2020
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Monitor Daily Podcast

May 11, 2020
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TODAY’S INTRO

Amid pandemic, people keep finding new ways to cheer up others

Today, we look at a Chinese disinformation campaign in Europe, a contact-tracing app in India, grandmothers taking on Poland’s right-wing government, a grocery worker’s account of life in the aisles, and inspiring global points of progress. First, a nod to other uplifting activities we’ve seen in recent days. 

You can’t help but be inspired by the many ways people express their determination to sustain their fellow beings in trying times.

Some offer succor with food, like Sikh members of the Guru Nanak Darbar gurdwara in the U.K. who make 850-plus meals daily for National Health Service workers.

Others deploy color. Friends who recently took ownership of a tulip farm in their Washington hometown were undaunted as the pandemic upended local Mother’s Day sales and a tulip festival. They brought the beauty to their fans instead, shipping blossoms and live-streaming the vibrant tulip fields at sunset.

There’s humor: Last week, a Belgian mother and daughter wanted a McDonald’s meal – but lacked a car for the drive-thru-only. So they built a cardboard version. Fellow motorists, including police, cheered as they “drove” through. “It’s nice if we have done something to make people laugh,” said mom. “We need that.”

And there are love notes. Mothers in a Vancouver, British Columbia, nursing home got those Sunday from offspring who paraded outside with flowers, balloons, and a bagpiper. On V-E Day in Dumfries, Scotland, Edna Wells got a video call from actor Joanna Lumley to ask about her World War II work in the Women’s Royal Naval Service. Ms. Lumley asked her to walk outside. There Ms. Wells found Capt. Chris Smith, with drummer and piper and cheering neighbors, ready to award the medal she had never collected. Her voice wavered as she saluted and said, “Thank you for making this the best day of my life.”

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Wary Europe welcomes China’s help – but not its disinformation

Disinformation campaigns are a growing concern in the West. While Russia has sometimes been made out as a major source of such activity, evidence suggests that China is actually the more active threat.

Amelia
Mauro Scrobogna/LaPresse/AP
People clap their hands as the Italian, top, and European Union flags hang from windows, in Rome, March 14, 2020. A video purported to show a similar scene of Italians cheering from their balconies for China, in gratitude for the country's aid in the pandemic. But it was a fake.

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The Chinese government has been waging a disinformation campaign within the European Union amid the coronavirus pandemic – and it has not been very convincing. But despite the poor production values and facile messaging, the campaign has spurred European Union officials to warn member states to be on alert.

In particular, they say, the campaign could force member states dependent on Chinese economic ties to weigh the costs and benefits of calling out Beijing’s misbehavior as the financial damage of the coronavirus lockdown compounds.

Perhaps no case exemplifies this more than the Chinese Embassy in Paris publishing an article leveling false charges that French nursing-home workers had abandoned their posts amid the pandemic, “leaving their residents to die of starvation and illness.” The article was retweeted by apparent bot accounts.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian last month summoned China’s ambassador to complain about the disinformation effort. But he also emphasized good bilateral relations between France and China overall.

Beijing “goes through every bilateral channel it can adopt” to divide and conquer, says François Godement of the Institut Montaigne in Paris, since China’s goal of strengthening its economic partnerships is often best accomplished by fighting EU cohesion.

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1. Wary Europe welcomes China’s help – but not its disinformation

In the video, strains of China’s national anthem swell as Italians under coronavirus quarantine offer raucous, emotional bravos from their balconies. They’re chanting “Grazie, China!” the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman wrote as he tweeted out the clip.

But the production was a ham-fisted fake, analysts say: the Italians were cheering local health care workers, not saying “Thanks, China.”

The video is part of a growing disinformation campaign within the European Union that, in contrast to allegations against the Kremlin, can be easily linked to the Chinese government.

Although the production values are questionable and the claims are handily disproven, the disinformation push has spurred European Union officials to warn member states to be on alert. In particular, they say, the campaign could force member states dependent on Chinese economic ties to weigh the costs and benefits of calling out Beijing’s misbehavior as the financial damage of the coronavirus lockdown compounds. NATO for its part says the problem “is high on our agenda,” and warns that it is an effort to “sow division and undermine our democracies.”

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

Yet China’s disinformation campaign offers opportunities, too. Because some of the fabrications have been “so extreme, so offensive, and so obvious,” the matter is now firmly on the European radar as a problem. The EU for the first time has begun “to identify and expose this kind of manipulation,” even if the bloc’s response to Beijing is currently tempered by financial considerations, says Antoine Bondaz, research fellow at the Foundation for Strategic Research in Paris.

“Conspiracy narratives and disinformation” 

Perhaps no case exemplifies this more than the Chinese Embassy in Paris publishing an article on its website leveling false charges – made by a Chinese diplomat – that French nursing-home workers had abandoned their posts amid the pandemic, “leaving their residents to die of starvation and illness.”

The article was amplified by dubious Twitter accounts expressing outrage at, among other things, the failure of the French government and the tragic plight of the French elderly. Most of these accounts had been created in the past couple of weeks, with “no followers at all, being re-tweeted and liked by the Chinese embassy” – sure signs of bot farms, Mr. Bondaz says.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian last month took the striking step of summoning China’s ambassador to express his displeasure with the disinformation effort. Just days later, the EU’s diplomatic service released a report charging Russia and “to a lesser extent, China” with disseminating “conspiracy narratives and disinformation.”

Taken at face value, all this seemed to put China on notice. But the pushback against China has been tempered.

Mr. Le Drian, in his response to the Chinese ambassador, emphasized good bilateral relations between France and China overall. “In the face of the virus and its consequences on our economies, there is no place for controversy,” he said.

And the published EU report on disinformation was less critical of China than earlier internal drafts, according to EU officials who voiced their concerns in news reports that the EU was engaging in “self-censorship.” While an early draft warned of a “continued and coordinated push by official Chinese sources to deflect any blame” for the coronavirus pandemic, for example, the published version noted a “continued and coordinated push by some actors, including Chinese sources, to deflect any blame” – stopping just short of linking the behavior directly to Beijing.

Still, while “maybe people would have wanted the report to hit harder, it testifies to a shift in thinking by the EU – it’s a sea change really – and also a realization that a lot of propaganda is raining down on us from authoritarian states,” says François Godement, senior advisor for Asia at the Institut Montaigne in Paris.

