With a triumphant array of flaming beauty over the Thames to a soundtrack of a woefully short medley; continuing the proud tradition, started at the Olymipic opening ceremony, of only allowing two bars of any Queen song; the year ended in spectacular style. With 2012 grandiosely billed as one of the greatest years ever, 2013 is bound to be just as good, right? With 2011 being one of the most frenetic years on record, with governments toppled, brutal ideologies challenged and real change enacted in volatile regions such as the Middle East and Burma; this decade was living up to the expectations of so many who saw the financial implosion and subsequent tedious, statistical dryness of the ‘noughties’ as a vacuum in society’s progression. We now seem to be moving at a faster pace than ever in technology and democracy is spreading worldwide, more rapidly than we could possibly have hoped.
Boris Johnson is one who has certainly benefited, not only from the second-hand credit garnered for his not ruining the Olympics (with most of the ground work being set in place by his less interesting predecessor, Ken Livingstone), but also a bounce in the polls which his lovable buffoonery has had coming for a while. And the constant repetition of his plumy tones; providing sound over the fireworks in Westminster, and in the admittedly brilliant ‘Olympo-mania’ speech, will provide a good enough apogee of his career to probably end up in his obituary.
He did well, with the inevitable cock-ups (like the zip-wire incident) being laughed off in good humour as being something he’d do; and only serving to make him more popular. While no longer a credible leadership contender, he could prove a useful front-man for 2015 – provided he is nowhere near actual policy. However the same cannot be said for David Cameron.
Sport on its own has had a good year, and while I am in no position to truly talk about its significance in any context, I did like the focus on sports which no longer get much of a look in, we got to enjoy them in all of their glory thanks to the Olympic games, which was (and is likely to remain) the only Olympics I have ever taken an interest in. The sort of sports I enjoyed seeing were: sailing, in which Ben Ainslie became the most successful Olympic sailor of all time; and cycling, with the glorious succession of Sir Chris Hoy to the podium more than any other British athlete, and also the soon-to-be-Sir Bradley Wiggins, showing why he has become a national hero from obscure beginnings in the course of a single, amazing year. He embodies the very spirit which the cycling world found lacking in the shocking revelations about Lance Armstrong’s prolific doping career, a charge so strong that the international bodies of cycling have altered history, stripping him of his seven Tour de France titles, and killing the personal clean-cut myth which so entranced American sports fans and patriots.
Fireworks are one of the best ways to end a year, as the newly democratising Far East found out today, with both Burma and North Korea celebrating New Year for the first time with the sparkly explosives of joy. So, we have now returned the firework to its Asian origins, and it helps the cause of freedom too. That is most certainly an improvement.
Over the past two years, democratic progress has began to take hold in Burma, with the revered pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi winning available parliamentary seats in a landslide, following the breakup of the military junta and the inauguration of President Thein Sein, who has pledged to begin the peaceful transition to liberty and freedom. We are only seeing a foretaste of this in his liberalisation of parties in his capital city.
But how do the festivities at the end of the year separate us from our ancestors? For a start I think it is more psychological than thought; yes we have our medicine and our technology, which are cornerstones of our society, and are becoming more and more important in our lives. But I think attitude is the thing which is most different to that of our forefathers. We are now more knowledgeable about the Universe, and we know that we know. This stops us living in the terror of not knowing (which was common before the Enlightenment). There are also medical advances which each year stretch the boundaries of what we could only dream of before. Illness is no longer synonymous with death; even cancer, one of the great unknown scourges of previous epochs, is in retreat. And our relationship with the reaper has thusly improved too.
We can now look to the future with due optimism and in a genuine hope that democracy will be on the move once more. Remnants of the old pre-Arab Spring regimes, such as the foul barbarism by which the King of Bahrain kills his subjects, and Bashir al-Assad continues to shell civilians who, in both cases, merely want freedom from two of the most closed governments in the world. This has escaped major international action; if not attention, and these throwbacks to the bad old days before January 2011 should not be tolerated.
The great advances the last year has had are not to be forgotten, but we must also bear in mind that many suffered and died in their fight for freedom, such as citizen journalist Rami al-Sayed, who was killed in army shelling after posting hundreds of hours of footage on YouTube of the Syrian government’s bombardment of his city of Homs. With few media outlets in the town; and with those who were there being targeted by Syrian shelling (in the tragic murders of Marie Colvin of the Sunday Times and photographer Rémi Ochlik) he was vitally important in spreading the horror of the war, and the baseness of a government which indiscriminately shelled civilian areas in a densely populated town. He died for his work, as did so many other martyrs of freedom who lost their lives either combating or documenting the battle for Syria.
Their work garnered international praise and attention on some of the vilest cruelties committed by men. As we move forward into a new year, we ought to reflect on this, and other tales of ordinary heroism, and then go on; in order to make a positive difference in the world: through action, or just opposing tyranny at all times, we can destroy the enemies of freedom, it will just take a lot of time.