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07 May

The Lost Generation of Europe

The Lost Generation of Europe Photos by Carlos Lorenzo

All across Europe, governments are issuing warnings concerning the youth, which will one day carry society forward, and perhaps should already be doing so. A generation which grew up with the wealth Europe has been so busy trying to protect, that nobody noticed they had lost it before it was too late. And as a result there is a generation of young people trying to make a living during one of the worst crises in Europe since the 1930's.

"From now on, your name is Renarto," said Lorenzo in a thick Italian accent, before making his way towards the closest vendor at the beach of Barceloneta.  I stayed in the tapas bar and emptied my glass.

"We are here to forget," he explained, when he and three other Italians stepped through the door again. I did not ask.
A gesture signalled that we were moving on.

It was not many days ago that I had placed my bag next to a bed in a cold hostel in El Barri Gotic in central Barcelona. Lorenzo had arrived a couple of days after. I noticed him straight away. He talked quickly and had introduced himself, before I had made eye contact. He had a restless way of moving and rarely sat down for long. It was probably also the reason why he had entered my room.

Lorenzo was quickly bored. He was from Milan and had gone ahead of three of his friends who would join him later that night. He suggested that we went down to a tapas bar to get something to eat, while we waited.

The disco Lorenzo had convinced the others to visit was situated down by the beach in Barceloneta. Lorenzo showed the way through the narrow alleys and past the marina by the beach. He had spotted the place before he had picked up his three friends from the metro, he explained.

Next to Lorenzo walked his right hand - he was called Costa. None of them knew his real name, and none of them asked. He was small, thin, sporting a crew cut and with a black earring in his right ear and eyes constantly searching. He did not speak English. He did not understand it either. Nonetheless he looked as if he knew what we were talking about.

The dance floor was full. Laser lights and projector screens with psychedelic videos lit the place up, while large loudspeakers with aggressive, electronic music were pointed at the dance floor, and the hundreds of people who were throwing their bodies around as dictated by the music.

Lorenzo dashed out there, while Costa placed himself in the bar and scouted the place. It was Costa who made sure to find the right pushers. He only bought from the pushers, which his quick glances found trustworthy, and it did not take long before he picked up Lorenzo from the dance floor and disappeared into the darkest nook of the disco with three men, who offered to make the night even better.

It was difficult for me to fall asleep that night and I could hear the Italians' slow conversation from their room. When I entered, a large mirror, which they had removed from the wall, lay on one of the beds. The white powder lay in several rows across the reflective surface of the mirror, and several rolled-up banknotes were spread across the floor. Lorenzo lay on a bed in a corner and looked almost happy.

"I am sorry," he said.
I looked at him quizzically.

"I can't make conversation now," he smiled and leaned his head backwards.

"In another world. I am in another world." He closed his eyes.

Lorenzo was back in the real world, when he woke up late in the afternoon.
"Can you get a job in Denmark," Lorenzo wanted to know as he flicked his cigarette over the balcony.

"It's been easier."

"The financial crisis?" he asked.

"It's partly to blame."
He nodded.
"In Italy, we don't feel it the same way," he explained. He light another cigarette.

"Berlusconi already has his dick so far up our asses, the financial crisis just feels like he is finishing." He look disappointed, but shook it off. From the balcony we could almost see the two streets, which enveloped El Barri Gotic, the Passeig de Picasso with heavy traffic and the famous and infamous Las Ramblas.

 

 


During the day, El Barri Gotic was a paradise for all the many tourists. A labyrinth of small, winding streets built some time during the Middle Ages. Here the tourists could try to take in the atmosphere of the warm spring weather, while sitting at cafés, drinking cafe con leche and admiring the Gothic buildings, of which most of these were built during the invasion of the Black Death in Europe. When night had really fallen, and they returned home to their hotels from restaurant visits, entirely different shapes appeared in the shadows from the buildings. Most stores closed. Only bars and restaurants stayed open to the younger clientele, who little by little were on their way out into the night. And only a little light reached the most hidden-away streets, which had become empty and cold.

"So how is your government?" he asked then.

"About to let their pants drop," I answered. He laughed and reached for his phone. The conversation took place in Spanish. Afterwards he told me that once more he had to go to the harbour in Barceloneta. I went along. That is where we met Ghana.

In the middle of the promenade, where the sound of waves from the sea crossed with the noise of the city, there stood Ghana. Ghana was a man you could trust. He told Lorenzo that, when they shook hands, and money was exchanged. Ghana was 28. He called himself Ghana, since that was where he was from.

