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Sunday, 24 July 2016

The dangerous void between perception and reality inside (and outside) Europe

It is July 23rd, 2016...

Just another day in the ninth year of the economic depression that has struck the world with a violent, enduring blow.

Roughly one week ago, there has been a truly horrible attack by a Frenchman of Tunisian descent in Nice, France. This man drove a heavy truck through an extremely busy boulevard, crowded with sauntering people – allegedly with a terrorist objective –  thus killing 84 innocent people and dangerously wounding many, many more.

A few days later an Afghan youth in Germany randomly attacked people on a commuter train with an axe. Luckily nobody was killed (yet), but a few people suffered from life-threatening wounds.

And yesterday, we were again witnesses of a disgusting, violent attack against common citizens, claiming the lives of nine innocent people and the perpetrator as well. This time it happened in Munich, Germany. The deed was executed by an Iranian youngster, who was allegedly depressed and full of violent ideas, reputedly gathered by playing violent computer games and as a consequence of doing research into earlier killing sprees in Europe, like the one executed by Anders Breivik on Utoya Island.

While the first two attacks can be described as religiously driven, terrorist attacks, the last youngster was born and raised in Munich and had no connection to any religious terrorist group or organization whatsoever.

At the same time, Dutch, Belgian and German people of Turkish descent are fighting and seriously threatening each other, because of their presumed pro- or anti-Erdoğan stance (i.e. pro-Gülen or pro-Kurdistan) and political orientation, whipped up by the hysterical tone of voice coming from Ankara, since last week’s failed coup d’etat in Turkey.

And in Turkey itself, thousands and thousands of people are either arrested (and perhaps even tortured and murdered) by the police and presidential troops or not allowed to leave the country. Thousands of schools are closed and countless teachers and professors are arrested or fired for having ideas, which are not in line with the official government point of view.

As a matter of fact, it seems that Turkey is dropping deeper and deeper in the abyss of ubiquitous resentment, paranoia and ultra-violent vigilance, that was so distinctive for Russia in the days of Josif Stalin.

At the same time, the situation in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan remains horrible with yet again numerous deadly attacks on crowded, public places and really no end in sight for the massive bloodshed and terrible suffering of the population in these countries in the name of ... whatever.

In the Netherlands, a group of white vigilantes from Northern Europe, called ‘the Soldiers of Odin’, arrived last week to ‘protect our country against violent refugees and asylum seekers...’. A protection offered in a way that reminds us of our darkest moments during the Twentieth Century: “Never mind the swastika tattoos on our bodies. Those are just there because we like them. Nothing more...”.

Extreme right-wing and left-wing parties are winning elections everywhere in Europe, while banging the drum against minorities and the moderate, ‘middle-of-the-road’ right- and leftwing parties in the European countries are really totally clueless regarding the question “what is going on and what we should do about it?!”.

In the United Kingdom, numerous Brexiteers and Bremainers are having really aggressive arguments about who was right and who was wrong and who scr*wed up most before, during and after the referendum in the first place. Longtime friends and even families are litterally divided in pro- and contra-brexiteers, who are simply outraged with each other. In England and Wales, EU-citizens from Eastern Europe really start to feel unsafe in their ‘country of residence’ of the last few years and consider moving out.

And at the same time the new British cabinet of PM Theresa May still think that they can save the day, regarding the European Union and the rest of the world, with ‘a confident smile, a few jokes, a pint of ale and a bag of crisps’.

European and American churches are overloaded with people, who pray for... whatever: France, Germany, Orlando, Nice, Munich, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan or perhaps even the United Kingdom. Praying and waiting until the next terrible event occurs.

The mounting nationalism of – IMHO – the unhealthy kind in the European countries (and as a matter of fact far abroad) is yet another tell-tale signal that something is seriously wrong and brewing within Europe. This nationalism and these unhealthy, hostile feelings against other people and groups are often accellerated by the social media, which more and more often work as pressure cookers for formerly undisclosed aggression, anger, resentment and alienation, dividing the world in ‘us and them’.

A total and utter misunderstanding and even ignorance for the situation in which other, less fortunate people reside, as well as scuffles and rants against presumed adversaries, videos with extreme and sickening violence and below-the-belt platitudes about ‘the others’, have simply become too common to see them as isolated incidents.

And even public places of worship for the most common religions have turned into spots where ‘infidels’ and people with other opinions are excluded, ridiculized, taunted and cursed, as would-be casualties in the next ‘holy’ war between ‘us and them’.

