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'Freedom Day' is a slap in the face of history

Martin Muno
Martin Muno
March 19, 2022

Germany is set to lift a number of restrictions put in place to combat COVID-19. Some are even talking of "Freedom Day." But for DW's Martin Muno, this label is cynical and stupid.

Clubbers celebrating after coronavirus regulations were lifted in the UK
'Freedom Day' is a foolish misnomer when used to describe the lifting of COVID restrictions, says Martin MunoImage: Joel Goodman/ZUMAPRESS/picture alliance

It seems apt that it was Boris Johnson was one of the first to champion the phrase "Freedom Day" in conjunction with the pandemic. The British prime minister, who has an incurable penchant for populist statements of this ilk, promised last summer to lift most of the restrictions that had been put in place to combat COVID-19. Soon afterward, however, he himself was in quarantine at home and later had to backtrack on the removal of the measures.

Since then, a number of countries have celebrated "Freedom Day" with more or less pathos, but almost always with plenty of alcohol. This Sunday, Germany too, is due to lift the restrictions that had been imposed nationwide — despite COVID-19 infection rates hitting new records daily. In view of the situation, most federal states have decided to impose certain restrictions of their own, provoking the ire of COVID-19 deniers and the right-wing populist AfD, as well as certain sectors of the more mainstream parties. On social media platforms, users are clamoring loudly for a "Freedom Day" in Germany, too.

Martin Muno
DW's Martin Muno

Leading politicians of the governing coalition have criticized the use of the term. Chancellor Olaf Scholz has said that it is "not appropriate given the gravity of the situation." To me, this seems a rather restrained way of expressing it. I will put it more clearly: To use the term in conjunction with the lifting of pandemic-related restrictions is, from a historical point of view, cynical and morally wrong 

Abolishment of slavery and apartheid

The term originated in the US, where on February 1, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln signed the constitutional amendment abolishing slavery in the country. The date was officially recognized as National Freedom Day in the 1940s. South Africa also has a Freedom Day, which is celebrated on April 27 to commemorate the day of the first post-apartheid elections in 1994. 

Anybody who makes a direct link between the end of slavery and apartheid and the lifting of restrictions to protect the health and lives of people during a two-year pandemic trivializes the racist oppression of Black people. This, too, is a form of racism!

Even disregarding this historical context, the term is nonsensical — at least in democratic states. After all, these restrictions were put in place as part of a democratic decision-making process. Furthermore, the large majority of the population has gone along with the measures gladly. Painful as they are, it is clear that they were imposed to protect us and others. Freedom is more than the freedom to not wear a mask. In certain situations, it can mean understanding that it makes sense to wear one. This is known as maturity.

I act in such a way that other people (and I myself) are protected from infection, illness, suffering, long COVID or even death. Anti-vaxxers and those who refuse to wear masks do not return this favor, in the same way as people who indulge in illegal car racing in cities. They want to have their fun and could not care less if others are endangered as a result. One could also go further and say that some people have the freedom to order others to march into a neighboring country.

To paraphrase the German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, there can only be true freedom when it is linked to reason — otherwise it is sheer capriciousness. Some 200 years ago or so, he described the idea that freedom consisted of being able to do what one wanted as being "a complete lack of education." Today, one could simply say it is stupid.

This article was translated from German.

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Martin Muno
Martin Muno Digital immigrant, interested in questions of populism and political power