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Corona and psychology: Fear works against democratic coexistence
by Jane-Anna Spiekermann
Tuesday Feb 9th, 2021 6:37 AM
The current "simultaneous consolidation and weakening of the state" (Nicos Poulantzas) are two sides of the same coin: the rise of the punitive state goes hand in hand with growing social insecurity and disenfranchisement, rather than an increase in rule-breaking and crime. The state authority & police strengthen themselves in pandemic
Corona and psychology: Fear works against democratic coexistence
by Jane-Anna Spiekermann
[This article published on Jan 26, 2021 is translated from the German on the Internet, Corona und Psychologie: Angst arbeitet dem demokratischen Miteinander entgegen (]j

Politicians and the media are currently appealing simultaneously to the emotional level of citizens. This path has been taken without experts. This leads to a psychological neglect of people and, as a consequence, to a danger for society. Psychoanalyst Jane-Anna Spiekermann has written down thoughts on this.

Fear has long been visible and perceptible everywhere. Sometimes latent, sometimes manifest. When an anxiety dynamic has reached such proportions, as it has since the Corona crisis, it is a complex process in which it is very difficult to define the individual components and to distinguish between parts of the conscious induction and parts of the inherent dynamics.

The fact that there are also components of deliberate induction has become known at the latest through a confidential strategy paper of the Ministry of the Interior. The seventeen-page paper was first reported on by the research association Süddeutscher Zeitung, NDR and WDR in March. The November 10 Arte documentary "Security versus Freedom" picked it up again, saying, "This paper suggests that in the spring the German government relied on fear and emotion, among other things." It states:

"The worst case is to be made unmistakably clear {...} with all the consequences for the population in Germany. To achieve the desired shock effect, the concrete effects of an infection on human society must be made clear."

If nothing is done, the authors predict a worst-case scenario of more than one million deaths in 2020 - for Germany alone. They say it should be made clear that "many people die agonizingly struggling for air at home. Children would infect parents." The head of the Ministry of the Interior confirmed the existence of the paper, but would not comment on it because it was "not intended for the public" (quoted from, March 28, 2020).

Immediately following this excerpt, Arte lets psychologist and renowned risk researcher Prof. Gerd Gigerenzer from the Max Planck Institute for Human Development have his say. He explains that people who are afraid are easier to control:

"One can assume that the model calculations that circulated at the beginning, which were much too high, helped people get scared enough so that they followed the hygiene rules. In general, fear is not only a very human reaction to escape danger, but you can also stoke fear a bit to help it along - as may have been behind it - so that people behave more compliantly as well."

He explains the "desired shock effect" mentioned in the policy paper psychologically as a fear of shock risks. A shock risk is a situation in which many people could die within a relatively short period of time, as in a pandemic. If just as many people die spread over a comparable period of time - for example, from influenza or hospital viruses - then it becomes very difficult to trigger as much fear.

Today, it doesn't even astonish me to see children wearing masks, even though they're out on the street alone. That would have been different just a few months ago. But the fear dynamic started rolling like a snowball in the spring and has since become a considerable avalanche. The psychology of a shock risk has done its job.
It is possible that the snowball was indeed set-in motion solely to protect against a worst-case scenario. But for one thing, I don't think it should be surprising if people who feel they are being "steered" develop a sense of unease that undermines confidence in the strategic management of the Corona crisis. On the other hand, avalanches carry away what they are not meant to carry away, have destructive potential, and can only be stopped with difficulty and unsatisfactorily, which is why relying on fear and emotion and achieving a shock effect strikes me as naïve. Here, a strategy has been applied without the strategists having previously been able to make a clear diagnosis and prognosis independently of their own interests.

The public handling of fear-reducing information
In addition, some news items that could counteract feelings of fear or at least lead to a more critical approach to the widely disseminated figures (e.g., concerning "new infections") receive little attention in the leading media. An example of this is the article "Verdict against Corona test in Portugal: What good is the PCR test?" in the Ostthüringer Zeitung, which was probably the first German newspaper to report that the Lisbon Court of Appeal had declared PCR tests unreliable: Quarantine measures based on these tests were illegal. The ruling dates from 11.11.2020. Nevertheless, at least until the end of November, the Ostthüringer Zeitung remained the only German newspaper to report adequately on the matter. After all, it was reported online in a legal journal on 29.11.2020:

"Corona ruling: according to Lisbon, PCR tests are unreliable and may not justify quarantine". According to the article, "The Court of Appeal states in its reasoning that the PCR test in and of itself is incapable of establishing beyond doubt whether positivity actually corresponds to infection with the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Thus, the risk of a false positive result is very high" (quoted from .

