It is the last day of 2016. (And eight months since I last wrote on this blog. Sorry for disappearing – I was in need of a break).
2016 has not been the best of years. Not only were a host of beloved celebrities taken from us, but referendums and elections caused political earthquakes. Everybody seems to be looking forward to the end of 2016.
Right there is one of the problems that became evident in 2016. Because when I say everybody I actually only mean people who share my information bubble. These are the people who read the same newspapers as I do, and get the same stories in their Facebook feed. What emerged during 2016 is that there is a surprising number of people who do not think the same way as I do. Some of them might find the spate of celebrity deaths a little upsetting but all in all it was a fabulous year for them. This was the year democracy actually worked. The year the common man’s voice was heard. Because they did not feel heard before, and to be fair, they might have point. We did not even realise they were there, that is how much we did not hear them. That is why the vote for Brexit and election of Donald Trump came as such surprises. We were blissfully unaware of how many people out there did not share our view of the world.
And some of the voices now emerging are very far indeed from what I consider an acceptable point of view. Nationalism and anti-immigration sentiment. White supremacists. The kind of voices that we might not so much have missed hearing but intentionally blocked out. But here they are, coming out of the shadows, feeling vindicated by the Brexit vote and Trump victory. And it makes me afraid.
I grew up believing that Europe was basically a safe and peaceful place. Wars happened elsewhere. This was of course completely false. Not only was there war in the former Yugoslavia in the 90s, but World War II had ended only 35 years before my birth. I have just turned 36, so 35 years does not seem like a terribly long time. And before those infamous world wars European countries were almost constantly at war with each other. Europe was the opposite of a peaceful place.
EU countries are currently enjoying the longest peace since the Pax Romana (27 BC to 180 AD). This might not be simply down to the existence of the EU, but I think we can be quite confident there is a connection. Countries that used to drop bombs on each other are sitting around the table, often bickering, and possibly not coming to any meaningful decisions, but surely it is preferable to the previous state of affairs?
In this context the UK’s decision to leave the EU feels ominous. Especially when so much of the support came from nationalists and people campaigning against immigration. And unfortunately the UK is not alone in experiencing a resurgence of the far-right. Geert Wilders in The Netherlands and France’s Marine Le Pen are both feeling quite optimistic about their chances in 2017 elections. Before 2016 we might have said ‘Nah, never gonna happen’, but now we know better.
Meanwhile the US has elected a president that has wide support among white-supremacists, and is a bull in the china shop of international diplomacy. While racists and bigots are feeling empowered in his own country, his tweets are enraging and offending countries around the world.
I started this post by saying that the reigning opinion (in my bubble) is that this year cannot end too soon. Well, 2016 might have been a pretty shitty year, but I have the feeling that maybe this year was just setting the scene for the real story, which is yet to come. Hopefully I am wrong. It is possible that Trump’s bark i worse than his bite (although in the sensitive world of diplomacy even a bark can have serious effects). Perhaps those scary voices return to skulking in the shadows. Perhaps the UK leaves the EU amicably and the rest of us shrug our shoulders, say ‘Well they were never truly committed, were they?’, and continue working on our joint project.
We will have to wait and see. My ability to see into the future is about as good as was my ability to see 50m ahead when I walked the dog this morning (see picture at the top of the page, taken today.)
So, I keep hoping for the best, and wish you all a Happy New Year!