The world’s power-relations are in flux at the end of the century’s first decade. Many regional conflicts and tensions, from Afghanistan-Pakistan to Israel-Palestine, Iran to the Caucasus, Somalia to the Ivory Coast, remain full of dangers. At a national level, the dynamics of change - including financial turbulence, unemployment, people flow, social inequality, culture wars, and citizen-empowering technologies - are at once reshaping individual lives, testing governing institutions, and pressing hard on existing models and practices of democracy. The long-term threats of climate change and resource constraint overhang all.
The need for ideas capable of making sense of this complex landscape, and for agency that can address its problems and realise its potentials, is clear. At this fluid moment, David Hayes asks openDemocracy authors to suggest an idea, a writer/artist, and/or a public figure that could be a source of inspiration in 2011.
* Paul Rogers * Emily Lau
* Natalia Leshchenko * Godfrey Hodgson
* Ivan Krastev * Diane Coyle
* Asef Bayat * Theo Hobson
* Thomas de Waal * Conor Gearty
* Michele Wucker * Krzysztof Bobinski
* Ramin Jahanbegloo * Manjushree Thapa
* Anoush Ehteshami * Patrice de Beer
* Andrew Dobson * Julia Buxton
* Kerry Brown * Ivan Briscoe
* Keith Kahn-Harris * Temtsel Hao
* Tarek Osman * Kerem Oktem
* Øyvind Paasche * Arthur Ituassu
If 2011 looks problematic, not least in the potential for conflict in south Asia and the middle east, then prospects for the new decade are of even greater concern. Little seems to have been learned from the financial crisis as the system returns to business as usual. Meanwhile, the gap between the richest 1.5 billion and the other 5.5 billion (the seventh billionth person will be born this year) widens ever further.
These security and economic fractures are compounded by the evident environmental constraints on human development, especially climate change. The combination prefigures an even more fragile and turbulent world over the decade, as the impacts of these interactions become increasingly obvious and unavoidable. The core question then is: will there be the political will to act in time to address them?
A positive sign is the amount and intensity of innovative work now underway to highlight the responses demanded. The New Economics Foundation’s Great Transition project and Oxford Research Group’s work on Sustainable Security are just two of many examples.
This kind of work explores and points to creative possibilities for better futures on the planet. In this it meets one of the most urgent needs of our time: for prophecy, if prophecy is defined not in the traditional religious sense of crying “woe” from the margins but as suggesting the possible. As the necessity of change becomes clear in coming years, the work of suggesting the possible will be an essential resource in helping societies make the transitions required.
Paul Rogers is professor in the department of peace studies at Bradford University, northern England. He is openDemocracy's international-security editor, and has been writing a weekly column on global security since 26 September 2001; he also writes a monthly briefing for the Oxford Research Group. His books include Why We’re Losing the War on Terror (Polity, 2007), and Losing Control: Global Security in the 21st Century (Pluto Press, 3rd edition, 2010)
Also by Paul Rogers: “The toll of the world” (22 December 2010)
José Saramago's As Intermitências da Morte (Death with Interruptions) is the novel that Europeans should read or reread in 2011. The critic James Wood, in a New Yorker review, provides a helpful digest. As midnight heralds a new year in a landlocked country of about 10 million people, Death announces a truce: a self-interruption that offers the inhabitants a notion of what it would be to live forever.
At first, people in this nameless land are gripped by euphoria. But soon, "awkwardnesses" of various kinds - metaphysical, political, pragmatic - start to re-enter their world. The Catholic church realises that "without death there is no resurrection, and without resurrection there is no church." For insurance companies, life without death also means oblivion. The state faces the impossible task of paying pensions forever. Families with elderly and infirm relatives understand that they only death saves them from an eternity of attentive care.
A country where no one dies inevitably becomes a pitiless, Malthusian dystopia. A mafia-style cabal emerges to smuggle old and sick people to neighbouring countries to die. The prime minister warns the monarch: "If we don't start dying again, we have no future".
In my view, Saramago's novel is a great introduction to "the age of aging" - particularly in Europe, where 2011 could be the turning-point: the moment when the demographic imagination defeats the democratic imagination. The democratic imagination that has reigned over the last two decades inspired us with the promise that we can change the world; the demographic imagination terrifies us with the prospect that the world will change us.
Europe's relative decline makes fears more potent than hopes. How to act in this new world is the question. But before answering it we should at least try to imagine it. When this aging Europe defines what a decent society is, public health will probably be more important than education; and in this world, democracy will be probably very different from the one that we see today.
Ivan Krastev is chair of the Centre for Liberal Strategies in Sofia; executive director of the International Commission on the Balkans; permanent fellow of the Institut für die Wissenschaften vom Menschen
(Institute for Human Sciences / IWM) in Vienna; and a board member of the European Council on Foreign Affairs. He is the editor-in-chief of the Bulgarian edition of Foreign Policy and a frequent contributor to Transit - Europäische Revue (edited at the IWM)
His publications in English include: Shifting Obsessions: Three Essays on the Politics of Anti-Corruption (CEU Press, 2004); (co-editor, with Alina Mungiu-Pippidi) Nationalism after Communism: Lessons Learned (CEU Press, 2004); and (co-editor, with Alan McPherson) The Anti-American Century (CEU Press, 2007)
Also by Ivan Krastev: "The guns of August: non-event with consequences" (30 July 2009)
Making sense of the world is a matter of intellectual taste and spiritual inclination; surely, there will be many offerings in 2011 as always. The idea that could keep the world at the best possible condition of peace and harmony is responsibility.
