Those who have met me in person, know that I am very outspoken when it comes to my political beliefs. If I have an opinion on something, I will voice it. Whether my counterparts agree or not, I am not scared of discussions. I actually think we need the discourse to learn and evolve. A healthy discourse is the foundation of democracy. However, recently, I have seen that the discourse around me has become quieter. In some areas it has almost stopped.
In Europe, we have fought for fundamental rights for centuries. When you think about just our most recent history over the past 100 years, you will see how easily these rights can be taken away. Luckily, we managed to get them back after the Nazi regime and World War II. But it is dangerous to take a democracy for granted. Even more so, it is dangerous to stay silent.
Already before the pandemic, I noticed that many people around me started to remove themselves from the discussions. It was mainly the ones I had admired for voicing their opinion and holding on to their values. The pandemic accelerated this development – or it just made it more obvious. Unfortunately, the far right has taken over what they call the “critical thinking about Covid” and instrumentalised the denial of masks, an anti-vaccine mentality and a complete disrespect of measures to fight the pandemic. The unfortunate result in the context of the political discourse is that as soon as somebody dares to ask a critical question about this pandemic, they are put into the same camp as the far right. Hence, many have stayed silent. During many discussions over the past year, I have heard the same comment: “Honestly, I have removed myself from the discourse. I have my opinion, but I don’t share it anymore. It’s just not worth it and I feel tired of discussing what I think is going wrong.” I can relate to that.
I have always fully supported measures to prevent Covid-19 from spreading. But I did see some tendencies in measures which I started to criticize. Last year, I was not able to travel back to Thailand. I could not see my partner for months. I understood why certain measures were in place to fight the pandemic, but, naturally, I was frustrated. However, when I tried to make my voice heard or explain why I was frustrated, I was called a Covid-denier. (Which is the total opposite of what I am.) I just wanted to have a healthy discussion about what we can all do to not only fight the pandemic but also have our lives back (and see our loved ones).
As a consequence, I went silent as well. I posted less on my Instagram – which, pre-Covid, I saw as a channel to share and discuss my political views. I also avoided political topics in this Monday Postcard column. This approach not only related to Covid but also many other topics. I somehow thought it would be better for myself to take a step back. Did I feel better being quieter? Not really. I questioned the value of what I am doing, I even questioned what I as a person then stood for. What does silence make me?
Yesterday, I shared a post by Austrian journalist Corinna Milborn on my Instagram account:
“Do you remember when children were asked vehemently to stay at home to protect older people? I would expect that now we ask adults as vehemently to get vaccinated to protect the children.”(Original post in German, translated by yours truly.)
Before I shared it, I hesitated. What would be the reaction? Can I actually share this? And then I reminded myself that we still live in a democracy and whoever does not like my opinion, can unfollow me.
This moment of hesitation, however, showed to what a lack of discourse can lead. What was I scared of? Well, to be perfectly honest, it was mostly the reaction of some crazies on the internet. It is very unpredictable – and sometimes very scary – how people on social media may react. It does not have to be a full-on shitstorm, some hurtful comments or messages can be enough.
I do not want to play Biedermeier – a period in Europe during the first half of the 19th century where a police state led to citizens staying at home and not voicing their opinion, because they were scared of prosecution. (Note: I do not at all equal the current times with the Biedermeier or even worse, the Third Reich – by no stretch of imagination. I am fully aware that this was worse. But I do think that if we start withdrawing ourselves from the political discourse, it is a dangerous path.)
If we withdraw ourselves from the discussion, we leave the important decisions to those who still are active – whether we support their views or not. It starts with our obligation to vote – I call it an obligation here because a democracy comes with rights but also with obligations. We have the “luxury” of voicing our opinion and to cast a vote. Many people do not. Every one of us is a role model in a certain way. There is somebody who looks up to us. And if we do not openly share our values or what is important to us, those who look up to us, will be lost, they will turn away from us and maybe ask the wrong people for advice.
After I hit the share button, the messages started to trickle in. The majority of them were positive. And many of them told me that it took guts to stand by my point of view and share this. If we all stay silent, we do not know if there are likeminded people out there. We will not know if there are more of us and if we can make a change together. I know that there will be many who disagree with my views. But, bring them on! Let’s have a healthy discussion and both learn from each other. And maybe we find ways to move on together. Maybe we have to agree to disagree. But what I do not want any longer is to stay silent.