20 Commentaries on the Pandemic of 2020
During the lockdown and the weeks that followed, Chris Hann and his colleagues examined the coronavirus pandemic and its repercussions in a series of blog posts. The 20 texts, written by members of the REALEURASIA project and colleagues around the world, provide an anthropological perspective on the responses of countries across Eurasia, illuminating the political and historical contexts of the current situation.
In late March, when virtually all European countries were in lockdown (some much later than others), I was struck by the way in which the Coronavirus pandemic was being represented in Hungarian state television. Night after night, coverage highlighted the solidarity that Hungarian society was receiving from the east (mainly China, but also the Turkic-speaking world), rather than from its neighbours in the European Union or the EU collectively. Budapest’s recourse to Beijing rather than Brussels for urgent medical supplies was, of course, shaped by long-running frictions between “old EU” and the Visegrád states. China, where the pandemic began, had an interest in restoring its good name and consolidating its long-term diplomatic strategies across the landmass. In short, the topic lent itself well to the REALEURASIA blog, where I posted a short commentary on 30 March.
In the weeks and months that followed, members of the REALEURASIA team together with colleagues inside and outside the Halle institute contributed a lively series of blogposts (20 in all) to illuminate multiple facets of Covid-19 across the landmass. Topics ranged from contemporary geopolitical relations (Frank Pieke) to the history of medical anthropology (Samuel Williams), from Swedish exceptionalism (discussed by our External Scientific Member Thomas Hylland Eriksen) to the fine record of Vietnam in combatting the health challenges (Kirsten Endres). The dominant tone was depressing: from Germany and Britain to Turkey and India, the pandemic was shown to be exposing capitalist fault lines, widening social inequalities, increasing exclusion and authoritarian illiberalism. While it is commonly recognized in the West that the most familiar tech giants have been massive winners in economic terms, Biao Xiang (my designated successor, who joined the institute part-time just as the crisis erupted) showed in his post in mid-July that this is also the case in China, where new forms of mobility are shaking up previous forms of economic organization, with potentially far-reaching political implications.
The intention behind this series has been to show how the ethnographic and theoretical insights of social anthropologists (and of anthropologically-oriented sociologists such as Roger Jeffery and Mark Harvey) can contribute to public awareness and debate. Although the REALEURASIA project has now been completed and a final report submitted to the European Research Council, the blog will continue to function in this way until the end of 2020.