If 2014 could be called a year of protests and movements (click here to read last year’s recap), then 2015 was the blowback of so much people power. Here are my top 10 moments of 2015.
10) Reunited and it feels so good
Chinese president Xi Jinping and Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou got together in Singapore, the first meeting between such high-level officials of the two opposing nations (or renegade province and motherland, depending on whose side you’re on).
Will this spell rapprochement and a warming of ties between the two? Maybe.
Was it a diversionary tactic deployed by Mr. Ying-jeou to strengthen his Kuomintang party? Probably.
Was it momentous? Absolutely.
9) The U.S. Supreme Court legalizes gay marriage
A mere 238 years after our nation’s founding fathers pronounced equality and freedom for all, the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage across all 50 states.
As someone who remembers the Proposition 8 debacle both literally and metaphorically tearing apart the fabric of the state (those yellow-and-blue lawn signs were more ubiquitous than the Kardashian family), it was heartwarming to see how much more accepting the country has been to gay marriage.
In a year that also marked a former male-national-sports-hero’s (Bruce Jenner) transition into a female-reality-television-starlet (Caitlyn Jenner), the wave of change swept right from the corridors of power in Washington D.C., to E!. It seems the crusade for rights is truly coming to fruition for many.
While it may have happened by decree and not a vote, I doubt the next president, Republican or Democrat, will have the political capital or mental stupidity to turn back the hands of change.
8) Music isn’t dead
For years, analysts have been shouting that “music is dead.” Well, I have a one-word response: Adele.
The British songstress broke the Billboard weekly album sales record, handily besting another artist who also seemed to have cracked the sales equation – Taylor Swift.
With sales of “25” (Adele) and “1989” (Swift) strong through pretty much the entire year, the two singers proved that if you give people something they believe is a genuinely good product at a reasonable price point (and then bar it from streaming applications worldwide), they will still buy it.
I guess we can say “Hello” to our “Wildest Dreams” of album and song sales that will break the “Bad Blood” and make them remember “When We Were Young.”
7) Trump changes…everything
The 2016 election cycle is shaping up to be a race of outsiders, and perhaps no one has been as unconventional as Donald Trump. The billionaire businessman has offended nearly every demographic (Latinos, Muslims, women), yet his poll numbers keep climbing faster than his high-rise hotels.
That said, his special campaign style has drawn plenty of support, and he has remained the Republican front runner for nearly the entire time he’s been a candidate.
His acidic remarks have driven the political conversation for much of the Presidential cycle so far on both sides of the aisle and caused many a candidate to roll around in the muck with him. (I’m looking at you, Jeb Bush.)
Will he be the Republican presidential candidate? Probably not.
But stranger things have happened in politics before.
6) Democracy: diminishing or defiant?
In Russia, Vladimir Putin continued to put the kibosh on those he deemed a threat to his power, including, most notably, the disappearance and eventual death of main political opponent Boris Nemtsov.
By now, I’d thought that Putin would have all those who opposed him dropped in Siberia and fed to wild wolves, but I guess a security state can’t be built in a day.
In Hong Kong, the crackdown on those that led the 2014 Umbrella Movement accelerated. Lawsuits were filed, and teen protest leader Joshua Wong was attacked by unarmed assailants.
But in Myanmar Aung San Suu Kyi led her party to victory in an historical election, proving that democracy is alive and well – just maybe in different places.
5) Putin’s power plays
A continuation of no. 6, Putin continued his quasi-invasion of Eastern Ukraine and aerial bombardment of Syria. As tanks rolled and bombs dropped, an attack on a Russian airplane that caused 224 deaths also fired up the Russian people.
Intensified aerial attacks have henceforth showed off just some of the Russian arsenal, but the lack of concrete ground force advancement by either Putin or Bashar Al Assad’s forces must worry the Kremlin.
