At the very time that history is about to repeat itself in some way, we are standing here, confused and leaderless, watching events unfold. The last generation who knew what war, poverty and a real crisis in Europe really meant, or lived near to people who knew, is bowing out of public life.
Along with that generation, something valuable is lost: the collective historical memory. What happened in Paris at the World War I centenary commemoration was an important reminder.
Unfortunately, however, for millions of citizens, opinion makers and decision makers, the two world wars are as distant in their minds as the Palaeolithic period. It is frightening that in Germany, a generation that grew up with the memories and consequences of WWII is fading away, and there are people now who feel free to identify with extreme positions. The same the same is true in Poland, Austria, and even Italy.
In Greece, the political system and most of its top officials act irresponsibly, without understanding the dangers and threats. As late prime minister Constantinos Mitsotakis would say, “these children grew up in ease and luxury and do not know what division, crisis or war mean.” Everything hinges on PR and what is in “my” interest to do today to win a few points tomorrow.
I was thinking the other day, as I watched the commemorations in Paris, that those who took the fateful decisions that led to the destructive war had the luxury to debate, consult and decide their moves over days or weeks. There was no Twitter or social media, not even CNN.
Today, those who make decisions live inside a bubble. Citizens demand immediate answers. Leaders react by announcing their decisions in a 140-character message. How shallow and dangerous. That is not to say that Twitter is responsible for the lack of leadership today. That would be like saying that radio was responsible for the rise of Hitler.
It simply exacerbates the problem because at a time of great anger and instability we are left with “small” leaders who are pressured more than ever to make big decisions very quickly – sometimes even based on fake news.
The demons and ghosts of the past are returning to Europe and are appearing for the first time in the United States. A large section of the people is feeling lost and that it is no longer the silent majority, as we used to say in the past, but the exhausted majority, as someone wisely described them recently.
Exhausted financially and exhausted by the incessant and ruthless “war” on social media between extremists and nutcases. These people seek leadership and someone or something they can trust amid the madness.