- Jane Hilgert
Putin, Pandemic and other Plagues
Before addressing the nuclear-armed elephant wreaking havoc in Eastern Europe, let’s hear it for everyone’s favorite topic of the past two years - Covid-19!
Whilst the rest of Maastricht was already deep in Carnival celebrations under the motto “mèt belump, neet boete de sjraom en haw 't propel” (“with guidelines, within limits and keep it low-key”), I was finally released from my two-week-long isolation to discover that, within those two weeks, basically all effective measures - and apparently Covid itself - had vanished from the Netherlands. And we are not alone in easing up on restrictions; after two years of closed borders, New Zealand is following in Australia’s footsteps and has taken its first of five steps to lift travel bans. Among plenty of stranded Kiwis, New Zealand’s open borders also welcomed the Omicron variant with the highest infection rate of the 180 countries which have been analyzed so far at about 4.64 infected per positive test.
For the first time since the pandemic was declared almost two years ago, Hong Kong is having to debate how long and strict their lockdown should be, as the recent outbreak and high death rate led to the announcement that all 7.4 million residents will be tested thrice in March. Supposedly, there is a definitive plan in place, however, reports of the local media can’t seem to agree on what exactly that entails. Such chaos has not only led to panic fuelled bulk purchases (hamstering - what a March 2020 throwback for us in Europe), but has further gone far enough for the USA to warn against all travels to the city given the uncertainty for Hong Kong residents.
While there is much to be said about the failures of the “Zero Covid” policy approach, as proven by the aforementioned skyrocketing numbers, the governments opt to maintain a reasonable approach to - oh, I don’t know - protect the well-being and life of their respective populations as opposed to going from a strict lockdown in January to rising cases in February to dropping all measures in March.
We are coming up on two weeks of Putin’s war on Ukraine, which has fiercely united the global community. Name any other crisis which found Switzerland breaking their half millenia old neutrality plea, Elon Musk using his money and technology for something other than to stroke his own ego and has even the Taliban on the same side of a conflict as the entire Western world. The general public, especially in Europe, has never been this unified and we have seen humanitarian aid provided by civilians in every form: organizing pledge drives, attending protests in the thousands, offering up employment and academia positions, paying for housing, or even hosting refugees themselves.
This generosity, especially at the borders, is however not extended equally to all Ukrainian residents.
POC are once again forced to face the reality that we are nothing but an afterthought in a white-dominated world. Nobody cared about civilians lost and governments bombing other countries until both states involved happened to be in Europe. Most painful is the fact that even in times of war, there is still enough time for racism, both actively at the borders and from the global media coverage. African students, rightful residents in Ukraine, were forbidden from leaving a country amidst a war because that would defy the “Ukrainian first” policy, some physically dragged off of the train to safety. Racism still runs deep enough to tell a person of color that their life is not worth saving from war, no, it’s only the whites that get to flee.
Putin’s war also exposed the hypocrisy and favoritism towards white people in mainstream media. Did anyone hear or care about the suicide bombing at a Pakistani mosque on Friday killing at least 63 people and leaving over 200 injured? Worse yet, does anyone see the civilians killed in Afghanistan even as human lives lost anymore that we should fight to protect with the same gusto as Ukrainians?
The sad answer to that is simple: no.
Instead, we got to hear from reporters like senior CBS News correspondent D’Agata, who said that “This isn’t a place, with all due respect, like Iraq or Afghanistan, that has seen conflict raging for decades. You know, this is a relatively civilized, relatively European - I have to choose those words carefully, too - city where you wouldn’t expect that or hope that it’s going to happen”. First of all, where the hell were you in 2014 for the Russian annexation of Crimea? Second of all, in what city would you hope for such a conflict to happen?
Telegraph writer Daniel Hannan also appeared to be shaken to his core that now white people in Europe can face such grave danger, stating “They seem so like us. That is what makes it so shocking. Ukraine is a European country. Its people watch Netflix and have Instagram accounts… War is no longer something visited upon impoverished and remote populations”. Okay, so if I want Europe to provide endless support in all shapes and forms I have to *checks notes* binge Netflix and post selfies on Insta? Well lucky for you, Daniel, almost 15 million Iraqis have Instagram accounts and the Middle East can in fact also partake in mindnumbing content consumption through Netflix so what exactly are you waiting for, bud? What social media will be your next requirement to be distraught by the loss of human life and sovereignty? I’m thinking myspace could make a comeback.
This rant doesn’t mean that I do not support Ukrainians, I want nothing more than Putin’s senseless actions to come to a stop. However, in a world full of complexities, we must be able to have pluralist opinions on the same issue- you can donate to pledge drives and still be critical of the treatment of POC, primarily Black students, at the borders. In fact, you would be a hypocrite if you cause an outcry over the ongoing situation and its infringement of human rights without being able to acknowledge that white privilege ad hoc even extends to the right to life, the right to safety, and the right to flee.
