International Day of Peace – United in Times of Crisis?

The United Nations declared September 21st “International Day of Peace.” This year the specified topic is “Shaping Peace Together,” and it is concerned with the united fight against Covid-19. To look at what Germany does to fight this battle, we draw upon the data of a special survey on the impact of Covid-19 conducted by the GESIS Panel in March 2020.

Die Vereinten Nationen haben den 21. September als Internationalen Tag des Friedens bestimmt. Dieses Jahr findet er unter dem Motto „Shaping Peace Together“ statt und befasst sich mit dem gemeinsamen Kampf gegen Covid-19. Um uns vor Augen zu führen, was Deutschland zu diesem Kampf beiträgt, werfen wir einen Blick auf die Daten einer besonderen Befragung des GESIS Panels zu den Auswirkungen von Covid-19 im März 2020.

DOI: 10.34879/gesisblog.2020.19

“It isn’t enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it. One must work at it.”

Eleanor Roosevelt

We Are the World

Today, we celebrate the International Day of Peace: a day declared by the United Nations to promote peace around the world by laying down weapons for 24 hours. Twenty-four hours of ceasefire, 24 hours of non-violence that is the goal the UN tries to attain. The International Day of Peace was firstly declared in 1981 in a broad peace initiative by the United Nations 1. Since then, the day has been given a particular theme each year to dedicate itself to the most pressing topics at the time.

This year’s International Day of Peace is being held under the slogan: “Shaping Peace Together.” It refers not to special violent conflicts happening worldwide but to an even bigger battle: the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic. This year, the United Nations wants to dedicate this day to fostering the dialogue and collecting ideas to battle Covid-19.

Firstly, we will look at peace as a concept and what it stands for based on peace research. Then, we will refer to this year’s theme and focus on the battle against Corona. In doing so, we will draw upon the data from a unique survey wave conducted by the GESIS Panel, which concentrates on Germany’s handling of the pandemic and its measures2. We want to examine what has been done in Germany to contribute to a peaceful future regarding the most current threat.

Peace as We Know It

World peace, it seems, is not really an attainable goal, but rather more like a standard answer in beauty pageants. But what is peace? Is it just the absence of violence, or does it have more layers? Johan Galtung is known as the pioneer of peace research. In 1967, he tried to develop his very own definition of peace, which would go into depth. He differentiates between negative and positive peace. While negative peace refers to the absence of personal violence, positive peace denotes the absence of structural violence or, in other words, the existence of social justice. This differentiation expands the common understanding of peace in the sense that social injustice is also seen as violence 3.

Galtung defines peace as a state where everyone can live up to their fullest potential. If personal violence is used, victims of this violent act cannot live up to their fullest potential because they are most possibly physically or mentally hurt. In contrast, let us suppose that structural violence or social injustice is present. In that case, people may not be physically damaged, but they cannot live up to their full potential either if they belong to the oppressed group. The structure in which they live prohibits them from realizing this.

The Pairs of Needs and Violence

In a later paper, Galtung classifies four classes of needs and four classes of violence, showing how different forms of violence can harm humans’ basic needs 4. The first need, the necessity of survival, is harmed by direct violence. The example he gives is the Holocaust. Second, welfare is harmed by misery, induced through structural violence. This can be seen in the Silent Holocaust, a term coined by George Kent to explain the situation in the Third World.

Third, freedom is harmed by repression as a direct form of violence. The examples Galtung uses for that are concentration camps and gulags, the symbols of Hitlerite and Stalinist repression. As the fourth basic need, he names identity, which is harmed by alienation resulting in the spiritual death, as he calls it. These are all forms of violence, with each of them standing in the way of peaceful living in a society.

When Peace Becomes Secondary

In this year’s times of Covid-19, the International Day of Peace has been given the theme: “Shaping Peace Together.” This theme in connection with Covid-19 may sound somewhat off-topic, but in the following, it will become clear that it is not as farfetched as it may seem at first. The Institute for Economics and Peace published a report about the impact of Covid-19 on peace and violence.  While the number of apparent forms of violence (like battles or riots) has gone down because of lockdown orders, others have risen (like domestic violence or self-harm) 5.

It is also still unclear what impact Corona induced economic changes will have on intrastate and interstate peace. Deteriorated conditions may lower the chance of countries maintaining peace within their society and with other countries handling the pandemic differently. One example is the rising conflict between the USA and China, which intensified during this critical time. Positive peace, the ability of countries to maintain a peaceful environment, can be a factor for recovering from this pandemic more successfully. Interestingly, people living in countries with strong positive peace have higher resilience to cope with disasters like that 6. The link between peace and Covid-19 is, therefore, more apparent than one would think.

That is why we will reflect upon a unique survey conducted by the GESIS Panel looking at relevant topics regarding Corona and the measures the German public has taken. We draw upon this data to show what kind of precautionary measures are implemented by the citizens, if they would be willing to abide by a lockdown order, and how they trust the institutions and people in charge of handling this crisis. This data was collected in an online survey in March. Though the data might be somewhat limited, they still offer a great start for exploring the situation among Germans at the beginning of the pandemic.

