As 2014 grinds to a close, it’s important to take a look back at the year and remain cognizant of the greatest changes, movements and events of 2014. Here is my top-10 list of important moments of the year.
10) Yingluck Shinawatra thrown out of power
In a year when democratic and egalitarian protests seemed to bloom ubiquitously, the most recent coup in Thailand’s troubled history was an outlier. Why? Its protesters demanded less democracy and greater control by the aristocracy. Considering Thailand goes through a coup d’etat every four years or so, the military dictatorship in Bangkok probably won’t last too long, but in the process, “Hunger Games”-esque three finger salutes have been banned. So much for the “military’s duty to protect the people.”
9) The Scottish referendum
This wouldn’t be such a headlining event—in fact, you probably forgot about it— if it weren’t for the far-reaching effects of the decision. While the vote didn’t end in a win for the pro-independence camp in Edinburgh, it was a win for non-violent political revisions as the Scottish went to the polls to decide their own fate. This should serve as an example to leaders from Madrid to Beijing—let the people choose.
8) The rise of Putin and the fall of the ruble
I hope you didn’t have your nest egg invested in Gazprom or Rosneft. 2014 marked one of the biggest nosedives in Russian currency ever, on par with the financial crisis of the ‘90s. With harsh Western sanctions and depressed oil and natural gas prices, the ruble took a dip better suited for the Matterhorn at Disneyland. Putin, recalcitrant as ever, grew fiercer as the year went on, whilst invading Ukraine (using proxies), annexing Crimea and recently hitting up Beijing for extra cash to sustain his anti-Washington propaganda. Contrary to what the popular cable news networks would have you believe, Russia is far from alone. China, India and Turkey were all on his last state visit itinerary. Who knows what Putin will want in 2015. Estonia?
7) Cuba reopened to the U.S.
Light your cigars, pay attention in Spanish class and grab your boardshorts. Cuba will be open to casual American travel come next year. In what has to be his greatest geopolitical triumph, President Obama (with some assistance from none other than Pope Francis) opened the door to the last dictatorship in the western hemisphere. While it will surely cause a schism within the Cuban-American community, I, for one, can’t wait to take a post-high-school trip to Havana, one that U.S. citizens since the Kennedy administration haven’t been able to make.
6) Malaysian Airlines
It was an all-around bad year to fly any airline remotely connected with Malaysia. From its flag carrier Malaysia Airlines to Air Asia, three times this year jets have either gone missing or fallen out of the sky. It remains to be seen whether or not these accidents have an impact on the Southeast Asian air market, one of the fastest growing, but also increasingly saturated, markets in the world.
5) Michael Brown/Eric Garner
“Hands up, don’t shoot” became an oft-repeated phrase across the country this fall as demonstrators hit the streets demanding a more egalitarian society, the largest such demonstrations since the Civil Rights Movement of the ‘60s. When a man was choked to death in New York City, it galvanized one of the largest metropolises in the world, stopping traffic and almost halting the annual Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony. In Ferguson, Missouri, entire blocks burned as angry factions of the movement destroyed neighborhoods and torched cars. While the images were graphic, we don’t know what lasting effect either demonstration had on the American psyche besides opening a national debate on race.
While it became a schoolyard joke, (“Tag, you got Ebola” was a game at my cousin’s lower school), the disease seriously crippled West African nations and launched a public panic. With the World Health Organization lifting emergency measures from several countries and a sense of normalcy returning to West Africa, it appears that the worst is over. But as anyone who has watched the last three minutes of “Contagion” knows, we are only a bat, a slice of banana and a pig away from global pandemic catastrophe come 2015.
3) Bye Bye, Petro Kings
When you think of an oil man, you probably imagine an Arab sheik in long white robes somewhere in a Saudi palace in the middle of the desert. But 2014 rewrote the long settled rules of petro-politics as plunging gas prices sent OPEC into a tizzy and my mother into euphoria. Besides prices at the pump that I can’t remember since before Katrina, falling gas prices weakened the hold that Venezuela had on Cuba, as well as the clout that Russia had on the world stage. With domestic production surging (thanks, North Dakota), we might be seeing $2.30-a-gallon gas for a whole lot longer than we anticipated.
Just a year ago, it would have been hard to imagine a terrorist organization that is fiscally self-sufficient (over $1.1 million in daily proceeds from oil production), rules an area the size of the United Kingdom and imposes harsh sharia law. But the summer of 2014 brought ISIS’s rapid conquest of northern Iraq and western Syria, most notably the city of Mosul, the cosmopolitan center of northern Iraq with a population of over a million.
With their recent campaigns mostly halted, and the nascent Iraqi government digging in a hard line near Baghdad, it appears the ISIS specter has stopped for now. But as the Taliban has showed us, just halting their advance isn’t enough. The ball is now firmly in Iraqi President Fuad Masum’s court to heal the Sunni-Shia divisions and forge a new nation in 2015.
1) The Umbrella Movement/China’s economic ascendancy
If there was ever a year that signified the rise of China, it would be 2014. For the first time in over two centuries, China now has the largest economy as measured by gross domestic product. Are the numbers fabricated? Probably. Are they still frightening to the casual American? Hell, yeah.
It doesn’t take a history scholar to remember that America claimed its dominant position upon the global pyramid only after the European powers (Germany, England, and France) bankrupted themselves into oblivion after World War I.
Last year was also a reminder that although China is becoming an increasingly wealthier and better connected nation to the outside world, its recognition of political rights still lags behind the West. Case in point: Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement. The Chinese Communist Party relentlessly stymied efforts by peaceful student demonstrators to achieve democracy, in the process showing their firm belief that the Sino-British agreement no longer has any control over Chinese domestic affairs. While the protesters took over busy thoroughfares of the city for over two months, pepper spray, tear gas, police beatings and court injunctions pushed their movement back onto the internet and off of Nathan Road.
Add to that China’s surging economic might, and you have a recipe for an increasingly bellicose nation, gone drunk on nationalism and a belief in restoring a bygone era of Chinese exceptionalism.
2014 was a reminder that while it may be “socialism with Chinese characteristics,” it is still socialism. Make no mistake about it.