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Crisis of a Generation

The Degradation of Europe

Part 2: Europe’s Fallen Society

(Click here for Part 1 of Brandon's article)

by Brandon Tupchong (8th)

Society is an absolutely crucial part of a nation, whether it be for the greater good or for worse. While stability may be one factor to create a functioning government, that is just the foundation, the building blocks. It is truly the society that brings a nation to its full potential past the framework established by stability. If stability is the judge of a nation’s success, then society is the jury that brings this verdict to life.

Over the past century, Europe’s society has vastly changed, largely due to numerous world-altering events (World War 2 and the Cold War are the most major examples). However, from the ashes of conflict, Europe has emerged as a highly advanced, civilized society. The rest of the world looks up to Europe due to these high societal and living standards. 

The largest problem with this outlook towards the continent is that most people have no idea about the real conditions of Europe that are currently ravaging the continent. Most people do not look past the famous tourist destinations or vacation trips that they take to Europe. What tourists see is only a facade of the true state of Europe. The numerous issues within Europe’s society will be explored, which will determine whether Europe truly has degraded itself over the past decades. Before that however, let's dive deep into the history of Europe to understand it first.

The Industrial Revolution, born in Europe, entirely transformed European society for the better. Europe became the most technologically advanced continent by far, surpassing the rest of the world. Combining these achievements with newfound medical advancements reducing mortality rates, and the result was a massive population boom. Between the 19th and 20th centuries, the European population doubled to over 300 million people. From the 20th to 21st century, this massively jumped again to over 700 million people, even despite deadly major conflicts like the World Wars. It seemed like Europe, despite being the smallest continent area-wise, would continue to grow at this exponential rate.


This European dream unfortunately shattered in the 90s, continuing into the 21st century. In 1991, the Soviet Union fractured into 15 currently independent nations, with a majority of these being located in Europe. However, by this point, the democratic western portions of Europe were already far more technologically and socially advanced compared to the subpar, almost inhumane living conditions of the East. Combined with the immense amount of job opportunities in the West, and mass emigrations from Eastern Europe to Western Europe occurred, severely shrinking the populations of the newfound nations. 

There are numerous examples of this population decline, but one of the hardest hit out of the post-Soviet nations is none other than Ukraine. Almost immediately after independence in 1991, Ukraine’s population started declining, with its population rate consistently going in the negative every year. As a result, the population of Ukraine dropped from 51 million in 1991 to barely under 38 million in 2024. Of course, part of this drop is due to the currently ongoing Russo-Ukrainian War and the escalation in 2022. However, even discounting the invasion, Ukraine’s population still dropped to 43 million in 2021. 

Losing 8 million people in 20 years is an average of losing about 400,000 people yearly, an extreme quantity that can wipe out a nation entirely. Ukraine would not have needed a war to destroy itself. Its population would have rapidly declined nonetheless. However, Ukraine is not alone. Every other post-Soviet European country has also lost population since their independence. From Estonia to Ukraine, the entirety of post-Soviet Eastern Europe was hit horribly.

This doesn’t just apply to the former Soviet nations, but also to the Soviet-puppeted Warsaw Pact. To those unfamiliar with it, the Warsaw Pact was a group of pro-Soviet communist nations in Europe that spanned across Eastern Europe. The various members of the alliance are shown in the map beside, ranging from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea. Immense Soviet repressions against democratic uprisings in the region along with overall poor economies led to a massive economic and political difference between NATO-aligned Western Europe and Soviet-aligned Eastern Europe, with the gaps still being widely seen today. While Western Europe only got richer exponentially, Eastern Europe went down the drain. 

Once the authoritarian communist governments of the Warsaw Pact were eventually overthrown from 1989 to 1991, the citizens of the Eastern Bloc were finally able to emigrate to the West for better living conditions and opportunities, thus beginning the mass emigration from East to West. The already poor Eastern Europe only became worse as a result of this phenomenon known as a “brain drain”. This is when intellectual and talented minds leave poorer nations in hopes of a better life.


Much of the population left in Eastern Europe were generally poor and uneducated, essentially forcing these various countries towards a bleak future. While some countries were able to better handle this crisis than others, it was impossible for any of the former Warsaw Pact members to escape the brain drain.

The uneducated populations often become radicalized under far-right ideologies that claim to revolutionize their nation into a better state. These ideologies eventually take over the ruling governments of these nations as a result, connecting back to the current political instability and right-wing swing of modern Europe. In Poland and Hungary, borderline authoritarian governments rule the former Warsaw Pact nations. The people continue to vote in the same authoritarian governments into office due to propaganda and the cycle repeats. Society and politics go hand-in-hand together quite often as seen with this. 

