The "fight" for freedom during the Covid-19 pandemic
The dissatisfaction of the people with the socio-political system led to demonstrations on November 17, 1939 and 1989, which, in addition to many casualties, also brought fundamental changes in society. Thanks to these events, we have free elections in Slovakia, guaranteed human rights and freedoms, and a democratic system.
On this day, people often return to the memories of socialism, and those later born know about life in it only from the stories of their parents, grandparents or teachers. The positive perception of socialism by the people of Slovakia is confirmed by a survey conducted by the Conservative Institute of M. R. Štefánik (Kuhn et al., 2020). The authors explain it by sentimental optimism i.e. a tendency to remember the good and the bad to forget, subjection to the socialism myths, but also a lack of historical memory. The preference for apparent security instead of freedom and responsibility can jeopardize today's society.
In connection with the Covid-19 pandemic, it is important on this day to think not only about how we lived under socialism and what we fought for during the Velvet Revolution, but especially about how we treat the freedom and responsibility we have gained.
Especially in this period we observe the polarization of society in terms of the freedoms, rights and obligations that the pandemic has brought. As me and my co-authors state in the monograph Elite vs. People: What we know about populism (pp. 41-42):
The Covid-19 pandemic brought, in addition to the spread of the virus, the spread of many conspiracy theories or disinformation, e.g. "Covid-19 is no more dangerous than the flu”, or that "it is spread by 5G radio waves" (Ahmed et al., 2020). In another survey, respondents agreed that "the true statistics on people infected with coronavirus are hidden from the public", "the coronavirus does not come from animals and was created by scientists in a laboratory" or that "the coronavirus was spread to the world to destroy some of the world's economies" (Tonkovic et al., 2021). In a U.S. survey, as many as 30 % of respondents believed that "the threat of coronavirus Covid-19 was exaggerated to harm President Donald Trump" (Uscinski et al., 2020).
Such disinformation is no exception in Slovakia. According to a survey conducted by the FOCUS agency, up to 39% of II. level primary school teachers think that "wearing a mask has negative health consequences" and 31 % believe that "coronavirus vaccination is a preparation for human chipping" (Strana Spolu, 2020). According to the SAS survey, 20 % of respondents believe that "the Covid-19 epidemic could have been stopped right from the start, only large companies have made a business out of it" and 23.7 % of people believe that "SARS-CoV-2 is a biological weapon designed to eliminate the overpopulated human population” (Čavojová et al., 2020). 40.6 % of respondents of the How Are You, Slovakia survey (SAS: Aktuality, 2020) also believed that "the virus was created artificially and was spread among people on purpose".
According to research results, people believe in disinformation due to a lack of trust in science and scientists, a feeling of political helplessness, a tendency to deny scientific information, a tendency to perceive social and political events as products of conspiracies (Tonković et al., 2021), weaker analytical thinking (Ståhl & van Prooijen, 2018) and poorer media literacy (Struhárik, 2021). It can be added pessimistically that:
Correcting disinformation and conspiracy beliefs is probably very difficult for some sections of the public. Conspirators and "deniers" are simply unlikely to change their attitudes based on the correct information from experts. This connection is a potential reason why strategies to correct these beliefs are largely unsuccessful” (Carey et al., 2020; Uscinski et al., 2020 cited in Piterová et al., 2021, p. 41).
It is more difficult to disprove this disinformation because it is spread also by the politicians. For example, Marian Kotleba spread hoaxes about chipping and the origin of the virus (Sipos, 2020). Štefan Harabin urged people not to wear masks and thus to violate pandemic measures (Kuzmány, 2021).
In connection with the Covid-19 pandemic and government regulations, some people say that their rights and freedoms are restricted. They are boycotting the wearing of masks, the compliance with the measures and regulations of hygienists and the Government of the Slovak Republic, spreading vaccination conspiracies and fighting their apparent "enemies".
It is important to realize where the boundaries of freedom begin and end, and what the responsibility not only for one's own life, but also for the lives of other people means. The freedom that students, mothers, fathers and grandparents fight out during the Velvet Revolution should not be confused with the absence of duties and unrestricted rights. The fight for freedom in a time of pandemic can be won by responsibility, tolerance and consideration.
