Anyone who’s been paying attention to the news for the past few months has been faced with gagging politicians, frowning economists, fearful traders, clueless citizens and most of all, the same words ready to come out of everyone’s mouths: recession, unemployment, low interest rates, more recession.
It was actually in a Portuguese newspaper (I am Portuguese but study in England) that I heard the funniest thing about New Year’s resolutions for 2009, the year of all recession. The author said, in his words, that the smartest thing to do on the 1st of January would be to hold your breath for 365 days and only let out again next year. He made the suggestion thinking of the global credit crunch yet I am sure there are many people around the world who would wish to do the same for entirely different reasons. This is the world in 2009, dear friends (credit crunch aside):
If I were in Gaza, I am sure I’d be the strongest apologist of keeping my breath and closing my eyes. Erasing the past two weeks of incessant attacks and the next eleven months of mad politics and terrifying retaliation sounds infinitely better than escaping fire, cleaning death bodies of the street or watching my almost-country collapse, once again. Israelis and Palestinians entered 2009 in full-blown war – and I am not superstitious but this can never be a good sign. Yet, let us rest for after 879 deaths, according to the BBC News, Israel declares that it is ‘nearing Gaza goals’.
I think that most citizens in Zimbabwe would also be keen in fast-forwarding the next year. Zimbabwe ‘celebrated’ the arrival of 2009 with a $50 billion note and an unemployment rate of 80% – as stated in a CNN article yesterday (10 January). CNN also reports that the new bill allows the carrier to buy exactly two loafs of bread and it is not even accepted in most establishments because the currency is so devalued. The country has also been suffering acute famines and a countrywide plague of cholera that has infected 16,400 people and killed over 700, according to the World Health Organisation – people have been advised not to hold hands. Can they even celebrate the New Year?
There are other people (mostly here in the United Kingdom) that could also stop breathing for year. Or stop sniffing. The Guardian reported in November that 300,000 hectares of forest are being slashed down yearly in Colombia to grow cocaine. The country’s vice-president made a special appeal to middle-class drug users with environmental concerns, warning them that for each gram of cocaine consumed 4 meters square of rainforest are destroyed. But is this really necessary? Isn’t the illegal trafficking that puts millions of pounds in the hands of terrorist groups such as FARC enough reason? Or the hundreds of victims from landmines used to protect the crops? The Colombian vice-president asks consumers to take their share of responsibility in these acts and reminds them that drug use is not a ‘victimless’ practice.
Joining the host of now millions of people holding their breaths next year we can add the population of Afghanistan who will see three times more US soldiers plus a Guantanamo-style prison in their soil. The new ‘Gitmo’, located in Bagram, is already running and holds up to 670 prisoners ‘under similar conditions’, according to TIME magazine. And finally, I guess that the whole of the western world should also be at least a little frightened to breathe too loudly near Russia… Man, those guys are angry and broke and lovely President Medvdev has started the year by ‘eliminating jury trials for “crimes against the state”’ after announcing a proposition to extend the presidential madate to 6 years and to ‘expand the definition of treason’ (NYTimes, 10 Jan).
These are all very different issues and not simple ones and my point in writing this post is not introducing a brilliant solution for them. As a blogger for an organisation that deeply cares about human rights, and at the dawn of a brand-new-but-already-problematic 2009, my only aim is to say that I want us all to feel immensely restless and energised instead of beat and depressed. Recession is actually the least of our problems, recession burns faulty practices and opens space for new and better solutions that are inevitably bound to ease all these other tragedies.