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Democracy beyond Corona

by Roland Roth
Diverse democracy immunizes against authoritarian impositions.
Whether the experiences of the lockdown will result in lasting damage in the sense of a democratically consumptive "new normality" depends not least on whether it is possible to take up and strengthen the very existing democracy-building impulses and initiatives - from "Black Lives Matter" to "Fridays for Future".
Democracy beyond Corona
by Roland Roth
[This article published on Sept 28, 2020 is translated from the German on the Internet,]
There can be no prosperity and no health without full and unconditional democracy. Rudolf Virchow 1848

The corona pandemic is a drastic social challenge that affects all areas of life. This article deals with only a small part of it.1 One of the crucial experiences of the Corona crisis is that civic participation and an active civil society - in better days celebrated as the cornerstone of a diverse democracy - has been largely undermined. Both seem to be fair-weather events, whose productivity in times of crisis under limited conditions and in coping with unexpected challenges is not seen - apart from the support of helpers in civil defense and disaster control, neighborhood assistance, blackboards and voluntary care. The fatal message in Corona times is: A diverse democracy and a strong civil society are "not systemically relevant"! Their marginalization and damage can persist even in looser times, including the damage to democracy that has arisen. If there are no loud speeches, this will probably remain so. After all, there have been isolated protests by hospital staff. It remains to be seen whether it will be possible to emphatically remind people that civil society is not a "folklore event" but a "political entity".
There is another way!

In retrospect, there have been at least two major events in recent times that support this perspective:

- During the HIV crisis in Germany in the second half of the 1980s, it was largely possible to avoid the epidemic police dealing with the virus and - in contrast to some other Western European countries - to develop civil society responses based on solidarity. The gay movement and its support groups created a network of AIDS help centers that provided information, prevention and support for those affected. Their practice was able to build on a progressive understanding of health promotion, which was summarized in the WHO Ottawa Charter of 1986 as follows: "Health promotion aims at a process of enabling all people to have a greater degree of self-determination over their health and thus to strengthen their health. Social movements, especially the health movement, self-help groups and civil society initiatives have succeeded in establishing human rights-sensitive practices and institutions in dealing with the AIDS crisis, which - as the example of hospices shows - have even been able to change standards in general health care. Certainly, there are many differences in the challenges posed by the current COVID-19 pandemic, not least with regard to the transmission routes and the groups affected, but the potential for stimulating progressive, civilian-supported AIDS policy in dealing with pandemics has so far gone largely unnoticed.

- This also applies to the experience of refugee immigration in the fall of 2015, which became a "maturity test" for civil society. In an acute emergency situation that hit state institutions largely unprepared and overstretched, numerous initiatives and organizations from civil society, together with helpful fellow human beings, ensured that a large number of refugees were given shelter and provided with the most basic necessities. In many places, actors of those days are still active today in supporting, integrating and representing the interests of immigrants and - together with the new associations of refugees - have become important actors in local diversity and integration policies.

These two examples make it clear that civic participation and commitment need not and must not be fair-weather events. They can make a significant contribution to the democratic and human rights-based handling of crises if they are allowed and supported. In the view of Mannheim's Lord Mayor Peter Kurz, the most important resource in the fight against the pandemic "is the sensible and level-headed behavior of a clear majority of the population ... consistently underestimated". Even before the restrictions imposed by politics, a well-informed population had taken care: "In fact, politics ... faces a public that has never been so well informed and, at the same time, draws its conclusions from largely the same sources as the people in charge ... However, this ideal state of affairs of an interested and informed public, which, from a democratic theory point of view, can be regarded as unique, is not used. Clear standards for success and criteria for further openings were first not named and then constantly changed". Even those who do not share Peter Kurz' optimistic view in all aspects should consider the opportunities that a more discursive and participatory approach to the virus pandemic would have offered and still offers.

Strengthening democracy in Corona times
"Reasonable is he who avoids a state of emergency." Odo Marquard 1998

The corona pandemic has become a lesson in democracy and civil society. The fact that both have been extensively quarantined with our everyday lives need not be a cause for concern only if it was an unavoidable, surprising and short-term imposition. The hope for a quick return to normality has proven to be deceptive after more than half a year. Moreover, some other crises, such as the climate crisis or the "refugee crisis" of COVID-19 have only been superimposed for a short time.

In view of the multiple crises, we have to say goodbye to some hopeful assumptions with which the risk debate started off in a lively manner just a few decades ago. Ulrich Beck had connected his impulse-giving analysis of the "risk society" in 1986 with the statement: "Need is hierarchical, smog is democratic. With the expansion of modernization risks - with the endangerment of nature, health, nutrition, etc. - social differences and limits are relativized" (p. 48). A "common fate of danger" strengthens the search for global solutions (p. 53).

