This social stigmatization of opponents works.
Opponents of vaccine mandates are muted with the label of “anti-vaxxers”, which in our post-Soviet society is seen as a person who is irrationally fatalistic, mystical, illiterate, selfish, anti-modern, and anti-science.
That’s driven away most mainstream people who might oppose the restrictions on principle. And that leaves as opponents mainly rabble-rousers and kooks that mainstream people don’t want to be associated with. Which makes mainstream opponents even more queasy to join. Which leaves even crazier people as the sole opposition. And so on, in a vicious spiral to the bottom.
Given the political situation in our country, the result is that many of the loudest voices against the Covid Pass – the ones who dare to speak publicly – are people who explicitly conflate opposition to vaccine mandates with anti-LGBT views. So the few protests which have occurred against the Covid Pass have devolved into a battle over gay rights. Which – again – drives away mainstream people who would otherwise join in opposition to the Covid Pass.
As an example of the absurdity of the situation, the only major politician against most Covid restrictions, the founder of the opposition party Labor (pictured), is such a nut that he and his children started selling mineral water that he claims gives you immunity against the virus.
The government and media seize on this to characterize all opposition to Covid restrictions as loonybin cases like him. Or crazed far-right anti-LGBT activists. Or anti-Semites. Etc. And that successfully stigmatizes opposition even further so mainstream people think there is no basis for principled opposition to vaccine mandates.
The result is a wedge that has cleaved society in two: the Good and the Bad. Covid policy in our country has become a signal that you’re Good and do not belong to the inferior group of mystical, crazed people.
1980S: Fight for Freedom. 2021: Apathy.
There is not much protest in our country against the vaccine mandates. In France and Holland, there have been large demonstrations by diverse groups. Not enough to stop the restrictions, but at least something.
But in our country, protests have been small, dominated by anti-LGBT activists, and limited in many ways by government restrictions and police.
We’re not unusual among the European countries in the apathy and lack of protest of the broad population. In the last 18 months, it’s been rare in most of Europe to see massive, broad-based opposition to Covid measures.
That’s surprised me very much. It’s staggering to me that large numbers of people, in my country and throughout Europe, don’t seem to care much about individual rights and liberty.
The contrast with recent history is stark. In my country, we were occupied for decades by the Soviet Union. We fought for – and won – a revolution of independence 30 years ago. Hundreds of thousands of people took real risks to oppose the oppressive communist regime. In the most famous incident, in August 1989, 30% of the entire population of the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia joined hands to form a human chain of 675 kilometres in support of freedom and independence from the authoritarian Soviet occupation.
But now, three decades later, our current population is apathetic about losing freedoms which the previous generation fought for.
Covid restrictions are introducing a more authoritarian form of government in Europe. The Prime Minister of our fellow Baltic state of Estonia explicitly warned of the danger in June this year: “What we have seen in this Covid crisis, this urge for a strong hand or an authoritarian way of governing, is deep in our societies, even in some countries you would never believe.” Mexico’s president has similarly warned many times this year about Europe’s increasing Covid authoritarianism.
Yet few people in my country take a stand in opposition.
We battled against the government-led propaganda and “Show me your documents!” authoritarianism of the USSR, only to now acquiesce meekly to a new regime of media-led propaganda and technocratic, fear-driven health authoritarianism of “Show me your Covid QR Code!“.
Opposition to the Covid Pass isn’t treated here as a political or philosophical view which people can disagree about. Instead, it’s considered to be an opinion so dangerous that it must be banned.
It’s sad to me that we’ve reached that situation here in Lithuania, of all places. Under the Soviet occupation from 1944 to 1990, political dissent was suppressed, the news was censored, and neighbours spied on neighbours (the image below shows a 1972 protest against Soviet repression and censorship).
Yet now, we’ve returned to a regime of censorship. It’s encouraged by the government, but – at least so far – it’s not directly enforced by them. Instead, the main force is a social movement that oppresses dissent so much that people censor themselves.
The combined effects of the social environment, media, and groupthink are powerful. In the spring of last year, it made adults terrified of getting Covid. In the winter of last year, it whipped many people into being deeply scared for their children to get Covid.
But 18 months into this crisis, people now are more afraid of the social stigma than of the virus itself. Outright bans are often unnecessary because most normal, not-wacky people who oppose the policies censor themselves.
Othering: Public Shaming and Death Wishes
Many people go even further, delivering effusive praise for the Covid Pass regime and hatred of anyone opposed.
On Facebook, many Lithuanians I see have posted a sticker on their profile – “Educated. Vaccinated.” – together with long posts raging: “we would be finished with this pandemic if only the stupid anti-vaxxers would either get vaccinated or die!“.
There’s no opposition to these messages. Most people just push ‘like‘ and cheer on the death wishes. Anyone opposed presumably says nothing out of fear of the mob. That’s certainly what I do.
At my work, we had to indicate whether we have the Opportunity Pass. The next day, a list was posted publicly of everyone’s Pass status. Turns out I’m the only one in my area who doesn’t have the Pass. The only reason to post that list was to shame me.
The public shaming worked. Most colleagues avoided me afterwards.
But one colleague pulled me aside. Whispering in my ear (literally), she told me that she thinks the Opportunity Pass is a crazy violation of human rights and despises the fact that she was forced to vaccinate against her will, particularly because she plans to have another child soon. But she feels that she doesn’t dare oppose it, because she already has one child, is scared for her job, and needs to shop and otherwise continue life.
I was suspended from work a few days later.
We’ve re-entered into a world where you have to whisper to talk about your opposition to government policies. Where you have to scan your documents to eat in a restaurant. Where you’re suspended from work without pay for non-compliance. And where fear compels you to undergo medical treatments you don’t want.
To be continued…