What we'll remember

What we'll remember

Snatches from 2009

What we'll remember

Well it’s the time of the year again when we look back over events in order to ascertain the defining features of the past 12 months. I can’t help but think that it’s almost a case of deja vu and that perhaps the title of this article should be ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same’. But tired cliches tend to turn people off, no matter how applicable they may be.

Cast your mind back to new year’s eve 2008. Remember the usual fireworks, celebrations and optimism? Did the world dramatically change on the stroke of midnight just because the clocked ticked into January? Did it suddenly become a better place? No, not really. Call me a killjoy, but I was tucked up in bed well before midnight on last new year’s eve, sleeping against a Chennai backdrop of firecrackers and cheering.

2009 began with Israel flexing its military muscle against the Palestinians and launching its bloody ground invasion of Gaza, and the Russian bear growled and shut off gas supplies to a freezing Europe due to dispute with Ukraine. And, I nearly forgot, there was the little matter of the US inaugurating its first black US president.

February witnessed the deadliest bushfires in Australian history, which killed 173, injured 500 more and left some 7,500 homeless. This was followed in March by gunmen attacking a bus carrying Sri Lankan cricketers in Lahore, killing eight people and injuring several others.

Disease reared its ugly head in April, with the World Health Organisation expressing concern at the spread of influenza from Mexico to other countries, and in May, following more than a quarter-century of fighting, the Sri Lankan civil war ended with the military defeat of the LTTE. North Korea then announced that it had conducted a second successful nuclear test, and in June, the outbreak of ‘swine flu’ was deemed a global  pandemic.

The death of Neda Agha-Soltan, an Iranian student shot during a protest, was captured on video and helped to turn her into an international symbol of the civil unrest following the presidential election in Iran. This coincided with the crackdown on the media, which prompted ordinary people to post images, videos and reports on the web to inform the international community of events taking place inside the country. Many believed that ‘citizen journalism’ had finally come of age.

Michael Jackson’s death in June triggered an outpouring of worldwide grief, and around that time, the Honduran supreme court ordered the arrest and exile of President Manuel Zelaya, claiming he was violating the nation’s constitution by holding a referendum to stay in power. In July, the Organisation of American States suspended Honduras due to the country’s refusal to reinstate Zelaya. In the same month, over 150 were killed when a few thousand ethnic Uyghurs targetted local Han Chinese during major rioting in Xinjiang.

During August, September and October, a series of earthquakes, floods and typhoons took the lives of thousands and devastated the lives of many more. Millions were displaced in Karnataka and hundreds lost their lives. Typhoon Morakot hit Taiwan, killing 500 and stranding more than 1,000 via the worst flooding on the island in half a century. Typhoon Ketsana caused record amounts of rainfall in the Philippines and led to the declaration of a state of calamity in 25 provinces.

An 8.3 magnitude earthquake triggered a tsunami near the Samoan Islands, and at least 189 were killed. A 7.6 magnitude quake struck off the coast of Sumatra, killing around 1,000 in Indonesia.

 During November, the world heard that the French born social anthropologist and intellectual icon of the 20th century Claude Levis-Strauss had died, just days from his 101st birthday.

And as the crisis of capitalism rumbled on and continued to destroy the livelihoods of millions across the world, leaders at the G20 Pittsburgh summit announced that the G20 would assume greater leverage over the global economy, replacing the role of the G8, in an effort to prevent another financial crisis.

Conflicts and strife continued, from Myanmar to Somalia and from Afghanistan to Palestine, and Barak Obama was awarded a Nobel Prize, perhaps for not being George Bush. And another conference, this time in Copenhagen in December, attempted to prevent ecological meltdown.

An alien visiting earth in 2009 may have been forgiven for thinking that humankind lives in a crazy, mixed up world, where the lines between freedom and tyranny, justice and oppression and democracy and enslavement are extremely fine indeed. Alleged war criminals continued to be summoned to a court to stand trail in Europe, while another alleged war criminal (Tony Blair) almost became president of Europe.
People were maimed in the name of peace, killed in the name of god and impoverished in the name of prosperity. All of this was seemingly carried out for the victims’ own good.

Global leaders said we must swallow a financial bailout pill, even though it would make us ill, and the poor paid the price for the actions of the rich. A peace prize was given to a world leader, while his country continued to wage war, and presidents and prime ministers dithered, as the planet raged and the snow caps continued to disappear.
No one knows what’s in store for 2010, but it will be greeted with widespread festivities, underpinned by a firm hope that things can only get better. There’s a lot to be said for hope and optimism — especially the type found all over the world each new year’s eve. The more things change, the more they stay the same? Let’s hope not.