The World Today for December 31, 2021


A Frightful Old Year


Fear was the watchword of 2021.

People feared the coronavirus. In Africa, where the Omicron variant first appeared, United Nations officials continued to sound alarm bells about the lack of a coordinated international effort to vaccinate people and stop the spread of the virus. They warned that more variants could result.

As the public health crisis played out, citizens in countries around the world feared corrupt, overweening governments. In authoritarian states, those fears were well-founded. In democracies, things were more complicated.

In the wake of democratic movements that appeared successful but nonetheless failed to address significant problems, for example, leaders in Sudan, Tunisia and Myanmar circumvented the law to seize unilateral power, sparking violent clashes between security forces and pro-democracy protesters, the Washington Post wrote.

Those events might seem like faraway disasters to Western readers. But the continued rise of elected autocrats in formerly communist Eastern Europe and elsewhere in 2021, as National Public Radio explained, should underscore to many that civic freedoms are often the exception in much of the world.

Meanwhile, the democracies of Western Europe and the Western world in general failed to solve their differences over migration and the coronavirus in the last year, the Guardian reported. In Australia, for example, protesters against government-imposed restrictions clashed with police, setting fire to the Old Parliament House Thursday.

In Latin America, many voters decided that they desired democracy but would reject unfettered free-market capitalism that has not lived up to its promise of delivering broad-based prosperity, Al Jazeera wrote. From Chile to Honduras, citizens opted for leftist politicians over more conservative candidates.

Some of those issues came to head in China, where 13 million people in the city of Xi’an were on the world’s strictest lockdown at the end of the year due to an outbreak of Covid-19, reported the Times of India. Meanwhile, Chinese officials continued their crackdown on the Muslim Uyghur community in Xinjiang and pro-democracy advocates in Hong Kong while the country’s real estate market struggled to stabilize.

To be sure, other geopolitical issues shifted majorly in 2021. The US reduced its footprint in the Middle East and Afghanistan, eliciting the possibilities of new developments in those regions in the new year, the Middle East Institute predicted, for example.

Last but not least, climate change-related disasters in 2021 were gravely damaging, Reuters added. The worst disasters, like Cyclone Yaas in India and Bangladesh, cost billions and displaced more than 1 million people.

The optimistic view is that many of the world’s problems appear self-inflicted and preventable. The cynical counterpoint is that knowledge doesn’t necessarily translate into action.

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