As the institutions and mechanisms defining the world order are changing, and their new shape is not yet clear, power becomes easy to obtain, often in unsuspected quantities. An individual feedback can ruin a small business, a document leak can endanger lives, a protest can bring havoc to a city, a strike can paralyse a country. The opportunities for abuse of political power are also higher, as autocrats crack down on internal dissent or threaten neighbours without concern for international isolation or reprimand. External checks on power are not always available or effective.
Hence whatever a person's values and pursuits are, it is paramount for all to realise that our actions bear consequences - for people close and far, for nature, for the country concerned, and for the world. Until the world's emerging inner balance becomes clear, the best guidance to keep it safe and growing is one’s own sense of responsibility for it.
Natalia Leshchenko is an analyst of politics and business in east-central Europe. She works at the Institute for State Ideologies (INSTID)
Also by Natalia Leshchenko: “Belarusians: in need of a nation” (8 December 2010)
At least in my part of the world, the middle east, there are sadly few ideas and experiences to give hope for positive change in the new year. The green wave that emerged in Iran in the aftermath of the fraudulent presidential election of July 2009 is a shining exception in an arid regional political landscape. It represents a hopeful signpost in a political field dominated by state repression and foreign domination, but also by elitist, nativist, and fundamentalist oppositions.
The green wave is a broad-based, popular, grassroots, and democratic movement which galvanises diverse constituencies for a peaceful democratic change. The rejection of violence, even in the face of routine violent repression by a clerical-authoritarian state, is at its heart. It is emphatically indigenous and independent; it shares visions and values which are readily Iranian in national, religious, and even traditional terms; yet it is also informed by global principles of human rights, civil liberties, democracy, and modernity.
The movement has been wounded by the ferocious backlash following the post-election protests, and forced to withdraw from the main streets into households, back-alleys and the privacies of the human heart. It lacks a tangible organisation or command hierarchy; even its recognised leaders stress that the green wave is leaderless. Yet it maintains a fluid and pervasive presence that causes profound anxiety among the power-elites - which each day both proclaim its demise and issue dire warnings of its omnipresent “sedition”.
In sum, the green wave is nowhere but also everywhere - an unprecedented entity that escapes our conventional imaginings. This free form and the plurality that accompanies it can also, if it turns into discord, become weakness. But there is far more in the green wave to celebrate than to mourn. In bleak times it remains an inspiration, for Iran and for the region.
Asef Bayat is professor of sociology and middle-east studies at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. His books include Making Islam Democratic: Social Movements and the Post-Islamist Turn (Stanford University Press, 2007); Life as Politics: How Ordinary People Change the Middle East (Stanford University Press, 2010); and (with Linda Herrera) Being Young and Muslim: Cultural Politics in the Global South and North (Oxford University Press, 2010)
Also by Asef Bayat: “Iran: a green wave for life and liberty” (9 July 2009)
Thomas de Waal
The area of the world I deal with, the Caucasus, is still poised on the brink of conflict and faces a very uncertain 2011.
In this bleak environment I nominate as voices of inspiration courageous Armenian and Azerbaijani bloggers. Two of them, Azerbaijani pro-democracy activists Adnan Hajizade and Emin Milli, won unwanted fame by going to jail on trumped-up charges but were thankfully released in late 2010. And brave bloggers such as Onnik Krikorian are overcoming intense nationalist propaganda to establish contact with the other side of the Karabakh conflict divide. It is still a small movement but it is an inspiring example of how a few people are using the space the internet creates to stake out a forward-looking agenda.
Now that I am based in Washington I see the United States from the inside and that makes me much more sympathetic to Barack Obama. The American political system has such a bias towards stasis that it is hard for even the most determined president to accomplish anything. So we should give credit to the real progress Obama has made on nuclear non-proliferation, the “reset” with Russia and healthcare reform, while big disappointments, such as lack of progress over Israel-Palestine and climate change should be seen in the context of very powerful lobbies pushing back against change. Is he inspiring? Less than we thought, maybe. Can he and will he get things done? Yes, as much as is possible.
Thomas de Waal is a senior associate for the Caucasus at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP) in Washington.His books include The Caucasus: An Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2010)
Also by Thomas de Waal: “The lightness of history in the Caucasus” (4 November 2010)
Citizens of every country need to see their self-interest more broadly instead of pitting themselves against other groups, nationalities, religions, and classes. If people were to embrace this one idea in 2011, we’d see a world of greater cooperation and prosperity instead of the polarisation and malaise that affects so much of the world today. When your neighbour is better off, it’s more likely that you will be too.
We do not live in a zero-sum world. Yet if the xenophobes and hate-mongers have their way, we’ll be in a less than zero-sum world: everyone will be worse off, not only the purported targets.
Concentrating wealth in the hands of the mega-rich while leaving less than crumbs for the working class destabilises society and shrinks purchasing power that could create more wealth for everyone. A country or community that cracks down unfairly on immigrants and minorities is biting off its nose to spite its face; it pulls the rug out from under families, economies, and communities instead of supporting new communities and economies. Demonising another religion instead of seeking dialogue puts precious energy into destruction instead of building. An extremist political party that puts up roadblocks, no matter what the issue, ends up destroying people’s trust in the political process instead of creating positive change.
