The photo on the left is of my 90-years old grandfather playing with his great-grandson as we visited him in his hometown in southwest Bulgaria a few weeks ago. He was very happy to see us and it was the first time he met the youngest member of our family (now almost 3 years old).
In the early 40-ies of the last century my grandfather was just turning 18. Similarly to many European of his age, he was taken to serve as a soldier ‘for his country’. At that time the country was an ally of Nazi Germany. The Nazis have positioned their well-organized troops, equipped with the most innovative for that time weapons, all over the Balkan peninsula and were trying to to the same all over the world, east and west. Well, it did not turn out to be possible as we know today, but nobody knew in advance at that time. Following the collapse of the Nazi in 1944, my grandfather was captured far away from home in series of chaotic events. For about half an year, he had to survive hiding away in the forests and walk the whole distance to home (as a soldier of an Nazi ally army he was mildly speaking ‘not welcomed’ anywhere, many of his compatriot soldiers actually never made it to home).
His story is not really exceptional for that time. The photo on the right shows how the German city of Cologne (Köln) looked like at the end of the second world war (1945) and I think it speaks for itself.
If you happen to visit Cologne (Köln), such photos are available also as souvenirs for tourists. I find particularly valuable a photo on a small magnetic plate which you can put on your refrigerator. So, every time you casually open your fridge to take out a snack or a beer you have the chance to reflect for a moment where Europe was not so long ago (people like my grandfather still remember it quite well!). Death, destruction, sorrow and starvation were everywhere, people from neighbour nations were hating and killing each other and the even the physical survival was an art.
Starting from this perspective, I can only laugh when I hear on the news sentences like ‘the future of Europe is in the hands of the governments’ or that mighty politicians like Angela Merkel or Mario Monti must take ‘bold actions to contain the debt crisis and prevent the chaos spreading across the continent’ or that ‘the elections in Greece are a pivotal point for the future of EU’. The future of Europe is not on the hands of the governments an it never has been. It is in the hands of the people who live on the continent. We need to take initiative, to overcome mutual suspicions and re-think our priorities. We need to learn how to master the challenges of today just like our grandfathers and grandmothers learned how to master theirs. Frankly speaking, it has never been easier.