful housing estates. I remember an always full refrigerator and pantry in our apartment – which I now normally have empty like the rest of my almost childless generation Y. I remember carefreedom and a (perhaps rather deceptive) sense of security when I was six going to the neighbouring school alone with a key around my neck every day. At that time, the cars of newly formed privatizers and racketeers exploded in Bratislava, and outside of our small town, rural mafians took poor refugees across the border with their weapons. I figured out all of this many years afterwards from jokes, gossips, interviews, testimonials, books, films and documentaries. Therefore, traumatization can hardly occur, not even over time.

We were children and there was no politics. We were hurting our knees at inlines and basketball and were watching Baywatch and Beverly Hills in the early evening, listening to Spice Girls and Backstreet Boys on CD (this is the most difficult part of the text) or U2, Rolling Stones and Depeche Mode on self-recorded tapes from older friends, that had been “under the counter” few years before, which we neither knew nor cared about. At school we briefly scanned the past era that was many miles behind us and the prescribed reading continued with Father Goriot, Three Comrades or the American classic …

Eastern promises

Today our generation is not interested in wannabe traumas from the political past, but in the state of contemporary democracy, which is affected by (hopefully) only remains of the corruption hysteria of wild capitalism. Maybe your current democracy will be devalued differently – by a stiff and pathologic noose in which you were born into, without a real social and political experience of anything else.

My generation has very traditional European topics and, of course, virtual pseudo topics, very traditional fears, complexes and prejudices – about immigrants, neo-fascism, social insecurity, freedom of expression, gender equality, environmental crisis, individual career, hoaxes and conspiracy theories, economic stability, donation for arts, self recognition, exploring the world, slow movement, minimalism, politics of redistribution, economic self-sufficiency and much more. And none of this has to do with a divided Europe.

By the way, we don’t seriously blame you for your “love brand” in the last war – not even in the cellars of the dirtiest taverns. Neither do we tell you that you have a mask trauma because the fascist doctors conducted experiments on people who they had not even called humans at that time.

Speaking of myths: the name “Sebastian” comes from an ancient mythical village. In Slovak language “Seba” means “self” and in fact Bastian was the main hero of the legendary “Never Ending Story”.

So please stop this mythical rhetoric that uselessly divides Europe and come out of your Schönbrunn cage to the wild. You can protect yourself from the rain also without those mental chains.

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