1) Covid in the light of other experiences: GDR, Romania, Chile

Illustré par :

Louis Trouveroy

 » I am worried about the totalitarianism under the pretext of health, which is growing stronger every week « , I confided last September to an acquaintance sitting on the terrace of the Café Randaxhe, in the Liège district of Outremeuse, which I like so much.  » Moo, what are you coming with?!  » she giggled,  » nothing to see, we are a thousand miles away! The day when a political police will arrest you at home at six in the morning to take you with a hood over your head to a torture center, you will be able to talk about totalitarianism, or dictatorship, if you want « . In contrast to her terrible words, she then dipped her lips with relish into her draft beer, an act whose very possibility is a matter of democracy, isn’t it? It is common to read or hear this kind of politically reassuring words associated with health catastrophist words about the Delta-variant who arrived at the beginning of the school year in order to make the curve of hospitalizations go up (ah, the bastard!). Well, at home, it’s just the opposite! Very similar to that of September 2020 — with the added pressure of vaccines — the psychobiopower story is starting to seriously get on people’s nerves — at least mine — and should at the very least put the  » ordinary people who are gradually awakening to the struggle against the lords of the property and their appointed lackeys(1) « .

In an unprecedented situation such as ours, where  » reality itself becomes unreal and delirious  » (Michel Freitag, 2003), it is difficult to name very precisely what is happening, politically speaking. To find the right words, to dare not to lie to oneself or to reassure oneself on the cheap. Last year, I had already suggested that, even if it is necessary to be afraid, it would be better to direct this fear towards the anti-democratic and liberticidal character of the political-sanitary measures of the governments than towards the virus itself(2). In the spring of 2020, lucid people could at best be satisfied with talking about an authoritarian drift, but in the meantime we have moved up a gear. How then to name the (anti-)political form that is there and will continue to evolve until its paroxysm, except for a revolutionary episode or a generalized collapse? Are the usual classifications of political philosophy — dictatorship, oligarchy, tyranny, biopower, technocracy, plutocracy, totalitarianism — still workable? Should we not turn our attention to more recent concepts such as « systemic regulation logic » or « self-referential system functioning without subject or end » proposed by Michel Freitag(3) ?

In order to distinguish the phenomenon from the essence — in other words, to understand from the observation of facts and then try to reach an essence — we first turned to three people who had once lived in a non-democratic regime (Chile, Romania, the « democratic » Republic of Germany) and asked them to compare what they had experienced with the current situation. A fourth provided a theoretical contextualization of these accounts. A French citizen, born in 1957, he has always known democracy, but has taken a close interest in the totalitarian phenomenon as part of his academic research(4). He is also an occasional contributor to our newspaper. 

Bernard Legros

MARIA (NOT HER REAL NAME), 61 YEARS OLD, BELGIAN CITIZEN OF ROMANIAN ORIGIN, TEACHER. 

Before leaving Romania, I expressed my deep disagreement with the dictatorial policy of Nicolae Ceausescu’s regime, namely the deprivation of freedom of the Romanian people. As common points with the covidist regime, I see several: the fear that takes hold of society, with most of the population resigning themselves to the government’s actions and not questioning them; the denunciation, which leads to distrust among the people and permanent control of the population; the growing distance between the elites and the population; the creation of special bodies that work for the benefit of the ruling class by imposing regulations adopted by the latter; the reinforcement of the role of the state, which adopts a paternalistic attitude towards the people, who no longer even question the measures taken by the government; the counter-power is almost non-existent, except for certain demonstrations; the disruption of the emotional environment of the people, especially of the young, who no longer see any prospect for life; finally, the obedience of society, its submission to the demands of the governments and its resignation in the face of provocations which it considers insurmountable. For these reasons, I consider that we live in Belgium in an authoritarian democracy. The use of public health, among other things, as a pretext to impose the new regulations reminds me of the methods used by Ceaucescu. By definition, democracy is intimately linked to freedom. Nowadays, freedom has become, unfortunately, an almost theoretical notion. People enter into political dissent, which by definition is specific to dictatorial and totalitarian regimes, but is not normally found in Western democracies. However, the reaction of civil society in several countries is a good sign. People have realized that their health is being used by various governments as a pretext. Health has been overly politicized around the world. Such measures have not been taken because of other diseases, which is very strange! I don’t live in Romania, but I know that the current Romanian political class is adapting to the status of the EU member countries, which presents some difficulties. In order not to make mistakes, it is constantly inspired by the actions and decisions taken by other European leaders. The « left-overs » of the communist dictatorship persist here and there, which prevents the real and coherent development of the country. 

JORGE PALMA, 72 YEARS OLD, EXILED FROM CHILE, HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDER, FORMER ASSISTANT AT THE UNIVERSITY OF LIÈGE. 

