Saxony and the ‘perceived war’

My last trip to Bosnia was disillusioning. I had already been somewhat disenchanted on my previous trips. But I was not honest enough with myself at the time. It was as if I COULDN'T believe what I saw during my recent trips, because I would have PREFERED to believe what I had thought during my foreign assignment when I helped to rebuild the country for three years after the war in Bosnia which lasted from 1992 until the end of 1995.

After that war, there was hope there. But what has become of this hope? What happens when hope has literally ‘sat dead’ for decades by a dirty political theatre?

This is Bosnia today: a country that is actually beautiful, ruled by gangs that are as corrupt as they are nationalistic and who only cooperate when the international moneybags want to spew new millions into the country. The emigration rate of young people is high, the birth rate marginal. It is only a matter of decades until...

Yes, what actually?

The whole thing sometimes reminds me of East Saxony, where I live. There are a few people here who believe in a positive future for the area. But if you look closely: There are few young people, but all the more older men in a bad mood.

Who wants to live here? And above all: why?

To my surprise, I started to question myself. Why do I live here? Because it’s beautiful, because it’s my home, because I don’t know any better? Because I believe in a positive future for the region?

Yes, of course: the area is beautiful. But the importance of things comes from the relationship you have to them. And the fact is that few young people want to have a relationship with the area. Home, it seems, is mainly a matter for older gentlemen. And of not-so-old people who don’t want to believe exactly that.


Bosnia is also beautiful. But that doesn’t help the country. It is hardly making any progress. It is, or so it seemed to me on my last visit, actually more worthwhile to get drunk tonight than to think about what you could do with your life in the medium or long term. Because you can make a real effort and still not know if anything will come of it.


Of course, you never really know. But what if you have to almost beg to get a secure job? Or when, despite there being theoretically equal opportunities, you are sent to ethnically separated vocational schools? You virtually go through the same school gate and end up in different classes. The distinguishing criterion? The name, the faith, the place of residence.


Saxony is far away from something like that. It doesn’t exist here. So why should we compare it?


Because the example of Bosnia shows where we end up when we give free rein to closed-off thoughts that somehow “look back”. By that I don’t mean that we end up at war, by that I mean that the bad mood settles over the country like mildew until the future is hardly to be seen and no one wants to move here either.


In Saxony, the situation seems reversed at first: the poisoned atmosphere is not so much caused by blatant stupidity ‘from above’, but rather by bad moods ‘further down’, in the middle of society. But much like Bosnia, we have a lousy birth rate and at the same time a high migration rate away from the area, and we have little immigration.


Of course, one could turn the proverbial tables and advertise with the current mood: Put up posters in the Ruhr region or Berlin saying that people should come to Saxony because Germany is still ‘normal’ there. Hurrah!


But there is another reason why a comparison is worthwhile: in Saxony we have peace, but there is a ‘perceived war’ in the hearts of some angry contemporaries.


In Bosnia, people know what civil war means, and it took them a long time to leave the direct consequences of the war behind them. There is peace there, but many still have too few prospects because the echoes of the war still linger on in the form of that accursed political farce. For every year of war, it takes ten years to compensate for the damage. In Bosnia it takes much longer.


While in Bosnia the traumatic consequences of the war are obvious and people would like to live differently, but can hardly do so, in Saxony we do not see the causes of the ‘perceived war’ in people’s minds because there was no catastrophic triggering event.


At the same time, some Saxons behave as if there were about to be a war, as if a few migrants or the coronavirus were the ‘latest’ catastrophes in such a way that one would have to risk one’s home and reputation to take action against them.


One feels as if one is at war, but the whole thing only takes place affectively. The oh-so-warlike punch during a demonstration does not land on the head of an ‘enemy’, but of a police officer - who could also happen to be your own neighbour.


Where some people nowadays ‘feel war’, we are rationally ‘only’ dealing with a democracy that has just had to leave the comfort zones it has been accustomed to for decades because things are getting tougher... or we in Saxony are just getting older and feel ‘somehow inferior’... or we haven’t even learned how democracy actually works... or some of us have realised that they don’t really want democracy at all.


Was 1989 perhaps a mistake after all? Back then, most of us wanted to get out of that socialist country named German Democratic Republic or GDR, wanted something different, especially the Saxons. Now we have something different - with all its difficulties and contradictions. And no, currently it is not easy to do anything right politically.


But is it really the case that we actually don’t want what we have now? It is as if we did want freedom back then, but as if we are reacting to today’s times with emotions that date back to the GDR. When today’s politicians try to steer the country through the turmoil of the current world, we feel betrayed and cheated.


Migration, corona, climate change, energy prices, inflation.... What comes next?


The ‘good old days’ are a place of longing that cannot be had. They only ever emerge when the past in question has been long enough ago and is no longer within reach for untinged memories. Even if the GDR is now transfigured into a sought after place, something is rotten, and if today’s protests are equated with those that led to the end of the GDR, something is even more rotten.


It is as Gennadi Gerassimow once said: “Life punishes those who come too late.” In 1989, the Saxons were anything but late when they set the political changes in the former GDR in motion. But these days, in view of all the shrinking processes and challenges in East Germany, we should not be looking at a charmingly imagined past, but at the future. And it is like any future: because you can hardly imagine it, you may not like it. But it will come anyway.


It would be good if we didn’t glorify the future or the past and face the future as it comes. Even if that is difficult with our socialist souls tailored to ideal situations. Climate change will not go away just because we ignore it. And against a changing world, isolation will only help until the average age and the shortage of skilled workers grow so much that local employers start to organise their own migration.


Of course, mistakes have been made in recent years - for example, the exaggerated ‘welcome culture’ of 2015. But we only learn something when we make mistakes or succeed at something for the first time. To do this, we must also demonstrate and argue, but we must not question the foundations of our society. Because what would be the alternative, if we thought it through consistently? A ‘SAXIT’ and all those with ‘competing ideas of order’ moving there? Hopefully, no one is really serious about that.

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