The unintended consequences of division undermine the very goals that politicians and leaders invoke to justify actions intended to punish the few instead of to reward the whole. It’s time to change that dynamic.
Michele Wucker is president of the World Policy Institute. She is the author of Why the Cocks Fight: Dominicans, Haitians, and the Struggle for Hispaniola (Hill & Wang, 2000) and Lockout: Why America Keeps Getting Immigration Wrong When Our Prosperity Depends on Getting It Right (Public Affairs, 2006). Her website is here
Also by Michele Wucker: “Don’t get immigration wrong - again” (19 June 2006)
Every decade has a particular characteristic. We associate the 1960s with the civil-rights movement in America and the 1980s with the rise of Islamism in the middle east. If the first decade of the 21st century was characterised by the terrorist violence of 9/11 and the two bloody wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the upcoming decade will certainly bring with it the sense that violent politics and old-style lobby-making power-brokers are no longer sufficient to deal with urgent global challenges.
Virginia Woolf once wrote: “On or about December 1910, human character changed.” It may be too optimistic and unrealistic to ascribe a similar change to this moment a century later, when the discourse of violence is endangering our world more than ever. But if there is a single spiritual leader who can be followed as an example of Gandhian nonviolence and signal such a change in human character, it is his holiness the Dalai Lama.
The Dalai Lama has been a pioneer in peacemaking ever since his exile from Tibet as a young man. His lifelong crusade for moral right through the practice of nonviolence has made him one of the world’s most beloved political figures. Alongside Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, the Dalai Lama’s tenacious dedication to see a world of dialogue is a great lesson of political responsibility in the nonviolent struggle against all forms of tyranny, and for the democratisation of democracies around the world.
If nonviolence is the only battle worth waging in this second decade of the century, the inspiration has to come from a nonviolent leader who stands up for peace and human dignity. That is the Dalai Lama.
Ramin Jahanbegloo is professor in the Centre for Ethics at the University of Toronto. He was previously Rajni Kothari professor of democracy at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies in Delhi. His twenty books include India Revisited: Conversations on Contemporary India (Oxford University Press, 2007). His website is here
Also by Ramin Jahanbegloo: “The modern Gandhi” (30 January 2008)
I look forward to seeing the influence of Eric Hobsbawm and his work grow in 2011. Here is a visionary historian whose combination of meticulous research and penetrating insight make him a master of the techniques for interpreting the past - inasmuch as we can.
His appreciation of the processes of historical change is increasingly vital to better understanding of the transition from the unipolar to a non-polar world. In a 21st-century international system becoming dominated by an orchestra of powers instead of a single conductor, Eric Hobsbawm is an indispensable guide through the fog: a scholar whose work helps us to learn the right lessons from, and thus how to avoid the mistakes of, the past.
Anoush Ehteshami is professor and director of the ESRC Centre for the Advanced Study of the Arab world in the school of government and international affairs at Durham University. His books include (with - with Mahjoob Zweiri) Iran and the Rise of its Neoconservatives: The Politics of Tehran’s Silent Revolution (IB Tauris, 2007)
Also by Anoush Ehteshami: “Iran and the United States: back from the brink” (28 March 2007)
On the first day of January 1981, the English historian EP Thompson and the scholar-activist Dan Smith published a brilliant, satirical anti-nuclear pamphlet, Protest and Survive - a witty subversion of the absurd advice (Protect and Survive) given by the state on how to respond in the event of nuclear attack. Margaret Thatcher's government told British people to hide under the kitchen table - but many thousands realised with EP Thompson and Dan Smith that the best antidote to nuclear weapons was to protest against them.
Exactly thirty years on, it’s protest we again need. In 2011 as in 1981 a reactionary government in London is laying waste the public realm and those who depend on it, and provoking widespread anger. In the early 1980s it was the trade unions who led the resulting protests, while this time round it’s the students who - in response to a three-fold hike in tuition-fees - have taken to the streets.
The political class is palpably shocked at the widening of protest to take in issues of cuts in public spending and corporate tax-evasion. The process has already successfully challenged the government’s twin assumptions - that the cuts are necessary, and that "we are all in this together". It is protest that makes alternatives visible in a way that no other form of political action can. We need it to continue in 2011.
Andrew Dobson is professor of politics at Keele University. His books include Citizenship and the Environment (Oxford University Press, 2003) and Green Political Thought (Routledge, 4th edition, 2007). His website is here
Also by Andrew Dobson: “The fiction of climate change” (17 September 2010)
The 21st-century's first decade has been dominated by breathless news of China's emergence and rise. This has not quite yet become old news. But in 2011 we will see a clash of two narratives about China, and I would like to propose two figures to represent this.
The first is Xi Jinping, for whom the coming year will be the final one before what is expected to be the start of his ascent to supreme leadership in China in 2012. Xi's every word and act - even his silences (perhaps particularly his silences) - will henceforth be watched and interpreted, their nuances drawn for clues about who he is and what he stands for. For Xi, this means a long year, far more laden with threat than many observers can imagine; and even at the end, he will know that gaining the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party in 2012 is but the prelude to an even greater challenge: leading China as it becomes a middle-income country, a truly global power, and a force which will shape the century.
The second figure is Liu Xiaobo, now a Nobel laureate though still in jail in northeast China: a searing and (yes) powerful symbol of why the China that Xi Jinping hopes to lead remains in so many ways a worry and a problem. Liu has refused the option of exile, reportedly urged on him many times by the authorities. His continuing imprisonment enforces silence upon him, but this silence will weigh just as heavy as any utterance or shrug from Xi.