Increasing public trust in scientists, experts and, last but not least, politicians is proving necessary in the current situation. Hand in hand with the fight against conspiracies, hoaxes and also the spread of populism.
Ivana Piterová, Institute of Social Sciences, Centre of Social and Psychological Sciences
Photo: Institute of Social Sciences, Centre of Social and Psychological Sciences
Čavojová, V., Šrol, J., & Ballová Mikušková, E. (2020). How scientific reasoning correlates with health- related beliefs and behaviors during the COVID-19 pandemic? Journal of Health Psychology. https://doi.org/10.1177/1359105320962266
Piterová, I., Kováčová Holevová, B., & Loziak, A. (2021). Elita vs. Ľudia: Čo vieme o populizme. Košice: Spoločenskovedný ústav CSPV SAV
Kuhn, I., Potočár, R., Zajac, P., & Gonda, P. (2020). Mýty optikou aktuálnych prieskumov. In P. Gonda & Zajac (Eds.), Socializmus: Realita namiesto mýtov. Konzervatívny inštitút M.R. Štefánika.
Kuzmány, A. (2021, 10. október). Rúška si dajte dole, vyzýval. Harabinovi zrušili obvinenie. SME https://domov.sme.sk/c/22759719/stefan-harabin-zrusenie-obvinenia-ruska.html
SAV: Aktuality (2020, 30. apríl). Ako sa máte, Slovensko? Zdravotníctvu veríme, o očkovaní nie sme presvedčení. https://www.sav.sk/index.php?lang=sk&doc=services-news&source_no=20&news_no=8837
Sipos, A. (2020, 17. apríl). Marian Kotleba šíri o koronavíruse hoaxy: Všetko máme dopredu napísané, cez vakcínu a čip vás budú kontrolovať. Dostupné na internete: https://www.startitup.sk/marian-kotleba-siri-o-koronaviruse-hoaxy-vsetko-mame-dopredu-napisane-cez-vakcinu-a-cip-vas-budu-kontrolovat/
Ståhl, T., & van Prooijen, J.-W. (2018). Epistemic rationality: Skepticism toward unfounded beliefs requires sufficient cognitive ability and motivation to be rational. Personality and Individual Differences, 122, 155–163. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2017.10.026
Strana SPOLU (2020, 19. október). Exluzívny prieskum medzi učiteľmi: Nedôverujú vláde a mnohí si myslia, že sa chystá čipovať ľudí. Dostupné na internete: https://stranaspolu.sk/exkluzivny-prieskum-medzi-ucitelmi-nedoveruju-vlade-a-mnohi-si-myslia-ze-sa-chysta-cipovat-ludi/
Struhárik, F. (2021, 30. september). Čitatelia dezinformačných webov majú horšiu mediálnu gramotnosť, ukázali výsledky testu na 35-tisíc ľuďoch. DenníkN. Dostupné na internete: https://dennikn.sk/2556875/citatelia-dezinformacnych-webov-maju-horsiu-medialnu-gramotnost-ukazali-vysledky-testu-na-35-tisic-ludoch/?ref=mwat
Ahmed, W., Vidal-Alaball, J., Downing, J., & López Seguí, F. (2020). COVID-19 and the 5G Conspiracy Theory: Social Network Analysis of Twitter Data. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 22(5), e19458. https://doi.org/10.2196/19458
Carey, J. M., Chi, V., Flynn, D. J., Nyhan, B., & Zeitzoff, T. (2020). The effects of corrective information about disease epidemics and outbreaks: Evidence from Zika and yellow fever in Brazil. Science Advances, 6(5), eaaw7449. https://doi.org/10.1126/sciadv.aaw7449
Tonković, M., Dumančić, F., Jelić, M., & Čorkalo Biruški, D. (2021). Who Believes in COVID-19 Conspiracy Theories in Croatia? Prevalence and Predictors of Conspiracy Beliefs. Frontiers In Psychology, 12. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.643568
Uscinski, J. E., Enders, A. M., Klofstad, C. A., Seelig, M. I., Funchion, J. R., Everett, C., Wuchty, S., Premaratne, K., & Murthi, M. N. (2020). Why do people believe COVID-19 conspiracy theories? Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) Misinformation Review. https://doi.org/10.37016/mr-2020-015