Old Europe – What vaccination opponents and digital refusers have in common

The author

Miriam Meckel is a German publicist and entrepreneur. She is co-founder and CEO of ada Learning GmbH. She also teaches as a professor for communication management at the University of St. Gallen.

(Photo: Klawe Rzeczy)

And the groundhog greets forever: Trapped in a time warp, we watch the next wave of the coronavirus take control of the country. Infection numbers are skyrocketing, hospital beds in intensive care units are filling up, social life is drying up, and neighboring Austria is already in lockdown again.

At least, one must say, because combined with a mandatory vaccination there is at least the medium-term chance of breaking the vicious circle of virus mutation, ignorance and political rabble-rousing. Will we succeed in doing that in Germany?

It would be nice. You really couldn’t have dreamed that it could happen to a country like Germany to keep making the same mistakes for two years or, more precisely, to muddle through from error mutation to error mutation. The German-speaking countries, Germany, Austria and parts of Switzerland top the list in Europe when it comes to the proportion of unvaccinated people in the population, around a quarter each in all three countries.

It only looks worse in this horror ranking in countries like Hungary, Poland and Russia, which are working hard to return to the authoritarian era and have between 30 and almost 60 percent of the population who are unvaccinated.

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Karl Marx was familiar with many social evils, but not the new coronavirus, and yet he described the current situation in parts of Europe precisely about 200 years ago: History always happens twice – the first time as a tragedy, the second time as a farce. We have now reached the farce. And if the facts weren’t so sad and threatening – health, economic and destructive for social cohesion – one could just laugh.

Or howl. For example, if you look at the new magic number, which should now bring clarity about the acute state of the threat from Covid. The hospital or hospitalization rate, which is provided in the updated Vaccination Protection Act, describes the number of Covid-19 cases transmitted to the Robert Koch Institute that have to be hospitalized. Unfortunately, it is hardly meaningful because it only reflects the situation from about three weeks ago. To date there has been no digital reporting procedure. In Germany, the numbers are still being faxed.

Deficits were not remedied in the pandemic

Which brings us to one of the core problems of fighting a pandemic: the digital infrastructure. It was neglected for years before the pandemic. That is why there is hardly any reliable, up-to-date data, doctors conduct paper wars in addition to the fight against the virus, and health authorities still inadequate communication with one another. In the new EU digital index for the digital economy and society, Germany is again well below the EU average in some key criteria, for example in the integration of digital technology and the digitization of public services (e-government).

Now one could have expected that within two years pandemic events would have given sufficient incentives to consistently iron out these deficits. But that didn’t happen. We just keep faxing and are now again discussing far-reaching restrictions and possible lockdowns, two years after the start of the pandemic, nine months after various vaccines are available.

What is wrong with Germany, Austria and Switzerland that these countries in particular are failing so much in the face of the pandemic? The lack of digital networking in public administration is only one reason for this. The governments also seem to be terrified of taking a clear position in favor of solidarity in health, as Austria has meanwhile done.

With the long hesitation about compulsory vaccination or at least clear restrictions for unvaccinated people, these governments have set an unfortunate sign: the hesitation towards AfD speech, conspiracy theories and a general reluctance to make an individual contribution so that the economy and society are spared further serious measures. All of this seems to be more important than the requirements of a solidarity community in pandemic times.

In the light of the pandemic, an “old Europe” is emerging

If significantly higher vaccination rates are achieved in other European countries, Portugal, Spain, France are all well over 70 percent, then we may even have to ask the question the other way round: Will it still be possible to implement future-oriented policies in the demographically aging German-speaking countries, if that Majority is geared towards preservation? Or has the welfare state even made some of the people so lazy that one no longer even thinks that there could be other important interests than one’s own freedom, which is clearly manifested in refusal to vaccinate?

It was 2003 when the then US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld spoke of “Old Europe”. It wasn’t a compliment, or praise for tradition and continuity. It was harsh criticism that Germany and other European countries are no longer able to reorient themselves in time.

Rumsfeld’s saying came in the context of the Iraq war. Our current situation cannot be compared with that. In the light of the pandemic, however, another “old Europe” is emerging. It is no longer possible to keep up with the times, to enforce majority interests, to consistently invest in the future, progress and thus the well-being of its own population. Judging by what would be possible, this is actually a farce.

In this column Miriam Meckel writes fortnightly about ideas, innovations and interpretations that make progress and a better life possible. Because what the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the rest of the world calls a butterfly. ada-magazin.com

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