Liu Xiaobo's case - beyond anything he has ever written or said - raises hard questions about official China's weakness and insecurity. This makes him a test for Xi Jinping. If the new leader proves to have the courage and the vision to release Liu, then we can look forward to a China ready for radical political change - not perhaps towards a western model, but towards something more suitable for a complex, evolving, developing country than the brutal Stalinist repression that Liu's incarceration displays. Xi Jinping and Liu Xiaobo are the two key Chinese figures of 2011.
Kerry Brown is an associate fellow on the Asia programme, Chatham House. His books include Friends and Enemies: The Past, Present and Future of the Communist Party of China (Anthem Press, 2009). His website is here
Also by Kerry Brown: “Liu Xiaobo and China’s future” (12 October 2010)
I’d like to highlight the wider relevance of three ideas that have inspired and motivated me in a project I have just started to publicise.
Since mid-2009 my wife and I have been hosting and facilitating a series of confidential dinner-parties to promote more civil dialogue in the Anglo-Jewish community, particularly in reference to public debate about Israel. We have hosted dinners with senior communal professionals, lay leaders, journalists, rabbis and politicians. The process is predicated on the growing divisions among Jews over the question of Israel and the attendant anger and bitterness that bedevils discussion of the subject.
This project may be of parochial concern but it is based on ideas that do have a larger relevance:
1) Civility There is increasing concern about the uncivil tone that permeates much contemporary public discourse. The age of cacophonous new media seems - from BBC comment-threads to Fox News and beyond - to have lowered inhibitions as to what can be said. Civility is an old value whose relevance needs to be reasserted
2) Intra-communal dialogue There are many initiatives designed to foster or improve relations between different faith or ethnic communities; but there is far too little awareness of the degree to which relations within communities can be just as difficult. Intra-communal relations among a variety of groups present a challenge that is barely acknowledged and needs to be tackled
3) Mixing The power of hospitality and food to bring together parties locked in mutual suspicion is striking. This combination (like civility) has ancient roots and needs to be rediscovered.
Keith Kahn-Harris is honorary research fellow at the Centre for Religion and Contemporary Society, Birkbeck College. His books include (with Ben Gidley) Turbulent Times: The British Jewish Community Todayhere
(Continuum, 2010). His website is
Also by Keith Kahn-Harris: “In search of an Israeli left” (22 August 2010|) - with Joel Schlait
A toxic blend of economic uncertainty, demographic trends, and concern over relative political and economic decline is creating fear in the west. The results are evident in elections and political trends during 2010 in both Europe and the United States. What adds fuel to the fear is the rise of militant Islamism bent on sharpening a confrontation between Islam and historic Christendom; more generally, the refusal of a majority of Muslims worldwide to embrace the west's liberal values further raises it.
But the Islamic world for its own part needs to feel anxious, for it faces a comparably greater threat of descent into social regress, economic irrelevance and cultural corrosion.
In 2011 and over the next decade, the Islamic world faces a daunting but unavoidable set of tasks: rediscovering its rich heritage; disentangling the core of the “rational religion” from the myths and fables that had accumulated for centuries; confronting the currently dominant nihilistic and simplistic narratives; and constructing socio-political projects compatible with the 21st century that can inspire and engage tens of millions of young Muslims across the world.
No major political party or set of civic institutions (such as universities) in the Muslim world today - not even Turkey’s ruling AKP - has so far planted the seeds of such a project; nor has a popular movement emerged to herald or inspire the major changes needed. Yet the evolution of the modern Muslim world will be one of humanity’s major stories in the near future. It is bound to happen.
Tarek Osman is an Egyptian writer. He is the author of Egypt on the Brink: From Nasser to Mubarak (Yale University Press, 2010).
Also by Tarek Osman: “Egypt’s election: power, actors, and... 'change’" (26 November 2010)
How are we to maintain human development and at the same time uphold an ecological balance that does not do injustice to future generations? The ready answer is through sustainability. But the concept has become outworn and misused, to the extent that it no longer conveys much in the way of meaning. Can it be relaunched in a way that makes it again relevant to 2011 and beyond?
The precedents are not encouraging. In 1987, the final report of the United Nations's Brundtland commission received worldwide attention. It proposed "long-term environmental strategies for achieving sustainable development to the year 2000 and beyond” - and here we are. The UN heralded 2010 as the "international year of biodiversity". The slogan “Biodiversity is Life. Biodiversity is our Life” certainly was catchy - but what did it do beyond raising (a little) awareness?
In 2009-10, two UN meetings on climate change - an issue intimately linked to both sustainability and biodiversity - ended in either absolute failure (Copenhagen's CoP15) or bizarre compromise (Cancún's CoP16). They tend to suggest that the UN is not the best tool for handling such challenges. There are simply too many actors trying to reach agreements at the same time, amid a shift of responsibility from national governments to complex international organisations.
The raising of awareness is essential for issues of sustainable development, biodiversity and climate change to be properly addressed. But creating expectations that are never fulfilled can only be detrimental. An infusion of life and meaning into the concept of sustainability can come now only through action, via real-life examples that can pave the way for others - be they individuals, cities or even nations.