It was not only Corona that revealed a dynamic to the contrary. Ecological risks, which ultimately include pandemics, help to exacerbate existing social inequalities and create new ones. Instead of making a common risk fate the starting point for transnational political action, a devaluation of international organizations (such as the WHO or the World Trade Organization) can be observed. Following the model of "America first!", the search for national and local ways out and protective mechanisms dominates. This even applies to the European Union, whose member states have reacted to the pandemic by closing numerous borders, even when neighboring countries have shown lower infection rates. Even individual German states have at times closed their borders. The conditions under which such border closures are helpful in combating the pandemic are the subject of controversial debate. In any case, they are not suitable as a substitute for international strategies and standards in dealing with the pandemic.
The much-vaunted hope for purely technological or pharmaceutical solutions to global risks is probably illusory. The expansion of globalization processes and the suppression of landscapes shaped by nature will continue to drive this process forward. People and wildlife are moving closer together. This increases the probability that viruses with which animals live unaffected will become a danger to humans. A central task is therefore to find democratic solutions for global risks. COVID-19 offers some impulses for this.

1. take national and international risk prevention against pandemics seriously and strengthen civil society

The historical retrospective shows that pandemics do not come as a surprise, but rather are part of the recurring normality of societies that are networked with each other through exchange relationships. "History overcomes contingency by drawing attention to the fact that epidemics are an ineradicable and constantly recurring part of human history, the neglect of which is due not so much to medical progress as to one's own narrow-mindedness, and this until the recent past" (Sabrow 2020).

Does this statement also apply to the corona virus and its worldwide spread? How much narrow-mindedness and ignorance is involved when it comes to the history of the current emergency? Are we dealing with a black, grey or white swan - as spoken in the pictures of the risk analysis? In the international expert debate on global health risks, there is widespread agreement that the current pandemic is an entirely expectable event that is partly avoidable: "Sars-CoV-2 is not a black swan, i.e. it is not an unforeseeable extreme event with enormous consequences. Nor is the pandemic a grey swan, i.e. not a severe and rare but ultimately predictable event. No, the Corona virus is rather an ordinary white swan - an event that, as the philosopher and trader Nassim Taleb has described it, will certainly occur at some point. All those who had to know it have known it, scientific institutes, epidemiologists, authorities and of course: governments. Indeed, in recent years, countless studies, risk analyses, emergency plans for possible pandemics have been drawn up, and even relevant Hollywood blockbuster films and series have been shot in large numbers" (Scheu 2020). Pandemics and the associated social risks and consequential costs can therefore be expected in the future, even if neither the respective virus nor the specific time are foreseeable.
The World Health Organization (WHO) was founded in 1948 and currently has 196 members. With 7,000 employees at its Geneva headquarters and around 150 national offices, the WHO is the strongest international player in global health policy. Its central tasks include pandemic prevention and control. Its central legal instrument is the International Health Regulations (IHR), which were significantly strengthened in the 1990s. The main reasons for this were the fear of pandemics spreading as a result of globalization and the return of highly infectious diseases such as plague and cholera, which were thought to have been defeated. With the incorporation of the International Health Regulations of 2005 into national law on 27 July 2007, the Federal Republic of Germany took on far-reaching obligations to prevent and combat pandemics, which were concretized in a further implementing law in March 2013. Article 2 of the IHR states: "The purpose and scope of these provisions shall be to prevent and combat the cross-border spread of diseases, to protect against them and to take health protection measures against them in a manner consistent with and limited to the threats to public health and avoiding unnecessary disruption of international transport and trade. Reporting and information obligations to the World Health Organization and a wide range of national health protection measures should contribute to this. Article 12 gives the Director-General of the WHO the right, on the basis of the available information, to identify "a health emergency of international concern". An emergency committee monitors the measures taken in the countries concerned and makes recommendations.

The states parties to the treaty commit themselves under international law to a number of health protection measures. Article 13 states: "Each State Party shall, as soon as possible, but no later than five years after the entry into force of these provisions for that State Party, establish, strengthen and maintain the capacity ... to respond promptly and effectively to public health threats and health emergencies of international concern. Federal authorities have repeatedly practiced protection against pandemics, for example in the Lükex exercise of 2007, and subordinate authorities such as the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) and a Protection Commission, which has since been dissolved, have developed corresponding expert opinions and plans for risk management. A risk analysis from the year 2012, which was submitted to the Bundestag in 2013 (Bundestag-Ds. 17/12051), is central. Pandemic preparedness should also take into account possible collateral damage (in the areas of education, employment, supply, etc.) and make "critical infrastructures" crisis-proof. Many of the recommendations made there, such as stockpiling protective equipment, were not adequately implemented before the corona pandemic. On closer inspection, a picture of organized irresponsibility emerges. For example, on the website of the German Federal Office for Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance (BBK) there is a note on pandemic preparedness published on 26.03.2020: "Whether and which measures were taken in the federal states on the basis of the risk analysis 2012 is beyond our knowledge. Updating, practicing and providing the necessary resources is the responsibility of each individual authority, each individual company, including, for example, and above all, the companies that are part of the critical infrastructure".

