Occupy Europe: How a generation went from indifferent to indignant
Occupy Europe? From Madrid to Athens, young people facing a bleak future are casting doubt on European identity.
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Author Jeremy Rifkin in 2004 saw Europe as the path to the future. Young Europeans in college seminars spoke about being European, not Dutch, or French, or Spanish. A single Europe, as was said after the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall, "just makes sense."Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Generation Disillusioned
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Even in 2002, notes Paris intellectual Dominique Moisi, there was a "quasi-religious feeling" among students about creating solidarity with Czechs, Slovaks, Poles. Europe seemed a dazzling model of social cohesion – wealthy, sustainable, green, and mostly postnational. The ghosts of Auschwitz were fading. "Never again!" still echoed prominently in the streets when Germany reunified.
Democratic values were ascendant, borders were falling, and old animosities were evaporating. Indeed, Europe was a cause, and with its enlightened youth, was preparing to lead the way.
The Bosnian war was an early reality check on how prepared Europe was to sacrifice in the name of its values. But the 1999 Kosovo intervention to halt ethnic cleansing and nationalism on Europe's doorstep, and a commitment by Brussels to keep the peace and integrate the Balkans (with the United States), helped restore the narrative. A war crimes tribunal at The Hague, the first since Nuremberg, prosecuted hundreds of officers and soldiers from those wars.
Yet the European dream is suddenly in question. Under-30s have more doubt than optimism. It is the first generation since the 1950s that feels few thrills about a Europe project. The 17-nation eurozone is debt-ridden. Ugly splits are manifest between northern- and southern-tier states. The cohesion brought by a Franco-German relationship bent on keeping Europe whole and vibrant has frayed or become exhausted.
"For a long time, I believed in Europe. I thought it was magnificent," says Olivier, 27, who studied philosophy but now works for France's National Institute for Statistics and Economic Studies. "It was brilliant, especially in terms of its historical configuration. But today I am not satisfied.... I would love a strong Europe that speaks with one voice," but Europe is increasingly directed by Germany, says Olivier, who, like some of the others interviewed, would give only his first name.