Øyvind Paasche is an adviser in the department of research management at the University of Bergen, Norway. He previously worked as a scientist specialising in paleoclimates at the Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research
Also by Øyvind Paasche: “After climategate: forward to reality” (14 July 2010)
The Chinese dissident intellectual and winner of the Nobel peace prize in 2010, Liu Xiaobo, will remain a source of inspiration for people all over the world in 2011. This is despite the power of the Chinese state which saw him sentenced on 25 December 2009 to eleven years’ jail for subversion of state authority, and which prevented him, his family and more than 100 invited guests from travelling to Oslo for the award ceremony on 10 December 2010. The empty chair on which Liu’s presentation was placed has come to symbolise Beijing's oppression and Liu's courageous resistance.
Liu's peaceful campaigning for human rights and democracy in China is reflected too in the Charter 08 document he drafted, and which was signed by dozens of Chinese writers and intellectuals in the year before his award. Beijing’s berserk reaction to his efforts highlights its sense of insecurity and stubborn refusal to grant its people the basic human rights to which they are entitled, as embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other documents.
The sacrifice of Liu Xiaobo and others will not be in vain. One fine day, China will embrace democracy - and we will thank people like Liu for their selflessness.
Also by Emily Lau: “Tiananmen, 1989-2009” (4 June 2009)
Many individuals, some obscure, can have a decisive effect - for good or ill - in 2011. Still, however diminished the prestige of the United States, the single person who will have the greatest impact in the world in 2011 will be, once again, the American president.
Barack Obama is politically wounded. The hopes he brought with him, already dented, have been grounded with his Democratic Party’s losses in the mid-term elections. His choice of key coadjutors was ill-judged. He was determined to diminish the stark ideological polarisation of America politics by reaching out to the Republicans. They did not respond. He sought to reach out to intransigent opponents abroad. There too he has been largely disappointed.
His legislative record and his poll standing are both disappointing, but respectable. He needs to negotiate tricky short-term decisions in domestic politics, and with attenuated political resources. He will not have much political capital to spare for even more vital long-term issues, like the budget and unaffordable entitlement programmes.
Abroad, he is frustrated at every turn. Any likelihood of middle-east peace seems farther away than ever. Most urgent of all is the war in Afghanistan and the consequent crisis in Pakistan. Obama thought it politically astute to buy off conservative hostility by sending 100,000 more troops to war. By upping the ante, he has trapped himself in a policy at odds with his own wishes. Only a bold strategic retreat can save America’s world leadership, but that would cost him and the Democrats the White House. It is an impossible choice.
Godfrey Hodgson is a journalist, formerly director of the Reuters' Foundation Programme at Oxford University and foreign editor of the Independent. His books include The Myth of American Exceptionalism (Yale University Press, 2009)
Also by Godfrey Hodgson: “America’s fiscal-political trap” (22 December 2010)
Resilience will become a key concept in 2011 - because the consequences of its absence are starting to inflict real damage. In Britain, years of underinvestment in infrastructure have propelled a remorseless drive for efficiency in private and public sector alike, with consequences that are now apparent - from the discomfort and delays affecting passengers at Heathrow as a result of BAA's lack of investment in equipment and the airlines' lack of spare capacity (because an empty seat is an unbearable cost) to the suffering of householders in Northern Ireland deprived of water for days because of the water authority's failures of management and engineering capacity.
There are many other examples. This winter has already tested the supply of gas almost to its limit. The electricity generation and distribution system needs tens of billions of pounds in investment, as does the rail network, and the mobile-telephone network to meet demand created by smartphones, and the broadband network to extend fast cables across the country. The withdrawal of the public sector from providing many services, as spending-cuts bite, will reveal social fragilities. Many private-sector companies that have spent a quarter- century delivering efficiencies and dividends to shareholders are (as BP's experience perhaps shows) more vulnerable than might be imagined. Systems and structures can seem fine for years - and in the end, it takes only a breath of adversity to flatten them. 2011 will be the year when we start thinking about resilience.
Against an even larger canvas, the defining experience of the world in 2011 - the one to which art will have to respond - is the growth of megacities in the emerging giants, the human experience of that shocking transition from static rural poverty to dynamic urban squalor. I know too little about the writers and artists whose experiences of these places, Koklata or Sao Paulo or Guangzhou, will provide their raw material; but one who for me evokes the anomie of this new urban life is the German photographer Michael Wolf.
Diane Coyle is an economist, head of the economic consulting firm Enlightenment Economics, a trustee of the BBC and a visiting professor at the University of Manchester. Her books include The Economics of Enough: How to Run the Economy as If the Future Matters (Princeton University Press, forthcoming 2011)
Also by Diane Coyle: “Economics, the soulful science” (21 February 2007)
My suggestion relates to the Anglican communion, that branch of Christianity whose centre is Canterbury in England. It is that in 2011, the Episcopal church (Anglicanism in the United States) should seek inspiration in the American revolution.
In particular, that the Episcopal church should its stand its ground and reject calls to sign up to the new Anglican covenant, which aims to create a more doctrinally unified communion; and indeed that it should respond to the pressure with new vigour.
The official view is that the Episcopal church has brought the communion to breaking-point by ordaining openly gay bishops, and that order can only be restored if it promises to change course. Since the crisis began in 2003, the church has defended its position, despite being told that the result of its refusal to move will be that a newly tidied-up communion will reduce it to second-class status.
