I was born in 1989, right before the Berlin Wall fell. As far as historians tell me, the 1990s were a period of spreading freedom, reunification or independence, and coupled with a growing euphoria for globalisation.
The 2000s continued in this mood, albeit with the growing shadow of extremism and terror, both within the West and in the Middle East. 9/11 and the Iraq war embodied this threat. To me, this is when Islamophobia slowly started to grow roots in people’s minds.
Eventually, the 2008 implosion of the financial system pointed to the limits of an ever-more liberalised financial capitalism. Invisible or inadequate responses by the political establishment contributed to the masses’ perception that a few rich – multinational companies, oligarchs or corrupt politicians – had established safe corners somewhere on the planet, escaping national bonds, while the ordinary citizen had to bear the costs of the local, national systems.
The people in Europe suffered to the extent that the European Project as an idea began to crumble. German tax payers didn’t want to pay for Greece, France didn’t want to join the “German way”. Demonstrations against the establishment, austerity politics and the EU took place in Spain, Greece, France. In Germany and Eastern European countries, fading solidarity with the Southern countries was coupled with a general suspicion of “the Other”, be it Muslims or foreigners in general.
I don’t know when, but at some point in the process, the system didn’t respond any longer to the demands and needs of its particles. I don’t think this really has to do with mere economic fears or suffering – it is more the sense of alienation, and what the powerful German word for feeling powerless, “Ohnmacht”, seeks to express.
I simply know that we are living in times in which “the voice of the people” is increasingly becoming a cry of fear, of revolt, and retreat into known spheres. Rational arguing is a lost case against this emotional reaction.
There is a sense that people feel they lose control and they hate this feeling.
This is what causes Trump’s success – and what produced the biggest crack in the European Project I have ever witnessed so far, the vote for leaving the EU by the majority of the British people (forgive me if I don’t mention again its ugly name).
Whilst the Europeans, albeit with many losses and sacrifices, somehow overcame the Eurocrisis, the British exit has been a unilateral, single-minded step away from the group of 28 with which it had gone through so much.
This year has marked my understanding of Europe as something that could soon be at the brink of collapse. And it just doesn’t feel as if this was just a bad year for Europe, like a bad hangover which will soon fade away. It feels more like a growing mingling of concerns about people’s own job safety in a still very liberal environment, a suspicion against politicians who seem to ignore the real “needs” of citizens and the overall fear of “a borderless world”.
I don’t want to watch these outcries dominate the media and the political discourse, without at least giving some counterweight and trying to highlight people who both acknowledge the problems at hand but who also have hope for the future. Who believe in a Europe – and, for that purpose, in social democracy – that holds up the values of freedom, justice and equality, and doesn’t give in to demagogues who engage in “post-truth politics” (according to The Economist, “an approach that relies on assertions that “feel true” but have no basis in fact.”).