Back to the massive population declination issue, it is not just the Eastern European countries suffering from this. Some influential countries have been hit hard, especially in the case of Italy. It is predicted that, without migration, by the end of the 21st century, Italy would have only half its current population of just under 59 million. This holds some serious, dangerous implications for the future of Italy.

 Due to the low birth rate, the nation would not have enough younger citizens to assist with the workforce and industry of the nation. Italian society won’t be sustainable enough to keep up with the demands of the nation. This lack of a workforce could potentially cripple Italy’s generally strong economy and lose out on its status as a regional power. 

The Italian government is alarmed by this, encouraging greater birth rates. Even the Pope is attempting to help out with the population decline, urging the Italian population to have more children. However, the population curb has already taken itself into effect, and very soon it may be too late for the nation to reverse its decline. The world has already seen the consequences of population decline in Japan. Italy is very likely to be the next country to suffer the same fate. 

The entire European Union is also in turmoil due to the rapid population declines of many nations. The average fertility rate in order to achieve a stable population growth is 2.1 live births. There is not a single European country that is currently reaching this rate. France has the highest fertility rate at 1.84 births, which is still vastly under the 2.1 threshold. 

It is predicted that the European Union will reach its peak population of 453 million by the year 2026. It is also predicted that by the end of the 21st century, the European Union will shrink to about 420 million people. Europe’s future is in jeopardy. In many European countries, the only reason why their populations are still growing is due to the high levels of immigration to the continent, primarily from Africa and the Middle East. However, immigration to Europe has become a highly polarizing topic that has divided Europe’s society.

The Arab World, one of the more controversial global issues, happens to impact modern European Society in a negative fashion. The two regions may not seem very correlated to one another, but Arab turmoil has led to an influx of Arab migrants of questionable legality into Europe. In North Africa, the Maghreb region, consisting of Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and Morocco, has experienced regional turmoil as a result of the Libyan Civil War and the Arab Spring of 2011. Many Arabs in the region seek for a better life up north in Europe. 

As a result, many migrants, both legal and illegal, immigrate to various European countries. Unfortunately, the success rate of migration often falls flat as illegal immigrants from Africa end up sinking in the Mediterranean Sea causing humanitarian disasters. One of the biggest of these was the 2023 Messenia migrant boat disaster. Anywhere between 400-750 illegal migrants coming from various Arab countries such as Pakistan and Egypt were being transported on an aging Italian boat from Libya to Greece. However, the boat capsized, causing 82 confirmed deaths and hundreds missing. As tragic as this event is, it is much more common than what many believe. Thousands die every year attempting to cross the Mediterranean. 

However, the migrants that do make it out alive and into Europe sometimes bring outdated traditions and beliefs with them, especially those relating to social issues such as LGBTQ+ and women’s rights. As a result, increased violence is often found due to these new immigrants in Europe who haven’t assimilated into the culture yet. This unfortunately creates a racial stereotype within Europe about immigrants. Many Europeans hold negative views on immigrants as the immigrants have not been taught of the generally progressive nature of European society. 

In 2015, a major refugee crisis hit Europe hard. Over 1.3 million immigrants, mainly from Syria, migrated to Europe in order to request asylum from the terrible conditions from their own nation. This received many polarized and divided responses among European nations. Many closed their borders and refused to take in many refugees.

At first, there were many negative responses to the migrants. The European population feared that the migrants would supposedly take over European society and destabilize the continent. This resulted in greater ideological radicalization, especially towards the anti-immigrant right. Many racist and xenophobic movements arose within Europe as a response to the migrant crisis, which fueled many far-right European parties and propelled their popularity among European society. 

This is yet another example of how a jeopardized European society can disrupt stability within the continent. Many of these fears were taken too far. However, some of their fears were inspired by some horrific groups and ideologies who were unfortunately somewhat related to the mostly Arab migrants. 

In the Middle East, various ideologies have risen as a result of perpetual conflict and turmoil in the region. These ideologies can often have very extreme, or radical views. Some believe that Islam should be the sole world dominant religion, and that all other practitioners of other religions are heretics. One of these ideologies is known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, otherwise known as ISIS. 

Out of all the extremist terrorist groups in the Middle East, ISIS is of the most well known due to their rapid and alarming expansion within the region between 2014 and 2017. Even though their downfall was just as quick and dramatic, they certainly left a scar within the region and further destabilized it. However, even though ISIS controls very little land, this doesn’t mean that they haven’t done anything in their power to continue their terrorism internationally.

In 2015, three ISIS suicide bombers carried out mass shootings and bombings around the city of Paris. 138 people, including the bombers themselves, were killed in the deadly attack. In 2024, four ISIS terrorists carried out the Crocus City Hall attack in Krasnogorsk, Russia, killing 145 people. These are the most extreme examples of ISIS’ terrorism in Europe. Even though these massacres are less common, ISIS has still done everything they can to continue terrorizing European society. In retaliation, Europe has become more Islamophobic and right-wing. 