This year, it seems that the threat will be carried out, and that the Episcopal church will be treated as less than a full member of the club. It ought to treat this ostracism as a huge opportunity: an opportunity to articulate the liberal Christian vision that it has been pursuing. Instead of allowing itself to be portrayed as the naughty little daughter of the mother church, it should declare its theological identity with new confidence, and criticise the evasions of the rest of the communion.
Here, it should say, is a model of how a sacramentally-rooted Christian tradition can exist within the liberal state, free from the cultural nostalgia of the English church, which clings so desperately to its established status - and free from the reactionary moralism of the religious right.
The American Anglicans should imitate the confidence of their political ancestors, and dare to believe that their rebellion is of universal significance.
Theo Hobson is is a theologian and writer. His books include Milton's Vision: The Birth of Christian Liberty (Continuum, 2008)
Also by Theo Hobson: “John Milton’s vision” (9 December 2008)
The idea of social democracy should - and perhaps even could - return to centre-stage in 2011. The end of the cold war may have finished off traditional state socialism for a generation and surely the bankers' crisis has now done the same for unregulated capitalism. True, there has been no dramatic equivalent of the collapse of the Berlin wall to mark its end - free-market capitalism is fighting long and hard to preserve its grip, and will, no doubt, continue to do so. But the financial collapse has stripped away the ideological camouflage in which excess has up to now managed to hide itself, revealing for all to see the plunderers within. Protest and resistance grows, whether it is to bald attacks on the poor and the workers, large-scale corruption or tax-dodging government advisers.
But to gel, such reaction needs a coherent critique and an alternative vision. The late Tony Judt provides both in his last book, Ill Fares the Land. Short enough to reach today's readers, and clear enough to be understood, it explains how, far from being inevitable, injustice and unfairness are merely products of the way we organise ourselves - and being merely this they can be changed.
Tony Judt shows there is a way - but is there a will?
Perhaps it falls to marginalised Britain, that empire turned bit-player on the world stage, to remind the democracies of the world what can be done. True, the country has (since May 2010) a government savagely intent on restoring the power of money. The leading element in the coalition, the Conservatives (or "Tories") do what Tories always do - try their best to shift wealth from poor to rich. The junior partner, the Liberal Democrats (Lib Dems), are showing that protest-populism in opposition translates in government all too easily into craven obeisance to raw capitalism.
But the Labour Party, now in opposition after thirteen years in government, seems to be recovering its social-democratic soul. The authoritarianism of the late Tony Blair years is gone, as is platitudinous talk of fairness designed to obscure surrender to the status quo. Labour may be about to risk talking seriously about justice, and what it really means to have a society which is striving genuinely to find itself moving in the direction of greater equality. So crass is the government's assault on its own people that Labour may be back in power sooner than it expects. Not just the British but the world should be watching its leader, Ed Miliband.
Conor Gearty is professor at the Centre for the Study of Human Rights at the London School of Economics. His books include Civil Liberties (Oxford University Press, 2008) and the current collaborative projectThe Rights’ Future. His website is here
Also by Conor Gearty: “Israel, Gaza, and international law” (21 January 2009)
I would suggest that in 2011 we remember Liu Xiaobo, the imprisoned Nobel peace-prize winner, both for himself and as a symbol of all those individuals who have been and are being incarcerated by rulers unable to cope emotionally with opposition in a democratic social climate.
There seem to be more of the kind of leader-jailer who feels that locking people up is a solution to anything. Vladimir Putin, whose hostage Mikhail Khodorkovsky is to spend another thirteen-and-a-half years in prison, is but one example; Alexander Lukashenka, who had Belarus's opposition leaders detained after they dared to contest what turned out to be a fraudulent election, is another.
China's political elite, driven to frenzied denunciation and a global campaign by Liu Xiaobo's award, was happily unsuccessful in its attempt to get the world to recognise its right to lock people up for expressing their views. But this very reaction was revealing. We often hear that certain countries are "not ready for democracy" - a catch-all phrase by which apologists (often living in free societies) seek to excuse tyrannical behaviour. But then, strangely, there are always people in prison in those countries who are "ready for democracy" - and, somehow, they are the ones who are incarcerated.
I doubt if Liu Xiaobo or Mikhail Khodorkovsky or Uladzimer Nyaklyaeu have answers to all the questions you pose for 2011. But as we search for answers can we allow ourselves to forget their fate?
Krzysztof Bobinski is the president of Unia & Polska, a pro-European think-tank in Warsaw. He was the Warsaw correspondent of the Financial Times (1976-2000) and later published Unia & Polska magazine
Also by Krzysztof Bobinski: “Poland’s second Katyń: out of the ashes” (13 April 2010)
It is customary for me, as a citizen of Nepal, to be outraged by India’s imperiousness towards its small neighbours - until I remember this is really no different from the way the Indian state treats its own citizens.
There is, of course, an “India good” as well as an “India bad”. The country’s vast infrastructure of democracy, from the centre down to the grassroots, is truly impressive. This is something that India’s small neighbours such as Nepal can get behind, for democracy is what we aspire to in our own countries. But India good is often brought down by India bad: the insecurities of the aggrieved Hindu majority, the triumphalism of corporate capitalism, the utter disregard for universal standards of human rights….
Arundhati Roy speaks for India good. Whether she be writing about the injustices surrounding development in the Narmada valley, or about the radicalisation of India’s tribal people in the Maoist heartland, or about the atrocities committed by the Indian state in Kashmir, Roy has done more than any single citizen of India to expose the country’s failures to live up to its claims to being the world’s largest democracy.
