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YYY: Voxpop -Young Europeans' thoughts on fall of Berlin Wall

Voxpop -Young Europeans' thoughts on fall of Berlin Wall

 Reuters 27 May 2019

(Originally published: 11/2009) For generations old enough to have lived through it, the opening of the Berlin Wall will be the iconic image of our time - an enduring memory that marked the beginning of the end of the Cold War. But to many Europeans born around 1989, the far more enduring image is the destruction of the World Trade Centre on Sept. 11, 2001, ushering in the age of global terrorism and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  - By Marton Dunai and Gergely Szakacs in Budapest, Robert Mueller in Prague, Sophie Hardach in Paris, Catherine Bosley and Kylie MacLellan in London and Gabriela Baczynska in Warsaw; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall and Sara Ledwith


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Nov 6 (Reuters) - For generations old enough to have lived through it, the opening of the Berlin Wall will be the iconic image of our time -- an enduring memory that marked the beginning of the end of the Cold War.

But to many Europeans born around 1989, the far more enduring image is the destruction of the World Trade Centre on Sept. 11, 2001, ushering in the age of global terrorism and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Acutely aware of the interconnectedness of modern life, they worry about their jobs, financial security and the burden of what they see as ever higher expectations -- their own, their peers' and their parents'. Some see the consumerism of the west as too demanding. Following are some of their comments to Reuters correspondents:

Alex Beddoes, 23, client services co-ordinator, London

"I will always remember what I was doing on September 11th. I was sailing and when my sister called to tell me I thought it was a prank call.

"(This is my generation's enduring image) I think probably because of the people jumping out of the buildings, knowing that they didn't stand a chance, and the bravery of the emergency services putting themselves in so much danger. It led to the 'War or Terror' for almost this entire decade, an overwhelming effect on foreign policy around the globe and has affected almost every facet of our lives.

"The extra security means that travelling isn't the same, public paranoia has led to the rise of the BNP and other far right parties around Europe and two of my close friends are off to Afghanistan.

"Our parents had fewer worries. They had no student loans, only grants. No worries about buying a house, no difficulties in finding a job, no worries about huge amounts of national debt."

Nicholas Peppiatt, 23, research executive, London

"Everyday life seems to be easier (for me than for my parents) for example far more food, transport, entertainment options. However, it seems more competitive in the long term. There are no jobs-for-life, fixed retirement age, guaranteed pension etc."

JULIE PIROVANI, French, 16, lycee student shopping at Uniqlo clothes retailer in Paris:

"I see the fall of the Berlin wall as a revolution, the end of a war, the end of separation. It divides two eras -- before, it was oppression, people did not have the means to express themselves; afterwards, there was choice, freedom of expression. So yes, it was a change that persisted.

"We haven't arrived at that era at school yet, so I don't know much about what it was actually like before. But we talk about the fall of the wall in my family and it's considered something really joyful.

"I think the defining image of my generation is unemployment, the difficulty of finding work, that's weighing really heavily on young people."

ZSUZSANNA DORGO, 18, student in Hungary

"Some things have changed, some things are better, for sure, but there is still room to improve the situation.

"For example, we could do away with corruption and give more responsibility to the people, allow them to have a greater say in matters, even directly -- that is what democracy is about after all.

"My mom gave birth to me when she was only 19, so every age has its own benefits and drawbacks. My parents had to rely on themselves much more, whereas today, there are obviously 18-year-olds who still have their diapers changed by their parents.

"My parents were in a much more difficult situation, they had to make a living of their own. My mom had to leave her parents' home when she was pregnant with me at the age of 18."I was raised to be able to stand up for myself.

"But expectations have changed as well. Today, it is all about learning and learning, whereas in their days work was much more important. "Today, one (university) degree almost counts for nothing.

Asked if anything sounded good about the old ways, she said:

"Not really, my way of thinking is that liberty is all-important. I don't much like restraints, freedom is very important and being able to travel freely, for example, must be given to all. People should not be locked up in cages, we are not animals after all. Freedom must be given to everyone."

ZSOFIA KIS, 23, student in Budapest

Asked about the enduring image of her generation, she said: "The World Trade Center, no doubt about that. That's when the notion of terrorism entered our world."

On whether the end of communism fulfilled its promise: "In the West, it might be so. Here, I don't know. Our lives are different, we can travel freely, and our opportunities, in the long term anyway, are pretty good, but I think that's more of a consequence of our membership in the European Union, not the fall of Communism. Well, I guess so far as EU accession was possible because Communism ended, then that is important.

"To our parents, consumer objects like jeans, Coca-Cola and such things were the ultimate desire. Now all that is easily accessible. In some sense, consumerism has reached a point when we resent it.

"Our expectations are way higher than our parents' might have been. You have to have the latest cell phones, the latest clothes... but the expectations toward us are higher as well. We are expected to finish university, get good jobs, make lots of money... There were no expectations on our parents like that, not as heavy as that for sure.