Since Corona policy has so far been largely based on PCR testing, this could raise serious questions even if, after sufficient public discussion, it were decided, for example, that the Court of Appeals did not have the authority for such a ruling. This discussion could also have a fear-reducing effect if it would make it better known how problematic the false positive rate is (which has also been pointed out by the German Medical Journal), as this would put the number of "new infections" in a different light. However, those who critically question or strive to counteract an excess of fear must be careful during the current crisis not to have the conspiracy label put on them - as some virologists, for example, have had to experience despite many years of professional expertise at universities or other renowned institutions.

"Structural level: Fear is not a good advisor
As explained by Prof. Gigerenzer, anxiety per se is not a primarily pathological phenomenon. For instance, real anxiety, the fear of real external threats, is essential for the survival of the individual. In contrast, so-called neurotic anxiety is one arising from an internally experienced threat. But whatever the origin of the fear, we always experience it as just that: fear. The fact that fear is not a good advisor therefore applies in both cases. It is not a good advisor because fear leads to our so-called structural level being less well integrated: a high structural level can fall to a medium one, a medium one to a low one. The distinction between high, medium and low structural level goes back to the recognized psychologist Otto Kernberg and describes a different level of maturity of mental functions. In this context, a relevant mental function could be, for example, the reliable differentiation between the inner and outer world. Related to this context: how much of the perceived threat is due to the external world? And how much is due to the stoking of fear in my inner world? If I am highly unsettled or even frightened, my structural level will drop to a less mature level, and discernment will be correspondingly more difficult for me. If fear is strategically targeted, then a less "mature" population is also targeted. Whether intentionally or unintentionally.

Fear makes democratic coexistence more difficult
Back to real fear and neurotic fear. I think that with the Corona viruses we are dealing with a mixture of both - there is both a real threat and a proportion of neurotic fear. That, too, a mixture of both, is not uncommon. Nevertheless, it is of particular explosiveness in this case, since each and every individual in this country has their own personal mix within them, which seems to lead to a further emotionalization of the population as a whole. Someone who is a younger, non-pre-existing condition with little anxiety might have a more critical view of political decisions than someone who has pre-existing conditions and more anxiety. Those with a lot of anxiety might even become unreceptive to scientific studies that could alleviate the drama of perceptions. Those who do not take the circulating fears seriously at all may harm themselves and others as well. It is also worth mentioning those who have little or no fear of the virus, but do fear the possible consequences of the crisis for the social state and the rule of law. The respective "mixture ratios" of fear show up in the most diverse guises.
At this point, my main concern is how emotionally and, to a large extent, intolerantly we deal with each other or with the different "mixing ratios" of others. Disputes hardly seem possible. Even broad debates in the leading media have become rare. Why is that?

At best, disputes are characterized by a mutual openness to the respective points of view. In order to understand a point of view, you first have to engage with it - even if you then want to take it apart in the next step. But in my opinion, this form of debate has become much rarer this year. Publicly as well as privately. Instead, arguments are becoming emotional surprisingly quickly. Sometimes so emotional that rifts open up between people who think differently. In my psychotherapeutic practice, I hear from families who deliberately no longer talk about topics related to the Corona crisis in order to avoid fronts forming.

Another phenomenon that seems to me to be widespread in general and also prevents the desired form of discussion is quoting in combination with tearing out of context. I don't recognize my own words to some extent when patients "quote" me. Something I have said has made something resonate in them, which they then incorporate into their context. My words may take on a different meaning or even a different flavor as a result. In public discussion, the problem of ripping statements out of their context takes on a more serious explosive force.