In India, Roy can be a polarising figure. India’s conservatives and ultra-nationalists naturally despise her, but even among liberals and leftists there are misgivings: with her fame she can overshadow lesser-known activists. Indeed, it is important for outsiders to realise that there are vibrant home-grown civil-society movements around each of the causes Roy takes up. She points to these movements and to the activists who have dedicated their lives to them.
With India’s growing prominence on the world stage - as witnessed by its desire to be a permanent member of the UN Security Council - it is increasingly vital, and not just to the small neighbours, for India good to win out over India bad. A vital part of this struggle is the efforts of Arundhati Roy - and India’s civil society - to keep the Indian state honest.
Manjushree Thapa is a novelist, translator and writer. Her books include Forget Kathmandu: An Elegy for Democracy (Penguin, 2005) and Seasons of Flight (Penguin, 2010)
Also by Manjushree Thapa: “Nepal: Maosts’ lock, India’s door” (9 June 2010)
Patrice de Beer
An icon for 2011 is a tall, elegant and soft-spoken 93-year-old gentleman called Stéphane Hessel. The very antithesis of the “bling” world of France’s super-rich jet-set moneymakers, he has become the figurehead of those who loathe the inequality, iniquity and social violence nurtured by the world’s savage financial crisis.
This venerable figure has had a distinguished career. He is the scion of a German Jewish family that emigrated to France in the 1920s who became a hero of the French resistance and a diplomat, co-authored the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and became a fiery defender of illegal immigrants and stateless Palestinians.
The vehicle of his current renown is a twenty-page pamphlet that sold over 500,000 copies in the last weeks of 2010 and still tops the best-seller lists: Indignez-vous! (Be indignant!) - an inspiring polemic that speaks to the millions of French people (mostly young) who wish to channel their anger in a constructive way.
Stéphane Hessel, although a socialist at heart, offers not a political platform based on personal ambitions but an unpretentious ethics of protest. In a world where “indifference is the worst of behaviours” he sees “indignation” as the key to social and political involvement. If citizens cease to be indignant in the face of others’ sufferings - including immigrants persecuted by police and workers made redundant as a result of corporate greed - the result is a society in moral danger of losing its soul.
True, nothing is simple. “(The) reasons for indignation might seem less obvious today, or the world too complex. It is not always easy to distinguish between the different groups ruling us. We are not anymore facing a tiny elite whose goals are crystal-clear.” But Stéphane Hessel is an optimist who uses his past experience to show that a more responsible society is still possible.
Patrice de Beer is former London and Washington correspondent for Le Monde
Also by Patrice de Beer: “France’s pension reform: the bitter pill” (27 October 2010)
The idea that counter-narcotics strategies are damaging and counterproductive should continue to inspire activism for reform of international drug control in 2011. For over a century, the flawed ideology of prohibition has determined punitive and militarised approaches to the ever expanding, complex and transnational illicit drug economy. This has caused immense social, economic and political harm, whose impacts fall disproportionately on the most vulnerable sectors of society and the world’s poorest countries.
In persisting with the notion that a “drug-free world” is obtainable, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the United States (the country that gave the world prohibition) are responsible for policies and programmes that exacerbate insecurity, poverty, conflict and environmental degradation. All evidence points to a record of miserable failure.
At the most basic level, more people are now consuming a greater diversity of purer and cheaper drugs that at any point in the last century of drug control. And while the drug-control regime has shown itself incapable of preventing illicit drug markets, it has proved equally ineffective at regulating access to essential medical drugs such as opioids.
The eclectic international movement for reform of national and international drug laws has gone from strength to strength in recent years. This is underlined by the growth and increased interconnectedness of grassroots, academic and official lobbies for change. There are powerful vested interests in sustaining the status quo; but despite ongoing efforts to discredit drug-policy reform arguments, pressure for rational, evidence-based approaches will and should continue to build.
Julia Buxton is senior research fellow in the department of peace studies, Bradford University and a contributor to Film Exchange on Alcohol and Drugs (Fead). Her books include (as editor) The Politics of Narcotic Drugs (Routledge, 2010)
Also by Julia Buxton: “Hugo Chávez: tides of victory” (20 February 2009)
Thanks to Julian Assange and his documentary multitudes, we stand at the threshold of a curious time: the post-secret age. It will be intriguing to find out how power and the status of the powerful are re-engineered to harmonise with the inevitability of openness. Britain’s David Cameron has adopted one possible approach: all apparently bad things are the outcome of mistaken public expectations. Adjust these, and we will come to see that what is done to us, the ruled, bears the imprint of natural law and pure reason, computed and executed by (in London’s case) a couple of likeable blokes.
Down in Latin America, supposedly the home of the breast-beating populist and the hidden executioner, the response to post-secrecy is much more innovative. A decade or so ago, the Argentine government wallowed in utter mystery; its scandals were (known and unknown) unknowns, crudely estimated in magnitude through the accumulation of bodies and bank-accounts. Now the government ejects twitter-messages and facebook-updates at astounding rates. Ministers seem to have the digital addiction of pale-faced hackers.
Expect 2011 to widen and intensify the rage for compulsive communication across Latin America and the developing world, substituting the clandestine plot and mafia network for the rush to justification. Maybe it won’t be pure democracy, but it will be something profoundly new: open closure, transparent concentration of power, at worst user-friendly despotism. Meanwhile, Europe and the United States will ache and groan, fussing at the ethics of the developing world as they obsess over the global economic pecking-order and their own unaccountable and unsustainable places within in.