As a first common point between the Chilean dictatorship (1973–1990) and the current democratic involution of the Western world — prior to the current health crisis but accelerated with force with this one -, I think immediately of the preparation phase of the 1973 coup d’état by the Chilean right wing. As soon as Salvador Allende took office, the media, all of which belonged to the right-wing opposition (and in part to the center), following the Nixon-Kissinger line, attacked him mercilessly, presenting him as a communist danger that had to be stopped, whereas the structural reforms carried out by Allende were carried out in strict compliance with democracy and the rule of law. 

Tactics of fear. The media campaign against Allende was permanent and soon the idea of the enemy within appeared, exacerbated later in times of dictatorship. Right-wing propaganda circulated the idea that within the left there was a hard core preparing a violent communist revolution, the so-called « Plan Z » inspired, in the feverish heads of the right, by the title of Costa-Gavras’ 1969 film. This plan, part of a psychological warfare tactic (Psy-Op), turned out to be a pure invention. History now knows the name of the journalist who wrote it. However, this false plan was used as a pretext to justify a fierce repression as soon as the putsch was launched. « Members of the economic elite were going to be murdered. There was, supposedly, a secret, internal threat, and it was not known where it would come from. The right-wing opposition, assisted by the United States, sought to unite many people against this figure of the internal enemy, just as in our country the authorities are now using the virus as a formidable internal enemy and policy catalyst. As a result, the entire spectrum of the right was against the government, ready to do anything to overthrow it, with the promise of new elections a few months later, elections that never came. 

Another common point: the permanent media propaganda going crescendo to formulate the opinion. It was difficult for the left to counter it, because it had very little media, while the right-wing media was financed by the United States. In addition, attacks against installations (pylons, gas pipes) created a climate of chaos. The president did attempt a political exit by inviting military personnel into his cabinet, but it was a double-edged sword, a fifth column that ultimately backfired. At the time, Chile was cited as an example of democracy in South America. But overnight, everything was overturned by a putsch. 

If before the putsch the anti-democratic propaganda came from the opposition to the government, from the installation of the new civil-military power in Chile, the ultraliberal and anti-left propaganda acquired gigantic dimensions and came from the power, just as today in Belgium, France and elsewhere, the propaganda comes from the political power. 

Let’s jump back in time: in Chile, the so-called « pandemic » occurred under a right-wing government. However, the most demanding in terms of restrictive sanitary measures, who claim that the government is not doing enough, are the leaders of the left, which is also a rather dishonest way of embarrassing the government, using the sanitary crisis to put pressure on it. As a result, the country ranks among the world’s top countries in terms of mass vaccination; fortunately for Chileans, most of them with a « real » inactivated virus vaccine… 

The similarities between the situation of the breakdown of the rule of law that we are experiencing today in the West and the Chilean dictatorship are troubling. Pinochet stigmatized with the figure of the « terrorist », the government does it with the figure of the « conspiracy theorist » today. Pinochet also used the guilt of the bad citizen, through the figure of the « irresponsible » who, by his conduct, « endangered the success of the government of Chile » (sic!). It is the perfect equivalent of the figure of the anti-mask, anti-vax, anti-gesture-barrier « egoist » fabricated by the sanitary power of our country for the same purpose of guilt/manipulation/submission. Another striking example is the hygienic rhetoric used by Pinochet’s ideologues to designate their political enemies. Thus, the « non-vaccinated contaminant, dangerous, accused of being able to prolong the pandemic » here had its perfect medical correspondent in the figure of the « Marxist cancer » that had to be extirpated at all costs, as for some « eradicating » the virus is the mission. 

Another striking common feature is the economic discourse. The praise of the « Model » had become the sole theme of the media. Radio and television hammered out the ultraliberal verses of these « Chicago Boys » economists: « market economy », « regulatory market », « comparative advantages », « non-traditional exports », etc. Here, the 

The single theme that monopolized the media was the pandemic, the virus, the cases, the hospitalized, the dead, the barrier gestures, the containment, etc. And, of course, both there and here, the recurrent curfews and states of emergency ad libitum… 

In 2021, it is rhetorically complicated to categorize the current political regime in Belgium and other European countries. If you talk about dictatorship, people immediately think of the words guns, kidnapping, torture, etc. The term totalitarianism is more appropriate, in my opinion. Totalitarianism does not have to be bloody, especially since today’s means of communication and mass surveillance are much more effective than physical violence. Soft » shape for maximum efficiency! If individuals adhere today to the political-media discourse, it is mainly because of the campaign of fear and a guilt propaganda that has enormous physical and psychological means. 

Of these two conditions of a fascist regime, 1) A total connivance between big capital, in particular multinationals, and power; 2) the existence of a fascist mass party, at least the first is fulfilled. Employers are even beginning to take an interest in the functions of control, repression and the imposition of vaccination within the company. As for the second, it is well compensated by the existence of a press that is subject to the power as never before. What should be highlighted is the use and abuse by the power of the permanent state of emergency, the overstepping of the rule of law, the illegal and unconstitutional measures violating their own laws, as, for example, the exclusion, in the first instance, of the Pandemic law because it did not allow the « Covid Safe Ticket », followed by an equally illegal activation of it (although the health conditions required by the law itself are not met) that allows a more muscular state of exception. The human rights league would say in a statement that « The government is outlawing itself. In fact, that is what he has been doing since the beginning of this health crisis. It has therefore adopted an illegal and unconstitutional measure. I can assure you, having experienced it in my own flesh in my country of origin: this is exactly how dictatorships act. This is exactly how the state of emergency was renewed every year for 17 years, until the people stopped the leaders of this policy through a referendum taken from the streets. 