Times of emergency require solidarity
In my training as a psychoanalyst, I learned that solidarity can provide a way out of trench warfare (such as that between men and women). I suspect that most people would think and feel similarly if, like me, they made their living listening to and helping the too-little-noticed losers of the crisis [1] - for example, those who not only know about the fact that enormous economic damage has occurred and is occurring, but who are experiencing it firsthand. People who talk about not being allowed to accompany relatives on their deathbeds; people who are no longer hugged by their grandchildren because the children "don't want to kill anyone"; people who see their livelihoods threatened - the examples could be continued. (Editor's note: The NachDenkSeiten have described such fates in numerous articles and in the book "Die im Dunkeln sieht man nicht"). For these people, terms such as freedom and justice now leave a bitter taste in their mouths. I am grateful every time virologists are also allowed to speak out, or are allowed to speak out in the leading media, demanding that sociologists, educators and psychologists should be at the table when future measures are discussed.

Psychological maturity
Over the course of the year, an atmosphere has developed in which, based on the previous sentence, I already fear being classified by some readers as a contrarian or even a "covidiot." These thoughts bring me back to my question whether solidarity should not be given a special meaning. We don't need defamatory labels that further inflame emotions and deepen rifts. As described, we lose psychological maturity when we are emotionalized. Therefore, it is anything but helpful when the SPD chairwoman Saskia Esken, of all people, defends herself regarding her use of the covidiot label by stating that anyone who marches with certain people may have to be called an idiot. I wonder that it doesn't concern her and make her think that people who have voted for her party, among others, for decades, take to the streets, EVEN IF it means they have to "march together with certain people" from whom they want to distinguish themselves AFTER all. I wonder that it doesn't concern them and make them think that the previously valid "rule" that one goes home as soon as demonstrators from the right are also present is no longer valid, in spite of the still existing need for demarcation. I am surprised that the chairwoman of a "people's party" is not concerned and thoughtful that parts of the population no longer feel represented. Instead, said label is resorted to. In the Arte documentary mentioned above, political scientist Ulrike Guérot explains:

"If I defame the person and say, you are a covidiot, then I already have an exclusion criterion - that is, I don't have to take your argument seriously. And that's the captious thing today in discussion, that a closed blanket of opinion basically self-righteously decides that it doesn't even have to take certain arguments seriously because they come out of that person's mouth or that person's mouth."
If a discourse is kept one-sided, then the side that falls short will come out sometime and somewhere. It doesn't help anyone if charged words like "conspiracy theorist" or "covidiot" are then let loose. Even repulsive, annoying or shocking statements have a different effect on me as soon as I understand what is behind them. People are not suddenly bad or stupid. The search for reasons and the respective subjective meaningfulness is worthwhile. Solidarity would mean for me to think about that in the back of my mind.

Someone who was not allowed to accompany his dying wife to her death is allowed to have anger at the political interventions without immediately being called a denier or a covidiot. The anger, of course, must not lead to being reckless with the needs of those who are fearful. Someone whose parents are over sixty and possibly asthmatic has a right to their fear of the Corona viruses. But this fear must not be allowed to devalue people whose primary concern is for our basic rights. Times of crisis require solidarity. Devaluing my fellow human beings makes solidarity impossible and instead creates trenches. Trenches can be understood here as a metaphor for divisive tendencies - if not divisions - that are becoming more and more visible as the current crisis progresses.

How do we get out of the polarization of society? When I say above, "I wonder," it is not an attempt at diplomacy. I am actually wondering. Because I am also not implying that the SPD chairwoman or anyone else, I could have listed as examples of the quick grab for defamation is suddenly bad or stupid. Rather, I am wondering how an entire society is moving in a direction that, from a psychological perspective, can be defined as psychologically immature.

Divisions make a complicated world more manageable
This brings me back to fear. Each of us has at our disposal so-called defense mechanisms that the psyche uses to cope with difficult feelings. In everyday language, for example, "repression" has long been established. We say that we have repressed something when we want something unpleasant to go away from our conscious thinking. Here the structural level described above becomes interesting again. This is because the more integrated a person's structural level is - that is, the more mature the level of psychological development - the more mature the defense mechanisms are. A very mature mechanism would be humor, for example. Intellectualization or rationalization are also mature coping strategies. In contrast, splitting is a distinctly immature defense mechanism.