Managing the messaging

This is particularly important as some European nations warm to China and even sour on their bloc partners. A recent poll found 52% of Italians feel China is a friendly government and 36% want a “stronger future relationship” with it. By way of contrast, 45% of those surveyed say Germany is an “enemy country,” and 38% say the same of France. Polls found similar pro-China feelings in Spain, which has historically been one of the most pro-EU countries.

This endearment toward China stems from its aid efforts: Italy was short on face masks, and China donated 200,000 of them. And negativity toward other EU nations is the result of dissatisfaction with the bloc’s response to the pandemic, coupled in part with lingering resentments around 2008 austerity measures.

“We had face masks bought from the EU, and free masks from China,” said Lia Quartapelle, a member of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, in a briefing organized by the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab.

But that’s an incomplete picture, and underscores what the EU needs to do to counter the Chinese narrative. For example, Ms. Quartapelle noted that Germany donated even more masks to Italy, and NATO and the EU have come through with millions of euros in supplies and aid. “The fact that strategically we didn’t think about how to thank fellow EU members for help received was a problem.” In a later interview, she told the Monitor that such symbolism is important in a country “that’s confused, afraid, saddened by the crisis.”

Beijing knows this, and pushes hard for such symbols – particularly since it’s the first time China has come to European aid. Being seen as benevolent is better for business than being tagged as a producer of shoddy goods – or as the point of origin for the virus.

The problems come, analysts warn, when the lingering economic effects of the pandemic make EU member states more vulnerable to Chinese threats of both the veiled and unveiled variety. While Beijing “professes great respect” for the EU, it “goes through every bilateral channel it can adopt” in order to divide and conquer, Mr. Godement says, since China’s goal of strengthening its economic partnerships is often best accomplished by fighting EU cohesion.

EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell warned this month that up until recently, Europe has been “a little naive” in its relationship with Beijing. While China is an economic partner, it is also a ”systemic rival that seeks to promote an alternative model of governance.”

Who’s the target?

At the same time, much of the disinformation put out by China has up until recently been intended chiefly for internal consumption. The point is to please higher-ups back in Beijing, who have made it clear they want their ambassadors to push back aggressively on narratives that portray China as a coronavirus culprit – or in any negative light.

Accordingly, their credo tends to be that a good offense is the best defense. When the Chinese ambassador insulted France for letting its citizens die of hunger, “I don’t think he expected to be believed,” Mr. Godement says. Instead, he and other ambassadors want “to be able to tell their supreme leader that they just walked the extra mile for the boss.”

Yet the backlash to this aggression has curbed the goodwill that was a goal of China’s “mask diplomacy.” And so while the Chinese diplomats continue to be “very offensive” in their approach, they also appear to be learning from their mistakes, Mr. Bondaz says.

“Chinese officials are fully aware that one of their main problems is how to reconcile internal versus external propaganda,” he says. “They see now that to insult and criticize isn’t enough. In the EU, they have to convince – or at least add convincing to the criticizing and insulting part.”

To this end, the Chinese embassy recently posted a list of “16 fake news statements” that purports to identify untrue stories in the EU press. In terms of creating a more subtle disinformation campaign, “it’s actually quite well done,” Mr. Bondaz says. “They’re trying to do the ‘fact-checking’ stuff” with a mix of “good sources” and conspiracy web sites. “They’re not stupid. They’re trying to improve.”

As they do, the EU needs to take a page from the playbook of those who have long grappled with Chinese disinformation, analysts say. Taiwanese officials, for example, advise responding in less than 60 minutes to spurious charges made by China. They have also found that, “When you try to argue in an academic way, it doesn’t always work.” So Taiwan has hired comedians to push out quick-witted responses to particularly outlandish Chinese statements, which often go viral, Mr. Bondaz says. “It’s ‘humor over rumor.’”

The point, analysts add, is to call out the bad behavior. “Our friends in Asia warned us, ‘You only see the head of the bear, and not the head of the dragon,’” Mr. Bondaz says, referring to Russian and Chinese exploits. “But more and more, we see both.”

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

‘Bridge to health’? Why some question India’s contact tracing app.

‘There’s an app for that’ may sound good to help rein in COVID-19. But what if it also might be used to infer things about people’s political leanings or demographic information? 

Amelia
Manish Swarup/AP
An Indian police officer and paramilitary forces request people get inside their houses after a three-hour relaxation of restrictions to buy essential items in the old quarters of New Delhi, April 25, 2020. Officials are looking to ease restrictions, in part by using a contact tracing app.

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Many countries have toyed with using mobile phones to track the pandemic, despite concerns over privacy – including the United States, United Kingdom, Israel, and Russia. But in India, the world’s largest democracy, the stakes are especially high.

The country has 1.3 billion people, 23% of whom live below the poverty line, and is eager to allow laborers back to work. But the government’s record on digital tools has left many experts skeptical that a tracing app could be deployed without violating civil liberties, or building larger surveillance systems that could be exploited down the road.

Aarogya Setu, or Bridge to Health, is voluntary, the government maintains. Yet it is already mandatory for public- and private-sector workers, and officials have proposed requiring it for services like the Metro. 

As knowledge about the novel coronavirus grows, the focus will shift to monitoring people’s behavior so the virus doesn’t spread, says digital expert Sean McDonald. The problem will then become how to enforce policies in a way that respects human rights – especially for marginalized communities.

“This is not just a privacy-versus-public-health story anymore,” says Mr. McDonald. “Instead we’re making the turn into the field of fundamental rights.”

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2. ‘Bridge to health’? Why some question India’s contact tracing app.

After over a month of a particularly strict lockdown against COVID-19, in which even walks are banned, Indians perching on terraces and balconies for what little fresh air they can get agree on one thing: Now is time to think about what comes next.

It’s clear that here, as elsewhere, people will not return to the norms of pre-pandemic life for a long time. But as the costs of the stay-at-home order mount, the country is already deploying measures to gradually reopen as safely as possible. 

Among these is a contact tracing app, Aarogya Setu (Bridge to Health), which has been downloaded more than 50 million times in less than two weeks from its launch. According to its creators, the app will enable citizens to self-assess their risk of contracting the novel coronavirus, based in part on identifying whether they’ve come in contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19.

Many countries have toyed with using mobile phones to track the pandemic, despite concerns over privacy – including the United States, United Kingdom, Israel, and Russia. But in India, the world’s largest democracy, the stakes are especially high.

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

The country has 1.3 billion people, 23% of whom live below the poverty line, and is eager to allow laborers back to work. But the government’s record on digital tools has left many experts skeptical that a tracing app could be deployed without violating civil liberties, or building larger surveillance systems that could be exploited down the road.

