Historian Andreas Wirsching sees the coronavirus pandemic as the potential end of an era. “There is much to suggest that 2020 will go down in history as an epochal caesura”.
“While we don”t know that for sure now, some things are discernible, especially with regard to globalization,” the director of the Institute of Contemporary History Munich-Berlin told the Deutsche Presse-Agentur.
Wirsching, who holds the Chair of Modern History at the University of Munich, believes that the era of internationalization and globalization of the past 50 years will be subject to major changes, "if not ended".
"International mobility – an important feature of globalism – has been reduced to almost zero for half a year, which is simply breathtaking," said Wirsching (61). "The international division of labor, which has been a driving force behind globalization, is also being put to the test. The pandemic has revealed Europe"s and the West"s dependence on products manufactured in Asia, such as masks or even medicines. This, too, will not be without consequences."
The importance of nation states, which some already considered to be in sharp decline in the age of globalization, has increased again, he said. "The nation-state and its subordinate authorities and institutions, such as the states and municipalities in our country, were the only political-administrative actors capable of acting in the pandemic crisis – up to and including the closure of borders."In contrast, none of the international or supranational bodies, such as the WHO or the EU, have been able to take effective action. The era of globalization, with its worldwide liquefaction of borders and the increasingly free movement of finances, goods and also people, has been greatly slowed down, he said.
According to Wirsching, the Corona pandemic is "hardly comparable to earlier caesuras". During the last two major influenza pandemics in 1957 and 1968 to 70, he said, measures taken were nowhere near as serious. "In this respect, it is true to say that today we are facing the greatest challenge since World War II. However, it should not be forgotten that the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of communism changed the living conditions for millions of people in Europe at a stroke. But this was a political datum and of a very different flavor."
Wirsching believes "that the demoscopically tangible mood is better than the situation.". The economic consequences of the pandemic "will be severe". There is a risk of a prolonged slump in demand with many bankruptcies, he said. He fears "despite all superficial unity, there are still bitter political bills to pay". "Borders are becoming more significant again, and we can only hope that freedom of movement within Europe, for example – one of the EU"s great achievements – will not be permanently damaged."
However, the historian does not believe that the pandemic will change people fundamentally. "I consider the idea that the pandemic crisis may also have "good things" and harbor new "opportunities" to be short-sighted and also cynical towards those who have to fear for their existence or health." The pandemic will rather be a catalyst of existing tendencies. "This can affect positive developments such as climate protection, technological innovations or even a more critical approach to mass tourism." But it can also promote social inequality and nationalism, he said.
The Institute for Contemporary History (IfZ), founded in 1949, is a non-university institution that studies German history of the 20th century. He has researched the music of the twentieth century up to the present day in its European and global references. As the first institute, it was once 70 years ago to scientifically open up the National Socialist dictatorship.