Against this background, which is only roughly outlined here, two things must be noted.

Firstly, federal governments and competent authorities have failed to implement pandemic preparedness in accordance with their own legal obligations. A lack of mouth protection, scarce hygienic and disinfectant products and a lack of protective clothing have shaped the reactions to the first COVID-19 cases, led to unnecessary additional burdens on patients and hospital staff and made tougher restrictions (quarantine, lockdown, etc.) necessary. Doctors, too, often had to work without adequate protective clothing in hospitals and practices at the beginning. The proportion of hospital staff among those infected was correspondingly high. Differentiated, target-group-oriented strategies with lower mortality rates and lower economic costs would have been entirely possible if the hospital's own legal obligations had been taken more seriously. It was not until the Federal Government's comprehensive crisis package of June 3, 2020 that a sum of one billion euros was earmarked for a statutory national reserve of protective equipment.

In order to be better prepared for future pandemics and catastrophes, it will be important to address this policy failure in pandemic preparedness. The fact that the population of the Federal Republic of Germany has (initially) got off comparatively lightly should not prevent the critical clarification of the corona policy. It is no consolation that many other OECD countries also lacked the necessary pandemic preparedness. Self-satisfaction and ignorance are not allowed, because "the management of risks and the catastrophes they anticipate has become a central task of the state's public welfare" (Klafki 2017: 3). Even those who, in the spirit of a critical analysis of the state, do not share this assumption will see the safeguarding of general production conditions as a genuine state task. In coming to terms with the Corona experience, the aim is not least of all to break the familiar short circuit of panic and forgetting that has regularly paralyzed pandemic preparedness.

Secondly, initiatives for a reformed and strengthened WHO are indispensable. The scandal surrounding the resignation announcements by Trump and his Brazilian colleague Bolsonaro must not be allowed to prevent a reform debate that addresses the WHO's alleged and real shortcomings and wrong decisions. International responses are needed because pandemics are global challenges. National and local responses, such as border closures, are not only costly, but also generate the enormous political, economic and social collateral damage that has triggered national and European aid programs.

In view of growing global inequalities, more transnational solidarity is called for, particularly in the prevention and combating of pandemics, because pandemics act as an accelerant and additionally exacerbate existing inequalities in health care. The WHO could provide a political framework for this.

However, as in other international organizations, the member states of the WHO set narrow limits to action. This applies not only to their notorious underfunding, with its well-known consequences. On the question of pandemic preparedness, for example, the WHO has so far had to rely largely on national reports. The current pandemic has once again made it clear that absurd stories are being communicated. According to these reports, the two countries with the allegedly best pandemic protection are the USA and Great Britain - which are now among the hardest hit countries in the OECD world. This reporting practice, which tempts us to gloss over and praise ourselves, could be counteracted by a procedure that has proven its worth in other international treaties with reporting obligations (e.g. the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child). In addition to the state report, a shadow or counter-report is requested from civil society actors, which also highlights existing shortcomings. Both reports then form the basis for recommendations. This reporting task of a "National Coalition" of civil society organizations with its own research possibilities in a broadly understood field of pandemic and health care could strengthen the self-confidence and guardian role of civil society and thus form a counterweight to the disaster prevention efforts and their shortcomings that have so far been managed by the authorities.

2. for a democratically designed infection and disaster control
A new, fundamental rights-oriented pandemic law and correspondingly modified disaster control plans that limit interventions in fundamental rights and give civil participation and civil society a chance are urgently needed. The existing legal foundations, especially the Infection Protection Act, seem largely unsuitable for responding appropriately to pandemics. Anyone reading the comprehensive report by the whistleblower from the Federal Ministry of the Interior on the official corona protection policy must feel uncomfortable, even if his assessment of the low risk potential of the virus is incorrect (Kohn 2020). The described regulatory shortcomings and omissions are too great to rely on solutions from inside the apparatus. The next pandemic is certain to come and when the current one will end, we do not know. A prevention and crisis policy that is appropriate in terms of democratic and civil law is also indispensable in view of other threatening developments, such as the climate crisis.

The task is by no means an easy one, as it is always a matter of balancing justified protectionist demands against the citizen's claim to self-responsibility. When people move recklessly and recklessly in public spaces, it is only natural to rely on the state to impose order and, in case of doubt, to punish. But trust in the state's provision through regulatory law is not unlimited and dependent on success. Moreover, it does not meet the demands of a more self-confident citizenry. Key points for an alternative can be found in Frankenberg (2020:4). He pleads for a "faster learning right": "This could be set standards with self-determination and voluntariness, without which even the prohibition-supported and coercive infection protection ultimately cannot manage. For example, when washing hands, which is not entirely unimportant, and probably also when keeping a distance. The principle of proportionality would have to be reanimated and sharpened again after the experiences of these weeks. ... According to the logic of reason, renunciation and solidarity, if these are the components of Merkel's program, the infection protection law could be changed from coercion, which chafes over time, to trial and error and from punishment to incentives. With 'rules' instead of prohibitions and education instead of coercion, the experiment (not the exit!) would be to dare to come to terms with COVID-19 with a supply-oriented right that involves those affected". The aim is also in the area of public health care to establish a relationship of trust between state authorities and health care institutions on the one hand and the affected population on the other hand, based on information, transparency and above all participation.