Am I the only one here, who thinks that something is seriously wrong inside and outside Europe?!

The most-heard perception among popular economists and politicians is that Europe is definitely on the way up, as far as the economy is concerned. The economy is growing unspectacular, but steady: housing prices go up, employment is going down, exports, trade and commercial services are thriving in most countries and – in spite of a few problems with Italian banks – everything seems hunky-dory, from an economic point of view.

That is, if you don’t take the negative interest rates into consideration, which are haunting the corporate and private savers all over Europe and eat away their nest eggs and retirement plans.

Or the millions and millions of people who are going from one flex-contract to another freelance assignment, without ever having a real outlook towards a steady and secure job with income security and social benefits, enabling them to save money for a rainy day and acquire an income while being sick or retired. People, who are often forced to drop their minimum income demands, in order to win the competition with people from European and Asian low-wage countries.

And thus it seems that there is a massive void between the economic perception that everything economically in the European Union is improving and that consumers and SME companies soon will start spending their income again at one hand and the daily reality that many, many people feel depressed, alienated and scared and desperately want someone or something to take the blame for that at the other hand.

Perhaps the worst development of all is that people with different income scales seem to live more and more in parallel worlds: next to each other, instead of with each other.

Wealthy people live in a superficial, ‘tinseltown’ world of expensive cars, expensive yachts, expensive hotels and restaurants, world cruises, holidays in ‘€1500 per night’, gated and protected resorts with the utmost in privacy, while wearing priceless couture, €75,000 Cartier jewelry  and carrying Louis Vuitton or Hermés bags of €3,500 retail price or more. As long as they can live their lives, they really couldn’t care less about how the others live theirs.

This is a world in which the lower and middle class people in their own company or home country are just as remote as the ‘natives’ in their gated, Mozambique holiday resort: they know these people do exist, but they hardly encounter them ‘in the wild’ anymore.

The lower and middle class people, however, live often in a situation in which discount supermarkets and ‘euro stores’, outlet centres and cheap shopping malls are their last resort to mitigate their addiction to cheap and unhealthy victuals, ‘bling bling’ jewellery, inexpensive consumer goods and household appliances, cheap fashion and shoewear. This is a situation in which there is always ‘too much month for their paycheck’, as well as a constant worrying about the question whether this paycheck will actually arrive or not, due to their flex labour contracts or freelance activities.

A situation in which the ‘losers’ ask themselves what went wrong during their education and subsequent career and where they actually missed the boat to eternal success and entrepreneurship.
This is a situation that cannot endure forever. In the end, something has got to give and that something might cause a lot of commotion when it finally happens.

And what worries me also: right after the Brexit referendum took its shocking and unexpected course, there was a perfect momentum in which brave European politicians could have run the gauntlet and take the worries of the British and European citizens seriously; really, openly and without prejudice and platitudes.

Politicians could have responded to the worried and alienated British and European grassroots with something like: “You gave us a yellow card with your Brexit vote and we have heard and understood this signal very clearly, even though we don’t know yet WHAT you exactly want from us.

In response we will enter into a serious discussion with you about the Europe and the economy that you want and need for the future, while explaining to you our motives for doing the things that we have done in the recent past. We cannot promise you that we can keep everybody happy and satisfied, but we will do our utmost to achieve that”.

Instead it seemed that the European politicians immediately returned to business-as-usual as if nothing really happened. They quarreled endlessly about the future economic consequences of the Brexit, the ongoing refugee-crises, the crisis between the NATO and Russia, the terrorist attacks in Germany and France, the ongoing Turkish crisis and all the other European conundrums of this year 2016, while in fact totally ignoring the signals being sent by the Brexit and the deteriorating moods all over Europe.

Opportunity missed..., game over... Try another time, boy!

The European dream (with the European Union there WAS a real European dream, in my opinion) has in fact morphed into a bureaucratic and economic extravaganza for European business cowboys and lobbyists, bookkeepers, greengrocers and shop-managers without a real feeling of responsibility. People without imagination, a real conscience and compassion and without a clear view on a possible and better future for us all, instead of a wealthy future for themselves and their loved ones alone.

And now we have two opportunities: either we will eventually fall down into a large-scale (perhaps global) catastrophy caused by a neoliberal, capitalist policy gone totally awry, or we elect politicians that are able to find the right path up the hill again, away from the inequality, uncertainty, hatred, paranoia and resentment against the others. 

It is the choice of you and me and all the others: inside and outside Europe.

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