The Sacrifices We Make

The pandemic urged us to change our way of life and restrict activities that commonly brought us joy, such as meeting friends, going to restaurants, or celebrating events. In Figure 1, we looked at the German public’s measures in the last seven days prior to the survey to see which sacrifices were made to win the fight against Covid-19. The results show that most people (91.1 %) washed their hands more frequently and kept the suggested distance (80.3 %). But also, more drastic measures like avoiding certain places or reducing social contacts were followed by a vast majority (84.5 % and 85.5 %). Interestingly, wearing a mask, which is now even mandatory in certain situations, was considered by most Germans to be a too excessive measure back in March. Only 3.7 % stated they were wearing a mask to protect themselves this early in the pandemic. Other results showing the particularity of this survey are the number of people who said they adapted their school or work situation (46.5 %) and who used disinfectant (60.3%). As early as March, many people did not have adequate solutions to adapt their school or work life to the pandemic. It was not even sure for how long this state would have to remain. Many employees were put on short-time work, and all students around the country had to stay home 7. Today, the use of disinfectant would probably be higher than in early March, where most of the public stayed at home. Now, the country has opened up again, people go shopping or eat out and socialize with more people. That is why it is now all the more important to abide by the hygiene regulations to keep the virus in check.

The Things We Would Do

Next, it is interesting to see not only what people have done to fight the pandemic but also what they would be willing to do. The survey asked if people would be willing to abide by a stay-at-home order, the most restrictive kind of measure many other countries had to enforce on their citizens. We looked at the results by age groups as the virus is more deadly for people of an older age, suggesting that there might be also differences in risk-avoiding behavior 8. Although we did not have all that knowledge in March, it was still to be expected that the elderly and people with pre-existing conditions would be more endangered than young people. Resulting from this, we can assume that younger people would not be as willing to abide by such kind of order as older people would. The data shows that this is, in fact, true. Most people that were not willing to stay at home were under 25 or 26 to 30 years old (15.5 %). Only 4.9 % of the people over 71 would reject such an order. Overall, many were willing to abide by this ruling when other countries had already used this measure to stop the virus from spreading. Therefore, the German public was willing to obey those drastic measures to help the global fight against Covid-19.

The People We Trust

At the frontline of every battle, there are people responsible for success or defeat. Those people make decisions that can never satisfy everybody. So, we wanted to see if the German people trust those in power to guide them through this unusual time. Figure 3 shows that citizens display the greatest confidence towards institutions or people that are concerned with the topic on a daily basis. The Robert-Koch-Institute, scientists, and family doctors are the most trustworthy options. Leading those three is the Robert-Koch-Institute (with 89.7 % trusting the institute at least at some level), which held daily press conferences at the beginning of the pandemic. Scientists and family doctors (with 85.8 % and 80.2 % respectively trusting them at least at some level) are close behind. The Federal Government or the Federal Chancellor do not receive the same level of trust. 33.8 % and 37.9% of the sample would not say that they trust those institutions. The least amount of confidence the people have is in municipal authorities. Only 10.5 % would say that they trust them completely, and even 45.2% would not say that they have trust in them.

It would be interesting to see how this data changed throughout the last six months. Overall, the confidence was very high in March (only less than 10 % stated that they had no trust in these institutions at all). Still, the development shows a large number of people demonstrating publicly against the handling of Corona. It will also be intriguing to see how the relatively harmless progress of this pandemic, in contrast to other European countries, affected the German public’s attitudes regarding the undertaken measures.

In conclusion, in the spirit of this year’s International Day of Peace, our small data insight shows that most Germans were willing to take what it needs to fight this pandemic and succeed against the common enemy. But it was also made clear in the last months that many countries had self-interested solutions in mind and did not show the desire to be involved in a global approach, as the United Nations suggested 9. The most challenging time is still ahead of us, rebuilding what collapsed during this crisis and preventing further consequences from risky behaviors. So, it is now more important than ever to remind ourselves of “shaping peace together.” Stay safe and healthy, and have a

Happy International Day of Peace!


  1. United Nations (n. d.). International Day of Peace. Retrieved September 18, 2020, from
  2. GESIS Panel Team (2020). GESIS Panel Special Survey on the Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 Outbreak in Germany. GESIS Datenarchiv, Köln. ZA5667 Datenfile Version 1.1.0,
  3. Galtung, J. (1969). Violence, Peace, and Peace Research. Journal of Peace Research, 6, 167-91.
  4. Galtung, J. (1985). Twenty-Five Years of Peace Research: Ten Challenges and Some Responses. Journal of Peace Research, 22(2), 141-158.
  5. Institute for Economics and Peace (2020). COVID-19 and Peace, Sydney, June 2020. Available from: (accessed 16.09.2020).
  6. Vision of Humanity (2020). Global Peace Index 2020: Measuring Peace in a Complex World. Retrieved September 16, 2020, from
  7. Tagesschau (2020, March 19). Corona: Wo bleiben Schulen zu – und wie lange? Retrieved September 16, 2020, from
  8. Bergerhoff, S. (2020). Coronavirus: “Sterberate bei Älteren zehnmal so hoch”. Retrieved September 16, 2020, from
  9. DPA, 2020. Egoismus der EU-Staaten in der Corona-Krise – “Es war ein schädliches Verhalten.” Retrieved September 16, 2020, from

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