This requires some changes. Future pandemic protection and the bodies responsible for it should have a much broader scientific basis, so that the social consequences of protective measures in important areas of life can be weighed up and collateral damage avoided wherever possible. The human rights protection of population groups in particularly vulnerable situations deserves more political attention. Greater political independence and improved critical faculties of the bodies involved would also be desirable. Germany's tendency to adopt the model of the public authority is not very helpful in this respect, as it generates a frequently observed but unhelpful opportunism that can push the actual task of the institutions, but also claims to participation by the population, into the background. Broad participation by civil society is indispensable if only to counteract the influence of lobbying interests and to prevent state failures. Representatives of those affected can help ensure that particularly vulnerable groups - from children, the homeless and people in mass housing to the elderly and those in need of care, to name but a few - have a voice when it comes to state protection and support measures.

3. secure, strengthen and democratically expand public infrastructures

"Because we are all, without exception, dependent on supportive infrastructures and networks, on ties and recognition relationships that keep us alive, because we are all dependent on a community that ensures that everyone can provide well for each other and for themselves, it is not only necessary to counteract policies of systematic neglect of these infrastructures, it is also necessary to create the structures of support and networks of life where they are lacking. Sabine Hark (2020)

In times of crisis, not all areas of life and institutions have the same importance for the survival and well-being of the population. Since 2009, the State Disaster Management Department has been developing the "Critical Infrastructure Strategy" (KRITIS) in stages for this purpose. This involves binding cooperation between ministries, organizations and industries in areas "whose failure or impairment would result in lasting supply bottlenecks, significant disruptions to public safety or other dramatic consequences. According to this interministerial definition, these include energy, health, IT and telecommunications, transport and traffic, media, water, finance and insurance, food, and state and administration. Broad segments of civil society, including the social welfare system, are not included, nor are civic practice and democratic participation beyond the parliaments. The fact that they should very well be part of a democratically expanded "critical infrastructure" is already worth discussing if we do not want to be quarantined again.

The Critical Infrastructure Strategy has another inherent constructional weakness. It relies heavily on cooperation with private-sector actors and their own responsibility. The experiences of recent months suggest a critical review of this idea of public-private partnerships. A clear shift in emphasis is becoming apparent. Instead of relying on partnerships that are not very resilient, it is particularly important in pandemic preparedness and disaster control, but not only there, to maintain, strengthen and expand a non-profit, public sector - above all a public health system. The recent pandemic is also a lesson in social responsibility.
Despite all the debates about corporate social responsibility and corporate citizenship, it is impressively demonstrated in times of crisis that large sections of the private sector are neither able nor willing to assume social responsibility: neither for the corporate-driven globalization processes with their fragile production chains and volatile sales markets, nor for the larger segments of deregulated and exploitative employment relationships in their own countries (in nursing care, parcel services, the meat industry, construction, etc.), which in Germany often affects people from Southeastern and Eastern Europe. The working and living conditions of contract workers with lesser rights have themselves become a source of particular health hazards - for the employees as well as for the region in which they live. The call for state rescue packages and public funding is revealing in parts of the private sector the outlines of a system of organized irresponsibility that functions according to a familiar pattern: Appropriating profits privately, socializing losses.

In pandemic times, the constitution of the health care system is central. It is not so much a question of the level of medical services at the top, but far more a question of the existence and equipment of a public health care system that is responsible for providing basic care for the population at large. The depressing experiences in Lombardy and Sweden provide food for thought, as both regions have a highly developed health care system. The specialization in costly interventions for solvent patients at the expense of basic medical care is blamed for the disaster in Lombardy. In Sweden it is the worldwide neoliberal shrinking of public health care.

"At the beginning of the crisis, Sweden was one of the countries with the lowest number of emergency beds per capita in Europe. Since the beginning of the 1990s, dramatic cuts have been made in the emergency contingents of the civil protection system. For example, in 1993 Sweden had a total of 4,300 intensive care beds with ventilators, and by 2018 the total number had fallen to 574" (Gerin 2020: 1). For Germany, a critical analysis and public debate is still lacking on how this lack of face masks and protective clothing could have come about at the beginning of the pandemic. Sweden provides the following answer: "The lack of emergency stocks is closely related to the market-driven deregulation of the pharmacy sector in 2009. After privatization, no actor was responsible for maintaining national emergency stocks. Instead, the new deregulated system was based on the expectation that "even in a crisis, the private market would always be able to meet demand" (Gerin 2020:1) - an illusion that can also be felt in the quoted information from the Federal Office for Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance.