For example Aadhaar, the world’s biggest biometric identification system, has been at the center of numerous controversies over the past decade, including massive data breaches. Recently, a journalist’s investigation uncovered plans to combine Aadhaar with a range of other databases to create a registry of everything from someone’s caste and disabilities to his or her family tree.

“Given the global scale of the coronavirus pandemic, governments may decide to use certain sophisticated technological responses. And given that it is an extraordinary situation, it may be difficult to question the use of these systems,” says Sidharth Deb, policy and parliamentary counsel at the nonprofit Internet Freedom Foundation in New Delhi, who recently released a working paper on COVID-19 tracing in India. 

Early on in the pandemic, he explains, observers pointed to seeming success in places like Taiwan, Singapore, South Korea, and even China, so the Indian government tried to replicate some of their solutions. “But instead of investing in testing, or health care facilities,” he says, “there’s been a greater emphasis on developing technological tools in India.”

False confidence?

Sumit Ray, a critical care specialist in a private hospital in Delhi, says he’s seen very few positive cases so far. But he doubts that Aarogya Setu will be useful in keeping the situation under control. “Contact tracing and isolation can be managed in other ways,” such as talking with patients to reconstruct their movements, he says, and the project is based on shaky premises. 

For example, Aarogya Setu can only be effective if at least half the population registers, according to its developers – in a country where only 1 in 4 own a smartphone. And given the stigma of testing positive, and leaks that have exposed patients’ identities, people are cautious. In the past few weeks, people suspected of having COVID-19 have been assaulted, and aggression toward health care workers is rampant. 

“Imagine what could happen to patients,” says Dr. Ray. With contact tracing apps, “you are turning individuals at risk into criminals.”

Given the scale and risks of the pandemic, some public health experts have encouraged contact tracing apps, despite concerns about privacy. But proximity doesn’t take into account factors such as whether people are wearing protective equipment, says Sean McDonald, a senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation in Canada. An app “drives people into seeking care that they may not need, at a time when the single most important indicator of morbidity at this point is health care system capacity.”

Citizens’ responsibility

Shriyak Jain, a young teacher living in a gated Delhi neighborhood, says he has downloaded the app, and he sees sharing personal data with the government as his duty in a time of crisis. 

“I particularly like the fact that the app contains all sorts of information related to COVID-19, including live updates, steps to take for personal protection, and it knows whether you are getting in touch with an infected person,” he says.

Most of his neighbors and family share the same view, he says.

The government maintains that the app is optional, though it has made the app mandatory for all public- and private-sector employees. “It’s still voluntary,” says Abhishek Singh, CEO of the National e-Governance Division with the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology. “No one is forcing anyone to go to work; one can stay home and be safe.”

The Monitor has obtained a message circulating to heads of Delhi’s Residents Welfare Associations that instructs them to request residents download the app and report compliance to the city’s Disaster Management Authority. Officials have proposed making it compulsory for other public activities, like traveling by Metro or plane, and the government has reportedly asked smartphone manufacturers to install the app by default. The Noida municipality, in the outskirts of Delhi, has reportedly made not installing the app punishable with up to six months in jail.

There are also concerns about the app’s use of Bluetooth and GPS, which critics call excessive. Contact tracing can be performed with Bluetooth alone: When two phones are in proximity, they exchange a “digital handshake,” acknowledging that they’ve been in close contact without keeping a record of where or with whom. No data, encrypted or not, is uploaded onto the server. On the other hand, a GPS signal creates a map of each individual’s movements, enabling inferences about their work, socioeconomic status, and even political leanings, Mr. Deb explains.

Officials have dismissed such concerns, saying the app, which is a public-private partnership, was built to put “privacy first.”

“All personal information submitted is securely encrypted [before being] stored on the server,” says Mr. Singh. He also defends the use of GPS technology. “Your location data, on an aggregated basis, will be used to identify the locations that need to be sanitized and where people need to be more deeply tested and identify emerging areas where infection outbreaks are likely to occur,” he says. “The location data is not used for any other purpose.”

The bigger picture

Of the many app experiments around the world, the only one that could become a model of ethical contact tracing, in Mr. McDonald’s opinion, is Australia’s. The app “lets contact tracers contact you personally if you show up as a proximity beacon to someone who’s been tested,” he says, “but the whole operation is truly voluntary.” Australian officials say that the information won’t be used in other policy areas. India’s government, on the other hand, reserves the right to pass the data it collects through Aarogya Setu to other public agencies.

As knowledge about the novel coronavirus grows, the focus will shift to monitoring people’s behavior so the virus doesn’t spread, Mr. McDonald says. The problem will then become how to enforce policies in a way that respects human rights.

“Marginalized communities all over the world now have to consider the specter of having their movement tracked by people that have not always been kind to them,” he says. 

In India, for example, discrimination against Muslims has escalated sharply; days of deadly riots in February were the country’s worst interreligious violence in decades. A Delhi event organized by an Islamic missionary group has been blamed for about 30% of all COVID-19 cases reported between March and early April, causing another spike in anti-Muslim attacks.

But here, as elsewhere, groups may not have a choice about handing over their personal information if they want access to basic services. 

“This is not just a privacy-versus-public-health story anymore,” says Mr. McDonald. “Instead we’re making the turn into the field of fundamental rights.”

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

A deeper look

Polish Grannies vs. the far right: Europe’s unlikely democracy defenders

Do you have causes you'd take to the streets to defend? These retired women want young Poles to understand as well as they do that freedoms are not a given.

Amelia
Dominique Soguel
Hanna Pietkiewicz-Sałdan (foreground, left) and other members of the Polish Grannies hand out leaflets in central Warsaw. The women, as well as a few men, protest against the rise of hate speech, far-right groups, and the polarization of society under a right-wing government.

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The Polish Grannies may sound innocuous from their name, but they are a disparate crew of retired professionals, all impassioned, that has been confronting authorities and nationalist demonstrators for more than a year. The group – most of them grandmothers – have handed out leaflets and hoisted placards to protest against a poisonous kind of patriotism that they see afflicting modern Poland.

Until the onset of COVID-19, they had been meeting on the streets of Warsaw every week under the protective gaze of two police officers. The women believe that consistency is key to getting their message out.

Unlike some other activists, their passion is rooted in the hard history that they’ve witnessed – notably the toll that German occupation in World War II and later Soviet rule took on their nation. They see worrisome echoes in the fear-mongering rhetoric and policies of the Law and Justice party (PiS), the populist right-wing government that came to power here in 2015 and immediately began introducing controversial judiciary reforms, as well as the swelling ranks of far-right nationalists.