In a clinical context, this drastic type of defense might first bring to mind patients with emotionally unstable personality disorder, also called borderline personality disorder. This is a severe disorder. The pathological defense can be recognized, for example, by the fact that these patients "must" divide their world into black and white in order to deal with difficult feelings that overwhelm them. Shades of gray no longer exist. This makes a world that overwhelms them more manageable. The division into black and white / good and bad thus helps those affected to orient themselves. Their structural level is lowly integrated, so that the division is to be understood as a way of coping.
In cohabiting social associations, such pathological dynamics with different roles can be distributed among all. The social splitting tendencies evident in various places indicate that the level of anxiety has reached such a level that more mature defense mechanisms are no longer effective and we as a society may have partially fallen to a borderline level.

Stoking fear is harmful
So, from my social psychological point of view, I would like to draw attention to the fact that stoking fear is harmful. In times of crisis, people should weigh things wisely. Each and every individual should be able to make good decisions for themselves and their children - such as that children should not miss out on fresh air when walking the streets alone. It is not possible to weigh wisely and make good decisions when a society has regressed to a borderline level and an excess of emotions can only be managed through the defense mechanism of division. In times of emergency, it takes more than a borderline level of structure to preserve the social and constitutional state. It can become dangerous when parts of the population feel the need to divide the world into good and evil in order to find their way in it.

Divisions bypass the middle. But it is exactly what is needed: Bridges that connect the different divides. In the therapy of a borderline patient, everyone has the same goal: a more mature integration of the structural level. Nevertheless, sometimes the therapy flies around one's ears and therapy discontinuations occur. Socially, too, we are pursuing the same goal: democratic coexistence and the lowest possible death rate. Nevertheless, more and more people are concerned (encroachment on basic rights, no broad media debate, selection into system-relevant and non-system-relevant professions, etc.). It is very much to be hoped that this will not "blow up in our faces."

A word about the approach of many media in the current crisis: I am aware that arousing emotions is a desired means of "keeping a target group in line". But the media also have a task and responsibility in and for democracy - in other words, for the entire hundred percent of the population. In such emotionally charged times, less emotion is more. When treating a borderline patient, the therapeutic procedure is clearly defined: When emotions boil up, I as a therapist take a step back so that the so-called psychological functioning level does not become even more immature.

Author Matthias Eckoldt, who wrote his doctoral thesis on the power dispositive of the mass media, writes:
"The highly selective and always dramatic reality of the mass media is not a reflection of reality, but of society. For one becomes what one sees {...}. The function of the mass media is not to hold up a mirror to society so that it recognizes itself. Rather, the mass media present society with an image to which it must orient itself. The disciplinary power enters a new round with the total presence of the mass media (Eckold 2007)[2]."

In this sense the appeal to the mass media: less drama! Because in addition to the borderline dynamic, we are dealing with emotionally charged issues in this crisis anyway (e.g., death, disease, lobbying, or the pharmaceutical industry).

In my practice, I will continue to attend to individual fates of the crisis. Here I learn from those affected what is not considered in the political switchboard in Berlin. When future measures for strategic action in the Corona crisis are decided, psychological experts must be involved in the decision-making process. Both clinically working psychologists and social psychologists. Then perhaps it would finally be noticed that there is more to solidarity than wearing a mask.

Pandemic and Propaganda: The Very Big Confusion
Corona: The bizarre self-view of the media
["1] Those who have contracted Covid-19 or lost someone who had it are, of course, also deeply and sadly affected. However, these people receive the attention that I believe is lacking in the group I mentioned.
["2] Eckoldt, M. (2007) Media of power. Power of the media. Berlin: Kadmos.

Open the gate. Please
An article by: Editorial
[This editorial from published on Feb 9, 2021 is translated from the German on the Internet, Macht das Tor auf. Bitte (]

This is an appeal to the crucial politicians who will discuss further Corona policy on Wednesday. We can understand your caution. But please note that there are not only incidence values to consider. Serious and of importance to your decisions should also be the consequences. The consequences for our children and adolescents and many less privileged fellow human beings are already so serious that a revision, a differentiated opening is necessary and should not be delayed.

Many children and young people have been locked up for months now, deprived of both education and social contacts, and not everyone is lucky enough to have an intact family to absorb these harsh cuts. With digital distance learning, it's the children who fall by the wayside, and they need good educational support more than others. Students are also left to their own devices. Many have lost the part-time jobs they urgently need to finance their studies. Those who do not have financially strong parents behind them are often left behind.