What is needed is a new infrastructure policy that preserves existing forms of a community-oriented economy and expands them in keeping with the times. What is also needed is a departure from the EU's policy of "ousterism," which, in the context of budget consolidation, has repeatedly forced member states to make cuts in health care. Larger parts of the health care system in Germany are regulated by the public sector and operated by civil society organizations. They also still play a central role in disaster control. Wide areas of civil society, and not just civil defense and disaster control volunteers, should therefore be regarded with some justification as part of a "critical infrastructure". Corresponding protective umbrellas are more than justified and necessary, especially in times of crisis. However, the upgrading of this infrastructure should be accompanied by guarantees of participation and design.

4. strengthen communications infrastructures, establish digital participation as a basic right

Homeschooling, home office or zoom conferences have become part of everyday life for many people in Corona times. Digital forms of participation seem to be the only remaining answer. It is no longer an individual decision to resort to digital communication channels. Even before Corona, digital networks have become a central prerequisite for social participation in many areas of life. They thus have the same status as, for example, water pipes or electricity and road networks.

In the debate on modern implementation of the communication rights of children and young people, there has been a convincing plea for a right to digital participation for some time now. The central reason for this was and is that a considerable part of the everyday life of the next generation takes place on the Internet or at least on a network-based basis. Children who do not have this access are excluded and often disadvantaged.

Corona has made it clear how much this also applies to many adults today - at least in times of crisis. This speaks for a basic right to digital participation. The realization of this right involves numerous tasks that are well known from the debate on public infrastructures: First of all, it is a matter of general technical requirements, of guaranteed and affordable supply, of secure and reliable networks. Given the dominance of the major Internet groups and their commercial interests in the digitization processes to date, the question arises as to whether the basic communications service should not be a matter for the public sector. This can also be done by drawing on the experience of the numerous open source and civic-tech initiatives that have tested and developed civic alternatives to private-sector digital services. As always, the focus must also be on limiting risks and side effects - and there are many of these, especially in the digital world: Issues such as data protection and "darknet" are being widely discussed. Moreover, the right to digital participation cannot be realized without individual skills. Here too, this is a task for the public sector, or more precisely the education system.

Those who advocate the right to digital participation do not have to do so with shining eyes. It is a matter of a contemporary and now self-evident communicative possibility, not of the obligation to be online at all times. Despite the "steep learning curves" in times of crisis, it is important to keep an eye on the social costs of the digitally generated "distant society".

5. make citizen participation and voluntary commitment visible, secure and strengthen

In the meantime, the first studies on the situation of organized civil society (Krimmer et al. 2020) and on civic participation (bipar 2020) in the Corona crisis are available. Key activities had to be scaled down, but mostly remained at a lower level. New, usually digitally supported approaches have been added. Broadly speaking, the following challenges can be identified:

- In times of shutdown, key segments of civil society are dependent on state support to maintain their structures. To this end, some German states have launched initiatives and set up aid programs. The federal government's second billion-euro support package, the "Wumms", also provides for structural aid, some of which can be used by non-profit organizations. Various legal regulations and programs already contain financial aid for non-profit organizations. It will be important to keep a closer eye on the profile of these aids and their effects on civil society. Above all, solidarity-based efforts will be needed to support those "weaker", informal civil society actors who do not benefit from this financial blessing. In view of the anticipated financial restrictions on public funds, local solidarity will be particularly in demand in the future, and this can also contribute to a common civil society agenda. Local funds can help ensure that important civil society initiatives survive Corona.

- Voluntary commitment and civic participation have existed and continue to exist even under pandemic conditions, sometimes even with new emphases, for example in neighborhood assistance or sponsorships, although familiar approaches are usually continued at a reduced level. Even in order to maintain public visibility, it is necessary to process these experiences in more detail. This also applies to protests and social movements, which have occurred in large numbers internationally, especially during the Corona era. How resistant were and are the existing approaches, who had and has the chance to participate, what precautions can be taken in pre-crisis times? These are some of the questions for a future-oriented debate on the Corona experiences, which aims to contribute to the strengthening of civil society and citizen participation with democratic intent.

- Citizens and civil society actors have only been involved in shaping crisis policy in exceptional and highly selective ways. This task and opportunity was pointed out early on: "Volunteers are also to be expected, as the willingness to help refugees in 2015 teaches. Provided that civil society is not placed under house arrest and demobilized by ordinances and general decrees, but is included in the discussion about what is necessary" (Frankenberg 2020: 4f.). So far, this has not happened at all, or only to some extent. Initiatives, voluntary agencies, community foundations and other civil society actors could join forces to develop their own, civil society-based agenda for dealing with pandemics and other crises that lie ahead. One perspective for the network of citizen participation and other civil society actors could be, for example, to anchor participatory pandemic and disaster control in municipal participation guidelines and promote their dissemination.