A guide for this era? A holy trinity, fused into one: the globalised satire of Douglas Coupland, the trenchant humanism of Martha Nussbaum, and the sheer oddity of Antanas Mockus, the failed Colombian presidential candidate and radical pedagogue of the public spirit.
Ivan Briscoe is a fellow of the Conflict Research Unit at the Clingendael Institute in The Hague. He has previously worked as a senior researcher at the Fride institute in Madrid, as editor of the English-language edition of El Pais, and as a reporter for the UNESCO Courier and the Buenos Aires Herald
Also by Ivan Briscoe: “Tomás Eloy Martínez and the Argentine dream" (9 June 2010)
The discussion of China’s global rise, already a dominating topic for many years, will continue in 2011. The zeal and fear that surround the subject - rational or irrational, justified or unjustified - will intensify on both sides.
In this febrile atmosphere there are cool-headed and rational voices who especially deserve to be listened to. The notable thing is that they are often the ones most excoriated as dangerous extremists by China’s government. The Dalai Lama, who advocates a middle-way approach to solving the intractable Tibet dilemma, is one; Liu Xiaobo, who advocates and has practiced dialogue to advance democracy and human rights in China, is another. Both men’s emphasis on compromise and coexistence sets them apart from the ideological, do-or-die style favoured by some Chinese dissidents.
The day that Liu Xiaobo was (in his absence) awarded the Nobel peace prize, 10 December 2010, also marked the end of the fifteen-year jail term served by a Chinese Mongolian intellectual and prisoner of conscience called Hada. In the event Hada’s incarceration has been extended into 2011. Again, a voice of reason who (in this case) highlights China's ethnic tensions and disharmony is treated as an enemy of the state.
The very people who offer China an opening to the future are imprisoned or exiled. I hope that 2011 will see Chinese authorities learning to develop more enlightened attitudes to such dissenting voices, as well as becoming more responsive to public opinion and grievance. If they do not, the distrust and fear in much of the world in the face of China’s growing power and influence will only increase.
Temtsel Hao is a journalist with the BBC World Service, based in London
Also by Temtsel Hao: “Mao Zedong in video-history’s gaze” (7 October 2010)
The achievement of Julian Assange and Wikileaks has been to make obsolete the boundaries between history, political science and journalism. The publication of many thousands of classified United States diplomatic cables dismays many in officialdom but also performs a public service by revealing some of the less savoury workings of a receding superpower: cynical power politics, grave disregard for human rights, ignorance of the subtleties of complex political systems, and the gap between its benign discourse and its behind-the-scenes manipulation and intimidation.
Wikileaks’s actions have opened a new space of possibilities for a more transparent global community, in which deceit will rebound to haunt its perpetrators. Yet even leaving aside the criticisms and allegations that surround Assange and his project, there is a downside.
For the cascade of leaks is also an important reminder of how the web is currently messing up the media. “Citizen journalism” (of which Wikileaks is a subcategory) has shifted power away from professional journalists and newspaper corporations to literally everybody with a mobile-phone camera and a computer, thereby multiplying the sources of audio and video content; but it has also weakened the power of editors, who can put raw material into political, sociological and historical context and so turn it into news.
The creation of new opportunities for transparency thus also makes the verification and explanation of material more problematic. It would not be surprising, then, if some websites start to disseminate faked documents under the umbrella of Wikileaks. The global, open, transparent electronic space is probably more open to manipulation than the established regimes of control and fine-tuning between news outlets and government agencies.
We all need to develop tools to deal with this new world of user-generated content. We must also hope that the US and other governments will not succeed in disrupting Assange's project and reverse citizens’ ability to learn more about how the powerful of the world act behind their backs. If Wikileaks is not the dawn of global democracy, it may be a step towards a world where secrecy becomes more ephemeral and the political cost of official hypocrisy is raised. And this would certainly be a good thing.
Kerem Oktem is research fellow of the European Studies Centre at Oxford University. His books include Angry Nation: Turkey since 1989 (Zed Books, 2010)
Also by Kerem Oktem: “Turkey and Israel: ends and beginnings” (10 December 2009)
Two sources to begin to understand the world in 2011: Paul Kennedy's book The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers (1989) and Hannah Arendt's question: "What is politics?".
The United States is in a pretty bad shape, both economically and politically. The polarisation of attitudes in the country, symbolised by the ultra-narrow mindset of the Tea Party movement, will not help it - in fact, the movement can be seen as a manifestation of wider political decadence. Hence, I fear for liberalism in America, unless Barack Obama really can change the country's mood in a positive way. America’s greater isolation would have major consequences.
Europe is also experiencing serious economic and political problems. The European Union’s institutional dynamics are near paralysed, and several of the union’s national governments face huge budget challenges. In the wider arena, international negotiations in areas such as trade and the environment are stuck, and many conflicts are being forgotten or left to regional or local actors.
This context recommends a return to the fundamentals of Hannah Arendt's question. What is politics? Why, after all, does politics exist; why do we need governments; what global politics should we have?
The answers must surely include the fact that positivism has separated politics from the social, leading to a hollow pragmatism that already is reaching its limits. Here, Paul Kennedy's book is a reminder that the need for good ideas is as urgent as ever - and that ideas work much better than wars.
Also by Arthur Ituassu: “After the party: Dilma and Brazil” (22 November 2010)