Heading into 2021, expectations for the months to follow were non-existent. Following one of the most unpredictable years of the 21st Century – with the world engulfed by a pandemic, the signs of climate change ever-present, and political turbulence continuing – uncertainty over the trajectory of the next year remained.
While it may feel like Groundhog Day, much has changed. Governments have switched hands, monumental and tragic anniversaries passed, and climate-related disasters continued. Italy has had a very consistent winning streak in international competitions, and a very big boat caused a lot of trouble. The Boar Features 2021/22 editorial team takes a whistle-stop look over how the past year has unfolded across the globe.
TW: sexual abuse, murder
January - April
In an attempt to start the year off on a positive note, the first day of the new year saw a UK law come into effect to free menstruators from the controversial tampon tax. Equally positive pieces of legislation regarding reproductive rights occurred later in the year too. On 23 March, New Zealand passed a law that entitled parents who suffered a miscarriage or stillbirth to take paid leave for bereavement.
But, politics came to dominate most of our memories of January 2021. Just shy of a week into 2021, Donald Trump’s legacy found itself on the front steps of the US Capitol. 14 days later – on the exact same steps – Joe Biden was inaugurated as the US’ 46th President.
February saw the fall out of the insurrection – Trump had his second impeachment trial. He was found ‘not guilty’ yet again.
But, threats to the democratic process were not reserved solely to the Western world. Myanmar underwent a Military Coup on 1 February. Leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize winner turned international pariah, was arrested amid claims of election tampering. Protestors took to the streets only to be met with repression – 700 civilians were estimated to have been killed by May 2021.
Political protests also occurred in the South American nations of Brazil and Colombia, developing in January and April respectively. Both saw protestors take to the street in opposition to their governments, and their failure in tackling a multitude of social issues. These acted as ample kindling for ongoing protests that look set to characterise the 2022 elections in both of these countries.
Public outrage at a series of scandals across the globe in regards to gender-based discrimination and violence occurred frequently in 2021’s first four months. Ireland began to evaluate how it could heal from its traumatic past of mother and baby homes. Australia saw a more contemporary scandal with former intern Brittany Higgins going public about her sexual assault inside of Parliament building.
But it was Britain who arguably had to do the most reflection. The murder of Sarah Everard and the release of the ‘Everyone’s Invited’ report in March, followed by the case of Sabina Nessa six months later, kept the discourse on how safe it is to grow up as a young woman in the UK ever-present. The circumstances of Everard’s murder and the actions of officers at her Clapham Common vigil did little to reassure women that the police would protect them.
Police actions were also under a microscope in the U.S. Police Officer Derek Chauvin, who killed George Floyd in May 2020, saw the start of his trial on 8 March. Found guilty of all charges, Chauvin was sentenced to 22.5 years in prison.
A high profile court case came to a conclusion in the UK just days before Chauvin’s trial, with Shamima Begum’s appeal to the Supreme Court rejected on 26 February. Begum being made stateless marked a big shift – the ruling proving a concern to many in regards to what this meant for the UK government’s ability to revoke citizenship.
Other global disruptions took the form of climate-related disasters and naturally occurring disasters. 7 February saw the collapse of a glacier in the Himalayas that left 150 missing and 26 dead, while the La Soufrière eruption left 20,000 people seeking shelter from its effects.
Heading into spring, three unprecedented events took place. The first was the Ever Given container ship getting stuck in the Suez Canal, preventing an estimated $9.6 billion of trade. The second, the passing of HRH Prince Phillip at age 99 – the longest-serving royal consort in British history. The final was the 93rd Academy Awards giving the Best Director to Chloe Zhao, the second woman and first woman of colour to be given the award.
May to August
With the gradual progression of the year, the world witnessed the Israel and Palestine crisis continue to unfold. Tensions continued to increase until an attack led by Israeli forces on press offices led to greater international demands of accountability. Yet, the agreement to call a ceasefire on the 21 May proved to be flimsy, as just days later Palestinians were attacked once again near the Al-Aqsa mosque and fighting resumed.
International unity was equally strained by changes to political leaders, a result of both elections and violence. In Syria, the Presidential Election saw Bashar al-Assad once again returning to office. Yet with certain members of society being excluded from voting, this raised the issue of how tyranny is still prevalent around the globe.
Elsewhere in the world, other leaders were stripped of their positions and political power. In Israel, Netanyahu was ousted by his political rivals and Naftali Bennett was sworn into office on 13 June. This shift made some around the world concerned about the future stability of the region due to the new government compromising of more ideological hardliners. Meanwhile, though not holding office but still a lot of influence, former South African President Jacob Zuma was sent to prison for contempt of court after failing to turn up to an inquiry into accounts of fraud and corruption while in charge of the nation.
Less peacefully, Mali saw its third coup d'état, and coordinated political violence against an elected official reached its peak in Haiti. The assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, orchestrated by foreign mercenaries, led to a further state of instability within the country.
However, it’s worth noting that this year also witnessed countries uniting in their shared joy for football. The 2021 Euros, in particular, led to a heightened sense of patriotism as many states rooted for their respective teams to come out victorious.
Yet, 11 July proved to be a painful day for England as they mourned their loss in the final against Italy. The defeat proved to be a defining moment for the country as it revealed how sports can not only unite citizens but also divide them.
Sporting upsets were not only evident in Europe but also across the globe, as the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics were contested by Japanese citizens in an attempt to reduce the rapid spread of Covid-19. Arguably this rate has since then continued to increase around the world, as the development of the Delta variant led to greater calls for vaccines and face coverings.