6. develop robust meeting, protest and encounter formats

Quarantine and lockdown have greatly accelerated digital communication. Digital engagement and digital citizen participation are also booming. There is hardly a participation format (such as local citizen meetings, informal citizen participation in construction projects or citizens' initiatives) that has not also been digitally tested. The possibilities and limits of digital participation have become an everyday experience for many committed individuals. This makes it all the more important to exchange the insights gained in this process. What has proved successful, who could participate, who was excluded, which topics were particularly suitable? These are some of the important questions for securing the pandemic-induced wealth of experience for the future design of digital participation.
What is also needed is a sober debate about the limits of digital communication and participation. "What the crisis has shown is how important close relationships are to us. Sure, physical proximity is not everything, it can be bridged - for example through online communication. Many people have come to appreciate the home office, and employers now know that their employees are often more productive at home than in the office. This will certainly have consequences for the organization of work processes. At the same time, however, most people have experienced how much they appreciate and miss the personal closeness to other people, to colleagues, neighbors, friends ... The talent for daily reinvention and self-presentation is atrophying, as are our social skills. There is no full digital substitute for this" (Frevert 2020). What is formulated here on a general level needs to be specified for the special demands of citizen participation. It is not simply a matter of a simple opposition of digital participation and direct encounter, but rather of raising awareness of the respective possibilities and limits. The focus here is likely to be on variants of "blended participation", i.e. the linking of online and offline.

After the opening of churches, supermarkets and garden centers, public gatherings, events, etc. are also possible under security conditions. The street no longer belongs only to Corona deniers, as the large protests against racism ("Black Lifes Matter") on the first weekend of June showed. How pandemic and health-conscious encounter, protest and demonstration formats can look like is one of the most pressing questions at the moment. A collection of innovative and useful formats as well as the development of quality features should be meritorious for all these areas of experience of citizen participation under pandemic conditions.

7. addressing and specifically reducing deepened social inequalities

At the beginning of the pandemic, it looked as if Western Europe would be mainly affected by COVID-19 in better-off and globally active population groups. One of the wealthiest provinces of Italy and the Austrian winter sports resort Ischgl were among the first hotspots. Meanwhile, poorer population groups in Western Europe, who have no chance to follow the distance requirements and protect themselves in their home office, are also affected much more. Hotspots in the Gütersloh district and in Göttingen confirm this trend. This confirms an established historical experience:
pandemics naturally lead to the aggravation of old social inequalities and the emergence of new ones. The social consequences of the corona pandemic and the fight against it are currently still hardly visible - hidden behind global economic data and labor market figures. As recently as September there were reports of enormous income losses in the lower wage groups. Currently, the focus is on the immediate economic impact of the pandemic and how to combat it. The first government support programs "Bazooka" and "Wumms" contain crisis aid and economic stimulus measures of hitherto unknown dimensions. Nevertheless, it is to be expected that inequalities in living conditions and educational opportunities, as well as regional inequalities, will deepen. Some of the particularly hard hit groups are also known: Children, migrants, refugees, parents, single parents, the poor, the homeless, the "solo self-employed", precariously employed, students without parental support, "dinner customers", older people in institutions are just a few on a long list. None of these groups are at the center of the state's rescue programs, which thus exacerbate social imbalances and exclusion. The corona pandemic has not become the hour of inclusive guarantorism, although the voices in favor of a guaranteed basic income have increased. This also applies to the demand for transnational solidarity and "worldwide social standards".

What does all this have to do with civic participation, voluntary work and democracy? Doesn't this refresh social romantic desires for equality that have nothing to do with the issue? We know about the middle-class social profile of active citizenship. The pandemic will probably make it even more exclusive. Stephan Lessenich (2019) recently reminded us that democracy is also a question of distribution and cannot exist without a minimum of social equality. There are certainly no fixed upper limits for social inequality in democracies that are still functioning. In the USA, a publication is currently under intense discussion, the title of which expresses a mood we could also move towards: "Democracy may not exist. But we'll miss it when it's gone" (Taylor 2019).

It will also be the task of an active civil society to ensure that civic participation and voluntary work beyond emergency aid does not become an island of well-being for the better-off who have their privileges firmly in mind.

8. politically regulate and limit globalization processes.

Whether we are really experiencing a "final disenchantment with globalization" (Menzel 2020) can remain an open question. On the other hand, it is undisputed that globalization processes (supply chains, flights, cruise ships, etc.) are responsible for the faster spread of viral infections. What took years in plague times is now happening in a few days and weeks. It is no accident that megacities are particularly affected.

