Everything was possible in space. Even gestures of good between Cold War enemies. That’s how it was in July 1975. The spaceships Apollo and Soyuz docked, the Soviet cosmonaut and the American astronaut shook hands. 200 kilometers above the globe, the Cold War seemed to have ended.
One of the words that made its way from Russian into the wide world is druzhba, friendship. It was signaled up in space, and there was promise in that. Friendship was only to become possible after the Iron Curtain had fallen. On the International Space Station (ISS), Russians and Americans continued to work together normally.
And even recently, after the Krem order to attack Ukraine, the friendly atmosphere over the stratosphere endured. Last week, however, the space agency Roskosmos announced that Russia would exit the ISS “after 2024”. Will there be opposition in space now? Nasa still explains that nothing official has been heard about it. So there is still hope for signals in the space friendship.
It doesn’t seem far away on Earth at the moment. Instead of friendship, antagonism spreads. Rarely has the “International Friendship Day” sounded more outdated, which will be celebrated on Saturday for the eleventh time since the United Nations proclaimed it. Friendship, friendliness, togetherness are part of the universal basis of civilization, especially between states, “inter nationes”. But diplomatic language, which is there to build bridges to friendship, is receiving less and less respect.
Russian President Vladimir Putin boasted that enemies would be “spit out like insects”. Heads of state from other regimes, such as China, Brazil or Myanmar, are also less likely to mince words when tagging opponents. And on the other side, too, one becomes verbally abusive: US President Joe Biden, for example, called Putin a “killer”.
Disillusioned, one has to recognize that it takes tough reactions and words to counteract the derailment into the uncivilized. If you want to remain civilized, you have to keep an eye on the danger of escalating momentum, keep the balance between rationality and empathy. But where does the increase in anger come from?
Much is rightly attributed to the impositions of all the transformations of the present: globalization of the markets, anonymous rivalries, digitization, loss of the social fabric. At the same time, the awareness of injustice, historical and current, is growing.
In itself this is a positive development, but the complex processes that produce injustice and inequality are poorly conveyed. Many feel discriminated against. Friendship? Only mine! Opponent? Always the others. On such a basis, it is also easy for state leaders, who ultimately only cause harm to their populations with hostile policies.
The universal ideas of friendship and reconciliation should be strengthened. These include Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” and Nelson Mandela’s outstretched hand, which began to abolish a system of enormous injustice beyond hate. Such gestures teach friendship worthy of its name.