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With the fall of the Berlin Wall, some people believed we had reached the end of history. But hope of a peace dividend was to prove vain.
Kyiv Maidan Nezalezhnosti
© lllustration by Sergiy Maidukov

Since the end of the East/West divide, not a day has gone by without a war being waged somewhere in the world. The images of suffering and destruction coming out of Ukraine are only the latest to shock us. They are also evidence, to anyone who had mistakenly believed we were at peace, of how violent the world still is.

Erich Maria Remarque published his novel Im Westen nichts Neues almost a hundred years ago. He portrays the horrors of armed conflict with an intensity greater than any image on a TV screen, and shows how wars eat away at people’s psyche and ultimately turn catastrophe into normality. At the end of the novel, when the main character Paul Bäumer is killed in the trenches, we find the laconic epilogue: All quiet on the Western Front.


Im Westen nichts Neues
© Reiner Bajo/Netflix

All Quiet on the Western Front – the first German film adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque’s novel was released in cinemas and on Netflix in 2022.

Anyone who is not blind to the horrors of the present day, whether in Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia or Yemen, knows that peace is still a long way off for large swathes of the world’s population. In 2021, the Heidelberg Institute for International Conflict Research identified 204 violent conflicts worldwide, including 20 all-out wars and 20 ‘limited wars’, a number of which have already been ongoing for many years. These conflicts are not always about securing global spheres of influence by military means. They often stem from unresolved local land conflicts, ethnic discrimination or unjust power structures which, fuelled by arms exports, lead to armed confrontations.

The fact that conflicts can also be resolved in non-violent ways, however, is evident from many of the latest titles to appear on the German book market. For the writer Marlene Streeruwitz, there is one particularly crucial factor. In her passion­ately argued Handbuch gegen den Krieg, she calls for a fundamental realignment of dominant pa­tri­archal social structures, a radical rejection of male dominance.

Equality instead of dependency

If you look closely, it is clear that behind the escalating violence in the world today lies a dramatic increase in social inequality. Globalisation, driven by economic considerations, has brought the world closer together, but has also created deep social divides.

The book Globale Ungleichheit, edited by Karin Fischer and Margarete Grandner, provides a valuable insight into the complex causes of inequality. In many cases, racist ideologies are used to legitimise existing inequalities. These ideologies can be traced back to the days of slavery and colonialism, as Heike Raphael-Hernandez shows in her book Deutschland und die Sklaverei.

The unleashing of the markets has made the rich richer and the poor poorer. The colonial oppression of past centuries has been replaced by a different kind of oppression, whose consequences are no less fatal. Inequitable global trade, the reckless exploitation of raw materials, continued land theft and the consequences of climate change are destroying the basic foundations of life, and this trend is accelerating in a dangerous way.

Today, more and more people are being forced to migrate in search of a better future for themselves and their families. They move to the slums of big cities, or are accommodated in refugee camps. Only a small minority make it to Europe or the USA. 1.5 billion people – almost 20% of the world’s population – now live in slums, crammed together in what are often lawless areas.

In their inspiring book Die Welt sind wir, Kollektive in Aktion show how people’s living spaces can be defended in spite of these worrying developments. They highlight the importance of common goods, adapted technologies and resource-efficient agriculture for a sustainable, positive peace.

Henry Mühlpfordt, Lizenz: CC BY-SA 3.0

Nobel Peace Prize Medal of Henry Dunant, co-founder of the International Committee of the Red Cross. In 1901, he received the first Nobel Peace Prize together with Frédéric Passy ‘for his humanitarian efforts to help wounded soldiers and create international understanding’.

Understanding instead of isolationism

It is one of the paradoxes of our age that knowledge and action rarely go hand in hand. We know that we urgently need to change course, but we hold crisis summit after crisis summit without ever actually doing anything about it. Politicians are concerned not with tackling crises but with crisis management. The idea of promoting world peace via general economic and social development that encourages participation, which was the founding principle of the United Nations, has given way to a politics that aims first and foremost at maintaining the status quo, however unjust it may be.

It is encouraging to see authors stepping in where politics has failed, and thinking about possible solutions. Tobias Bunde and Benedikt Franke do just that in their book Die Kunst der Diplomatie, in which they not only look behind the scenes of international politics but also highlight the importance of communication based on intercultural competence.