In countless professions and economic sectors, there is naked panic. It is uncertain how many pubs, restaurants, cafés, hotels, hair salons, bookstores, boutiques or gyms will be able to reopen. The only thing that is certain is that the number of bankruptcies increases with every week of lockdown. Small family businesses, many of which have existed for generations, are particularly at risk, while the large corporations with their anonymous chain stores and franchise models are already rubbing their hands.

There are not only people who die or fall ill with Corona. Especially the psychological consequences of the lockdown, the depressions and suicides are hardly noticed. From a home office in the countryside, it is not so easy to imagine what it is like to be locked up in a two-room apartment with your children for months on end, despairing of fears for your own future and the future of your children, with no prospect of recovery. There is not only death, there is also life. Many seem to have forgotten this.

We also appeal to our colleagues in the media, on television, radio and newspapers. Please make a strong case for weighing health risks against the risks to our families, to our social life, and especially to children and young people.

Police everywhere, women doctors nowhere
Greece At the scene of ten years of neoliberal health policy we see: Where the social has been cut to the bone, the only thing left to do in the pandemic is to arm
by Mirko Broll and Mario Neumann
[This article published in Feb 2021 is translated from the German on the Internet, Griechenland ǀ Überall Polizei, nirgendwo Ärztinnen — der]

In Athens there are protests again and again, which the state tries to get under control with the help of the police.

Next May it will be ten years since Syntagma Square was occupied in Athens in protest against the Troika's austerity policies. Ten years in which Greece has become the scene of European politics and history in the literal sense: the European debt crisis, the rise and fall of the left-wing rallying party Syriza, the memoranda of the Troika, then the summer of migration in 2015, the hotspots on the islands, Idomeni, Moria and the clash on the Evros. At the latest since the Corona pandemic, however, another fact deserves attention: Greece is also the scene of ten years of neoliberal health history. Here we see that the worse the state of the health system, the tougher exit and contact restrictions have to be taken in the pandemic.

The Corona pandemic and the political reactions highlight a complicated relationship. Public health and protection from disease and death are inherently contradictory matters. Health can be demanded and fought for as a human right, but it can equally be a justification for state empowerment, in whose name it comes to the restriction of fundamental and human rights. The high speed of the spread of the coronavirus has made it partly impossible to conceive of policy responses other than as firefighting policies. In this respect, in many places they were indeed without alternative, because the political preconditions of corona policy (equipment of health systems, living conditions, etc.) could not be changed in the short term in those moments of epidemiological emergency.

However, this should not prevent us from analyzing the political history of this produced lack of alternatives and not accepting it unchallenged. For otherwise there is a danger of circular reasoning, namely that the principles of neoliberal health policy confirm themselves through their real or supposed successes in the Corona pandemic. Our thesis is that in the pandemic a general motif of authoritarian neoliberalism is spreading in the field of health: The notion that societal and social problems require policing "solutions" rather than addressing their root causes. The dispositive of security, in which governments and state authority can embody themselves as the solution to those problems they themselves helped to create, takes the place of the transformation of society. We would like to discuss this thesis using the example of Greece, where European austerity policies have imposed a policy of disenfranchisement and austerity in the field of health, which then produces a plausibilization of authoritarian, police protection against infection in the Corona pandemic.

The issue of "government of health" is not a footnote in the pandemic: in the summer of 2020, Greece was suddenly considered a European "model student." Noted Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari gave an excellent report card: "Greece did a fantastic job in containing this epidemic," adding, "If I had to choose between Greece and the U.S. as to which of the two should lead the world politically, I would definitely choose Greece." This decidedly positive assessment of the crisis policy was prompted by the infection figures in the so-called first wave of the pandemic, which were well below the European average. In the meantime, however, there was a second wave. This assessment also ignored the fact that the virus could only be contained by means of a police-enforced lockdown lasting several weeks with very drastic exit restrictions, which placed a heavy psychological, economic and social burden on the population - also because the health care system has already reached the limits of its capacity under normal circumstances, at the latest since the Troika policy.