"Ghana is not a place where you can live," he said.

So he had fled. He wanted to go to school. He wanted to be somebody, and he wanted to own something. He did not want to live illegally, and he did not want to work at night. When he we left, he ensured that it would happen.

"I know that it is not good for me," Lorenzo said as we walked back to El Barri Gotic. I gave him a short glance. He laughed.

"I know. But I just got to have some fun tonight."

We made a turn up the Las Ramblas and followed it some few hundred metres, before we once more turned right and found ourselves in the lower part of El Barri Gotic. We walked past the hookers, pushers and thieves who had emerged from their hideouts. From the shadows of the medieval buildings they whispered to those passing by. And the creatures of the night offered everything, without you needing to look for it. Side by side the hookers stood next to the pushers and sold a quick sensation of intimacy.
They had, like Ghana, come from places far away.

Young girls from Africa and Eastern Europe pulled their shirts down and showcased their goods, while they whispered prices. For ten Euros you could get them to do anything. Then, their bodies were yours and only yours. At the same time, the brothels of Barcelona offered exclusive girls from all over Latin America, who had used the easy terms granted to South American citizens, and who had come to Spain in the hopes of later getting permits for residency. From the red decor of the brothels the girls would with a permit later find their way to brothels all over Europe.

And from here they hoped that fate would allot them a better life than what they could find in their home countries.

And then the night held all the rest of us. Grown up in Europe and with the right to travel around and find work, wherever we felt like it in this community of rich countries. Grown up in the belief that the world is ours, as is the future, while the wall around Europe grew tall, and governments in Italy and Spain paid exorbitant sums of money to the countries on the other side of the wall to get them to keep their citizens away in a final, desperate attempt to protect our society and in recognition of the failed integration policies of Europe.

Europe has problems enough without dealing with the misfortunes of the rest of the world. Rising unemployment and a lack of competitiveness has increased during the international financial crisis, and at the same time the authorities are realising that an entire generation are slipping between their fingers. A generation of individualists who are used to things happening when it suits them, and who will only be disappointed when it is no longer the case.

A generation which throws itself at all sorts of euphoric products when the world does not have anything else to offer anyway.
Lorenzo and his friends were just a few of them.

Ghana got his product from a studio apartment in a hidden-away alley in El Barri Gotic. From here they delivered to the entire inner city. On a corner table in the living room they measured and counted. A password gave access to the apartment, and a watch was kept both inside and outside.

A stream of street dealers passed through the apartment, and the cell phones glowed red as money and goods were expertly divided. They were busy. The home team had just beaten Madrid, and the city was boiling.

The apartment had four bedrooms apart from the living room, which the dealers took turns sleeping in, and the apartment ensured that their commodities were offered on the streets of Barcelona all 24 hours of the day. Above a black sofa in the corner was a locker, disguised as a window, which contained everything that was to be exchanged for money. Only a few of the pushers had access to the locker, and while the goods were collected from it, the street vendors stood waiting, while a black man with Rasta hair collected fresh supplies from the locker.

The pushers had one thing in common, which was that none of them were welcome in Europe, and from their little apartment they sold emotions to the despairing youth of Europe. They sat in a corner sofa, intended for that purpose, and waited for what they would get for the money they had just handed over. Afterwards they went out on the street and tested the product which they had just purchased.

"That's quality. I only sell quality," one of the dealers said to a small group of tourists.

"Tonight we party like it's the last time," said a beautiful girl in Spanish, before she, using a rolled-up, bloodstained banknote, placed her nose against the mirror. Her name was Maria.

Maria had spent most of her adult life studying art. It was not something that had given her a job, so she lived with her parents. She sat in a blue top and a black skirt. She had a single piercing in her nose and she laughed and smiled through her blank eyes, all the while looking more and more like she was in love as the cocaine took effect. Afterwards we went into town.

I woke up late in the morning as Lorenzo was knocking on the door to my room. He sat down on a chair opposite my bed.
"I am lost," he said. His eyes were wide open and blurry.

"I really am," he said and gave a resigned look towards the ground. He reeked of sweat, perfume and alcohol. It was silent, despite noise from the street filling the room.
"You think I am too much?" he asked and looked up. His eyes had grown darker and tried to focus.

"I think it is time to go home," he said and stood up. An hour later I followed the Italians down to the metro. "Renarto," Lorenzo said tiredly. "If you are ever in Milan..."

"...then I know where to find you," I finished his sentence and thanked him. But I didn't. I didn't want to know. And he didn't want me to know.