The growing potential for violence in the world cannot be met with isolationist policies, walls and militarised border regimes. As long as ‘migrants’ are seen as the problem, rather than the factors that force them to migrate, the world will remain an extremely unstable place. The truly reprehen­sible thing is not other people’s desire to share our lifestyle, but the fact that we can only achieve this lifestyle at other people’s expense. In his book Die Willkommensgesellschaft, Lukas Geisler shows us another way. He reports on initiatives, projects and people in civil society fighting for a different, more open society.

If we do not aim for greater openness, all we are left with is isolationism. And this leads to violence: violence which also has an internal effect. At the end of such spirals we often find calls for what is seen as the only remaining solution: the military.

White flag
© Jan Jacobsen, Lizenz: CC BY-SA 4.0

The white flag is an internationally recognised protective sign of truce or ceasefire, and of negotiation. Persons carrying or waving a white flag are not to be fired upon, nor are they allowed to open fire. The use of the flag to request parley is included in the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907.

Political solutions instead of military escalation

Wars, however, are not a tool that you can simply pick up and put down in an effort to achieve your goals. A destroyed bridge can be rebuilt, but the emotional and social damage caused by war lasts a lot longer. Defending yourself against an attacker is undoubtedly legitimate. And it is also morally right to show solidarity with the victims. Where things get more problematic is when aid and military assistance are used to compensate for a lack of political solutions. If the future of foreign policy is to be feminist, as suggested by the title of Kristina Lunz’s book Die Zukunft der Außenpolitik ist feministisch, we also need to see concrete support for women who are fighting to transform patriarchal power structures, such as in the self-governed Kurdish areas in northern Syria.

Peace is not based on military dominance but on justice, and thus on something which people all across the world, despite their cultural differences, have in common: the pursuit of a dignified life in freedom and solidarity. In his essay Die konkrete Utopie der Menschenrechte, Wolfgang Kaleck explains why we should still feel optimistic despite all the misery in the world. His book is a wonderful invitation to fight for our rights – our own rights and everyone else’s  in a reflective, self-aware way.

Handbuch gegen den Krieg
Marlene Streeruwitz

Handbuch gegen den Krieg / Handbook Against War

bahoe books

A writer takes a stand: in order to bring about peace, peace must be the model for the way we live our lives. War is the opposite of civilisation.

Globale Ungleichheit
Karin Fischer

Globale Ungleichheit / Global Inequality

Mandelbaum Verlag

A book about the global context, causes and mechanisms of the unequal distribution of income, wealth and life chances.

Deutschland und die Sklaverei
Heike Raphael-Hernandez

Deutschland und die Sklaverei

Ch. Links Verlag

‘A central and important contribution to current debates about the politics of memory.’ Bonn Center for Dependency and Slavery Studies.

Die Zukunft der Außenpolitik ist feministisch
Kristina Lunz

Die Zukunft der Außenpolitik ist feministisch / The Future of Foreign Policy is Feminist


‘Kristina Lunz brilliantly exposes the brutal patterns of male dominance at a global level.’ Emilia Roig.

Die Welt sind wir
Kollektive in Aktion (Hrsg.)

Die Welt sind wir / We are the World

Unrast Verlag

The authors travelled around Mesoamerica for a year, conducting interviews and gathering experiences related to ‘living a good life’ and defending public goods.

Die Kunst der Diplomatie
Tobias Bunde

Die Kunst der Diplomatie / The Art of Diplomacy


What is diplomacy? An art, a craft? Or something in between? Experienced practitioners explore the subject.

Die Willkommensgesellschaft
Lukas Geisler

Die Willkommensgesellschaft / The Welcoming Society

Oekom Verlag

Geisler shows how a humane and caring migration policy can succeed in the future, and calls on us to help create it and participate in it.

Die konkrete Utopie der Menschenrechte
Wolfgang Kaleck

Die konkrete Utopie der Menschenrechte / The Concrete Utopia of Human Rights

S. Fischer Verlag

As a practising lawyer in worldwide struggles, Kaleck outlines a new, concrete utopia by looking into the past and at inter­related struggles worldwide.

About the author

Thomas Gebauer is an author and longtime head of the human rights and aid organisation medico international. In 1991 he co-founded the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, which was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997. His book Hilfe? Hilfe! – Wege aus der globalen Krise, coauthored with Ilija Trojanow, was published in 2018.

Sergiy Maidukov

Sergiy Maidukov is a Kyiv-based artist. He has been working as an illustrator since 2011, and collaborates with various magazines and media such as The New Yorker, The Guardian, Die Zeit and others. His book Kyiv was published in 2021.

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