Some of you may remember that I was working on my first political essay following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. I had made it available earlier this year but withdrew it almost immediately because I felt confident enough about finding a publisher (for an extended version). Sadly, this has not materialised. I’m therefore making Mother, I’m suffocating – An essay on identity and conflict (2023) available as an epub version once again. It’s the first time I wrote about something other than film. You can purchase the epub in my shop. Below, you find some extracts of it.
I was born in 1988 in East Germany. The Berlin Wall fell when I was a little under two years old. There is a stamp in my red GDR health pass (a hammer and a compass surrounded by a ring of rye on the front) dating from November 24, 1989. It was the date when my parents took me to West Berlin for the first time, if only to pick up our so-called welcome money of 100 D-Mark (a little under 50 Euro) and then spend it all on amazing goods (and a lot of chocolate and sweets for us children!).
I grew up in a strange in-between time-space-continuum. My home was no longer fully communist, but not yet fully capitalist either. The (official) reunification of Germany on October 3, 1990 brought a lot of changes. It created hopes, yet also destroyed a lot of them. It promised freedom, jobs and wealth which many in Eastern Europe still dream of thirty years after the collapse of the Iron Curtain.
I wasn’t entirely conscious of it when I was little but throughout my childhood and my adolescence I learned and experienced that some people were more important than others. I would go as far as saying that some people were more valuable than others. It eventually dawned on me that my country may be reunited but that it remained divided. East Germans were second-class citizens. To this day, East Germans are largely absent from public discourse, from film and television, from university management, and from politics.
Truth is that when the Berlin Wall came down in November 1989, many mothers left their children behind, said they would do a short trip to the West to pick up their Begrüßungsgeld (welcome money) only to never return. Many fathers left because they were hoping to finally earn enough money to lift their families out of poverty, to finally afford Coca Cola, Nestlé chocolate, and every other luxury item that they and their families had always desired. They returned emasculated. They learned quickly that they weren’t equal to workers in the West. Their East German degrees and certificates were worth nothing. The result: men were no longer able to provide for their families at all and resorted to drinking. Domestic violence was the norm. Children, beaten black and blue, too.
On October 3, 1990 East Germany became part of the West to form the Federal Republic of Germany, but the East remained a foreign land and their people remained foreigners within this newly founded Republic.
The beginning of the essay is a personal look at how I grew up and how it influenced me over time. It is the first step in my investigation of what’s happening to our Western democracies. I take a look at current devlopments in Germany, but mostly at what’s happening in Britain, France and in the US. The concept of scapegoating runs like a thread through the essay because this is the defining characteristic of our struggling, ailing democracies today.
The absence of responsibility with its inherent focus on a designated enemy is like a swing. Eventually it swings higher and higher, and you can no longer stop it. It becomes automatic, and it is this automatic swing that countries, such as France, are already in, and which other Western countries are moving towards. Right-extreme ideas have become so normal that every party from Left to Centre to Right openly uses them. The normalisation of pointing at ‘the Other’, which we have seen especially in the last five years, is the very automation that the Weimar Republic had seen. Once hatred was sufficiently normalised, Hitler took power. His tendency to open violence, which led to a failed coup in Munich, resulted in a prison sentence in 1924. His ascent to power had to be delayed.
I look at both present-day history-in-the-making and our commong past history, one that is defined by slavery, colonialism, and extermination. I ask my young French Muslims radicalise themselves, and why our nation states (in particular France and the US) have such a big issue with post-colonial research. I’m speaking of the right-extreme replacmeent theory, and the push towards a much starker polarisation within society than we have ever seen before.
Yet, the instantaneity of people’s lives doesn’t correspond to the progressive development within a democracy. If the head of a country signs a law today, it’ll take years before we see the results of it. It seems perfectly reasonable to ask in this case, whether a democracy (the way we know it) was the most adequate system in a fast-paced world. Would a dictatorship not make much more sense?
For those who demand immediate changes, dictatorships (even if they don’t want to call it this way) make much more sense. One gets things done quickly. Laws are passed and come into effect immediately. Those who demand ‘immediate’ changes, don’t advocate democracy but authoritarianism, not because they take to the streets, but because they demand something that no one, not a single party, not a single politician, can give them in a democracy. The more immediate the demands become, the more society is pushed to the extremes.
Democracy is a contemplative form of governance that needs thinking ahead, and as the world grows more connected, the more ripple effects which each law may have have to be considered.
I point to the discrimination of refugees in Europe, but despite all the critical points the essay mentions, Mother, I’m suffocating ends on a hopeful note because I have faith in the following (multi-ethnic) generations to come to write our histories, and replace History, with a big H and which has been written by the West.
Western societies become more and more diverse, which, to me, is a gift. It is exciting and a great opportunity to dare take this step from a young democracy to an adult and mature one. When I was young, where I grew up, I saw only white people. I saw only married women, heterosexual couples with children. No one prayed. Everything was homogenous. This is also the picture of a democratic nation state in its infancy. Now that I am an adult I see Blacks and Arabs. I see people from Latin America, from Southeast Asia. I see same-sex marriages. I see homosexual couples with children. I see Muslims going to their Friday prayers, and I see so much more.
Our societies are maturing. It won’t happen without pain, but it’s a great chance.
A large number of today’s migrants are children born of the West’s failure to be humane and rational. The least we owe them is an ear, or the willingness to listen to their stories, because it is their stories that made us who we are today.
If you think this essay could be of interest to you, please do head to my shop and order a copy. And if you liked what you read, please feel free to share it. Thank you!