In a sense, it is understandable as to why Europe was so heavily swayed towards radical ideologies. It is only natural for humans to fear those who seem to have something in common with dangerous groups, even though this belief is entirely irrational. In this case, the similarity of being Muslim is the unfortunate link. 

However, the exact opposite also occurs. There are many people who protest against Islamophobia and racism. Being a more progressive society that allows protests and freedom of expression, it is common to hear about European protests on the news. Some recent instances of European protests include the Georgian protests against a proposed authoritarian law by the Georgian government, farmers across Europe rioting against laws that regulate the environment and agricultural practices, and protests within cities in solidarity with one of the sides of the Israel-Hamas War. It’s almost as if the European population is enamored with the idea of protesting.

There are two sides that can be approached with this. The amount of protesting could be a testament as to how unstable and divided European society is. It could also be a testament as to how free European society is. This is the complicated part of deciding if Europe’s society truly has declined. On one hand, the sheer amount of democracy fosters and encourages greater activism, but on the other hand, the worsening conditions of Europe causes these protests to spark. Why would the European population continue to protest despite their vast given freedoms? Would they still protest without these granted rights?

The fact that the European population still seems to complain and protest despite having vastly higher living standards compared to every other continent leads to another question: Is Europe just more cynical in general? A poll by the YouGov-Cambridge Globalism Project can explain this. 

Participants from various countries worldwide were asked to describe how optimistic they are about their nation’s future. The lowest levels of optimism all came from the European countries that were polled. France was the lowest, with only 13% of the population feeling optimistic about France’s future, and 2/3rds of the French respondents feeling pessimistic about the nation. Over half of the British, Spanish, and Italian respondents were negative about their nations’ futures.

In this poll, it was also found that people who tended to lean towards populism – a tactic that politicians use to pretend that they support the common people versus the “elite” – were the most likely to be pessimistic. At the same time, many right-wing parties that heavily use the idea of populism grew immensely during this time, like Marine Le Pen's National Rally party in France and Matteo Salvini’s Lega Party in Italy. 

It is very understandable as to why Europeans are so cynical about their futures. With all of these issues surrounding Europe, it certainly makes sense. This is why right-wing populist parties appeal to the populace. This is also why left-wing populist parties appeal to the populace, too. When a society is divided over issues, members of it take extreme stances on how to tackle these issues, leading to the various divisions and instability that modern-day Europe currently has. 

Overall, it is clear to see the answer to the leading question: Has Europe declined over the past decades in terms of stability and society? The answer to this question, is unfortunately yes. It would be more accurate to say that Europe has stagnated rather than declined, but its world influence and power has certainly declined as a result of this stagnation. Europe has been plagued by its internal divisions by its society, which then causes a loss in stability. 

However, as dystopian as Europe’s current state sounds, it is still by far the most advanced and stabilized continent in the world. Europe’s diminishing world influence is only due to other continents finally realizing their potential, mostly in developing Asian countries. Europe’s influence over the world compared to its size has been massively out of proportion throughout nearly all of history only due to the fact that Europe was the continent first able to truly advance and connect its societies domestically. 

Europe had a massive head start to begin with, and it’s only natural that its influence is starting to decrease as other countries develop and reach their true potential. As less developed countries start industrializing, they finally reach a similar power level that Europe has been at for the past few decades. Only now are we starting to see a more proportional, balanced Europe in terms of its influence on the world stage. 

Even still, Europe’s power is still extremely out of proportion. In the G7, a major international political group, four out of the seven nations in the group are located in Europe. As a matter of fact, Europe should be proud of their current state in the sense that they can still hold onto an absurd amount of power compared to its size and potential. Europe’s current degradation doesn’t just apply to Europe itself. The entire world has seen backsliding in political stability and human rights.

Is it really Europe’s fault for its current divisiveness considering the fact that the rest of the world has also been impacted just as badly if not worse? Europe’s current stagnation and decline is not a European issue – it’s a worldwide issue. Various international events such as the current Global Recession and COVID-19 have severely impacted the world overall. It is not at all surprising that Europe has been affected by this.

Despite the fact that Europe has indeed declined in both its stability and society, this should not detract from the fact that Europe is still the shining beacon of democracy and prosperity in the world. No other continent has achieved what Europe has in history, and that alone is already a huge feat for Europe. The current circumstances have only hampered Europe temporarily. Throughout history, Europe has resisted even the toughest of struggles, from wars to disease and everything in between. Even though Europe’s future is looking grim, the continent will always find a way through times of peril.

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