The editor’s pick of the year

Anthony Barnett
20 December 2004

This is unfair! Three choices of the year when the act of discrimination lies in what we decide to publish - not afterwards.

To make it more interesting I decided they all had to be by people we have not published before.

My top choice: Antara Dev Sen’s “India’s benign earthquake” (20 May). A beautiful, exuberant analysis of the Indian election that swept the Congress party back to power. It must rank amongst the best immediate assessments of an election ever. On Bush’s victory six months later, nothing has yet been written to equal Antara’s essay on the magic of India’s democracy.

Antara responded from Delhi to a great surprise. She combined thoughtful reflection with clear picture of the players and the experience. She is especially compelling on the role of media. So often its power is stereotyped as either neutral or conspiratorial. Antara Dev Sen captures the real influences of the media and the limitations of its power. She acknowledges the independence of minds and souls amongst the Indian electorate, respecting their capacity for freedom and judgment without dismissing their vulnerability to manipulation. Without false populism or exaggerated optimism, she embraces the democratic process. She shows how those in what was once called the ‘Third World’ can do it better, and can write about it better.

Second, Zaid Al-Ali’s “Iraq - the lost generation” (7 October). His shock on meeting his compatriots at the frontier post in Jordan; his feeling of shame and ambivalence; his description of the appalling conditions he observed; his decision that he had to try and go back to work in Iraq.

Iraq was one of the great stories of the year as the initial, passive acceptance of Saddam’s overthrow grew into fragmented, widespread opposition to the occupation. Part of openDemocracy’s role is to ensure that Iraqi voices themselves report on and debate this. Zaid’s article arrived unsolicited. We look forward to his becoming a regular columnist when he returns to live in his country.

Third, George Papandreou’s interview “Go ahead, George, change it all” (6 December). I have written about it in an Editor’s note, but I’ll say it again. He faces up to the key issue for democrats in the face of globalisation: how can people make a difference?

To put it another way, what comes between protests, think tanks, policy debates, articles and films on the one side, and government itself on the other? Answer: political parties. They are the missing link in most debates over ‘civil society’. Now Papandreou, an experienced leader, wants to turn the nature and character of his party inside out. Whether or not he and his Greek colleagues succeed, the challenge deserves to be a defining one. For openDemocracy, it starts our exploration of what we call open politics.

Looking back, while successes seem done and dusted, mistakes and failures continue to rankle as if they are still fresh. My top regret was that we were not able to publish a wonderful piece by Sorious Samura commissioned for our major series My America: Letters to America.

Sorious is a journalist and film-maker from Sierra Leone and was captured while reporting on Liberia’s civil war. Only American intervention by the Clinton administration using the good offices of Jesse Jackson released him. His gratitude to the United States and concern for the current behaviour of its government was echoed around the world in our unique series of exchanges. Unfortunately Jesse Jackson, who agreed to respond, never found the time to do so in the turmoil of the election campaign.

At my special request, we publish it on its own today.

Final selection, top columnist. This was the year that many across America had to face up to the long-term impact and importance of religion. I don’t think it decided the election, but it clearly was one of the organizing forces of George Bush nationalism. Time to salute Dave Belden for his early insistence and continuing meditations on the ways faith matters, and how its influence should not to be dismissed or patronised by secularists.

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