Up to now the year has been marked by events which we are only just beginning to understand. Sixty million people have been forced to flee their homes worldwide since the middle of September, two thirds of them internal refugees within their own country. Since the spring, reports about the refugees fleeing across the Mediterranean have dominated the media, leading to a feeling of insecurity across Europe.
We know that together with the refugees cultural conflicts are also on the way. But what kind of values do we actually want to defend – and how? Before anything else, we have to admit that the affluence of our continent has been built on the oppressed back of large parts of the world. Colonial suppression was subsequently followed by merciless economic exploitation particularly of the African continent. Today, the global financial markets, completely detached from any economic rationale, dominate ever bigger parts of the real economy and in so doing exacerbate the social and ecological misery in the developing countries.
That is evident in the textile factory fires in Bangladesh as much as in the 748 million people who no longer have access to clean water because such access has been privatised and is thus no longer affordable for them. And that, although there is enough water for all! When people keep saying today that we have to distinguish between political and “economic” refugees, we should never forget who benefits from their poverty.
The question as to the values we should defend when “the others” come thus looks somewhat different against this background: which values do we want to make a part of our life so that there is something to defend? Gender equality, freedom of expression, freedom of religion and civil society are undoubtedly among them. But do we give something of these things back to the world? Would the very first step not be to enable the billion people who today live in extreme poverty to live off what they can produce in their country on their land? Would that not be the most basic foundation for any free trade agreement?
And would another step not be to exercise democratic control over the financial markets which are running wild; and a further one that we consider in the products we buy ourselves and the investments we make what the effects of these transactions are? Would that not be the gold standard for the respect we show to those who come to us?
We can only defend our values if they are our hard societal currency and not some kind of daydream. Our opportunity lies in the fact that the smallest distance in this world does indeed lie before us at every moment.
Henning Kullak-Ublick, class teacher from 1984–2010 at the Flensburg Free Waldorf School; board member of the German Association of Waldorf Schools, the Friends of Waldorf Education and the International Forum for Steiner/Waldorf Education – The Hague Circle.