Early morning on February 24, 2022, Vladimir Putin attacked the Ukraine on behalf of Russia. I deliberately say that Putin and not Russia is responsible for the attack, because I have worked with Russian colleagues for many years and have always admired and enjoyed their professionalism and hospitality. Even more, I have been impressed by their desire to create a democratic and free Russia living in peace with its neighbors. My grandfather was killed in World War II on the territory of the Ukraine, just a few days after he was sent to the front. Eighty years later, people are dying again in the Ukraine because of a mad dictator, this time coming from Russia. Is this the end of the “golden age”?
The golden years
The war in the Ukraine, which is certainly the greatest risk for peace in Europe since 1945, made me realize once again that my generation, the so-called baby boomers, grew up in a golden age. In 1964, nearly 1.36 million children were born in Germany, the highest number since the end of World War II until today and probably for a very long time to come. Perhaps it was due to the general positive mood of my parents’ generation, which grew up during and after the war. The world was heading towards the era of the Cold War and Germany was divided, but in West Germany the economy was growing again, people had jobs and could afford something again. Of course, there were setbacks from time to time, such as the oil crisis, a few crashes on the stock market or similar. There were also wars happening from time to time, but those were far away and people noticed them in the news with brief regrets and went back to business as usual.
One day changes everything
But on February 24, 2022, everything changed. War is happening on our doorstep, and for the first time there are serious concerns that this might not stop at the Ukrainian border. People are recognizing the parallels in history, because once again someone thinks, he needs to live out his fantasies of Great Power at the expense of peace in Europe. Inevitably, you think about the fact that you could also very quickly get into the situation like the people in the Ukraine, spending the nights in bunkers and subway stations or leaving everything behind and fleeing to the West. Scenes that my generation and the following ones actually only know from history lessons or from other regions of the world, because we were lucky enough to grow up in a golden age.
It was always going uphill
The last sixty years in Germany were characterized by an era without war, expulsion, poverty or anything similar. Everyone had the opportunity for education, to start a professional career, and get to know the world, or at least a part of it. I grew up in the 1970s, when Germany won the soccer world championship with legends like Beckenbauer and Müller or the biggest rock bands in the world made their breakthrough. Then came the 1980s, which many young people are still reviving today, even though their parents didn’t actually experience this decade consciously. I was a contemporary witness of the fall of the Berlin Wall, which symbolized the Cold War and the separation of East and West. Most of my generation never really believed that this would ever happen. Then there were the revolutionary developments in information technology in the 1990s, which I could even help to shape a little bit. The years after the turn of the millennium continued to be good years for us in Germany, but looking back today I have the impression that a few things were already going in the wrong direction. Also personally I felt for the first time that not everything always goes straight in the right direction. But that should not be the topic here.
“The world has gone crazy”
Looking back over the past few years, most of the positive sentiment that followed the changes in 1989 has fallen by the wayside. Nationalism is on the rise again in many countries, the European Union is being questioned, and democratically elected governments in general are becoming a rarity around the world. Climate change is visible everywhere, even if there are still some people who claim otherwise, and since the end of 2019 we have been struggling with one of the biggest pandemics that will certainly not be the last. In recent years, I keep hearing the phrase “the world has gone crazy.” But who is the world? The world is all of us. Surely I as an individual cannot prevent the outbreak of a virus or stop a Russian army. With statements like this, people often excuse their own behavior. But if everyone thinks like that, nothing will happen. Even though addressing a polarizing topic now, I am asking why do so many people not follow the rules to prevent the spread of a dangerous virus and instead spread hair-raising conspiracy theories? Everyone wants to phase out nuclear energy and coal. On top of that we are realizing right now again how dependent we are on oil and gas from countries like Russia. But no one wants wind turbines or power lines in sight and when the largest electric vehicle manufacturer invests in Germany, a lot of obstacles are put in its way. I know that this is also polarizing, but nothing comes for free. Either we decide to go another way or “the world stays crazy”.
It is up to us
The golden age as my generation knows it is over. It is now up to us whether we usher in a new one or things go down the famous drain. Everyone can do their part. Be it to get a pandemic under control or to counteract climate change. As an individual, directly preventing a dictator from attacking another country is certainly unrealistic. But also here everyone can contribute by, for example, not immediately condemning the entire nation or electing governments and presidents in their own countries that do not add fuel to the fire. This also means that it is up to countries like Germany not to let the extreme political fringes become even stronger, but to preserve in the long term what we and the generation before us have worked for in terms of democracy and freedom. Also to prove to governments in other countries, who constantly claim the opposite, that democracy works. Germany and, above all, the entire European Union must move much closer together. And not only just when blazing fires are already all around us.