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A Happy New Year? Yes, a Happy New Year!

By Marina de Regt – “So this is Xmas, and what have you done, another year over and a new one just began”, John Lennon and Yoko Ono sang exactly 50 years ago. It was the time of the Vietnam war and worldwide calls for peace in the world could be heard. The war indeed came to an end but the song never lost its relevance and has become one of the most famous Christmas songs ever. I immediately had to think of this song when I started reflecting about the past year. Another year over, but what have we done? I remembered Christmas a year ago when we were still in a heavy lockdown, and not allowed to have more than four guests over for Christmas and New Year’s Eve. No such restrictions this year but half of the people, including myself, spent Christmas in bed with a heavy flu or Covid. Yes, we could go back to normal and wow, how quickly normal became normal again, but was it really back to normal? I don’t think so. This pandemic has changed the world forever, and made clear how vulnerable we are, how much we stick our heads in the sand, and how little we learn from our mistakes.

And then at the end of February a new war broke out which shook the world and the world order in such a way that it will definitely have longlasting effects. Within a few months we were thrown back in time and Russia became the biggest enemy of the Western world again. Governments that were having rather restricted defense policies, such as Germany, suddenly started to invest heavily in their military. Where were the times that we thought that we would not be faced with war in Europe anymore? As a result of the war Ukrainians fled in large numbers to neighbouring countries and beyond. The way in which they were received often stood in stark contrast with the experiences of other refugees, who had to wait for years to get refugee status or a house, and brought global inequalities including racism to the surface again.

The outbreak of the war in Ukraine is definitely the worst event of 2022 on a global scale, but many other wars and conflicts erupted or continued. In my beloved Yemen a ceasefire was announced in March and extended twice, leading to some relief for the Yemeni population, but unfortunately came to an end again in October, resulting in new eruptions of violence. In neighbouring Ethiopia peace negotiations finally brought an end to the horrific war in Tigray yet there is still a long way to go before the political and ethnic divides in the country will be resolved, if they will ever. And these are just a few examples of ongoing wars and conflicts that continue without getting much attention in mainstream media. We as anthropologists know very well how the media works, and how those that do not live in the center are marginalized continuously.

I can continue with a list of events, developments and disappointments that characterized 2022. Yet, also many positive things happened; we could travel again without too many restrictions, the cultural sector opened up with museums, concert halls and theaters returning to their normal programmes, and university campuses flooded with students again. In addition, we saw an explosion of small-scale initiatives, sometimes as a response to war, conflict and crisis here and elsewhere. Solidarity characterizes these initiatives in which people seek creative solutions for the new challenges they and others are facing. And last but not least, in Iran women and men took to the streets in large numbers asking for women’s rights despite the high risks involved.  

In view of these positive developments I would therefore like to end with a quote by Nick Cave, who in Faith, Hope and Carnage, written with Seán O’Hagan (2022), says: “I remain cautiously optimistic. I think if we can move beyond the anxiety and dread and despair, there is a promise of something shifting not just culturally, but spiritually, too. I feel that potential in the air, or maybe a sort of subterranean undertow of concern and connectivity, a radical and collective move towards a more empathetic and enhanced existence… It does seem possible — even against the criminal incompetence of our governments, the planet’s ailing health, the divisiveness that exists everywhere, the shocking lack of mercy and forgiveness, where so many people seem to harbour such an irreparable animosity towards the world and each other — even still, I have hope. Collective grief can bring extraordinary change, a kind of conversion of the spirit, and with it a great opportunity. We can seize this opportunity, or we can squander it and let it pass us by. I hope it is the former. I feel there is a readiness for that, despite what we are led to believe.”

Let’s keep this in mind: we can make a change in this world, Happy New Year!

Marina de Regt is working at the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology and a member of the Standplaats Wereld editorial team.

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