“I lived most of my adult life under communism,” Krystyna Piotrowska, a great-grandmother, says. “In 1989, I started to breathe like a human being. I could travel freely. ... And now I feel like someone wants to take this away from me.”

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3. Polish Grannies vs. the far right: Europe’s unlikely democracy defenders

Every Thursday Krystyna Piotrowska, in her puffy parka, has gathered with a handful of other activists near the Charles de Gaulle statue at a busy intersection in central Warsaw. There, until recently, the demonstrators – most of them grandmothers, or in her case a great-grandmother – have handed out leaflets and hoisted placards to protest against a poisonous kind of patriotism that they see afflicting modern Poland. Their signs have been made of plastic foam so they are easy to carry. Their slogans: “Stop Hate Speech,” “Nationalism is not Patriotism,” “Stop Neofascists.”

The disparate crew of retired professionals, some in tennis shoes, all impassioned, has been confronting authorities and nationalist demonstrators for more than a year. While the protesters have stopped amid the coronavirus outbreak, they vow to take up their curbside activism again once the lockdown here ends.

Being grandmothers, the protesters say, decreases their chances of being manhandled by police on the streets as has been the fate of other groups standing in the way of nationalist marches. But their activism is not without risk. Far-right youths have hurled abuse and even flammable projectiles at the intrepid demonstrators. 

“Young people have this freedom and they think that by definition they deserve it,” says Ms. Piotrowska. “Unfortunately, freedom is not given once and for all. You have to take care of it and fight for it, just like love.”

The Polish Grannies, as the protesters are called, symbolize a grassroots movement across parts of Europe that is trying to blunt the most extreme versions of far-right nationalism. Often led by women, these groups are fighting for gender-specific causes such as reproductive rights but also broader issues ranging from democratic freedoms to preserving the rule of law.

From Austria to Germany to rural and urban Poland, they are alarmed by the mainstreaming of hate speech toward migrants, the LGBTQ community, and other minorities.

Dominique Soguel
“Freedom is not given once and for all. You have to take care of it and fight for it, just like love.” – Krystyna Piotrowska, a member of the Polish Grannies

While the groups are not officially linked, many of them share the same goals – to stop modern day fascism. A wide range of female activists has championed the cause of women’s rights but also turned out in the streets to defend the constitution.

“In recent years we have observed in Poland, and also in other countries, a tendency for women to mobilize in progressive movements opposing fascism or right-wing populism,” says Elżbieta Korolczuk, a sociologist at Södertörn University in Stockholm and the American Studies Center of Warsaw University. “This is a conflict around who is really ‘the people.’ Right-wing populists often use rhetoric to claim that they are ‘the people’ and that they have the right to decide how the state should act and what rights the individual groups should have. Women in Poland, Argentina, or Spain oppose this. They say we are ‘the people.’”

The newest star in the protest movement has been the Polish Grannies. They are shattering the stereotype often held here of the quiet, church-going grandmother. Until the onset of COVID-19, they had been meeting on the streets of Warsaw every week under the protective gaze of two police officers. The women believe that consistency is key to getting their message out.

Unlike some other activists, their passion is rooted in the hard history that they’ve witnessed – notably the toll that German occupation in World War II and later Soviet rule took on their nation. They see worrisome echoes in the fear-mongering rhetoric and policies of the Law and Justice party (PiS), the populist right-wing government that came to power here in 2015 and immediately began introducing controversial judiciary reforms, as well as the swelling ranks of far-right nationalists.

“I lived most of my adult life under communism,” Ms. Piotrowska says. “In 1989, I started to breathe like a human being. I could travel freely. ... And now I feel like someone wants to take this away from me.”

Can she and her fellow matriarchs help change the face of Polish society?

***

Ms. Piotrowska is not the eldest member of the group but, at 68, she is definitely the youngest great-grandmother. Over tea in her small Warsaw flat, where floral motifs and pictures of grandchildren dominate the living room decor, she talks about being a “soft” feminist.

Dominique Soguel
Young men listen to far-right leaders at a gathering of the Konfederacja political party in the port city of Gdańsk, Poland.

But her list of grievances with the current government extends beyond women’s rights. She is equally concerned about the environment in a coal-producing nation resistant to change. She worries that high social spending will translate into unpayable debt and frets over the mainstreaming of hate speech and growing polarization of Polish society.

What worries her most are the young people who, she says, behave like soccer hooligans and have embraced far-right slogans such as “Death to the enemies of the motherland” and “Poland only for Poles.” Ms. Piotrowska recalls her first encounter with the throngs of young men, during a massive nationalist march on Independence Day in November 2017. The youth threw red flares as they coursed through the streets of Warsaw. 

“What is their definition of the enemy?” she asks agitatedly. “What they say is hatred. ... I remember the ruins of fascism. Poland experienced fascism. Fascism divides people into good and bad. They are going in that direction.”

Ms. Piotrowska has installed a safety app on her phone at the request of her son, who wants to be able to find her should she end up at a police station. She says the name of her group tends to pique the interest of young people and even elicits good responses from police.

“Everyone has or had a grandma,” she notes. “People usually think positively about them. Our name is also a type of protection against attack.”

Like Ms. Piotrowska, Anna Irena Łabuś works the streets with zeal. One of the oldest members of the protesting grannies, she grew up in a small lumber town in central Poland but as an adult worked in a bank in the capital. When demonstrating, the widow wields a rainbow flag like a lance and glares at passersby who fail to pick up a leaflet.

Dominique Soguel
Anna Irena Łabuś, who has two grandchildren, is a member of the Polish Grannies advocacy group. She says they are fighting "for the young people, for their future."

Her indomitable personality has earned her the nickname “Mother Superior,” but the septuagenarian is actually an atheist and quick to denounce the Roman Catholic Church, which has been a bastion of support for the ruling government. She reveres the Polish Constitution and keeps a copy, which was signed by the president of the supreme court, in a red Victoria’s Secret handbag. Her necklace and bracelet spell out konstytucja (“constitution”).

***

The Polish Grannies staged their first protest on March 1, 2019, when they were counteracting a demonstration in Warsaw by a group of nationalists. Yet the founding members met and found common cause years before.

Ms. Łabuś recalls an encounter on Dec. 3, 2015, when crowds gathered outside the constitutional court in protest of PiS-led government legal reforms that changed the character of the Constitutional Tribunal, the country’s highest constitutional court. The reforms were deemed by many in Poland, as well as the European Commission, as a threat to the rule of law.

