A lot of interesting and downright unexpected events have occurred in 2016. As we wait for 2017 to arrive, sit back and see what TotallyNotACommunist has to say about it…
Undeniably, 2016 has been a year of unmatched importance in this decade, comparable only with 2001 or 1989 in terms of global importance. The global standing of entire nations has shifted, societies irreversibly changed and processes set in motion which will define our age. Before 2017 arrives and we have a chance to start afresh/continue to ride the tsunami started last year, I though it might be nice to have a look back at what happened this year, why it was important and how it might be remembered in the history textbooks of the future.
Syrian Civil War
At the start of 2016, which now seems almost an eternity away from where we stand today, there was, perhaps, the tiniest glimmer of hope that the Syrian Civil War and the horrific rule of Daesh over the Syrian people was coming to an end. On the 26th February, UN Resolution 2268 was adopted unanimously by the 15 members of the Security Council, including France, the UK and, most importantly, Russia and the USA. Resolution 2268 called for an immediate cessation of hostilities in the region, bar those against Daesh. The world held its breath as days, then weeks and months passed without the bloodshed resuming. Palmyra was recaptured in March by the Syrian Army, with the aid of the Russians and Iranians. One of the jewels of the Assyrian Empire, a city at the heart of the cradle of civilisation which had been defiled by the simply disgusting actions of Daesh had been saved. A Russian symphony orchestra even played a concert in an amphitheatre where weeks earlier Daesh had been beheading their enemies. The symbolism of the liberation gave us hope, but soon, and perhaps not entirely unexpectedly, the peace broke down in July and the violence was struck up again. But again, in September it seemed there could be another chance for peace: on September 12th the USA and her allies and Russia struck another deal for peace between their factions, and if it held, ISIS would be targeted by the factions together. Another chance for peace, gone after less than a month, when UN and Red Crescent aid convoys were bombed, apparently by the Russians, although they denied it. From then on, peace seemed as far away as ever. As I write this (15/12/2016), Aleppo has fallen, two days ago, and the stories of atrocities by the Syrian Government, of the bombing of hospitals and the barrel bombings, the impromptu executions and the claims of ceasefires to draw people out onto the streets to maximise casualties from airstrikes. Aleppo will mark a watershed moment when we look back at this conflict, as the point when a world which swore to protect the innocent, after Srebrenica, Darfur and Rwanda stood back and watched as a city collapsed in on itself, with the blood of civilians staining the streets. It will remain important, as a symbol like so many others, of how a failure of diplomacy and a lack of humanity leads to hell on Earth. (I’ll add, at 23:46pm on 31st December that the Russian Ceasefire has been endorsed by the UN. Maybe 2016 may be remembered as the time when peace was brought to Syria after all…)
The Refugee Crisis
Much like the conflict in Syria, the Refugee Crisis which has affected Europe has been a constant theme which has influenced so many things throughout the year. The Crisis is difficult to pin down into specifics – we have simply seen a continuation of the of the exodus from the Middle East, East Africa and Libya, with the stories of smugglers and capsized boats and terrible, terrible, casualties pervading through every month, week and day. In 2015, the International Organisation for Migration claimed approximately 3,700 refugees drowned in the Mediterranean, whilst a million people arrived in Europe. The richest continent on Earth did what could not have been predicted: turned their back on the refugees and began to build walls across the continent, the likes of which had not been seen since before the fall of the Iron Curtain. Hungary placed 1,500 soldiers along its borders in February, with over 98% of voters rejecting EU migration quotas in October. Denmark legislated to strip refugees of up to £1,000 worth of assets. France tore apart the Calais Jungle and the UK refused to take in less than half of the children of the camp. In this Europe, some might say ironically, it was left to Germany to be the moral example of Europe, with Angela Merkel sticking to her refugee policy, despite the anger from her Party and the electoral blows it brought in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and Berlin. This crisis marked a breaking point within the European Union, more pressing than Brexit – as the traditionalist conservative factions bolstered with electoral success in Poland, rising polls in Germany and France and close calls in Austria battled with the liberal policies of the Commission. The refugee policy which lead to the perceived erosion of Christian, white, European identity which has hastened the rise of a confident far-right may be remembered as one of the blows which brought the European Union to an end.
