Exile is not a place, but a state of being. It simultaneously represents a refuge and banishment. One flees because one must—not because one wants to. Those forced to live in exile do so involuntarily and find themselves in strange surroundings again and again. It is tantamount to the total absence of anything familiar, a new life that hadn’t been planned to come about as it did.

In art, exile is frequently (albeit wrongfully) romanticised. Far-off places have indeed witnessed the creation of great novels and symphonies—immortal works that are all too frequently associated with the fact that extreme situations, like those in which exiled individuals exist, can result in exceptional artistic feats. But just how they master their everyday lives, how they have to learn to live with constant homesickness, how isolated they sometimes feel—all this is rarely mentioned. Reading the biographies of exiled individuals, one quickly realises how greatly they suffered under the circumstances in which they lived. How many of them would’ve liked to go return home. Back to where their loved ones had stayed behind. Back to where they viewed their roots as lying. Back to the places of their childhoods.

A perilous ongoing development can be observed in our increasingly complex present, a development in which artists and intellectuals extricate themselves from debates and withdraw—into inner exile. Which is a disastrous thing for discourse and the social climate. Such withdrawal, after all, is not being forced by a repressive regime. It much rather occurs in reaction to the increasingly aggressive character of public debate, which is growing more and more brutal in tone and lacks any collective condemnation of attacks on individuals who speak up. Because it’s a way to score cheap political points. Because hate speech can cause people to behave as if paralyzed. It is up to each and every one of us to oppose this development—before it’s too late and democracy itself ends up in exile.

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