“In 2015, my world collapsed,” says Ms. Łabuś. “Since then, I have been saying openly what hurts me. I don’t agree with breaking the constitution.”

Ms. Łabuś has focused much of her energy on directly confronting conservative activists. In February 2018, for instance, she joined a rally that aimed to block a nationalist march in the northeastern town of Hajnówka, on the fringes of the primeval Białowieża Forest. Far-right groups were staging what they call the “March of Remembrance of the Cursed Soldiers” – a reference to Polish partisans who resisted the introduction of communism but some of whom also took part in war crimes against Belarusian communities in the region.

“The government allows nationalism to grow, and it goes together with [fascism],” says Ms. Łabuś, one of many counterdemonstrators to have been arrested for allegedly disrupting that nationalist march, which was officially authorized. “Nationalists feel more and more confident. Nationalists want to subjugate women to live the way they want them to and that is why women are the first to protest against them.”

Dominique Soguel
Iwonna Kowalska uses her background in printing to help the Polish Grannies create banners and leaflets.

Iwonna Kowalska, another grandmother, thought she was done demonstrating and was focusing instead on building her business after 1989. She takes pride in having worked in the past for an anticommunist underground publishing house, Nowa (New). Now she uses her printing expertise to help the Polish Grannies. Her apartment doubles as the group’s headquarters for planning meetings, a place to craft banners and brainstorm slogans.

Ms. Kowalska was showing up at the weekly protests in platform sneakers. She bounded around blasting oppositional songs through a bullhorn. The grannies are anything but stationary: They’ve marched in front of a branch of the state television channel as well as the guarded gates of the presidential palace.

“I didn’t expect that I would have to go out on the streets again,” says Ms. Kowalska, who had printed more than 10,000 leaflets against President Andrzej Duda ahead of elections that were scheduled for May 10 but were not held due the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s our job to signal the dangers to the younger generation,” says Ms. Kowalska. “They have passports, mobile phones, cars, easy access to credit to buy cars and flats, so they don’t care. They don’t realize that all this can lead to such bad things. It is our fault. ... We spoiled them.”

The idea that grandmothers have the responsibility to alert the next generation to avoid the mistakes of the past has also gained momentum in Austria and Germany. Grannies Against the Right took shape in 2017 when the far-right Freedom Party of Austria joined the country’s coalition government. In Germany, the grannies movement (known as Omas Gegen Rechts) spread in response to the rise of the nationalist Alternative for Germany party (AfD). The Polish grandmothers is a distinct group. In fact, the members here were unaware of their European counterparts.

*** 

The grannies share many ideals with, and draw inspiration from, other women fighting the right-wing government in Poland. Zuzanna Hertzberg, for instance, is pursuing her activism with the bristles of a paintbrush. 

CZAREK SOKOLOWSKI/AP
People stroll past the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews in War- saw. A stalemate over the independence of the institution has pit- ted the museum’s former director against the populist government.

She had an exhibit at the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews that paid tribute to women who formed part of the Warsaw Ghetto resistance in World War II. The museum, a cubic glass structure, lies in a district of the capital city where the Jewish community thrived before occupying German forces fenced it off and created the largest ghetto of its kind in Europe. The war and, in particular, the Holocaust have today become flashpoints for Poland’s right-wing government.

“If you take the definition that fascism is a social practice connected with oppression, then you can see this on a daily basis in Poland,” says Ms. Hertzberg. “In Poland it is on a big scale: fake historical narratives, restaurants [that refuse to admit] Roma people, LGBT-free zones.”

She points out that the museum’s director, Dariusz Stola, was recently pushed out of office because PiS blocked his reappointment. Government meddling has also sparked a legal conflict with historians at the Museum of the Second World War in Gdańsk. PiS believes Poland is unfairly blamed for Nazi atrocities. Critics counter that the government is trying to rewrite Holocaust history and downplay the role of Poles.

Ms. Hertzberg is worried enough by such historical conflicts that she now devotes more time to political activism than artistic creation. She has reconciled the two through her efforts in support of the “anti-fascist year,” an initiative bringing together public institutions, nongovernmental organizations, and social movements to celebrate those who fought authoritarianism in the past and encourage opposition to it today.

She is a member of the leftist antifa coalition and a co-founder of the anti-fascist Jewish Bloc. The latter made its debut by reading the poem “We, Polish Jews” during Independence Day celebrations in 2018, when more than 200,000 people gathered in Warsaw. The Independence Day rally, organized by Polish nationalist and far-right groups with the blessing of the president, featured fascist flags and symbols.

Dominique Soguel
Artist Zuzanna Hertzberg has an exhibit at a museum that pays tribute to women who were part of the War Ghetto resistance in World War II.

“You have openly fascist people in the Polish government,” says the artist, who takes pride in being the granddaughter of a man who fought fascism in Spain but whose artwork often focuses on the untold stories of women. “There’s not enough people to sit on the street to block them, and if we do, police pull us out of the streets.”

Author Klementyna Suchanow is a street warrior, too. She got her first taste of protests in 2016, when the government announced plans to ban abortion in almost all cases and punish women who broke the law. Poland already has some of the strictest laws on abortion in Europe. All terminations are banned unless the pregnancy is the result of incest or rape, puts the health of the mother at risk, or if the fetus is severely deformed. The bill would have narrowed the right to abortion further – to only when a woman’s life is in danger.

Ms. Suchanow says she could not imagine her daughter growing up with fewer reproductive rights than those enjoyed by Polish women under communism. Large-scale, women-led demonstrations are widely credited with halting the legislation.

“It was just an eruption of women’s voices,” says Ms. Suchanow, member of a movement called Women’s Strike.

Since 2016, Ms. Suchanow and her sisters in arms have regularly found themselves on the streets confronting an increasingly bold far-right nationalist movement that now has members in parliament. A newly formed alliance, Konfederacja, won 6% of the vote and earned 11 parliamentary seats in October legislative elections.

“We allowed fascists to enter the public debate and run in elections,” says Gabriela Lazarek, a former hair dresser who is now a women’s rights activist and who unsuccessfully ran for office in the town of Cieszyn, near the Czech border. “They’re not just street fighters anymore, but men in suits.”

***

One test of how much influence the women activists have will come in the presidential elections. 

While some of the groups, such as the grannies, aren’t backing a presidential candidate, they are making their views felt on issues. Women’s Strike, for instance, has been waging a campaign to pressure candidates to clarify where they stand on abortion rights. The group has put up billboards in 14 cities. The Polish Grannies support that cause.