The Summer of Terror
Much like the refugee crisis, the Summer of Terror will undoubtedly be remembered as a key factor which pushed Europe towards the extreme right-wing politics of Marine Le Pen and Norbert Hofer, spurred on Brexit and convinced American voters that the Muslim threat was very much their concern. Since November 2015 there had been a lingering feeling that terror attacks would become more commonplace following the Paris Attacks on 13th which left 130 dead, mostly from the massacre at the Bataclan theatre. Whilst it is true that Europe had had intermittent terrorism before, such as the July 7th 2005 Underground Bombings in London or the Madrid Bombings of 2004, the death toll in Paris was at a different level. It was a style of terrorism not seen in Europe before, but seen in Mumbai or Pakistan – brazen, indiscriminate slaughter with huge casualties. A seed of concern was planted in the minds of people all across Europe. We feared more to come and it did. On 23rd March 2016 the Belgian capital, Brussels, was hit by two bomb attacks – one at the Zaventem Airport and another at the Maalbeek Metro Station, a stone’s throw from the European Commission. 32 people died and another 300 were injured in the worst terrorist attack on Belgian soil. This was the starting gun for a wave of terror which would sweep Europe in the coming months and affect everyone, either indirectly through fear or otherwise. Two months later on the 28th June, a joint suicide bombing – shooting at Europe’s 3rd busiest airport, Istanbul Atatürk killed 41, generating fear in the UK of Turkey’s possible EU membership. Then came the terrorist event which carried the greatest symbolism and created the most fear of the year: the Bastille Day Massacre in Nice. I remember distinctly watching the news at the time, whilst on holiday and knowing how awful the attack was, even more so in its context. A lorry cut through a crowd celebrating French identity, liberation and the strength of their Republic, murdering men, women and children in such a brutal fashion that it does not bear considering. The symbolism of the French blood being spilled on Bastille Day was powerful and shocking. But attention soon turned to Germany – in the space of 8 days a migrant attacked passengers with an axe on a train in Würzburg, an 18 year old shot dead 9 in Munich, a Syrian injured 15 with a backpack bomb at a music festival in Ansbach and another murdered a woman with a machete in the town of Reutlingen. The next day, in Normandy, a priest had his throat slit at the altar of his church. All but the Munich attacked had been claimed to be products of terrorism linked with Daesh. Europe seemed vulnerable and this fed the fears of those who believed that Europe was on the wrong track. This sentiment can be seen as to how, just a few days ago, at the Breitscheidsplatz Christmas Market in Berlin, 12 were killed when a lorry tore through the stalls. Who was to blame? In the eyes of the Alternativ für Deutschland it was Angela Merkel’s hands which were stained in blood. The Summer of Terror will be remembered as a catalyst which gave legitimacy to the European far-right as well as reminding every citizen of the continent that we are never truly safe.