In the pandemic, globalization eats up their children: "Certain productions, such as those of medicines, have now been completely outsourced to the Asian region. Even the production of face masks is no longer carried out in Europe. In addition, regional production processes are disrupted because necessary preliminary products, for example from China, are no longer available. Global supply chains are proving to be highly fragile because many industries have completely dispensed with warehousing because, until before the pandemic, it was possible to obtain all the necessary individual parts quickly and at any time from anywhere. Corona is a strong reminder of globalization-driven externalization. On a global scale, the prosperity of nations corresponds to a dark and therefore all too often hidden side: the "evil of nations" (Lessenich 2016: 43).

This critique of globalization, which is only hinted at here and which has gained new explosiveness under corona conditions, naturally promotes regional and nation-state responses. The populist forces specialized in this field are ready and waiting. But the pandemic also contains another message that is more convincing. New global regulations are required. "Risks whose causes are global in origin cannot be effectively combated at the nation-state level. Instead, globalized risks require supranational management in a multi-level system" (Klafki 2017: 2). In addition to a reliable and sustainable regional economy, there can be no question of a far-reaching de-globalization, even in view of Corona. But without relativizing the primacy of cost reduction and strengthening social and environmental standards, there will be no progressive ways out of the crisis. It is highly unlikely that this change will take place without a self-confident and active civil society and social movements - as the past few months have also made clear - and this is why the city is in a state of flux.

9. seizing the opportunities offered by federalism and municipalization

"Society will be different after this crisis. We have the chance to shape it," Helmut Dedy, Managing Director of the German Association of Cities and Towns, hopefully formulated. Federalism and strong local self-government can not only contribute to general confusion through different rules and regulations (keyword "patchwork carpet"), but also enable locally adapted solutions. This is supported by the fact that "the ability of local government to respond to crises is much more pronounced" (Ritgen 2020: 204). Some states have launched state programs to strengthen civil society and have emphasized the importance of civil society for social cohesion in times of crisis.

In mid-May 2020, a decision was made to extensively municipalize corona policy, making the health departments of cities and districts central actors. Whether the health offices are up to this task or will be appropriately equipped is an open and worrying question. More than half of the health authorities surveyed in a representative survey did not see it that way in summer 2020. At the same time, the municipalization of pandemic preparedness also opens up opportunities for action. It is not only since 2015 that municipalities have been aware of how much their performance depends on the commitment of their citizens. Room for maneuver can be used more confidently with strong citizen participation. Passive willingness to accept can be turned into self-determined action. Local offers and solutions for dealing with the pandemic and its social consequences can achieve new visibility. It is also possible that an agenda will emerge that, in the next pandemic that is to come, will favour the departure from regulatory and epidemic policing imaginations.
One step in this direction could, for example, be citizen participation in the development of local pandemic plans. Not only the federal and state governments are obligated to draw up such plans, but also the districts and district-free cities. According to a survey, at the beginning of Corona, around four out of five cities with over 100,000 inhabitants had an emergency plan, while the figure was 42 percent for municipalities with between 20,000 and 100,000 inhabitants. However, the contingency plans developed mostly after the H1N1 influenza pandemic of 2009 were only "largely" applicable in one in four municipalities, and only "partially applicable" in two out of three municipalities. As a result, they need to be updated in many places with a view to a possible second wave of the corona pandemic. This offers an opportunity to prevent democracy and civil society from being quarantined again.

10. showing more civic self-confidence - perceiving the crisis as an opportunity to shape the future

Such calls have a paradoxical character. They resemble the demand: "Be spontaneous! Nevertheless, mutual encouragement is necessary to find ways out of the rigidity of fear. Citizens are not wards of a guardian state - not even in Corona times. Immodesty is necessary in order not to become the object of regulatory authorities in times of crisis, which protect us from each other. What is needed is a citizenship that sees itself as a "democratic antibody" against paternalistic politics. The social and political innovations developed even under pandemic conditions can be encouraging because they make visible a potential for shaping society.

Anyone who thinks that the current pandemic is merely a temporary annoyance, which we should accept as relaxedly as possible in order to avoid unnecessary "excitement damage" (Niklas Luhmann) could be mistaken. There are some indications that the experience with COVID-19 should be taken more seriously. The particular risk of infection in meat processing plants is only one of many symptoms: "This virus is dangerous because it is very easy to transmit. Not because it is particularly pathogenic, i.e. it would cause illness. For me it is above all a disease of our way of life ... The virus makes our sore points visible. We still have some time left as mankind, but the clock is ticking" (Capua 2020).