My prediction for 2016? Putin trades Syria for Ukraine with Obama or whoever follows him. Syria may be one of Putin’s only friends. But who needs friends when you can add to your own land holdings?
4) Climate convention in Paris
Mere weeks after the deadly attacks, important global leaders assembled in Paris, inking the most significant climate agreement since the Kyoto Protocol of 1992.
Although the UN agreement itself may not contain stringent binding agreements, the symbolic significance of the world’s leaders banding together was exciting to say the least. That the major developed nations of the world were also able to get China and India on board with the future agreements was also significant.
In 2035, we may look back at 2015 as the year the world got serious about climate change.
Or we may look back at the foolhardy and ultimately inadequate response. Win or lose, 2015 will mark an important milestone in the fight against climate change.
3) Greece goes belly up
Back in the warm summer months, president Alexis Tsipras led his nation disastrously into financial pandemonium by calling for a referendum on Greece’s national debt whilst defaulting on the IMF.
Ironically, Tsipras’s actions gave Greece an even worse deal. Creditor-in-chief Germany was in no mood to give Greece a handout, and Chancellor Angela Merkel showed that she could administer tough medicine, the likes of which haven’t been seen in the West since Margaret Thatcher did battle with the unions.
Perhaps most important of all, the debt disaster showed that Greece would have a limited impact on the global economy.
It also served as an important message to all debtors: don’t bite the hand that feeds you.
One point to Germany.
2) Worldwide re-entrenchment of terrorism
For many, 2015 will be remembered as a year “the Empire strikes back.” Only this is an evil empire named the Islamic State, and it has tentacles spread from Paris to Southern California.
The year began with the Charlie Hebdo shooting, a warning shot, it now seems, across the bow of a western-satirical magazine. The phrase “Je suis Charlie” will forever be stamped into my mind as will the image of world leaders (minus Obama – click here for Tung’s commentary on that) walking arm-in-arm through the streets of Paris.
Next came the appalling news of a enormous Boko Haram kidnapping. The African-based terror group captured hundreds of girls, who have yet to be found. The inept response of the Nigerian government led by Jonathan Goodluck was classic Marie Antoinette-style crisis management. “Hear no evil, see no evil” seemed to be the motto as little headway was made in the search for the missing schoolgirls.
In Thailand, a bombing at a popular Buddhist shrine proved that terror had no problem cropping up in Southeast Asia. The attacks hurt the tourist economy of the nation at a time when it could scarcely afford it, as the military junta’s rule is keeping away many.
In December, Paris became the target of another terrorist attack. This one shocked the world with its viciousness. The “City of Light,” went dark as cosmopolitan Parisians went on lockdown.
The terror even found its way across the Atlantic Ocean to America as a shooting in San Bernardino showed us that, no, we are not safe from the reach of ISIS.
Indeed 14 years after the September 11th attacks, the players may have changed but the danger is very much alive and well.
1) Immigrants, refugees and mother Merkel
A consequence of no. 2 was a million-person-strong stream of refugees fleeing Syria and Iraq for the relative safety of Europe. Along the way, they found both graceful hosts (Germany and the Nordic states) and some not-so-graceful hosts. (Basically anyone east of Germany wanted to slam the door on their face. Yes, I’m looking at you, Hungary.)
The surge of refugees joined with a wave of economic migrants, combining into a seriously troubling humanitarian disaster of biblical proportions. Into this debacle walked one woman in her trademark pantsuit.
Muti came. That’s right – Mother, aka Angela Merkel.
Merkel took a public stance for the refugees, one that put her at loggerheads with her own party. While many heralded the “End of the Merkel Era” and publicly berated her for a misstep in judgment, by the end of this year her approval ratings were rising again, and Time magazine named her Person of the Year.
Merkel, ever the pragmatist, seems to be cooling her originally welcoming tone. That said, hundreds of thousands of people would’ve been turned back had she not stepped in. Only time will tell if her gamble will pay off – but this writer sure hopes it will.
—By Manson Tung