Krastev and Carothers: Effective leadership and solidarity crucial in dealing with the pandemic

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BELGRADE – Solidarity is the only way to be effective in handling a global crisis, argues Ivan Krastev, the chairman of the Centre for Liberal Strategies in Bulgaria and a permanent fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences (IWM) in Vienna.

Rather than the type of political system, handling large crises heavily depends on the effectiveness of leadership, said Thomas Carothers, senior vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, United States of America.

During the second day of the 2020 Belgrade Security Forum, Ivan Krastev and Thomas Carothers participated in a discussion entitled “Saving democracy: Cooperation and solidarity in the aftermath of the pandemic”.

Krastev talked about the crisis of democracy and said that it was the global spread of democracy that created new problems. He added that we should not be talking about “saving” democracy, because democracy changes constantly, due to many factors.

“In my view, what really should be saved are certain values, freedom itself. It is not only about institutions, because institutions have been changing. One of the strengths of democracy is that it is a self-correcting type of political regimes”, Krastev explained.

Carothers said that it is not easy to say whether democracies or autocracies do better in handling crisis, and that, rather than the type of political regime, it heavily depends on several factors.

“What you really need to handle the pandemic effectively are four things: responsible leadership, good state capacity to formulate policies and implement them, social cohesion, and ideally, previous experience with health emergencies”, Carothers emphasized.

According to Krastev, looking at China and the US during the pandemic cannot show how an authoritarian or a democratic country respond to a crisis, and that the poor performance of the US in this context does not mean that democracies are inherently less capable of handling a crisis.

“In order to effectively respond to the crisis, certain democracies can use policy that normally you would not associate with them. In my view, this flexibility is a sign of the strength of the democratic regimes, and not their weakness”, said Krastev.

Carothers talked about the impact of the pandemic in creating deeper social and economic divisions, as well as about international solidarity and cooperation.

“This is the first crisis of this type that has hit the rich countries more than the poor countries. The result of that has been the lack of generosity, because the people who usually help out a lot, have not done very well”, said Carothers.

Krastev added that the cooperation in Europe that emerged in the summer after the first wave of the pandemic was not the result of the EU doing particularly well in the initial phase of the pandemic, but that people simply understood that solidarity is the only way to be effective in handling the global crisis.

“The idea of sovereignty does not make sense if the world is going hostile. If you are a small country and you are going through a pandemic or an economic crisis like this, you should cooperate”, Krastev said.