Perspectives: A Review of 2012
(Swans - December 17, 2012) What will 2012 be remembered for? Some re-elected presidents, like Vladimir Putin in Russia, Barack Obama in the USA and Hugo Chávez in Venezuela; a bunch of new presidents, like Xi Jinping in China, François Hollande in France, and Enrique Peña Nieto in Mexico. They are, of course, all absolutely intent on helping their countries grow its GNP and undo its economic predicament. Some are even committed to revitalizing democratic values, fighting powerful drug cartels, and preserving the environment for future generations. All of them, even the Chinese, are frightened by the labor conundrum. Will there will be enough jobs and, if not, who will buy all the goods factories produce as they employ more robots and fewer workers every year with the employed obliged to negotiate with the royalty of the stock exchange. In this sense, 2012 looked like "business as usual."
However, 2012 will especially be remembered for "What Has Not Been Done," (WHNBD). These words could of course describe almost all the years of mankind's history, but I think they fit perfectly the twelve months that have just passed.
In spring of 2011, the Arab revolution in Egypt had been primed by the liberal, secular, young living in Cairo and fitted out with smartphones. In 2012 that upheaval has turned into a difficult if not dangerous power shift from military officers to Muslim Brotherhood. Will the young Egyptians be able to stop this counterrevolution? President Mohamed Morsi, who is an influential member of the Brotherhood, has fixed December 15 for a referendum to obtain the people's consent for a new constitution that gives the president extensive control of the judiciary. What the Arab revolution has really meant and what the Egyptian future will be, including its influence on North Africa and the Near East -- Israeli and Palestine first of all -- will perhaps be clearer in 2013.
Surely one thing has not changed in 2012. Young people erupting in a square can help to tear a tyrant from his throne, but if they have no solid ideological and technical backup, they won't obtain power, no matter how much they tweet on social networks with their smartphones. Youth continues to be a biological and not a political quality.
Palestine has become an Observer State at the UN but its status has not yet been recognized in 2012. Israel isn't ready to oblige, and that it ever will remain only a matter of hope. Atomic energy suppliers in Iran do not seem open to international scrutiny. Civil war in Syria has been causing bloodshed since April 2011 and continues increasingly to do so. Tunisian citizens are facing the same problems as Egyptians. They promoted a liberal revolution that the new Islamic government in charge since December 2011 is taking advantage of and trying to transform the country according to religious principles. One of the most important oil producers in the world, Libya, remains in turmoil after the killing of Muammar Gaddafi. The pro-Gaddafi party has not yet disappeared and the three regions of the country, Cirenaic, Tripolitania, and Fezzan, are on the brink of civil war as they strive for dominance. The killing in September of the US ambassador in Libya, Chris Stephens, could have prevented Obama's re-election but ended only in inconclusive domestic political skirmishing.
This brief summary reminds us how the south Mediterranean area exploded in revolt in 2011 and continued in chaos afterwards right up to the present, December 2012. None of these conflicts will be eased before New Year's Eve. The instability in Egypt, on the contrary, increases by the day.
At the other end of the Mediterranean Sea, in Europe, the skies are not crossed by airplanes dropping bombs, but gloom prevails. Factories close down, unemployment rises, social services lose funding, income flows away from middle-class professionals into the coffers of states desperately in need of money to pay their debts.
It's a frightful scene of which no expert of the "dismal science" in Europe seems able to offer people a clear and pragmatic explanation, much less something in the way of a solution.
Spanish banks, Italy's balance of payments, the Portuguese and Greek economies are in a critical state. The British and French economic situations are scarcely healthier. France has been downgraded from AAA to Aa1 in November by Moody's, while Standards and Poor's did their downgrade in January. Even the Netherlands has slipped into recession. Germany is slowing. These predicaments are not national problems. European banking and fiscal union is the answer that José-Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, suggested in September. 2012 was not the year in which the European countries, and especially Germany, listened to his advice and acted on it. Will they listen in 2013?
My perception of 2012, characterized by "What Has Not Been Done," may well spring from the fact that in Italy President Silvio Berlusconi had to resign in November 2011. He and his ministers demonstrated their incapacity to face the economic difficulties they had to a great extent created. During 2012 Italy has been governed by Mario Monti, a university professor of economics whose sober attitude was accompanied by the conviction that only heavier taxation could ease a hole in the state's coffers caused by endemic tax evasion. Observers of Italy also noted that the Mafia, whose own economy is huge, pays no taxes.
The Freedom Party, led by Berlusconi, broke its alliance with the Lega Nord and joined its long time adversary, the Partito Democratico, to support the Monti government. After thirteen months, in which Berlusconi seemed to have abandoned politics, he changed his mind and his party withdrew support from Monti, bringing down the government. An election will be held in February or March 2013 with Berlusconi running again for the post of government chief. The Partito Democratico and the judges are once more his worst enemies. The separatist Lega Nord, after the 2012 parenthesis, will doubtless again become his congenial ally.
What Italy in 2012 has failed to do is to rid itself forever of Silvio Berlusconi. Europe and the rest of the world have waited in vain for us finally to carry out this operation of garbage disposal. It was not done. 2013 has to be the year in which Italians at last complete the unfinished work of political and moral hygiene.
In the meantime, steel factories in Taranto, Italy, and Florange, France, are at risk of permanent closure. The threat was one of the main subjects discussed during 2012 by politicians, environmentalists, workers, unions, journalists, and doctors. Can industrial production of one of the most critical materials be harmonized with respect for workers' health and the well being of all citizens living near the furnaces? Let's hope 2013 will tell.
The author thanks Peter Byrne for his help with this article.
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About the Author
Fabio De Propris is a Roman writer who has also lived in Istanbul. He has published three novels (Brenda e Plotino, Se mi chiami Amore, Nero Istanbul) and translated books from English (Markheim of R. L. Stevenson, Paradoxes and Problems of John Donne, An Anthology of William Hazlitt's Essays) and from Turkish (Two Girls of Perihan Magden, translated with Mehmet S. Bermek, The Clown and His Daughter of Halide Edip Adivar.) Fabio teaches in Rome and writes occasionally in Il Manifesto. He is presently at work on his fourth novel. His poems appear in the paintings of the group Artisti di Fortebraccio. (back)