World News


2022 Was Distinctly Not a Good Year

It was hardly a great 2022. The COVID pandemic, except in China, has given way to a Northern Atlantic respiratory infection that brings fatigue and means streets full of coughing and clearing throats, meaning streets that sound like a page out of COVID. Except in China where it is COVID. And where President Xi Jinping might finally be weakened by a sinking economy and a disease that began in China. The strong man is no match for a virus.

At least here in Zagreb, from where I am writing this, no one shrinks from me as if I were a carrier of one thing or another. They’re all coughing too. And they don’t think I am Chinese. I am clearly Red Indian. “Yes,” I say, “Dakota.” Which is a variation of my standard response in Germany, “Yes, Cheyenne.” All this long black hair streaming in the wind… with my hopes that the Ayatollahs in Iran might finally be undone by women’s hair… long black hair… free hair. It all becomes symbolic. And men’s predilections for some species or another of restriction over something natural may finally be the hubris that wipes away in any case an obviously failed species. Extinction Rebellion was always right: nature wishes to free Itself.

The essential failure of international climate conferences has been exceeded only by the failure to end the war in Ukraine. NATO’s bemused consternation at the clumsy and parlous Russian strategy and tactics looked back to the 1970s when the fear was of Soviet regiments and columns rolling unstoppably across the Central Front with Western armies in full, if orderly, retreat – wheeling out the tactical nuclear warheads as they did so.

“Is that all they’ve got? Why are they so bad? Why were we so afraid?” Not that this helps President Volodymyr Zelensky – who knows the West never rated him as an untried president of a corrupt country but must now, for real and honourable reasons, treat him like a war hero, the Churchill of our times. Which he is: the bulwark against the return of empire. The hero of the sovereign state.

If the beginning of this review seems cynical, even flip, it reflects a year that has been absurd in every respect. Or absurd in a relieving sort. The shadows over Donald Trump were a relief. The prime ministerial career of Liz Truss was absurd without any respect whatsoever. Who are we now to criticise the banal economic policies of ‘third world dictators’? Neither a female prime minister, a Ghanaian chancellor, or an Indian prime minister will likely get us through our own disaster. It may come down to a Wooden Man who currently leads the opposition.

At least unlike Boris Johnson in the UK, Donald Trump in the United States, Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, Viktor Orban in Hungary, and Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey, we may have a politics without charisma. Which may be a relief after a politics without substance. Except, of course, we have again Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel, which means a politics of arid attrition in a land that was holy in our ancestral mythologies. Where in legend the three wise kings were European (of course), Syrian or Iraqi, and African. The rotation of diversity has not saved the UK. 2000 years ago, it did not save the world.

Yes, this review is cynical. It includes ‘best hope’ presidents in South Africa stuffing sofas with dollar bills. Dollar bills because the local currency – even more so in neighbouring Zimbabwe – buys nothing. And where all the regional countries suffer blackouts of up to 19 hours a day. A dark Christmas – as in Ukraine – but, in Southern Africa because of water levels in the main dams and also because no one remembered to service and upkeep the infrastructure. But the forces of nature afflict all.

At the time of this writing, 28 are dead in the Eastern United States because of the Blizzard of the Century. This review is cynical because no one can say anything without hyperbole. Or maybe it really is the Blizzard of the Century. But how do you measure a blizzard? And since when did measurement and data become important in a Brave New World of prejudice, faith, and wanting to believe a fiction because no one wanted to believe evidence and the testimony of ‘experts’? No one does science anymore. No one governs with expertise. Or empathy. Who needs an ambulance? They should hire a taxi.

From Southern Perthshire, without drip feeds or oxygen, to a hospital as far away as Aberfolye (that really does exist, oh English readers), and while subsisting on universal credit and food banks, arriving at the hospital, hopefully still alive, but unable to pay the driver, where the nurse is on strike and the doctors have fainted from 36-hour shifts.

Ah, the review has moved on from being cynical to being plain tragic. As if British tragedy and self-sorrow could match famine in Somalia (Bob Geldof has retired now), endless war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the erasure of much of the Amazon, not to mention the issues raised earlier in this review. But at least we can censure the young female prime minister of Finland who danced with too full glasses of wine in her hands.

It has, in short, not been a good year. How should we approach uncynically 2023, in the hope of at least diminishing tragedy? The long-haired Dakota makes the following highly hopeful and tiny hopes and suggestions.

We should at least honour, without saying everything is on loan monies, the parlous and indeed stingy promises of COP27. And, despite an effort at fanfare, we didn’t promise much. The UK Conservative Party should at least make an effort to re-achieve the condition of one-nation Conservatism as it was under Harold Macmillan and even in a grey way under John Major.

The country would bear some noblesse oblige right now if the Tory over-bearingness could somehow be restrained. That does include recognising that nurses and ambulance drivers are part of a health service the government cannot afford to be seen degenerating even faster than now – if it hopes to win the next elections – and that at least entering negotiations with strikers in these sectors is an act of statesmanship rather than a capitulation to pressure.

In the United States, if criminal indictments against Trump are finally, slowly, successful, he will not be able to stand for the presidency again. The Democrats should not enter triumphalism. He will be out of the way. But they should anticipate a younger, more ‘relevant’ Republican successor. Even the Republicans have a sort of ‘one nation’ ethos that could be presented in a way to steal Democrat thunder.

In China, Xi will not yet fall, he will not invade Taiwan, he has seen the mess of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but some continuing measure of regard for the Uyghurs would not go astray. In Israel and Palestine, the two-state solution is as dead as any cold corpse can be. The effort should be, if even tangentially possible, towards the twin track of limiting Israeli settler colonialism and seeking a measure of political rights for Palestinians within a single unified state. As for Ukraine, well, the Russian army will not be defeated. The best hope is by clandestine means to persuade the generals that the vague objectives given them by Putin are militarily unfeasible and, indeed, are not military objectives at all. The turn of the war will come down to a turn in attitudes on the part of the generals who will then read some species of riot act to Putin.

In Putin and in Xi we see a spectacle of erosion of policy balance when power becomes too unhindered to wield responsibly. These men will not yet die, and, in any case, they simply head establishments like them. The only real suggestion for 2023 is a re-recognition, a re-application, of balance and, hopefully, poise in what will still be a disastrous world.

So, we have gone from cynical, to tragic, to the merely forlorn. Even so, a Heroic 2023 to All.