As a young, British, Labour supporting man, Brexit undoubtedly contained two of the lowest points of 2016 for me. The entire process leading up to the referendum was a bitter, slanderous, divisive affair which tore the country down the middle. Lies were passed as fact, xenophobia brought into the open and tempers flared as families, including my own, were divided as to where the right place for our country was. Even before the 23rd June, the toxic climate which had built up surrounding politics had lead to the assassination of a Member of Parliament. On 16th June, Batley and Spen MP Jo Cox was shot and stabbed to death in broad daylight in the middle of the street. She bled to death on the pavement, murdered by Thomas Mair, a Neo-Nazi who yelled “Britain First!” before launching his lethal attack. The UK came together for a brief moment in the midst of the chaotic lead-up to the Referendum but it did not acknowledge the root cause of the murder: the polarisation of the public and the newly found voice of the extreme right which had brought racism and nationalism back into mainstream politics. The murder of Jo Cox was the worst point but, I couldn’t help but feel sick when I woke up on 24th June, checked the news and found that my country, the Britain that I had grew up to know, had turned its back on our neighbours and was taking a leap of faith into the dark. The house that day felt heavy with sadness as politics turned crazy: Michael Gove stabbing Boris Johnson in the back, Jeremy Corbyn calling for Article 50 to be triggered and David Cameron giving his resignation speech, leaving our county leaderless as it drifted after the most important political decision it had ever made. The legacy of Brexit can be seen in many different contexts: for the UK it will symbolise a turning point in our politics, international relations and economy and frankly, who knows what will come of it. For the EU it symbolises the Euroscepticism which has taken hold in the working classes across the continent and for the world, it will come to symbolise one of two events which marked the end of the post-Communist dream and heralded the Age of Disillusionment with ‘standard politics’. The other event which will show this is, of course…
The US Presidential Election
The election of Donald J. Trump as the 58th President of the United States of America was perhaps the biggest upset of the this year and firmly told the world that the political establishment which had pottered along since the fall of the Berlin Wall was dying. The campaign had started in mid-2015 and was shrouded in a constant fog of lying, scandals and insults, in both the Democratic, but mainly the Republican Parties. Without delving into the depths of each Party, both candidates emerged as two of the most hated politicians of our time. Clinton was seen as the epitome of establishment politics, having been a key player in Obama’s White House and prominent as First Lady. Her very election as candidate was controversial with accusations of the Democratic National Convention rigging the vote against Bernie Sanders, whilst dirty washing from the past was brought back into the open: the private email server scandal, links with Russia, handling of the Middle East and Bill Clinton’s infidelity. The demeanour of Secretary Clinton also acted against her. As John Oliver of LastWeekTonight put it excellently: “the woman who exhibits either too much or too little of every human quality depending on who you ask.” Clinton emanated a feeling of insincerity and falsehood which was obvious even across the Pond. She was the very image of polished politics and was the continuity for a President with whom many were unsatisfied with. Her opponent did have issues too however… very large glaring issues. The rise of an (arguably) completely unqualified celebrity to beat competition from Governors, Congressmen and the Bush family and gain the Republican nomination is a story in itself. Since last year Donald Trump had started scandals and called names which would have had every other politician falling in the polls until they had the approval ratings of the plague. From insulting former Republican candidate John McCain for being captured in Vietnam, to mocking a disabled reporter and the now infamous ‘Grab Them by the Pussy’ revelation, Donald Trump seemed like a candidate so controversial that he couldn’t possibly win. This comes before even considering the policies he put forward – building a wall on the Mexican border which the Mexican Government would pay for; punishing women who underwent abortions and banning all Muslim immigration into the nation. From the UK at least, the fury generated around Donald Trump made it clear that he couldn’t possibly win but as Brexit taught us, the power of wanting change, wanting retribution for the de-industrialisation of their nations, for the state of a politics which took them for granted, which had left them behind, was an unstoppable force. The election on the 9th November delivered a second, crushing blow to establishment politics and means we now have Donald Trump as the soon-to-be leader of the ‘free world’.
And there it is, a quick re-cap of the state of the world as of 1st January 2017. The future of our planet was decided in this year, where globalisation and liberalism came under fire and populism took hold across Europe and America. I could have covered so much more too, such as the many deaths of celebrities, the Italian Constitutional Referendum, Colombia’s peace-deal with the FARC but I picked, what I believe are the most memorable events, from a British point-of-view at least. In 2017 more indicators may become apparent, Presidential Elections in France, the proposed trigger of Article 50 by the UK and German General Elections. What will happen? Do we want to know? What do you think about 2016 and what 2017 may hold?
Thank you for reading this and have a happy new year too!