This post is also available in: hrvatski (Croatian)
On International Human Rights Day and in celebration of 5 years of the SOLIDARNA Foundation, as part of the Human Rights Film Festival 2020, and in cooperation with the Office of the European Parliament in Zagreb, we held an online public debate entitled: “#Solidarity as our #NewNormal?” in which experts from various disciplines explored opportunities for a societal leap towards sustainable solidarity, mutual protection of human rights and human dignity, as a result of the shared experience of the pandemic and the global crisis. Is there a chance that this collective experience of global crisis can create an opportunity for solidarity to become a fundamental principle not only production, but also social and political relations?
This monumental and important question was discussed by the futurologist Dr.sc. Eamonn Noonan, of the Global Trends Unit, European Parliament; sustainability experts: Ph.D. Mirjana Matešić, Croatian Business Council for Sustainable Development, and Ph.D. Mladen Domazet, Institute of Political Ecology, Professor of Psychology and Social Work; as well as prof.dr.sc. Marina Ajduković, Social Work Study Centre, Faculty of Law, University of Zagreb, and feminist theologian and human rights activist mr.sc. Lana Bobić, In Good Faith, with commentary by Petar Vidov, Editor of Faktograf (fact-checking news portal) and a member of the Croatian Debate Society, Anastazija Stupar.
All of the participants in the discussion agreed that the current crisis, which is shaking the very foundations of our families, communities and societies – is painfully confronting us with the consequences of years of callousness, the exploitation of nature and structural inequalities. As individuals and as a society, we are still capable of expressing solidarity; yet at the same time, we also allow suffering, inequality, injustice and mistrust to worsen. Prof. Ajduković suggested that strong and pervasive anxiety is one of the main blockers of empathy and care for the other. Therefore, today, both for those in power and for all individuals, the priority must be active and systematic care for one’s mental health and the mental health of others, such us emotional regulation of one’s feelings of helplessness and /or vulnerability. Hence, the questions that need to be answered are: 1) how will this collective experience of anxiety affect our personal and collective choices and relationships in the future, and 2) do we have the moral strength and confidence to really step into the paradigm of sustainability?
How has this crisis changed the way we think, imagine, and create the future?
If we want to survive, both as a human species on a global level and as a society, solidarity must become the foundation of a new paradigm of action, both on an individual level and collectively, the experts agreed. However, solidarity is not something that will automatically emerge as a consequence of the global crisis in which we find ourselves; solidarity must be worked on in a targeted and long-term manner, said Anastazija Stupar. Petar Vidov pointed out that society is currently in a critical phase in which the old reality is collapsing, and the new one has not yet been defined. There are two currents on the political scene – one advocates individualism, while the other advocates collectivism or solidarity.
Petar Vidov believes that the survival of society depends on which of the above currents will prevail. Lana Bobić emphasizes that it is essential to create a new paradigm that will respond to contemporary challenges and problems – one that will know how to reconcile contradictions and that understands that we cannot talk about the individual if we don’t take the collective into account: we must connect what has, until this point, been considered mutually exclusive.
Speaking from an economic perspective, Mirjana Matešić noted that philanthropy is not important for solidarity, but redistribution of value is, and pointed out that if we want a sustainable system based on solidarity in the future, the allocation of resources must be adequate for all participants in the production process. “The strategy that we must take into account and implement goes far beyond COVID-19; climate change, sustainability and resource destruction are topics on which solidarity will break. Adequate distribution to all participants in the value production chain is necessary, because, on a global level, we continue to witness a smaller part of the population permanently getting richer while half the world does not receive adequate compensation for their work.”
Due to the focus on short-term efficiency, a lot of long-term mistakes have been made in social activities, said Mladen Domazet, and explained that a reason for that is because short-term efficiency means profit: “For long-term survival and sustainability of society, it is necessary to create mechanisms to achieve structural change in society. This means that education, sustainability, digital progress, but also power relations must be linked.” Although predictions and plans to respond to a global crisis like the one the world is facing today have existed for the past 10 years, experts who have warned about it have not been taken seriously by anyone, Dr Noonann said. The lesson learned from such an approach is that social foresight is important, while also questioning the consequences of selected directions at the same time. The key is to focus on long-term profits, Noonann believes.
Although acts of solidarity in crisis situations are commendable, they alone are not enough to ensure systemic change, according to prof. Ajduković, who pointed out that, in addition to solidarity, it is necessary to constantly question the causes of inequality and to actively engage in their elimination. Petar Vidov stated that it is important to realize that society does not have factory settings on which we can rely on, but instead functions on the basis of mutual agreements. For this reason, it is crucial to question social norms at all times, to reconstruct indicators that monitor social development so that a realistic picture can be obtained, and to set a social narrative that will determine the direction necessary for lasting sustainability.
Is there an historical opportunity for a real and lasting breakthrough into the paradigm of solidarity?
When it comes to the historic opportunity to create a new, sustainable paradigm of solidarity right now – beyond political platitudes – that will enable the lasting sustainability of society globally, but also our personal security, it is important to point out that the world has been in a crisis since the 70s, Domazet emphasized and added that the solutions that are now chosen will depend on what we have learned from the previous crises. Lana Bobić pointed out that solidarity cannot be particular – it either is or it is not – and its sustainability depends on its inclusiveness. Decisions made so far in response to crises have been a topic of discussion behind closed doors, and it is necessary to include those directly affected – marginalized groups whose reality is regularly ignored by rulers and creators of the global reality.
The global crisis we are witnessing, while affecting everyone, is actually affecting everyone individually. What is important to be aware of is one’s own connection with the collective, Bobić pointed out, and that an individual cannot exist without society, and vice versa. Anastazija Stupar added that education is the basis of awareness, which must change in a way that directs and shapes young people into active, engaged citizens, aware of their own role in society, while Domazet said that, in addition to raising awareness, it is important to work on developing awareness of citizens in general because the survival of society is a trans-generational responsibility. Also, it is necessary to point out that a solidarity society is not one in which the one who has a surplus compensates for the lack of another, but one in which everyone can independently satisfy their own needs.
Citizens who followed the debate and participated in an online poll expressed moderate optimism that solidarity is possible as our new social code, but significant investment in humanities education must be made and also and far greater political responsibility for fair and sustainable development needs to be implemented, beyond election cycles and GDP growth, as highlighted in one of the many comments: “Bearing in mind that the future is uncertain, in light of challenges such as climate change, deepening social inequality, widespread fake news, perfecting artificial intelligence, etc., if we do not persist in addressing the root causes, recognizing problems and educating young people about an engaged approach to all segments of life, empathy, then solidarity will not come to life. We need solidarity to survive, we need to work on it actively, it will not happen by itself. “
Link to the original recording of the discussion in Croatian: https://www.facebook.com/HumanRightsFestival/videos/431138421233656
Video with simultaneous translation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rR_Phdaj_UM