School classes selling cakes for a good cause. Volunteers collecting relief supplies and transporting them to the crisis area in minibuses. Families who spontaneously and unbureaucratically take refugees into their homes. The Ukraine war and its consequences have triggered a huge wave of solidarity in recent weeks. The fact that a terrible war is being waged only a few hours away by plane has moved people in Switzerland, too – Swiss Solidarity has received donations of over 107 million Swiss francs (as of 4 April) for war victims from Ukraine.
But the term ‘solidarity’ has not only been omnipresent since the Ukraine war. It was used repeatedly during the pandemic, too. Peter G. Kirchschläger is not surprised that the word is currently on everyone's lips. The 45-year-old theologian heads the Institute for Social Ethics ISE at the University of Lucerne, and his work includes advising national and international organisations. “We all experience moments when we need help. And everyone is capable of providing other people with assistance in certain situations.” In the last two years, this has been more true than ever. “The COVID-19 crisis has made it unmistakably clear to everyone that humans cannot fight the virus and its consequences alone as individuals but only as part of a society,” writes Janine Seitz writes in the trend study Die Welt nach Corona (“The world after COVID-19”). We can only overcome difficult times by sticking together. This insight might also be an impetus behind the great sense of solidarity people feel with the refugees from Ukraine.
According to Kirchschläger, however, there's one essential point that should not be forgotten: “Genuine solidarity always has to include everyone." So if you help certain people and ignore the needs of another group or exclude other individuals, you’re not acting in solidarity. As an example, Kirchschläger cites the fact that there is currently a debate about there being “first and second class” refugees. The fact that parts of the global community still lack access to the COVID-19 vaccine also reflects a lack of solidarity. “What is more, genuine solidarity always involves concrete deeds and actions," says Kirchschläger. Symbolic expressions of solidarity – such as demonstrating for peace – are important too, but they’re not enough on their own. “Solidarity is only when the living conditions of those affected really are substantially improved.”
Although there certainly hasn’t been unanimity on all issues in the past two years and there has even been talk of a split in society, Kirchschläger’s assessment is essentially a positive one. All the suffering that the pandemic has inflicted on society has made a lot of people think carefully about what really matters to them. “We’ve become more conscious of principles such as freedom, human dignity, human rights and democracy," says Kirchschläger. “The majority of the population has also developed a greater awareness of their fellow human-beings and a sense of caring for each other.” Many people have supported each other – such as doing the shopping for the elderly and sick. Organised support services have been set up in many places, too – whether Facebook groups such as Basel hilft (“Basel helps”) or apps that connect helpers with those seeking help. More and more people seem to be willing to actively offer their support and get involved in the community. According to the Federal Statistical Office, people in Switzerland spend an average of 1.6 hours per week on voluntary work – this includes involvement in youth organisations, political parties, sports clubs and the local fire brigade, for example.
Trend expert and futurologist Janine Seitz assumes that the growing solidarity that developed during the pandemic will have an impact on trade and consumerism in the future. The experience of crisis has released a deep-seated need to take pleasure in things more consciously and in a way that is more firmly rooted in social interaction, she says – “doing things with other people rather than at their expense.” This also includes the realisation that a pleasurable, fulfilled life doesn’t depend on the number of consumer goods you own or use. “This is why consumerism for consumerism's sake will fade into the background in the future,” says Seitz. “This new focus reflects a return to what is really important to us.”
This is exactly what Peter G. Kirchschläger believes and hopes. The Lucerne-based ethicist would particularly like to see a human rights-based economy and more sustainable use of resources: the Mobility Cooperative serves as a good example. After all, Kirchschläger is also well aware that most cars in Switzerland stand idle for an average of 23 hours a day and that eleven private cars are used as much a single Mobility car. “It’s an incredible waste of resources.” Under the motto “Don't own it – share it”, users of car-sharing services make a valuable contribution to more sustainable mobility, says Kirchschläger: “That’s a form of solidarity, too.” In addition, people who share cars with others usually treat them with greater care. After all, you wouldn't want the next user to have to clear out their predecessor’s rubbish or laboriously manoeuvre the vehicle out of a difficult parking spot.
The question remains as to whether this newly celebrated solidarity will survive in the long term? That’s a difficult one to answer, says the ethicist. “I certainly hope we’ve become more mindful as individuals, but also as a society.”