Yet there is no doubt the coronavirus has changed the dynamic of the election. All candidates were forced to cancel their campaigns because of the pandemic. Public gatherings were banned. People are prohibited from protesting in the streets.

Dominique Soguel
Klementyna Suchanow is a member of the protest group called Women’s Strike.

Members of PiS and their supporters argue the women activists wouldn’t have much influence in the elections whether the country was in lockdown or not. Witold Waszczykowski, a party member and former foreign minister who now holds a seat in the European Parliament, says more people show up to an average football match than to the largest anti-government protests witnessed in recent years.

“Of course, nobody underestimates these protests, but the protests are marginal,” he says, downplaying the influence of both ultra-nationalists to the right of his party and of women and LGBTQ rights activists. The Polish Grannies aren’t even on his radar, he says.

Yet the women activists, and some outside analysts, believe they are leaving a mark nonetheless. They point, for instance, to their help in defeating the restrictive abortion law in 2016. Indeed, women say their advocacy on the issue not only affected the outcome of the legislation but triggered a national discussion on what it means to have a right to abortion and ultimately softened the public’s attitude toward it.

Similarly, in 2019 political pressure from women helped prevent Poland from following Russia’s example and limiting domestic violence cases to only those in which a woman is beaten repeatedly.

Women also say there is value in simply confronting nationalists when they are out in the streets holding demonstrations. They believe it shows there is an alternative voice in the country – and the more women that grab placards and bullhorns, the better.

“We regard ourselves as street feminists,” says Ms. Suchanow. “The movement isn’t based on academic theories. ... It is built on action, street action. That’s why it is so dynamic and diverse.”

For the grannies, there are other incentives to taking to the streets, too. They believe they are not only elevating public discourse on issues but smashing a stereotype about themselves.

“The positive thing is that women are more aware of their rights,” says Ms. Piotrowska taking stock of the gains made by Polish women since 1989. “They don’t want to be stuck in the kitchen or at church. They want to be an equal part of society.”

Essay

Grocery store chronicles: One worker’s experience on the front lines

Perhaps you're not thinking the cereal aisle might present just the right opportunity to display the better angels of your nature. Lee Dean, who wrote this next piece, can help with that. 

Amelia
Jacob Turcotte/Staff

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As a produce clerk at the grocery store these days, I’ve noticed conflicted souls, armed with shopping lists, who are clearly attempting to navigate in uncharted waters.

One such man, wearing his mask, brandished a bulbous vegetable, lavender in color with white stripes. “What kind of squash is this?” he asked. “That’s an eggplant,” I replied, with all the compassion I could muster.

Such is life right now at one Midwestern grocery store. My colleagues and I continue to adjust as the elements of what was once considered “normal” are peeled away like layers of an onion. Hours have been reduced. Sanitary wipes were removed from the entryways, in exchange for every cart being wiped down. Bottle returns were eliminated, followed by all returns.

Thus far, we have not been asked to enforce social distancing. And I don’t have the heart to break up a conversation between two friends who haven’t seen each other in weeks, even if they’re in the middle of where we’re working. Those little pieces of social cohesion are more important than whether or not I finish filling the green bean display.

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4. Grocery store chronicles: One worker’s experience on the front lines

There’s nothing like a pandemic to upset the apple cart.

In October, my employer eliminated my position as an editorial director. I was declared superfluous. Extraneous. Expendable. A few short months later, as a grocery store produce clerk, I am now labeled “essential,” a soldier in the middle of the fight against a deadly virus.

My colleagues and I continue to adjust as the elements of what was once considered “normal” are peeled away like layers of an onion. Hours have been reduced. Sanitary wipes were removed from the entryways, in exchange for every cart being wiped down. Bottle returns were eliminated, followed by all returns. The mechanical horse that kids could ride for a penny was taken away to its stall.

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

As essential workers, we were each handed a letter authorizing entry to the store and a paper placard to be shown to the authorities in case they pull us over. We’re sanitizing touch points every two hours. Masks became mandatory in late April, but many of us were already wearing them. We come into work every day thinking, “What’s next?”

So far, the most remarkable trend of customer behavior is how unremarkable it has been. This general sense of equanimity may be because our store is in the epicenter of Midwestern nice. The shoppers, too, are adjusting to the shifting reality. Some have even gone out of their way to thank us.

There are a few indications that this fabric of good feelings is beginning to fray. Our store has placed taped arrows on the floor to control foot traffic. I saw one man pushing his cart against the grain over the protests of his wife. “Don’t you see the arrows? You’re going against the arrows!” she pleaded. The man kept on pushing his contrarian cart, head tilted at a defiant angle.

Did you say kumquats or gumdrops?

The use of masks increases a sense of safety, but at the expense of clear communication. It can be hard to understand customers whose speech is muffled by a layer of fabric. Did that person ask for kumquats or gumdrops? Zucchini or rotini? Honeycrisp or Cosmic Crisp apples?

For shoppers, there are two particular areas of struggle. I feel sympathy for the conflicted souls, almost always men, armed with shopping lists. You can tell they’re attempting to navigate in uncharted waters.

One such gentleman, wearing his mask, brandished a bulbous vegetable, lavender in color with white stripes.

“What kind of squash is this?” he asked.

“That’s an eggplant,” I replied, with all the compassion I could muster. The portion of his face that I could see quickly turned crimson, which was a good color match with that eggplant.

Other customers in similar situations make use of technology to help them acquire the desired items. They use their smartphones to send photos of the bananas to those back home, conferring about the preferred coloration, whether deep green or yellow with black spots.

The other area of struggle: the thin plastic bags that customers can tear off from a roll and use for bulk items like potatoes. Under the circumstances, no one dares to use the tried-and-true method for opening them, which involves licking an index finger and thumb. Now they rub and rub the top of the bag until either it opens or they toss it aside in disgust. (Pro tip: The way around this problem is to head for the “wet rack” where the leafy greens are displayed, and wait for the mister to turn on. When it does, wet your fingers and then open the plastic bag.)

Anger over missing sanitary wipes

There have been a few tense moments. One Saturday, my job was to be one of the workers at a front entrance counting the number of shoppers entering the store to stay within the legal limit of customers. One man, on discovering we had removed the sanitary wipes, exploded into anger.

Thus far, we have not been asked to enforce social distancing. If two people are talking in the middle of our work area, we have the right to ask them to move. But I don’t have the heart to break up a conversation between two friends who haven’t seen each other in weeks. Those little pieces of social cohesion are more important than whether or not I finish filling the green bean display.