To localize Putin’s war to Maastricht, the Honorary Consulate of Russia located in our city has not only been used as a canvas for pro-Ukrainian statements, but many are now calling for its permanent closure and removal. At a glance, it may seem that we are villanizing Russian citizens by hindering their access to their state’s representative - and there is a rise of xenophobia against Russians due to Putin’s war -, however, as it is an honorary Consulate it is not competent to aid with any administrative issues such as visa, passports or IDs. These competencies are reserved for general consulates or the general consular department of embassies, thus proving the closure of Russia’s Honorary Consulate here is nothing but a show of severing ties with the Putin administration. Russian nationals, whether this Honorary Consulate is open in Maastricht or not, have to travel to Den Haag if they are in need of help from their State and its services. Oh, and how could I forget: Honorary Consul van Vloten, when questioned by 1Limburg about the ongoing conflict, stated that “it’s sad that Putin did not do anything earlier” so you decide whether that representative should be in charge of the Dutch-Russian relations here in Maastricht.
But perhaps the right to life won’t be as important in just a few years, as the IPCC report on the state of the climate emergency has further confirmed that this must be the darkest timeline. For those unaware, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is the most fundamental source for climate and policy measures, as they have been providing political leaders with scientific assessments periodically since 1988. This particular report was the result of Working Group II “Mitigation of climate change and introducing several new components”, which can be well summarized by Chair Hoesung Lee: “This report is a dire warning about the consequences of inaction.” The report paints a haunting picture of unavoidable climate hazards over the coming twenty years and additional severe impacts if the global warming level of 1.5°C is exceeded, which can be irreversible. The existing number of climate change-caused deaths will inevitably increase and now, more than ever, action must be taken to protect those most vulnerable as best as we still can.
Now to Texas, where everything is bigger, including institutionalized transphobia. Last week, Governor Abbott’s issued a directive that outlined that gender-affirming care for trans youth would warrant an investigation for child abuse by state agencies such as the Child Protection Service. This followed after the release of a non-binding legal opinion by Texas Attorney General Paxton, who has deemed granting minors access to transition care, including but not limited to puberty blockers, hormone therapy, or gender-affirming surgery child abuse under state law. Abott’s directive goes so far as to threaten criminal penalties for both licensed professionals and the general public if they fail to report any such care, God forbid a minor has an accepting family that actually takes the effort to care and invest in their transition.
This Wednesday, District Judge Meachum has ordered a temporary halt to the first investigation after the order was issued by the Department of Family and Protective Services, as the parents in question are currently suing over not only the order but also Governor Abbott’s order. Judge Meachum argued that the family has to “face the imminent and ongoing deprivation of their constitutional rights, the potential loss of necessary medical care, and the stigma attached to being the subject of an unfounded child abuse investigation”. The ACLU, who is suing Texas on behalf of the teenager, has summarized it best when stating “Families should not have to fear being separated because they are providing the best possible health care for their children”. Abott and Paxton have not responded to requests to comment so far, but Judge Meachum has established herself as the silver lining of this blatant act of transphobia and gives hope to all those families that could be targeted.
As if it didn’t already feel like we are living in a doomsday scenario, the Netherlands witnessed hundreds of starling birds literally drop dead from the sky on the A2 highway on Thursday. Even though it has not been confirmed whether this incident is directly related to a recent outbreak of a highly contagious strand of the bird flu near Wageningen, I can’t imagine that falling dead from the sky is a symptom of health. Over 47.000 chickens have been culled there, just a day after 37.000 chickens had already been culled for the same infection further up north. These are following the mass killing of 220.000 chickens in Noord-Brabant and Noord-Holland also due to bird flu in late January of this year. At least for those of us that went to Sunday School and had Religion classes, the studying of the Bible and its divine threats are finally paying off because we get to experience the Plagues of Egypt in Exodus - in particular: pestilence of livestock - first hand, what a time to be alive!
This week truly felt like the sky is falling. The world appears to be falling apart at the seams as we are greeted with a constant overflow of negative news and uncertainty, where our yearning for a free, safe, and just future for all seems as naive as a child believing in unicorns. We might feel helpless and so insignificant in the grand scheme of current politics and crises, to the point of just accepting our fate. But now, more than ever, we need to show up and actively participate in the political decision-making process. We must take every opportunity available to us from attending protests and donating to issues we care about, it is our civic duty to get as involved as we can.
European Union citizens in Maastricht and those who live here for at least five years are called upon to fulfill their most important civic duty: to vote!
To be able to vote is not only a privilege but a quintessential pillar of a functioning democracy. Our governments can only be as good as we allow them to be, so get out there, get informed, and cast your vote for those candidates that best represent what you wish to see. To be fully informed on the upcoming municipal elections from 14th to 16th March, UNSA Maastricht has organized a panel discussion on Tuesday, March 8th - click here for more information and to sign up.