Greece as a laboratory
Even before the financial crisis, the Greek healthcare system was in deficit, but European austerity policies from 2010 onward have brought many things to a head. The "political project of austerity" (Ingo Stützle) was basically a project of disenfranchisement, not only but also in the area of health care. Mass layoffs in the health sector and a massive policy of cuts laid the foundations for the relative lack of alternatives in pandemic policy at the time.
For example, one of the Troika's targets was to reduce public health spending to six percent of Greek GDP (mind you, at a time of economic recession). Thus, as part of the austerity measures, the budget in the public health budget was almost halved. It fell from 15.41 billion euros in 2009 to 8.81 billion euros in 2017, a decrease of 42.8 percent. Per capita spending fell by an average of 7.3 percent annually from 2008 to 2013, while the EU as a whole saw annual growth of 0.7 percent over the same period.

The Greek health minister at the time, Andreas Loverdos, was very close to the truth when he noted that these cuts would be carried out not only with a scalpel, but also with a pickaxe if necessary. Thirty-seven percent of hospitals were closed, thousands of beds were cut and employee salaries were reduced by 30 percent. Hundreds of polyclinics in the outpatient sector and numerous hospitals were closed, and 25,000 jobs were cut.

In the meantime, about one-third of the Greek population was without health insurance and thus de facto excluded from access to the public health system. To this day, hospitals lack important medical technology and medicines. The German government had no small part in these "structural adjustment measures" of the Troika and was also a leader in the health system: as a so-called domain leader, the then FDP-led Federal Ministry of Health took the lead in health policy issues in the Memorandum of Understanding between the Greek government and European institutions in 2012.

Violence, bankruptcies and no beds
The effects of this political destruction of the Greek health care system are now becoming much more painful with the Corona pandemic than they have been in previous years. Since October, the numbers of infections and deaths have been going up, meanwhile the available intensive care beds are occupied and recently more and more people died in normal hospital beds.

The Greek population was on lockdown for a month and a half as recently as spring. And unlike in Germany, it was indeed hardly possible to leave one's own four walls - one had to apply for a permission to go out via SMS, which was controlled by the police. And while demonstrations and commemorative events were repeatedly banned in the name of hygiene measures, Greece was largely open to tourism during the summer months. Rightly, these double standards are causing outrage. Since November 7, the Greek population has been in its second lockdown. The social, economic and psychological consequences are dramatic. The gross domestic product is expected to shrink by at least ten percent and unemployment is expected to rise to 22.3 percent. Average household income has already fallen by 314 euros, and one-third of small businesses will probably not survive the second lockdown. Aid agencies register a 230 percent increase in domestic violence and several femicides. Structural strengthening of the health care system, on the other hand, has largely failed to materialize. This can be shown by a few relevant indicators.
It is true that the number of intensive care beds has been doubled from just under 600 to 1200, 579 of which are for covid cases. However, according to international standards, Greece would need 3500 intensive care beds even in non-pandemic times. Moreover, hardly any new beds were created, but only other types of beds were converted to intensive care beds. These are now lacking for other needs. And the problem, which is also familiar in this country, is that it is not only the number of beds that is decisive, but also the personnel required for them. The Greek government is talking about 2000 new hires in the healthcare sector. However, it conceals the fact that these are mostly people who have been working in the healthcare sector for a long time, who have received a new contract or whose contract has been extended - or who have temporary contracts. At the same time, the political demands of the health movement for a right to adequate health care for all were suppressed by police. Significantly, the first application of the new demonstration law involved the president of the public hospitals union at a rally last September in front of the Ministry of Health.

Does police make healthy?
What we are currently witnessing is the preliminary culmination of a neoliberal transformation that has been going on for years: The individualization of responsibility and the strengthening of the police order are taking the place of public accountability. Individuals are made solely responsible - also morally - for fighting the pandemic. They do not have the right to protection (for example, the right not to go to work), but they are responsible for the common good with their behavior and are called upon accordingly with political measures (which are not all wrong because of this). The right to public health care is gradually being replaced by the private duty to provide health care, which is monitored by the police.

