Society

German Youth: Running Low On Hope

Germany's first post-War generation had cause for optimism. But their descendants have a different, darker outlook, poll numbers suggest.

Anxiety and stress run high in modern German youths
Torsten Krauel

-OpEd-

BERLIN — Is belief in a better world the exception? Do we expect humans to destroy the world rather than make it better? The Allensbach Institute for Public Opinion Research found in a recent survey for the newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung that belief in progress has once again fallen.

In fact, the numbers are now the lowest since the survey began, 50 years ago — especially among youth. That could be a danger signal.

The survey results are also, at first glance, not really surprising. For the two generations that now occupy the leading positions in politics and the media, the most impressive element of their youth was not the successful reconstruction of the country but the consequences of seemingly misguided, rash, blind investments in the future.

The cornerstones of their coming age were not Sputnik, the moon landing, the availability of antibiotics, color TV or the Interrail Youth Ticket, but the finite nature of resources and the dangers of technology. This generation's scariest moment wasn't the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. It was the 1986 reactor accident in Chernobyl.

And so, for this generation, saying "no" was the natural attitude: No to forests dying, no to the ozone hole and to acid rain, no to atomic energy, no to missile upgrading. An underlying fear of overpopulation kicked in. Ecological and political claustrophobia were constantly part of the debate.

For such a generation, 1989 was therefore not necessarily the miracle year in which Europe became united again. For them, the end of the German Democratic Republic was perhaps the collapse of a state, of a whole order, more than return to normality. Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union followed suit in the collapse.

The once-clear values scale is being replaced by Trump's unpredictability, Erdogan's polemics, Brexit and the rise of China.

The Greens marked this feeling with their slogan for the general election campaign in 1990: Everyone talks about Germany, we talk about the weather. This generation's latent expectation of a downfall became stronger 20 years later with the financial crisis, Fukushima and constant climate warnings. Tucked in between was 9/11. And then came the revelations of Edward Snowden on the possibilities of daily digital surveillance. With the wave of migration, the generation that feared collapse got louder even on the right.

The aftereffect of the greatest collapse of German history in 1945 prevents all this from turning into mass hysteria. Nobody forgets that the Nazis used, and abused, a specific fear of the future during the Great Depression. But the big No as a basic democratic principle has dug deep into the consciousness.

Standstill is a keyword. A second momentum is needed for latent fear of the future to turn into widespread pessimism. The concrete political situation must be unclear and indefinably dangerous in order to make fears more prevalent.

Back in 1993, the Allensbach Institute registered another spike in pessimism. At that time, the unification euphoria had turned into fear that East Germany would become so poor it would drag the West down with it. At the same time, Yugoslavia fell into a civil war. German politics suddenly seemed to have run out of ideas.

The concrete political situation must be unclear and indefinably dangerous

Today things looks similar. Internet euphoria has turned into fear of surveillance. The euphoria over a united Europe is giving way to fears of collapse. The once-clear values scale is being replaced by Trump's unpredictability, Erdogan's polemics, Brexit and the rise of China. The political success of the global agreement to limit temperature rise by two degrees Celcius comes with the admission that this goal will not be achieved.

In the meantime, German domestic policy seems to be in a rut again, with no goal, no clear priority, no clear leadership.

Youth say no to a climate policy that is taking its time, and Angela Merkel says no to being chairman of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and no to staying on as chancellor but without resigning. Everything is in limbo, nothing is decided, and it is hard to recognize who could decide. The Greens and the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party collect the voices of the impatient and the clueless. Together, they reach around 30-35% of the votes in the polls. They unite the third of Germans who want to see the Gordian knot cut and feel change.

Twelve years ago, on April 26, 1997, then Federal President Roman Herzog said, upon returning from a trip to Asia, that "a bold vision of the future" would be designed and implemented there. "What do I see in Germany? Here, predominantly despair. A sense of paralysis lays over our society." Germany, he said, had to "get a grip."

Herzog added: "And yet I believe in young people." Of course, he knew that polls said that "parts of the youth are starting to doubt our system's ability to survive and reform." But he told them, "If you no longer trust the "system," then at least trust yourself!" They are doing that right now.

Then change came. Politics moved to Berlin and a new government took over. Pessimism disappeared as fast as it had come. In 1999, the number of optimists in the annual Allensbach survey was higher than in 1989. When politics gets going again, pessimism of the future shrinks back to its normal level.

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A tribute to the 30,000 Iranian political prisoners murdered in Iran in 1988

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Hannah Steinkopf-Frank and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Laba diena!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where Afghanistan's Taliban demand to speak at the United Nations, China takes a bold ecological stand and we find out why monkeys kept their tails and humans didn't. Business magazine America Economia also looks at how Latin American countries are looking to attract a new generation of freelancers known as "digital nomads" in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

[*Lithuanian]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Taliban ask to speak at UN: With global leaders gathered in New York for the 76th meeting of the UN General Assembly, Afghanistan's new rulers say their country's previously accredited United Nations ambassador no longer represents the country, and have demanded a new Taliban envoy speak instead. Afghanistan is scheduled to give the final intervention next Monday to the General Assembly, and a UN committee must now rule who can speak.

