A Subjective Summary of the Year
I expected 2022 would be boring and normal after crazy years of the pandemic. I was so mistaken. Today, as the December snow comes, I look back at the last 12 months and try to name some trends which defined the outgoing year.
THE POST PANDEMIC BLUES. Many people, including us at Globsec, thought that the coronavirus will radically transform our societies, how we work, how live. Have the public health policies been transformed? Has the digital revolution materialized? Not really. What is here to stay is tighter family budget, 3 years’ worth of neglect as regards health checks, educational needs of children and fiscal problems of countries.
GLORY FOR THE HEROES AND THE TRIVIALISATION OF WAR. We were used to following conflicts in some far-away places, while being happily content that wars in Europe, the real ones – with tanks and missiles and displaced people and universal misery, belong to history books. The Russian invasion changed that, and made many Europeans aware that there exists a big country in Europe which will not be bullied into submission by the Russian bear. For a short while Kiev became the capital of the world. As the year wore on however, some of us in the West regrettably grew indifferent to the pictures of war. This trivialisation of human tragedy is a very dangerous phenomenon.
END OF CENTRAL EUROPE AS WE KNEW IT. When the high tide ebbs away, it is visible who was swimming without their pants on. The war has disclosed many good things about our societies (compassion, hospitality, moral courage), but also bad things. In our region there are people, governments and even significant swathes of society which would not condemn Russia, which show perfect indifference to the plight of Ukrainians. If we assume that for the last 30 years the Visegrad Group has been a family of like-minded countries, then the family link is irretrievably broken. What kind of family is that which can’t agree about most basic values?
RUSSIA AS A CLIENT OF CHINA. Dictators think they know best – when to wage a war, how to risk their country’s reputation. They are gamblers who can’t resist to play, in the hope for the big win which will make them immortal. And one day, inevitably, a moment of shattered dream and defeat comes and dictators turn into a hunted prey in their own homeland. This has not happened to Valdimir Putin yet but it is clear that he already lost. His senseless war cannot be won. No matter what his own destiny will be, he sealed the fate of his own country. Russia faces isolation in the respectable world of democracies. For years and decades to come Russia will be a junior assistant to China – economically and politically it will follow the Beijing’s orders.
EUROPE ON ITS WAY TO BECOME GEOPOLITICAL. For many years Brussels bureaucrats have been dreaming about the Charlemagne-style geopolitical Europe. Frustration grew as Europe’s might could not be established by decree and the EU strategies would collapse before the ink dried on all these documents. But the external threat brings out the best in Europeans. The EU turned out to be astonishingly effective in coordinating sanctions on Russia, on helping the needy Ukrainians and thinking seriously about European security.
ZEITWENDE OF GERMANY. The sleeping giant of Europe is perhaps waking up. For years the German passivity was perceived as a virtue. Do not provoke Russia, make business with rouge regimes where you can and keep the military small and insignificant. Suddenly, all these tenets became painfully obsolete. Angela Merkel’s pragmatic and expedient reign turned out to be insufficient for the country’s and Europe’s needs. Now Germany is at the threshold of a new era, when the country will take more responsibility for itself and the European continent.
AMERICA IS DOING THE RIGHT THING. The last two decades have been full of botched foreign policy initiatives – from failed tentative to root out Taliban from Afghanistan to the implosion of Iraq. Having tried and failed to be the world’s policeman, America tried to focus on itself, to become “great again” by becoming inward-looking and selfish, alienating its friends and allies. This approach never worked either. Just as all the Atlanticists across the world we losing hope, America was back in the game, just in time to provide leadership for the West. Today all the Kremlin and Beijing propagandists are swallowing their tongues. They announced demise of America so loud and convincingly that they believed it themselves. And America is learning too – it is discovering the secret of its power - network of friends and allies where autocratic empires have only slaves and clients.
IT IS HARD TO SCRAPE A LIVING. As this year draws to a close Europeans are becoming re-acquainted with ugly creatures from the almost forgotten past – economic precarity, rampant double-digit inflation, energy poverty and mortgage slump, to name just a handful. Prosperity cannot be taken for granted any longer. It will take years to restore growth and consumers’ optimism.
Where will these trends take us in 2023? A new world order is emerging. Its birth is painful and protracted. It will take probably longer than next 12 months for this new world environment to crystallise but some parameters are already plain to see: Ukraine as part of the West. Russia in deep self-isolation. America rediscovering its power via network of friends. China growing more powerful, some of its developments rather sinister. And Europe as slowly emerging geopolitical player. We won’t be bored in 2023, that is certain.