But some things about shopping never change. While walking back into the store from a break, I saw one man who had just left the store, stopped in his tracks. He said, quite loudly and to no one in particular, “I forgot where I parked my car!” I treasure that nugget of normalcy and hang onto it as a harbinger of better days.

This pandemic has been harrowing and aggravating. It has also given us unique opportunities to display the better angels of our nature – and we have done exactly that, judging by what we see in one Midwestern grocery store produce department.

“The vast majority of Americans are good; the mothers and fathers, the working people, the children, the vast overwhelming majority – millions and millions and millions,” wrote legendary basketball and life coach John Wooden. “A small, small percentage are otherwise. They get the attention. But we mustn’t forget the tremendous good we have within us as a people.”

That goodness, more than any other factor, is what will carry us through to the day when the masks are gone, the mechanical horse returns, and couples can fuss over something other than taped directional arrows on a grocery store floor.

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

Points of Progress

What's going right

Austria shuts down last coal-fired plant

Here are some points of concrete progress from around the world. Take a few inspiring moments to catch a dancing star, seen from Chile, and celebrate new work opportunities for deaf women in Ethiopia. 

Amelia
Staff
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5. Austria shuts down last coal-fired plant

1. United States

Scientists at The Florida Aquarium have figured out how to get ridged cactus coral to reproduce in the lab for the first time. It was one of the many species rescued from Florida’s waters after a major disease outbreak in 2014 wiped out nearly 35% of the reef. Since the lab’s spawning success in early April, more than 350 coral babies have been released into the ocean, where scientists hope they will get to work rebuilding the third-largest coral reef in the world. “Scientific breakthroughs that have a direct impact on protecting and restoring our natural environment is why we exist,” said Roger Germann, president and CEO of The Florida Aquarium. The aquarium participates in Project Coral, a program that aims to repopulate the world’s diminishing coral reefs. (CNN, Yale Environment 360)

2. Chile

M. Weiss/CXC/NASA/Reuters/File
In this artist’s image, a ring of stars circles the Milky Way’s central black hole. The latest discovery by ESO gives further confirmation of Einstein’s theory.

European Southern Observatory (ESO) astronomers in Chile found a star “dancing” around a black hole in the Milky Way on April 16, as predicted by Albert Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity. Einstein’s theory, published in 1915, posits that what we perceive as the force of gravity arises from the curvature of space and time. The ESO discovery is a result of astronomers precisely measuring the orbit (at 16 years per orbit) of a star tracing a rosette-shaped pattern around a massive black hole, rather than the elliptical orbit predicted by Newtonian physics. The star is circling the black hole Sagittarius A*, located at the center of our Milky Way galaxy. The black hole has a mass estimated to be 4 million times that of the sun. (Reuters)

3. Austria

Helgo Sommer/AP/File
Swans swim near a power plant in Mellach, Austria. Austria closed its last coal-fired plant, a Mellach facility, on April 17, 2020.

Austria shut down its last coal-fired power plant on April 17, as part of the country’s plan to end the use of fossil fuels by 2030.  The government plans to shutter the remaining gas-fired and oil-fired power plants by the end of the decade to complete its transition to generating energy from renewable sources. In a massive overhaul of the European energy industry, many countries are phasing out or immediately ending the use of coal-fired power plants. Sweden became the third European country to exit coal following Austria and Belgium, which shut down its last coal-fired plant in 2016. Six European countries are expected to follow suit by 2025 or earlier. (The Independent, CNBC)

4. Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia has ended the death penalty for crimes committed as minors. On April 26, its state-backed Human Rights Commission announced the royal decree by King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. Instead of execution, individuals who committed crimes as minors will serve a prison sentence of no longer than 10 years in juvenile detention centers. Saudi Arabia holds the record for the highest number of executions after Iran and China, according to Amnesty International. In 2019, the kingdom executed a record 184 people. “The decree helps us in establishing a more modern penal code,” said commission President Awwad Alawwad. Saudi Arabia also banned flogging as a form of punishment in the same week. (BBC, Al Jazeera)

5. Ethiopia

A group of entrepreneurs in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, is helping to reduce the use of plastic shopping bags and provide a livelihood for women who are deaf or partially deaf. Teki Paper Bags, an enterprise developed by women, has sold almost 1 million handmade paper bags. Ethiopia lags behind other East African countries, such as Rwanda and Kenya, in reducing its plastic consumption and production primarily because of cost. Teki, which employs 18 deaf workers and has more than 50 clients, is challenging the narrative that paper bags are too expensive – all through sign language. The entrepreneurs say their emphasis on the social benefit of creating jobs for people with disabilities, rather than lecturing about the environment, is the key to their success. “With our paper bags we want to provide people with the opportunity to change the lives of deaf people, and through this create an alternative way to fight plastic,” says Clement Piguet, one of Teki’s co-founders. (The Guardian)

6. Japan

Japan’s greenhouse gas emissions hit a record low for the year ending in March 2019, since the country started measuring greenhouse gas emissions in 1990. The world’s fifth-largest carbon emitter aims to cut emissions by 26% from its 2013 levels by 2030. Japan seems to be on track with the latest 3.9% drop, for a total 12% reduction in emissions. After the 2011 nuclear disaster in Fukushima, the country’s greenhouse gas emissions surged because all of its operable nuclear power plants were taken offline. However, wider use of renewable energy and a gradual return to nuclear power, including the restart of nine reactors, allowed Japan to consistently see a reduction in emissions for five straight years. (Thomson Reuters Foundation)

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to clarify Saudi Arabia’s announcement on the death penalty, which will no longer apply to individuals who committed crimes as minors. 

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The Monitor's View

Behold Greeks bearing up better

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During the world’s last full-blown crisis – the financial meltdown of a decade ago – Greece was an example of a country not to follow.

Its economy had been so mismanaged it needed three international bailouts. Only last year, after experiencing extreme austerity and reform, did it begin to see success. Even more, in March as the coronavirus pandemic began to strike, its people were well prepared to spring into action.

Early on, Greece shuttered much of its society and citizens diligently followed government officials in honoring the rules of a lockdown. The resiliency that Greeks had built up was put to good use. The country has one of Europe’s lowest death rates per capita from COVID-19, a result of new social discipline and better faith in institutions. “We have matured,” says Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

Resiliency is more than bouncing back to the status quo after a disaster. It is the ability to adopt new ideas and practices that strengthen a person or a community.

