I come from a country, which was not considered as civilized until quite recently by most of the so-called Western World, who looked down upon my country with mere curiosity and maybe some interest. Not surprisingly, very close to my home there are still tribes in existence that collect and paint the skulls of deceased children.
The village-elderly, most of the time natives to the regions, still had up to sixteen siblings. The water came, back in their days, still from the village’s well, unlike today where it comes from the tap. Whenever it rained, they used to collect the water. During my grandparents time, hardly anybody in the village had access to electricity.
Even until today my people still fight against some of the very common problems to our region: corrupt politicians, ethnic rivalries – which is not surprising, as the borders of my country have never remained the same for more than two generations – high public debt and so on. However, during the last years my country made an enormous progress. Everything is politically stable and we can be proud of many things.
When the country’s borders where drawn and the territories were assigned to the different tribal groups this happened very arbitrarily. The borders of the partly sovereign tribal communities did not mirror the actual composition of the rising populations and their respective cultures. Moreover, many of these territories varied greatly in their size. Nevertheless a civil war did not break out.
For more than sixty years the country has not been involved in a ethnicity based war. Small conflicts amongst the different people groups could be kept under control.
From the various dialects that are spoken in my country – many of which only the respective tribes from that region understand themselves – one of them was chosen in a peaceful process as my country’s official language. Originally this dialect was spoken just by a minority, but the other tribes soon agreed without much resistance.
Since the beginning of the new century we have nationwide landline connections. This would have been unimaginable until the early 1990s.
A period of military dictatorship in which some tribes descended was ended without bloodshed.
The biggest challenge though that was admittedly forced upon my country by outside forces was to learn democracy. Since then the people of my country have learned that better and better, even though it had been forced upon them in the beginning. Since then we also experience constant economic and socio-political improvements, which has been brought forward mainly through foreign aid in development and even foreign military presence by some more developed, mostly Western states.
Our national borders, that we did not draw ourselves, were therefore only officially recognized by my government in 1990.
The country I come from is Germany. Most people I tell this story about my home country expect me to name some remote country somewhere in Africa. The truth is, that most often it is not about what you say, but how you say it. If you speak about advanced, federal democracies like the US and Germany, but if you speak about tribes and village elderly, you associate this with some place else. If you speak of the struggles to learn democracy, do you think about Europe, or North America and the Arab Peninsula?
We all have these silent stereotypes in us through the way in which we are raised and through the information we are presented growing up. There is not much that we can do about it, but when we know about them, we can stay open minded.
In a world with as much misinformation such as ours, being open minded is a real quality.
Let us know have a look at Germany again:
In the regions close to Bavaria it was not uncommon to paint the skulls of deceased children until recently and keep them. In the districts of the former German Democratic Republic most households did not have landlines until the mid-1990s
Germans struggled a lot when small-scale-democratic features were first introduced and it took two World Wars, denazification and the division of the country to properly master it.
Over the course of European history, Germany’s borders have been changed at least once in a generation due to clashes with France, a country that is today considered one of Germany’s closest allies.
For the first time since its foundation Germany is experiencing lasting peace. Since the foundation of sovereignty in 1648 every generation of Germans has been involved in a minor or major military conflict within Germany and Europe. Thanks to the European Union – a very young, ambitious political idea – the third generation of Germans experiences lasting peace, the youngest amongst them was born and raised without the country changing its borders.
Most people would not describe Germany today as a war-torn, uncivilized country that had be be kept at bay by the international community, that was characterized through instability and development challenges and that only made its way to the top with the help of the international community. Nevertheless, that is who we are and even though we often forget that, we should remember the millions of German refugees that fled our country over the past centuries to seek a safe haven in other parts of the world, we should not forget the sums of international development aid that were invested in Germany and we should not withhold others the trust that the international community extended to us despite everything, when they are struggling as we did.