Around the world, minorities, other vulnerable parts of the population, as well as activists and journalists are facing the long-term consequences of Covid-19 related restrictive measures – long after people in democracies get their freedoms back.
No doubt, 2020 has been a challenging year. Our societies were tested hard; our physical and mental health being under strain. Many democracies did not well in fighting covid-19. Their political landscapes were too polarized, populations did not trust their governments, their leaders were incompetent, and health institutions not strong enough to cope with so many ill persons. Although vaccines now gradually help societies to escape from the pandemic, there are plenty of lessons to be learned.
Overall, however, most of those states that did well in their efforts to fight covid-19 were democratic. And while human rights have been restricted both in democracies and in authoritarian countries during the pandemic, democracies tend to restore rights when the pandemic ends. Such prospects remain much weaker in authoritarian states. Vulnerable and scapegoated parts of the population, as well as activists and political opposition challenging the government to respect human rights, may end up with the pandemic's negative human rights consequences lasting much longer than the pandemic.
In Hungary, Viktor Orbán abused the pandemic to strengthen his authoritarian grip on the country. We witnessed how the EU struggled with Hungary and Poland and their governments’ ongoing dismantling of rule of law. In the heart of Europe, the independence of media, courts and civil society are under attack.
In Belarus, we witnessed how Aleksandr Lukashenko denied the dangers of Covid-19 while rigging the August 2020 presidential elections. This time, however, the Belarusian people had enough of his repressive methods and took to the streets. Many of them made enormous sacrifices for democracy and human rights. These protesters are heroes of democracy. I am proud to lead an organization supporting the fight for democracy in Belarus.
When the pandemic is gradually overcome, some will not get their freedoms back. Many of those who fought for democracy and human rights throughout this difficult year will be behind bars. These political prisoners will be on our agenda until they are released. This also goes for LGBTI people, religious or other minorities that were scapegoated during the pandemic. They need our solidarity and supportive actions to have their rights respected.
Despite setbacks, we will continue our fight for democracy. We fought back against Covid-19. Let us fight back against authoritarianism and for the right of everyone to take part in the government of her or his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.
In fighting a pandemic, rights may temporarily be restricted. When it ends, however, rights and freedoms must return.