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Behold Greeks bearing up better

During the world’s last full-blown crisis – the financial meltdown of a decade ago – Greece was an example of a country not to follow. Its economy had been so mismanaged it needed three international bailouts. Only last year, after experiencing extreme austerity and reform, did it begin to see success; the Greek stock market, for example, performed the best in the world.

Even more, in March as the coronavirus pandemic began to strike, its people were well prepared to spring into action. Early on, Greece shuttered much of its society and citizens diligently followed government officials in honoring the rules of a lockdown. The resiliency that Greeks had built up was put to good use. The country has one of Europe’s lowest death rates per capita from COVID-19, a result of new social discipline and better faith in institutions. “We have matured,” Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis told Kathimerini newspaper.

As Greece carefully now opens its economy, it will need to draw on its renewed civic trust and its ability to adapt and learn. The country is highly dependent on foreign tourism, an industry that may be among the slowest to recover. It must again deal with high unemployment.

Still, because of their success against the coronavirus, Greeks now display a unity and confidence that will help them tackle the new challenge. Much of Europe is watching Greece, not as a black sheep but as a strong example.

Resiliency is more than bouncing back to the status quo after a disaster. It is the ability to adopt new ideas and practices that strengthen a person or a community. Former World Trade Organization Director-General Pascal Lamy says resiliency is a reflection of society’s religious and cultural attributes, or what he calls “mental representations.” These traits are the hidden shock absorbers during a crisis. Merely being efficient in either business or government is not enough, he says.

Communities that thrive after a disaster have already built up strong social ties. Strangers are ready to help strangers. Trials are not seen as a matter of chance but as opportunities to grow. Individuals often expand their thinking about their purpose. Like Greece, societies that gain in maturity are able to take on each new crisis.

A Christian Science Perspective

About this feature

Each weekday, the Monitor includes one clearly labeled religious article offering spiritual insight on contemporary issues, including the news. The publication – in its various forms – is produced for anyone who cares about the progress of the human endeavor around the world and seeks news reported with compassion, intelligence, and an essentially constructive lens. For many, that caring has religious roots. For many, it does not. The Monitor has always embraced both audiences. The Monitor is owned by a church – The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston – whose founder was concerned with both the state of the world and the quality of available news.

Report from Milan: Finding spiritual peace amid the pandemic

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After experiencing the largest lockdown in Europe, Italy recently announced plans to begin easing restrictions on social interactions and to slowly reopen its economy. Here’s an article by a woman who shares how certain universal, spiritual ideas have helped her find peace amid the coronavirus pandemic.

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1. Report from Milan: Finding spiritual peace amid the pandemic

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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I live in Milan, the largest city in the region of Italy most affected by the global coronavirus pandemic. We quickly went into almost total lockdown. Even the church bells, a familiar sound in Italy, stopped ringing.

It hasn’t been easy. The staggering statistics of suffering, the mounting anxiety about the future, and now the looming economic disaster paint a bleak scene. Yet the creativity and joy my fellow countrymen and women have exhibited through it all have been truly inspiring, showing that goodness cannot be stifled or extinguished.

When the lockdown started, having family and friends all over the world, I was swamped by requests for details about the situation and how we were doing. Feeling the need to pray and find peace, I decided to reread a chapter called “Creation” in “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” by Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of Christian Science.

Especially at this time, I have been deeply grateful for this book as well as the Bible, on which the teachings of Christian Science are based. They give humanity the spiritual tools to uplift thought to a more spiritual view that helps us feel peace and comfort even in the face of challenges. And most importantly, to know that all things are possible with God, including the healing of any disease.

As I read, I found a couple of sentences that brought me the peace and comfort I needed and helped establish a spiritual starting point for my prayers: “Divine Mind is the only cause or Principle of existence. Cause does not exist in matter, in mortal mind, or in physical forms” (p. 262). And Mrs. Eddy prefaces this by saying that “to begin rightly” enables us to “end rightly,” or come to the right conclusions about life and health.

The chapter goes on to explain that we begin rightly when we acknowledge that everyone is God’s creation, the spiritual, flawless reflection of God’s being; also, that God is the only true creator and creates only that which is spiritual and harmless.

A study of this chapter enabled me to recognize more consistently that any disruptive picture the material senses present to us is ultimately not our reality. The spiritual reality is always God, and God’s creation held in His arms, loved and protected, filled with love and joy, not fear.

As a result of this study, I was able to feel the peace of God. In turn I was able to radiate this peace whenever I had the opportunity to share with others these spiritual ideas, which can break down the palpable wall of anxiety about the future and give us the strength to stand calmly.

Although I have overcome many fears regarding the pandemic, recently I found myself being put to the test once again. While in line to enter the supermarket, I started to panic once I saw the guard at the door taking each customer’s temperature before allowing us in one at a time. I had been in line for some time, enjoying a warm spring sun, and I thought: “Could I appear to have a fever simply because I felt warm from being in the sun?”

In just a few seconds I had a flood of negative thoughts. Realizing I should not ignore them, I immediately recalled the aforementioned passage in Science and Health and realized that I was asking the wrong question, thinking from the wrong premise. So I began to reason this way: I am not a vulnerable mortal, but a spiritual idea, reflecting the beautiful, pure thoughts of God, manifested in health, joy, and fearlessness.

This universal spiritual truth – which applies to everyone – quickly dispelled the river of fear and silenced my questions and speculations. I was back on track, got the groceries I needed without a problem, and went home.

This experience brought to my attention the importance of being spiritually alert – of keeping thought aligned with God. Last week, the church bells began ringing again in Italy, a symbol of the spiritual fact that nothing can silence the voice of divine Truth. It is present to reach receptive hearts in every corner of the earth and bring freedom from the chains of fear and mortality.

Adapted from an article published on sentinel.christianscience.com, May 7, 2020.

Editor’s note: As a public service, all the Monitor’s coronavirus coverage is free, including articles from this column. There’s also a special free section of JSH-Online.com on a healing response to the coronavirus. There is no paywall for any of this coverage.

Viewfinder

See ya real soon

Aly Song/Reuters
The Shanghai Disneyland park reopened Monday after a three-month closure, the first Disney theme park to do so in the world. Tickets for opening day sold out in minutes. Above, a visitor takes a selfie at Shanghai Disney Resort May 11, 2020.

A look ahead

Thanks for starting your week with us. Tomorrow, in the next installment of our Navigating Uncertainty series, we’ll look at people continuing to push for rights in countries where the Arab Spring feels like a distant memory.

Finally, we’re working on a project highlighting personal stories for Memorial Day. Tell us about your loved one by filling out our form or emailing us at engage@csps.com. We’d love to hear from you. 

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