So is Greece a role model just because its Corona numbers are comparatively low? If you look at the additional health expenditure per capita related to pandemic control, Greece ranks second to last in the EU at 30 euros per capita. Instead of strengthening the health system, police forces are being upgraded and military spending increased. At Christmas, 5,000 forces were on the streets to punish violations of the Corona exit restrictions; a week later, for New Year's Eve, that number was doubled. The recruitment of at least 5200 police officers and the acquisition of a new fleet of vehicles is planned, one of the largest upgrade programs in the history of the Hellenic Police was presented in December. And just a few days ago, the Greek government announced the recruitment of 1000 police officers for a new unit at the universities. Mind you, even before this new strengthening of the security apparatus, Greece had the second most police officers per hundred thousand inhabitants in the EU, while at the same time it has the fewest nurses. And in the midst of the pandemic, the Greek government approves the budget for 2021, which includes an increase in defense spending by about 30 percent to 5.4 billion euros and a cut in health spending by 572 million euros.

The state's absence in some areas of society is thus offset by its overpresence in others. "If, therefore, the state has to limit itself in order to become stronger, this does not, however, change the fact...that it cannot carry out this amputation without first having strengthened itself politically" writes the French philosopher Grégoire Chamayou. This is precisely what authoritarian neoliberalism means: not the complete absence of the state, but its weakening in social policy and its strengthening in security policy. The right to free access to health care becomes police protection against infection.

Pandemic: the birth of security policy
You don't have to be a follower of the French theorist Michel Foucault to consult his studies and analyses of social and health policy today. Foucault brilliantly analyzed the ambivalence of state social and regulatory policy, especially in the field of health and disease control. For Foucault, it was clear that governing does not merely mean disguising class contradictions or enforcing capital interests (as an economistic reading of the state often asserts), but that government is imperative to distinguish itself as the most effective and proper order in the service of the general. The police have a central role in his thinking in this regard, being for him not only an institution but also a political principle, for "the proper use of the powers of the state, that is the object and aim of the police." In the general order lies the original meaning of the word "Polizey".

Foucault understood how to analyze the police not merely as an organ of repression, but as a "splendor of order", as an expression of the enforcement of the general in the sense of all. "This means that this circle has the effect of making the police succeed in building the power of the state on the pleasantness of the people." Foucault then asks, "What exactly does the police care about, if it is true that their general aim is to increase the powers of the state, that the order of this state is not only not impaired but reinforced?" And he names five central areas that the police have to take care of: besides taking care of the number of people, the needs of life, the circulation of goods, the fourth object of the police is health. Another, fifth object of the police is "as a result of health policy, when you have a lot of people who can live and are healthy...that you watch over their activity."

Thus, health is not merely an "interest" and a demand of people to the community. Health and hygiene are also enforced by state authority and conducted as population policy. Health policy is always ambivalent, oscillating between the human right to health on the one hand and discipline, policing, security, and control on the other. Historically, Foucault is also able to show that it is precisely in pandemics that state authority and police strengthen themselves, that they have their birth hours and breakthroughs in this field.

From the right to health to state security
What does this mean? It means that the issue of the "government of health" is not a footnote in the pandemic - as the Greek example impressively shows. The current "simultaneous consolidation and weakening of the state" (Nicos Poulantzas) are two sides of the same coin: the rise of the punitive state goes hand in hand with growing social insecurity and disenfranchisement, rather than an increase in rule-breaking and crime... Loïc Wacquant was able to prove this connection for the United States more than ten years ago. Now, once again, we see that there are more parallels to the United States on this side of the Atlantic than many would like to believe.

In all the European responses given in Greece in recent years, one sees this raw and brutal violence of disenfranchisement leveled against all forms and demands for a minimum of social and political rights and personal dignity. The health system was and is one of the most contested places. Politically, it has been ruined, and today the police are arming themselves - not least in the "struggle" against Corona. A struggle that has thus been transferred from the terrain of rights to that of security. It is no coincidence that this is reminiscent of European border policy.

Mirko Broll currently works at the Department of Political Sociology of Social Inequality at LMU Munich. He lived and researched in Athens for an extended period of time. His research focuses on European austerity policies and transnational practices of solidarity.

Mario Neumann has been involved in several transnational initiatives on the situation in Greece in recent years, including the Blockupy alliance and support work for the occupied City Plaza Hotel. He lives in Berlin and works in the public relations department of medico international
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