He made an effort to smile. We shook hands before he slung his bag over his shoulder. Lorenzo and the three other Italians disappeared down between the white porcelain walls.
I remained standing and watched how the jesters of the street were preparing to receive the new tourists of the day, who would soon fill Las Ramblas.

I made sure that Lorenzo was not coming back, before I turned around and left.

 

 


There was nothing strange about the fact that Lorenzo wished himself to another world. He had lost his job in Milan and had difficulties finding another. According to OECD, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development between democratic countries, Lorenzo's generation is indeed known as "the lost generation".

According to the OECD report from 2010 about unemployment among youths, one in five youths in countries like France and Italy were unemployed, while nearly every other youth in Spain was unemployed at the beginning of 2010. In Latvia, the number was every third and in Denmark every tenth. Taken as a whole, every fifth young European was without work.
The report also warned that the consequences of this large unemployment among youths would leave permanent damages among those youths who failed in the job market. Among other things it would have a deep, negative impact on issues such as the happiness of the youths, their satisfaction and health for many years to come.

Governments all over Europe are aware that a generation is slipping through their fingers. For example, the EU foundation for social work has earmarked 200 billion DKR to the unemployed youths of Europe. But that money must be applied for by the member countries individually, and only then distributed to the youths. It is a lengthy process, and according to newer statistics from the end of 2010 from the European bank of statistics, Eurostat, unemployment remains more or less stable at 20,2 percent among all the youths of Europe below 25 years of age.

At the same time, experimental drug use is widespread among youths. Among other things, Danish youths have the record in Europe for experimental use of hash.
In Denmark, about half of those between 15 and 34 years have tried smoking hash, which is above the European average. When it comes to more regular use of hash, Denmark is in the middle of the European field, and where experimenting with 'harder drugs' is concerned (amphetamine, cocaine and ecstasy), Denmark is in the European top with countries like Great Britain and Spain. This is explained in a new book from the National Research Centre for Welfare. Several studies from The European Surveillance Centre for Narcotics and Abuse of Narcotics show that unemployment is a serious increase in risk, just as many of those currently in rehab are unemployed.

According to the latest numbers from the Spanish bureau of statistics, Instituto Nacional de Estadística, about 300,000 people travelled from Latin America to Spain in 2007. As a citizen in one of Spain's former colonies you can go to Spain without applying for a visa, and many of them never return home, but decide instead to use the easy terms under Spanish law to apply for a residency permit.

In Spain, the authorities have among other things given amnesty to illegal immigrants to gain some sort of idea of how many are residing and working illegally in the country. The last time was in 2005, where about 700,000 illegal immigrants at once were given legal status.

Residency permits in Spain can also be obtained by marriage to somebody who already has this permit in Spain. With a residency permit from the Spanish authorities one can travel freely within the borders of Europe. Since both Spain and Denmark are members of the Schengen Agreement, you can also travel freely to Denmark as a tourist for three months.

Those who arrive are not permitted to work in Denmark, though. Many immigrants also arrive from Africa and enter Europe through Italy and Spain, which is why the EU-countries have commenced cooperation with countries like Libya, Morocco and Algeria, who are supposed to keep them away from the promised lands.

Both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty are deeply concerned about these arrangements, since all these countries have a long history of violating human rights. The treatment of refugees and immigrants by these countries are no exception. Among other things, the countries are being accused of keeping arrested refugees and immigrants detained under inhuman conditions and without regards for age or gender, before they are deported. There have been cases where refugees have been driven to the edge of the Sahara desert and left behind.

Back in Europe, the young generation are standing in the shadows waiting. This generation is also called Generation Y.

People are not actually in total agreement as to what year this generation is born, but the period usually stretches from 1982 to 2001, which is also in use by William Strauss and Neil Howe, who by the way refuse to use the term Generation Y, since they do not believe this generation is a continuation of the previous Generation X. They write in their book, Millenials Rising: The Next Great Generation from 2000 that precisely this generation of youths have a host of expectations towards life; and in the book Millennials in the Workplace from 2010 they write that these youths are used to being treated as stars, being listened to and demand attention.

And with good reason, since this generation has plenty of creativity and feelings of fellowship to offer. But the unemployment among youths all over the world has made several critics ask, whether the abilities of this particular generation will remain wasted, and the generation has thus often been termed "The Lost Generation".

 

 

Last modified on Sunday, 13 May 2012 01:13
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René Løkkegaard Jepsen

Journalist and Co-founder of inJour. Study master at Digital Design & Communication

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