• Four corpses found on Belarus border with Poland: The discovery of bodies of four people on Belarus-Poland border who appear to have died from hypothermia are raising new accusations that Belarus is pushing migrants to the eastern border of the European Union, possibly in retaliation over Western sanctions following the contested reelection of the country's strongman Alexander Lukashenko. The discovery comes amid a surge of largely Afghani and Iraqi migrants attempting to enter Poland in recent weeks.

• China to stop building coal-burning power plants abroad: Under pressure to limit emissions to meet Paris climate agreement goals, China announces an end to funding future projects in Indonesia, Vietnam and other countries through its Belt and Road initiative.

• Turkey ratifies Paris climate agreement: Following a year of wildfires and flash floods, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced at the UN that Turkey will become the last G-20 country to ratify the emissions-limiting accords. Turkey already signed the agreement in 2016, but has yet to hold a vote in parliament.

• Mass evacuations following Canary Islands volcano: More than 6,000 people have fled the Spanish archipelago as heavy flows of lava have buried hundreds of homes. Four earthquakes have also hit the Canaries since the Sunday eruption, which could also cause other explosions and the release of toxic gas.

• Rare earthquake hits Melbourne: The 5.9 magnitude quake struck near Melbourne in southern Australia, with aftershocks going as far Adelaide, Canberra and Launceston. Videos shared on social media show at least one damaged building, with power lines disrupted in Australia's second largest city. No injuries have been reported.

• The evolutionary tale of tails: Charles Darwin first discovered that humans evolved to lose this biological trait. But only now are New York scientists showing that it was a single genetic tweak that could have caused this shift, while our monkey relatives kept their backside appendages.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

"The roof of Barcelona" — El Periodico daily reports on the latest delay from what may be the longest-running construction project in the world. Work on the iconic Barcelona church La Sagrada Familia, which began all the way back in 1882 as the vision of master architect Antoni Gaudí, was slated to be completed in 2026. The Barcelona-based daily reports that a press conference Tuesday confirmed that the deadline won't be met, in part because of delays related to COVID-19. Officials also provided new details about the impending completion of the Mare de Déu tower (tower of the Virgin), the first tower of the temple to be completed in 44 years. Although it is currently the second tallest spire of the complex, it will become the highest point of the Sagrada Familia, reaching 172.5 meters thanks to an illuminated "great cross."

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Latin America, the next mecca for digital nomads

Latin American countries want to cash in on the post-pandemic changes to the fundamental ways we work and live, in particular by capitalizing on a growing demand from the new wave of remote workers and "youngish" professional freelancers with money to spend, reports Natalia Vera Ramírez in business magazine America Economia.

💻🏖️ Niels Olson, Ecuador's tourism minister, is working hard to bring "digital nomads" to his country. He believes that attracting this new generation of freelancers who can work from anywhere for extended visits is a unique opportunity for all. Living in a town like Puerto López, he wrote on Twitter, the expat freelancer could "work by the sea, live with a mostly vaccinated population, in the same time zone, (enjoy) an excellent climate, and eat fresh seafood." For Ecuador, the new influx of visitors with money to spend would help boost the country's economy.

🧳 While online-based freelancers already hopped from country to country before COVID-19, the pandemic has boosted their current numbers to around 100 million worldwide. The Inter-American Development Bank estimates there could be a billion roaming, digital workers by 2050. Some European countries already issue visas for digital nomads. They include Germany, Portugal, Iceland, Croatia, Estonia and the Czech Republic, but in the Americas, only four countries make the list, namely Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Panama and Costa Rica.

💰 In August 2021, Costa Rica approved a law for remote workers and international service providers, intended to attract digital nomads and make its travel sector more competitive. The law provides legal guarantees and specific tax exemptions for remote workers choosing to make the country their place of work. It allows foreign nationals earning more than $3,000 a month to stay for up to a year in the country, with the ability to renew their visa for an additional year. If applicants are a family, the income requisite rises to $5,000.


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$2.1 billion

Google announced yesterday it will spend $2.1 billion to buy a sprawling Manhattan office building, in one of the largest sales of a building in U.S. history. The tech giant plans on growing its New York workforce to more than 14,000 people.

📣 VERBATIM

It is sickening and shameful to see this kind of president give such a lie-filled speech on the international stage.

— Opposition Brazilian congresswoman Vivi Reis in response to President Jair Bolsonaro's inflammatory 12-minute speech at the UN General Assembly. The unvaccinated head of state touted untested COVID-19 cures, criticized public health measures and boasted that the South American country's environmental protections were the best in the world.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Hannah Steinkopf-Frank & Bertrand Hauger

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