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At the time of the First World War, countries from both sides of the conflict in Europe controlled around 84% of the globe, including the Americas, Australia and parts of Africa and Asia. Colonialism – the process of political, social and economic domination of one country by a foreign power, embedded in a racist worldview of European superiority – had reached its peak after centuries of European expansionism.

The First World War was fought on many fronts beyond Europe – from the Middle East to sub-Saharan Africa to the South Pacific – and millions of colonial soldiers and labourers served in the conflict. The repercussions of the war also travelled around the globe with the collapse of empires and the triggering of political instability. But this era also spawned a new generation of activists who sought to bring an end to the injustice of colonialism, brought so clearly into relief by the First World War.

Hans Paasche & Mdachi bin Sharifu

Activists against injustice in Germany

Hans Paasche and Mdachi bin Sharifu met and worked together in Berlin around the time of the First World War. Hans was a former German Imperial military officer; Mdachi was from the German colony of Tanganyika in East Africa and working for the German colonial office. They collaborated on a common cause: to challenge imperialism, militarism and social injustice.

‘A Poem’ by Kursat Karsli, European Solidarity Corps volunteer, LFTP Poland

Kursat, who is from Turkey, was working as a volunteer in Kraków in Poland when he was introduced to Learning from the Past by LFTP partner, STRIM Youth Development and Integration Association. Kursat was particularly inspired by Mdachi’s story as well as others from the project. His poem makes an appeal for equality.

A Poem

What is it that separates us from us,
Isn't it The Only that created us?
Why the separation by colour, language, religion,
Aren't the tears the same colour?

Don't separate people from each other,
Nobody is different than others,
Everyone should love everyone like brother and sister,
Isn’t that the essence of life?

One is no different than a thousand,
What is the thing which separates today from yesterday?
What do we have, than the two-metre place in the world
Don't break a heart, win people's hearts,
If you want to be happy in the world.

Kursat Karsli