The first figures from the trend study “Youth in Germany Summer 2022” have been published in advance. The fear of war seems to particularly affect young people from economically disadvantaged families. After the corona pandemic, you again fear great difficulties for your professional and personal development. At the head of the Fondation Générations, you are committed to the interests of young people. Do you confirm the pessimistic picture?
Claudia Langer: Unfortunately yes, and categorically. And this fear of the future began before the war in Ukraine and will continue to prevail long after the war is over. At the end of 2019, our foundation’s youth council book hit the market: “You don’t have a plan, so we’ll make one. The book has shown how, in the eyes of young people, politics evades all the crucial issues for them.
Always informed: The course of the war in Ukraine in the ticker – detonation on board: the Russian missile cruiser “Moskva” out of action
71% of respondents for the trend study assume a drastic increase in energy and commodity prices…
Longer: …which they might be right about. Many young people I have spoken to can only shake their heads at the energy policy of this federal government. On the one hand, Putin’s oil continues to be bought, but issues such as the speed limit are dismissed. Means: You prefer to play the ostrich instead of doing something. One summer speed limit and we would have saved eight percent on fossil fuels!
“I no longer hear the feigned pity for the youngest”
As is known, the Greens received a large number of youth votes in the Bundestag elections. What do you think: is the disappointment here particularly great when campaign promises are not kept?
Longer: Maybe you are, but maybe you just feel reaffirmed. We continue to carry out large surveys ourselves, the last representative study was carried out last summer: How do young people manage politics? 52% rated their depression-related health threat as more dangerous than actual corona infection. At the time, 68% said: The corona management of the government meant that I no longer had any confidence in political leaders. I’m sure the loss of confidence has increased dramatically due to the fatal mismanagement of compulsory vaccination. And this at a time when the government is making major and historic decisions whose funding will continue to weaken generations to come.
Because young people can no longer get out of crises? Is it climate change, then the pandemic and now war?
Longer: Honestly, I can’t stand the feigned sympathy for the younger ones anymore. Big regrets, big shrugs, but nothing is done. Teenagers and young adults exhausted themselves in the fight against the climate crisis and achieved almost nothing, then came Corona and the traumatic experience of confinement and now there is war in Ukraine. Even if it comes to an end, there will be record debts: 100 billion for the reversal of rearmament and a considerably increased energy depletion of the already weak in our society.
“The war in Ukraine will also be the war of our children”
So young people see a cascade of problems in front of them?
Longer: Yes, and they despair of it. The whole is expressed either in depression or resignation, or in increasing aggressiveness. But their need is neither really recognized nor actively taken into account, on the contrary. Very often, young people hear: what do you really want? You’re okay.
What are you saying?
Longer: That these people know very well what is yet to come. You are right, unfortunately. To put it bluntly: the war in Ukraine will also be the war of our children.
What do you mean?
Longer: It is to be feared that we are witnessing this decade of social unrest like the yellow vests in France, as the pressure and especially the inequalities are increasing very quickly. It’s hard to imagine how the lowest income groups in the country, and there are quite a few of them, can still live a decent life with skyrocketing energy costs and inflation beyond one percent. And the losses will mainly affect the places where young people live: families. 2000 euros more per year for an average household for heating and electricity, not including other living expenses, that’s great. Cynical when Olaf Scholz says these days that food banks absolutely must maintain their offer. Rather, I wonder: how is it possible that there is a need for food banks in a country like Germany? That so many children are starving here with us?
“This war must not supplant everything else”
Keyword education: According to you, young people are also on the losing side here.
Longer: Nobody seriously believes that next fall will be better than the previous one. That there will finally be sensible hybrid offers that can be used in the short term when the number of infections increases. Hardly anyone still believes in the much-vaunted and overdue new educational content – the educational canon that is taught in German schools today still comes from the post-war period. The young people and teachers I hear speak of an aggressive disinterest in real education and the need for schools. And when young people then have to read that their lower level of education due to corona will cost them an average of 5% of their lifetime income and no one is bragging about it, then this generation feels abandoned by us, the decision makers and adults. It pains me in my daily dealings that a generation loses faith in the future and that we as a society fail to take countermeasures.
What are you asking?
Longer: We need young people and we need them with all their intellectual potential. They will have so many unresolved issues to deal with that we should do our best to strengthen and support them and not constantly weaken them. We have all seen how deeply the war in Ukraine has shaken us.
However, this war must not crowd out everything else.
What do you mean everything else?
Longer: We are slowing down our fight against climate change and we are spending record sums on rearmament, even if this money will be lacking elsewhere. We see that there are multiple crises that we cannot overcome one after the other: we must stay the course, not accelerate, in the fight against climate change. We must resolutely oppose social inequalities in the country, because this is where our democracy is eroding. So far, no one has explained how the historic expenses of the past two years can be financed so that our children and grandchildren still have room to live. Our chancellor promised us a coalition for the future: there is not much to see at the moment.
Only 43% of young people want to increase military and defense spending
Suddenly there seems to be only one subject, don’t you think?
Longer: Yes, politics can obviously only deal with one crisis at a time, we seem overwhelmed with more. And then 100 billion euros are spent on rearmament. In a country where many children have nothing to eat, you have to leave that on your tongue. We hear that rearmament serves the security of future generations. So of course, I wonder: did anyone actually ask these generations? In the trend study you mentioned, only 43% of young people support the federal government’s decision to increase military and defense spending. 22% clearly reject this. Again: no one seems to care who is responsible. It drives young people crazy. We think and we speak against the walls, they say.
Even at home, with your own parents?
Longer: It’s very sad, especially since there are so many people in the 30-60 generation who occupy positions of power and therefore have access to change. It’s always the same thing. If you ask: How do you feel when you think about your children’s future? You can clearly hear the concern. And if you then ask: what do you do about it? Then they all look away.
It all sounds pretty depressing. As if young people today were completely alone…
Longer: Not enough. At the Generations Foundation, we feel a strong power and a tailwind that comes from grandparents and great-grandparents. In fact, we get a lot of support and inspiration from this age group. These are very warm and empathetic offers. According to the motto: we see what young people go through. We also see that our own children are inactive. How can we support you, how can we help our grandchildren?
How do you explain this commitment?
Longer: Of course, exactly what is happening here is what would also be so important to our generation: transference thinking. Older people have been watching the changes for many years now and are extremely concerned about climate change and its consequences, for example. For example, you can see very concretely how the garden evolves. That some animals won’t come back. In a representative study we conducted in parallel with young people (16-26 years old) and older people (60-80 years old) last summer, exactly 70% of both groups said they were “very afraid of the way which the world will be in 50 years. The elderly also blame themselves. There is this feeling: We have done too little ourselves to avoid these unwanted developments. 78.7% of 60-80 year olds say: My generation should become more politically active given the problems we are leaving to our children and grandchildren.
And? are they going
Longer: Unfortunately, only a small part is involved, but this part develops so much strength and has so much positive energy that it always touches me when young and old do something together. This happens regularly in our foundation and when this interview is read by people who also think:
we can’t quit just like that, something has to happen, so we’ll be happy if you contact us.
Because together you move forward and encourage each other.