"Our parents' generation was much more satisfied with what they had. Everybody just wants more of everything these days.

"(In the old days) there was no unemployment -- which you might say is good -- but that was artificial. They kept it up at the expense of going deeper and deeper in debt. So that looks good on the surface, but I disagree that would be a good thing. Other than that, not much, to be honest."

ANDRAS MAGYAR, 22, student, Pecs, Hungary

"The World Trade Center terrorist attacks (is my enduring image). I also remember the wars in Iraq and Yugoslavia, but the World Trade Center is the single iconic event that I can recall.

"Yes, I think our generation has a more negative view because of that. At the outset there was a fearsome event. It's something we will have to forget, not remember. We have to move on from it.

"Partly, I guess, it (the fall of the Wall) fulfilled its promise because the system is different, and we can get rid of our leaders if we dislike them. "That said, the situation right now is very similar to the Communist times. Politicians still don't do what they promised.

"Only part of that has to do with politics, the biggest difference (from our parents' generation) is probably technology. The internet, the way we communicate and the way our world has shrunk so much.

"Our parents lived in a much more limited world. Both physically, because they were not allowed to travel freely, and considering information. We can talk to anyone for no money, we can find out about anything in a matter of minutes.

"The world now is much less personal, there is much less direct contact among people. I mean, we don't really talk on the phone any more. We just talk online. But mostly we chat, online. I mean, I can't remember the last time I sent a proper email.

"My mom keeps telling me: 'son, there was a time before phones and the internet and all that stuff, when we met in person with our friends.' Well, yeah, whatever.

"It was much safer (in my parents' time), they tell me. There was less crime, and streets were safer. There was a certain kind of freedom in that, a different kind of freedom.

"People stuck together more, there was a tighter community. Part of that was because they had a common enemy -- the Communists. But the mandatory state celebrations and workers' union dances, and all that, I mean, that also created a community. Today's corporate Christmas parties can't make up for that."

Barbara Regulska, 24, who has recently started her PhD in foreign affairs at Warsaw University:

"It has always been upsetting my parents -- most Poles of that generation I guess -- that the whole world celebrates the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, not the events related to the Solidarity trade union in Poland in 1989. Everybody seems to be missing the fact that the Wall would not have fallen if it wasn't for what happened in here earlier in the year.

"In a sense everyday life was easier under communism especially for those social groups like workers, peasants and so on who were getting special treatment from the regime. These people found themselves worse off after the transformation, but of course, in the global scheme of things, the toppling of communism has been an overwhelmingly positive development. We live now with wider perspectives, we travel with no barriers, we have a free market and free media and free elections.

"I don't really think my generation is too much worried with the fall of the Wall. We hardly remember communism and what the living was before 1989. We get the importance of the event from history lessons, just as we learn about World War Two. But for the generation of my brother -- people who are now in their thirties -- it remains a vivid recollection that is actively shaping their views of the world until now.

"They've been through this more consciously, they have some memories and because of that, they are now able to appreciate democracy, freedom of speech or free elections much more.

"In some ways Europe continues to be divided into 'old' and 'new', 'better' and 'worse'. That has much to do with economic development, as rich and well-developed countries run the European Union. Of course Poland and the whole region sometimes get worse treatment because of weaker economy and that is in large part due to years spent under the communist rule.

"But this can only be seen from the inside. Globally, central and eastern Europe has made an amazing progress both in terms of politics and economy over those 20 years, which is not that much time in fact. So even though there are some rifts within the bloc, Poland is in the world's first league now as an EU member. We are being treated as a regular EU member, not as some bizarre, third world country."

Jakub Golicki, 20, second-year student at a private business school in Warsaw:

"The first thing that comes to my mind when I think of images representative of nowadays is the World Trade Centre attacks I'm afraid, though there must have been so many better things in the meantime.

"For us the heyday of Solidarity will remain the most important sign of the end of communism, much more than the fall of the Berlin Wall. The fall of the Wall has been a spectacular image and maybe that's why this anniversary is being celebrated much more abroad.

"Older people sometimes tend to miss the 'good old times', but it's probably just because they were young back then, with no pain in the back or heart diseases. I don't think it was better under Communism in any way. You couldn't get basic goods, you couldn't really decide for yourself and so on. I can't think of any positives of living on this side of the Iron Curtain really.

"The European Union is an amazing experiment. Of course it's not perfect, but the fact that Poland joined the bloc in 2004 has been like a civilisation-jump to a much more advanced group with higher standards, level of living and stability.

"It's clearly visible that not all of our region's countries are at the same development level as western democracies, but we just had less time to work it all out.

"My parents were mostly partying during their studies and when they finished it was work looking for them, rather than the other way around. I have started working at the first year of my studies. Not because I had to make money, but because experience is valuable. On the other hand I can go for holidays wherever, they couldn't. You can't have everything I guess."


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