Regardless, Covid was not the only global issue – as concerns regarding climate change were spurred further on by the occurrence of floods and wildfires. The Mediterranean and Canadian wildfires caused irreparable damage, with many being left dead, homeless, and displaced. Equally, severe flooding in Europe also proved to be a catastrophic disaster whereby many were deprived of house and home.
Though global disturbances and political contests dominated the world this year, some were occupied with different concerns, such as getting themselves off of the planet. The billionaire space race consisted of some of the highest-earning members of society, competing with each other in order to dominate the space industry. As Richard Branson finally made it to space on 11 July, the race was not without criticism as the emissions produced by the space rockets have only contributed to the pressing issues of climate change.
While we reflect on the political instability and climate crisis prevalent within the year, it’s also crucial to acknowledge the steps made towards achieving social equality. On 17 June, Biden’s government declared Juneteenth to be a federal holiday – a celebration of the emancipation of enslaved African Americans in the U.S. This step proved to be a monumental achievement for those who fought for it and those who continue to fight for greater equality.
September to December
The latter part of the year was dominated by a reflective tone, as historic anniversaries passed. Tiptoeing tentatively into September, the 20th anniversary of 9/11 was commemorated, with America mourning the almost 3,000 people that lost their lives on that fateful day. Similarly, painful anniversaries were marked on 11 December as El Salvador shed tears for the 40th anniversary of the El Mozote massacre – the deadliest in modern Latin American history with almost 1,000 people slaughtered, half of them children.
Commemorations also coincided with celebrations – particularly for the queer community. A look back at the 40 years of the HIV epidemic reopened discourse into the Western world’s shameful stigmatisation of the illness. Seven days later, cheers were heard as Chile legalised Gay Marriage on 7 December – a landmark vote in the midst of the country’s grapple for structural social change.
Reflection on the history of British women’s tennis helped victory taste that much sweeter as Emma Raducanu became the first British woman to win a grand slam title since 1977, after her triumph in the U.S. Open at age 18. The milestone win also helped her gain a ticket to this winter’s hottest event: the Met Gala 2021.
Speaking of winter’s hottest events, COP26 was held in Glasgow on 30 November to ensure that temperature rises are kept within 1.5C in the fight against climate change. While countries promised to stop deforestation, the agreement reached was cut short of its potential, with India and China feeling the heat after vetoing the phase-out of coal use for the weaker phase-down.
Elsewhere, the diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics was announced as the Western world criticised China for its human rights record. Yet, it is not only the East that has similarly battled human rights issues this year. A truck crash in Mexico on 10 December, that saw many of the migrants hiding inside it killed, raised questions about Biden’s border policy and the perilous journey Latinos make in order to reach the supposed land of the free.
Some of this much sought-after freedom also became evident this year, as a Californian Court freed Britney Spears from her thirteen-year long conservatorship on 12 November. Around the globe, we witnessed other freedoms that were equally important. On 22 October, Melbourne residents were freed from their 260-day-long lockdown – the longest in the world. Barbados was arguably freed from the Commonwealth, after removing Queen Elizabeth II as its head of state and becoming the world’s newest republic on 30 November.
The freeing, or rather, leaking of the Pandora Papers also saw almost 12 million documents arrive into the public consciousness on 3 October – revealing hidden wealth, tax avoidance, and money laundering by the powerful. Such revelations highlighted the prevalent political dissonance of 2021 between those with and without power.
Arguably, such dissonance had been consistently observed by Britain this year. Political turbulence and deep division undeniably prompted the terrorist attack that saw the murder of Sir David Amess, who was killed while holding a constituency surgery in a local church. The threat to the safety of MPs is a further setback democracy has faced this year.
However, democracy stood strong through Germany’s elections. New Chancellor, Olaf Scholz was sworn in on 8 December, after taking power from Angela Merkel’s 16 years of power.
While we desperately held out for some good news as 2022 approached, our hopes were thwarted. The development of the Omicron variant on 26 November, after rapidly being detected by South African scientists, meant the pandemic loomed over the world again. With the exponential rise in cases, the UK government officially entered its winter Plan B with the aim to protect the NHS from being overwhelmed. We were faced with familiar memories of being told to work from home, wear our face coverings, and to ‘get boosted’ with vaccines.
As the year rounds off, it feels as if we are far from the post-pandemic dreams of lockdowns passed. In the UK, Covid cases are reaching record levels two years into the pandemic. The ghost of Covid New Years past lingers and there’s a distinct deja vu at the prospect of a January indoors.
Yet, it will serve us well to remember that the world continued to move this year. While maybe not reaching the full pace of the pre-pandemic, precedented times, 2021 saw life kick back into motion. Maybe 2022 will pick up the pace even further.
Image credits (in order of appearance): Theo Eilertsen/Unsplash; Annika Gordon/Unsplash; LoadedAron/Flickr; Gayatri Malhotra/Unsplash; courtesy of Nicole Tiraldo; Matt Hrkac/Flickr; Tim Dennell/Flickr; Lorie Shaull/Flickr; Ethan Wilkinson/Unsplash; Biblio Archive; Flickr;Cuttersnap/Flickr; Rafael Medina/Flickr; GovernmentZa/Flickr; Annie Spratt/Unsplash; Dick Thomas Johnson/Flickr; Joanna Francis/Unsplash; Usgs/Unsplash; NASA/Unsplash; Tasha Jolley/Unsplash; Archbishop Romero Trust/Flickr; Chris Czermack/Flickr; Stenboki Maja/Flickr; Kuzzat Altay/Unsplash; Mike Maguire/Flickr; Volodymyr Hryschenko/Unsplash; No 10/Flickr; NATO/Flickr; No 10/Flickr