I was born in July 1994 and grew up in the fading 20th century and beginning 21st century in the middle of the European Union. In a peaceful time of prosperity and full of opportunities, from which I benefited in growing up, as a child, as a teenager, as a student and until today. From my own experience, I know of no other life than this, which comes with the benefits of our community of states.
However, I was influenced in this growing up by a person who was born many years before me in May 1926 in Eastern Europe: my grandfather Josef. He grew up in a very different Europe, as he was forcibly recruited at the age of 17, taught how to use a machine gun in a crash course, and sent to the front to serve as a soldier in the Second World War. It was not until almost ten years later, shortly after his 26th birthday, that this dark episode of his life, in which family members, friends and his youth were stolen from him by the war, came to an end.
Just like him, and much worse, millions of representatives of his generation suffered. The time I was able to spend with my grandfather and the exchange we had with each other as Europeans from different generations created in me an important and strong awareness of how bloody and rocky the road to a united Europe was. His voice was the voice from another time, which admonished the past and at the same time proved to me that social innovation and progress, resulting in the European Union, is possible. His voice made clear to me how important it is to stand up for peace and cohesion.
In April 2022 my grandfather died, his voice faded away. I can still talk about it and carry it on, but through me, it sounds quieter, because I have not experienced the past of the war-divided Europe. And especially now, in the face of war on the edge of Europe and the rise of populism on our continent, it would be important to hear this voice, the voices of contemporary witnesses.
But these voices are becoming fewer and often have no stage in public. No framework that lets them resound in the right place and on the right topics and puts them in dialogue with the younger generations.
Especially for the generation of first-time voters in the upcoming European elections, the opportunity for this dialogue would be a great chance to put them on the tracks of the European Union, to get to know its high price and to emotionally grasp its origin as a peace project and to than logically stand up and vote for unity and against division.
In my studies of politics, I often heard that the history of division and the struggle to get together in the aftermath of a catastrophe repeats itself and that the problems of humanity and social coexistence on the meta-level are the same today as they were hundreds of years ago. The strength of us Europeans lies in diversity and not only in the diversity of our wonderful cultures and languages but also in our age diversity. And the unity within this age diversity
The elders among us have had to learn painfully where the abandonment of democratic values and the division of society into extreme positions can lead.
They can tell about the past, authentically. They can warn, remind, and give hope through their experiences; indeed, they create an emotional and lively connection to the European Union that no written paragraph in a treaty or textbook about Europe can replace. This must be cultivated, to close the cycle of learning and to defend and preserve the peace project of the European Union against populist attacks and extreme tendencies.
In view of the upcoming elections, the exchange between young and old, as I experienced it in private with my grandfather, should be opened and carried into the public, even into the institutions. This generational dialogue and contact with contemporary witnesses, which carries the European idea within itself and is passed on from the oldest to the younger generations, must be organized. Formats must be found to educate young people about Europe explicitly to activate young voters and to make the “why” behind Europe understandable and accessible to them.
Also, the possibilities of digitalization should be used more to record and share the memories and voices of our elders – politicians and people from civil society and the economy – so that they sound louder than just a whisper or a memory, even if they pass away. So, we could incorporate their valuable experience into modern teaching methods for education about European values and spirit, especially in the run-up to the elections.
The young generations must be empowered to take part in leading and shaping the European Union. It would be fatal if, in addition to a drive for innovation in economic and technical matters in their minds, they would not carry the voices of the oldest generation in their hearts and preserve the value of cultivating our exemplary unity and the achievement of overcoming our borders once marked by trenches.
An article by Lukas Fabian Goslar. Fabian is a Young Advisor at United Europe and holds a Bachelor’s degree in European Studies from the University of Passau and a Master’s degree in Political Science from Vienna. Today he works as an NGO Founder for “Intergenerational Intelligence” and independent Workshop Facilitator.