A brief interim balance sheet on democracy

Roughly speaking, three variants of democracy can be distinguished, which have been competing in Germany in recent years and which aim to provide an answer to the erosion and crisis phenomena of the representative model of post-war democracy (more detailed Roth 2019):

(1) A right-wing populist "democracy" relies on authoritarian leadership, promotes political polarization, and conjures up a "popular will" that turns against the "old political elites. An aggressive nationalism to the outside world and the struggle against cultural diversity in the name of "traditional" values in one's own society are part of this most internationally successful successor model to date, which is represented with very different accents by Trump, Salvini or Kurz. The rise of the "Alternative for Germany" (AfD) signals that there is also considerable resonance for this "model of democracy" in Germany. The rise of the AfD has been largely due to crisis communication along topics such as the "Euro" and refugee immigration. Currently, it is trying to profit from the unease and anger about government measures against the corona pandemic and is seeking to close ranks with "hygiene" demonstrations. Its political response, however, has been modest so far. As in some other Western European countries, right-wing populist forces have not succeeded in finding a clear answer to the pandemic crisis. Rather, they fluctuate between denial and trivialization on the one hand and invocation of a strong, protective nation state on the other. The second pole was already sufficiently occupied by the government's strongly regulatory policy and its freedom-limiting measures. At least in the first phase, right-wing populist forces in Germany could not derive any direct political benefit from the pandemic. Whether the crisis and the political responses to it have strengthened subcutaneously authoritarian orientations is difficult to assess at present.

(2) The "real existing" democracy or the "realistic" model of democracy has experienced a surprising and considerable strengthening during the pandemic crisis. What has been described as retraditionalization is at the center of a variant of democracy that is based on the status quo ante. An elected political leadership proves itself through professional politics and largely dispenses with additional forms of political participation. Against corresponding demands from the population, they confidently opt for a "democracy without participation" (Parvin 2018). From a "realistic" point of view, only non-binding, consultative forms of citizen participation open to a small selection of random citizens can be helpful. They can legitimately provide the kind of civic knowledge that is no longer expected from thinned-out political parties and associations. Even without this consultative addition, Corona has so far primarily strengthened the realistic model of democracy in Germany. This model has no interest in a strong and self-confident civil society. From this perspective, it is no coincidence that it was "forgotten" in the Corona crisis. In contrast, "helping hands" are welcome.
Whether political support for the "realistic" model of democracy will crumble with the loosening and whether political claims for participation will be increasingly asserted again is currently an open question. There is much to suggest that the longer-term trend toward greater participation by a self-confident citizenry cannot simply be stifled.

(3) This article was written from the normative perspective of a "diverse democracy. The model sees itself as a progressive response to the weakening post-war model of liberal democracy and focuses on "more democracy". In addition to the familiar representative forms (elections, parliaments, parties, etc.), strengthened forms of direct democracy (citizens' decisions and referenda, but also participatory budgeting and participatory funds) and dialogic citizen participation (citizens' councils, informal citizen participation, etc.) are to be added. Diverse democracy, however, does not rely solely on these institutionally constituted forms, but derives its strength from a diverse, self-confident civil society and active citizenship.

It sets its own themes and controls government action. Prominent political forms "from below" include citizens' initiatives, protests and social movements, civic engagement and democratic participation and co-determination in everyday institutions from daycare centers to nursing homes. The fact that this model repeatedly encounters the limits of a capitalist economy and the corresponding structures of rule can cause a learning process in the sense of radical reformism. Above all, diverse democracy immunizes against authoritarian impositions.

In recent decades, this participatory variant of democracy has gained in importance and profile. In the first corona phase, multifaceted democracy had little chance to develop. This article deals with this, and also illustrates the political costs of this by no means necessary disregard or neglect. It is to be understood as a challenge to make diverse democracy a political productive force even in times of crisis. Whether the experiences of the lockdown will result in lasting damage in the sense of a democratically consumptive "new normality" depends not least on whether it is possible to take up and strengthen the very existing democracy-building impulses and initiatives - from "Black Lives Matter" to "Fridays for Future".

1 The contribution is based on a slightly edited section from a longer text. There you can also find detailed evidence and further references. (

Cited literature
Beck, Ulrich 1986: Risk society. On the way to a different modernity. Frankfurt/M: Suhrkamp.

Mandatory masks in elementary school

The overlooked side effects and the lack of proportionality - an evidence-based test

Numerous measures are prescribed in schools to stem the spread of the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. In many federal states, for example, compulsory wearing of masks from the 5th grade onwards has been introduced. Two days ago, Anja Karliczek, the Federal Minister of Education, called for the introduction of compulsory masks in elementary school. Specifically, she told the Rheinische Post:
A general mask obligation in the instruction I consider likewise reasonable in a phase omerous negative side effects on the physical, psychological and social well-being of children, and there are even fears that masks could even pose a risk of infection due to their use in schools.

The proportionality of compulsory masks in elementary school lessons is therefore highly questionable. In view of the fact that the possible side effects very clearly outweigh the benefits, the state regulation of compulsory masks in elementary school lessons must be classified as a measure that is considered to be detrimental to the welfare of children.

Accordingly, an extremely urgent appeal should be made to all decision-makers not to introduce compulsory masks in elementary school or to abolish the compulsory masks that already exist in some regions. Since the federal, state and local governments are obliged to fully implement the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child even in times of the Corona pandemic, a failure to consider the side effects of a measure and a lack of a proportionality test must be classified as a violation of international law and contrary to federal law. Source: Christof Kuhbandner in Telepolis
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