The corona pandemic has been ongoing for six months now, yet it feels we aren’t any closer to understanding what is actually happening. It seems we still do not know much about the virus, compared to what we knew when the whole thing started. What we can do is keep adjusting to new circumstances. Simply put, we’re trapped into what is happening around us without knowing where it all goes and what lies ahead.
The key change that took place, bringing something we all would have considered unimaginable just a few months ago, is radical limitations to free movement. Some were isolated in their homes and apartments, some were confined to their streets, others to their cities and municipalities, and all of us blocked in our own respective countries. Even with restrictions easing down, things were not going back to the way it was before. In the meantime, we lost the illusion that things will ever be the same again, as we knew that even restraints finally get lifted, things can radically change for the worse overnight. At this point in time, we not only know this, we kind of expect it to happen.
Freedom of movement was a right we took for granted. Crossing the border was a mere technicality, with most of Europe having no formal border crossings at all. Decrease of airfares prices globally has also brought us closer together, making remote corners of the world more easily accessible for more people. Where, when and how we travel depended solely on us. Today almost no one is even asking the question, as the way we travelled is simply no more. Can you believe we actually took it for granted?
This is not just another hot topic I wanted to write about. Corona changed my life overnight and that’s why it is also a very personal matter.
Due to a number of live events at the time and driven by a business ambition, from the flatlands of Banat I moved to Slovenia. Following Ljubljana, Budapest had become a center of gravity for a time. Adding more miles to the life map Zagreb soon joined the list. In addition to that and because keeping things simple was never really an option, I spent those years travelling so frequently for work that I would often find myself in a situation where I wasn’t entirely sure whether I just arrived at a destination, or I should be leaving onto someplace next.
The travels were followed by a constant pondering: where is home and where do I belong? Not finding the answer to the question wasn’t really a problem as being everywhere at the time became the place I belong to.
Even after the two-decade-long phase of constant travel came to an end, I still continued living everywhere. This became normal, felt natural.
And then corona came. Suddenly leaving Ljubljana to go to Mokrin in Banat, or to go from Novi Sad to Zagreb became a thing of precise and complex planning, projections and stipulations of ifs and maybes, when the time is right and conditions are met.
During the six months of the pandemic, I spent some time in Mokrin and Novi Sad, Zagreb and Ljubljana. But things were just not the same. It took a pandemic for me to realize that while I was in Ljubljana before, I felt present in Zagreb and Mokrin at the same time – as I knew I can go there whenever I please. Being in Mokrin, I could hardly wait to go back to Ljubljana, and vice versa. I knew that I can pack my bags at any time and just leave for Novi Sad and if decide along the way, make a stop in Zagreb for a few days.
This freedom is no more. My uplifting discovery that I belong everywhere turned abruptly into a cruel understanding that “to be everywhere is to be nowhere” (Seneca).
For a moment I thought that people who opted to have a home in one place must have an advantage not having to ask the same questions as I do. Nonetheless, talking to friends from different parts of the world in the past few months, I realized that things are not that simple. The sense of belonging to a place is not a matter of physical location, or the place we live in but the sense of inner peace and security that comes with being able to see one’s immediate future. That sense of certainty is now gone.
Uncertainty is probably the best way to describe the global state of affairs. From an objective standpoint, I fully understand why that is so: the world has faced an entirely new situation that no one can label with a proper expiration date. What concerns me the most is the palpable inability and lack of competence on all levels – from national, state ranks to global systems and organizations – to tackle the crisis in a proper way. The restrictions imposed are often confusing, contradictory, rapidly changing. The failure of the measures to produce positive results is usually blamed on the citizens, who are automatically and generally accused of reckless behavior that fuels further tightening of the restrictions.
The overall state only heightens the uncertainty and increases the fear for all of us who are already dumbfounded by the ongoing scenarios. Our trust in institutions and the system in general is rapidly deteriorating seeing that there is no idea what should be done.
The good old world we once belonged to, doesn’t exist anymore – it has become the world of yesterday, and the new world is still in gloom, somewhere far ahead. We are trapped in a vacuum, and that makes us feel like we belong nowhere.
All of this makes a perfect spotlight for an increasing number of fake-news truth-seekers, looking to use and abuse the chaos of the world to spread radical interpretations of what is happening around us. They offer easy answers and fast solutions. We are witnessing an explosion of different conspiracy theories that were ignited by the corona crisis, and that are spreading like wildfire through social media. A good chunk of these support solutions based on retrograde notions of exclusive identity models based on a single nation, one religion, or one tribe. The ideas and ideologies of racism, nationalism and fascism are becoming more prevalent, and with their strengthening a slew of autocratic and dictatorial models of governance that we considered belong to history books are making a comeback.
Nothing to be surprised about, unfortunately. These are prime times for such events as people, faced with collapse of the existing systems and losing trust with the structures in place, are more prone to sacrificing freedom for an illusion of security and stability. Despite the numerous lessons in historic accounts of where these things are leading us into, the warning of the storm to come is not enough to seek shelter and avoid the flood.
Getting out of the current crisis is not going backwards, no matter how romanticized and glorified the history may sometimes seem. The resolution lies in recognizing that our primary identity is that we are the citizens of the world, since we first and foremost belong to Planet Earth, the only planet we’ve got. So that wherever we are on this glorious planet, we feel like we belong there.
This crisis is giving us a free pass to learn that important lesson, but our failure to understand it will not stop the Earth from spinning.