ANKE HERMANN, 52, SHIATSU THERAPIST, FORMER RESIDENT OF EAST GERMANY.

I had a beautiful childhood, East Germany was my reality, because I knew nothing else. Life was much easier than in Romania, for example, where it was a nightmare. We had the right to travel elsewhere in the Eastern bloc, but it still required a lot of bureaucracy, everything was visible, the authorities always knew where we were. Some « wise » people were allowed to travel to the West. We knew the world existed elsewhere, but I grew up with the idea that I would never really see it. I lived in the northeast, near Poland, a quiet place. If you conformed to the system, then everything was pretty « smooth. I fit these criteria: quite pretty, gifted in singing, I had an international career as an opera singer. However, there were times when I felt watched. At the age of 16, the Stasi tried to recruit me as a collaborator. I felt like I was in a movie, she was summoning me somewhere, had a document with my picture and knew everything about me. At first I went and they tried to get information from me about my buddies, but I never said anything. I began to understand that something was wrong. My sense of justice and honesty came first. When I went to Berlin to study, I met people in resistance against the system, which made me think, the last two years before the fall of the wall. I was 19 years old at the time. 

The current period has brought back these memories, like memorizing ready-made phrases. As in our On the Path project (an alternative care home with medical cures and retreats) at the beginning of the first wave, when there was officially no medicine to treat people. In my opinion, everything was welcome to try to save patients, even homeopathy. Immediately, the Order of Physicians threatened us! I told myself that there was something behind it and that it was no longer about the good of the people. I saw how the numbers were manipulated, as was the language: first the dead, then the infected, the contact cases, etc. We have created fear. Looking back, I myself grew up with the pressure to be good, and consequently the fear of not being good, of not saying the right words. Here, I found that too: you had to be orthodox, or else you would be threatened by the Order of Physicians. I would never have believed that such a situation would have occurred in Western Europe. I thought I was living in a world where everyone has the right to express themselves and where there is not only one truth. On the contrary, if you don’t talk like what is said on TV, you are immediately frowned upon. You avoid talking freely, a feeling I experienced in the days when you didn’t talk to your neighbors unless you knew them intimately. My upbringing instilled in me the fear of not saying « the right thing ». Being pro-communist in the past and pro-vaccine today is the same thing. Now I am not really afraid, but I see that it is not possible to talk freely to everyone. Still, I try to make the patients I meet think. Today we are in something worse than what I experienced before, because we are pretending, whereas in the GDR things were rather clear. We pretend that we are in an open world, people still believe that we are in a democracy, but this is no longer the case. We live in a lie. The Belgians have never known my former situation, they are naive, they think that we act for their good. 

Another difference is the use of technologies, like the pass if you want to leave the country. It’s worse than it was back then! People believe what they read in Le Soir and don’t realize that it is the state that controls reality. We in the GDR knew that a Stasi existed, but we pretended not to be fooled, which is why the demonstrations grew quietly and calmly. Starting with 20 people, we reached 70,000! Today, people are separated, are afraid to see others, do not exchange; they are much more blind than we were then. Maybe also because life has become much more comfortable, we no longer act, we no longer think. In communism, there were positive aspects. We had much less, but in our house everyone had a roof over their heads, no one was hungry, and we had the basics that cost nothing at all. We had the opportunity to eat good vegetables, which were necessarily organic, and meat produced in the family. We were much more into sharing with friends and neighbors. But East Germany was quickly contaminated by capitalism. Everything has been cut to size. Today, we are bathed in a single ideology, we do not know what to attach ourselves to. We are given « candy » if we are good. I don’t understand why people don’t understand that! I am not judging the vaccinated, but we should not exclude others and continue to listen to differing opinions, instead of crushing everything that does not go their way. In the GDR, we did not have access to vaccine information as we do today. The parents didn’t even know about it, the children went to school, lined up and were vaccinated for their own good. We had no choice, it was mandatory. It was believed that this would save the world from diseases. Today, the authorities insist on this anti-covid vaccine, but not at all because someone still believes to save the world from diseases, it is quite different from my childhood… 

Interview by Alexandre Penasse and Bernard Legros
Anke’s words transcribed by Sarah

Notes et références
  1. George Orwell, Sur le nationalisme et autres textes, Payot, 2021, p. 109.
  2. Cf. https://www.kairospresse.be/de-quoi-devrions-nous-avoir-peur/?highlight=Bernard%20Legros
  3. Cf. Michel Freitag, Formes de la société. Vol. 3. Totalitarismes, Liber, 2020.
  4. Marc Weinstein, L’évolution totalitaire de l’Occident. Sacralité politique, I, Hermann, 2015.
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