Are you a government experiencing some difficulties in capturing state institutions? Are you part of an elite threatened by some uppity newcomers in the halls of power? Do you wish for a possibility to make full use of your surveillance capabilities? Or are you simply inconvenienced by the existence of some subjects resisting your god-given authority? Wait no longer, because here it is – the ultimate guide on how to advance your political ambitions during a pandemic!
As recent events have illustrated, there exist certain windows of opportunity which, if you are careful and wise, enable you to solve some issues and advance your goals. Even within Europe, dominated by the pesky EU known for taking a “brave” stand against anything they deem “authoritarian” or “running counter to human rights,” no one will ultimately stand in your way toward success.
Natural disasters are useful in this manner. A good natural disaster mobilizes your subjects behind the state: herd instinct kicks in and the rhetoric of solidarity and individual responsibility takes precedence over less comfortable political debates. A decent earthquake, a little tsunami or, even better, the outbreak of a pandemic can give you the maneuvering space you need.
[Note: your disaster does not necessarily have to be of a natural origin – a small war, riots or an influx of refugees can also be excellent opportunities to achieve your aims, but those can be more tricky to deal with.]
Why is a pandemic the ideal tool, you might ask?
First, a pandemic is typically brought in from outside your borders, and lets you blame foreign elements for the tough times you are going through. You are absolved of responsibility for any possible failures, and, ultimately, “China” or “Wuhan” virus clearly has a better ring to it than “COVID-19.”
Second, it permits you to push those isolationist policies you never got the opportunity to put in place – always wanted to close your borders and declare a state of “everyone for themselves”? Now’s your chance!
Third, the nature of disease lets you place responsibility on individuals and police them in ways you couldn’t before. You can now impose curfews, track citizens and crack down on them for bothersome speech, all the while criticism will be muted due to circumstances.
Now, many of those moves can serve double purposes. While they might be useful to limit the spread of disease, you can and should use them for whatever other aims you like. So test out new technologies, instigate some political theater or impose your rule like never before – no one is going to stop you.
[Tip: during pandemic times, you can ban any protests due to infection risks.]
A pandemic lets you practice your dancing skills
Let’s have a look at some of the creative ways in which some established and rising artists have grabbed their opportunity and achieved real, tangible change.
Viktor Orbán has spent the last decade leading by example, dismantling the independent press and attacking NGO’s while shifting the blame upon refugees and the EU. Now, he has shown ingenuity in using the COVID-19 crisis to push through legislation enabling him to rule by decree, indefinitely.
The new law also punished – with fines and up to five years in prison – the dissemination of information regarding the pandemic or the governmental response thereto, which could obstruct government efforts (such as the social media post of an opposition member who shared the true information that non-virus patients were being cleared out of hospitals to make space).
This is a fine example of how you can use the situation to further take control over media and journalists in your country, and impose self-censorship even on citizens who otherwise risk being detained and having their house searched, and the entire event filmed and uploaded on YouTube (now deleted). A number of people have been questioned and detained under these measures, which conveniently dissuades people from open criticism of the government.
Some other inspirational tactics used: under the guise of building a COVID-19 stimulus package, funds from the budget of all political parties were redirected, crippling the opposition economically; a wealthy Fidesz backer buying up controlling shares of the largest remaining independent media outlet which was financially hit by COVID; passing a bill defining gender as birth sex and making the legal change of gender impossible.
The latter was done with style, the bill being submitted on March 31, the Transgender Day of Visibility!
In his most noteworthy move, however, Orbán humiliated the press and opposition by initially letting them loudly object to this “powergrab” and declare this to be the stepping stone to dictatorship, then proudly announcing that he would himself relinquish these powers by June 20th. This act clearly presented him as the benevolent ruler he is, unjustly targeted by the Soros-funded globohomo league.
However, this obscures a brilliant tactic Orbán himself has described as “the dance of the peacock”: he does something wildly provocative which outrages the liberal establishment, then theatrically walks it back to quell criticism while in reality retaining the particular newfound powers he was actually aiming for.
This is indeed the exact strategy used in this case: the two bills in parliament that aim to terminate the current rule-by-decree are presented as proof that the hysteria surrounding a rising authoritarianism is utterly unfounded.
In actuality, however, they provide the government with new powers to “order any measures it deems necessary” if measures specified by parliament are “inadequate,” as well as restrict the exercise of essential fundamental rights in any state of medical emergency. Most importantly, the introduction and the termination of these measures would be entirely up to the discretion of the government.
[Take-away: success is all about combining tried-and-tested tactics with the perfect timing.]
A pandemic is the time to bring out new toys and change the norms
What better time to play around with some things that were not acceptable to use under previous conditions? Given a legitimate reason (such as public health), your critics will find it much more difficult to accuse you of “violating peoples’ rights” and such liberal nonsense. Additionally, people get used to a new reality very quickly, and you will have free reign to use your new toys in a future, less dramatic situation.
Throughout the continent, this is the first time governments have had the chance to track people’s movements through their mobile phones without a court order – oftentimes illegally, but to very few protests. In Serbia, the prime minister openly admitted to tracking the exact whereabouts of foreign nationals. In Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, the uncensored identities of quarantined individuals, or of individuals breaching quarantine, were published on official platforms for everyone to access.
Drones have finally become part of everyday life in many parts of Europe, and are used to identify and track individuals who defy social distancing, lockdown or curfews. This addition to urban wildlife has come to stay.
Facial recognition systems were already discreetly used all over the continent, but the field is experiencing a COVID-boom. In Moscow, facial recognition technology was activated all over the city, justified as a measure to combat the spread of the virus. Since there was no serious opposition to the measure and it was blessed by the courts, authorities then seized the chance and pushed the limits even further, rolling out the aptly named “Orwell” facial recognition system across 43,000 Russian schools.
[Take-away: use this opportunity to get people used to new measures and change norms. Once the new reality is normal, you are less likely to face opposition when using your tools after the crisis.]
A pandemic is the time for some spring cleaning!
The “problem people” that keep trying to get into your country are helped out by the “problem people” who are trying to co-opt their own communities with their treasonous ideology. The nerve!
But no fear – Greece leads the way by example. Few people truly care about international obligations during a time of crisis, so you can simply temporarily halt asylum proceedings and let the people fester under restrictive conditions in cramped detention camps, or deport them. For new arrivals, simply beat them back.
The fact that 40,000 people are already crammed into spaces designed for only 6,000, with no soap and one tap of water for 1,300 people, will simply reinforce your position that they represent a threat when disease inevitably starts spreading.
This strategy is clearly efficient, as migration to Greece has dropped by 90% during the past three months, despite asylum applications having reopened. Additionally, this is the best time to crack down on the anarchist squatters who are housing and protecting migrants.
Use social distancing measures to scrub the red and black stains from your squares and neighborhoods. And you’d rather have migrants living in tents in the mud than in abandoned homes supported by a community and with access to education and work – lest they get “integrated” and threaten to stay.
[Take-away: often the most effective strategy is simply violence.]
Remember: there is nothing like a good natural disaster to boost an autocrat’s polls.
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