21st Century Kick-off
Some historians like to search for an event at the beginning of a century which serves as the signature of what the century meant. If I were looking for a signature event which marked the history of the 20th century I would pick the genocide in Armenia. This preceded the hecatomb in the trenches of France and the later violence of Stalinist Russia. A decade later we witnessed the holocausts in Auschwitz, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Then we saw the killing fields of Cambodia, the ethnic cleansing in the Balkans and the horrors of Rwanda and Burundi. 9/11 occurred—from one point of view—to stop the sanctions imposed by this country and the US on Iraq which provoked the deaths of more than 500,000 Iraqi children.
What might this century’s signature event be? Two thousand and eleven was a year of global protest and revolt. The Arab Spring now looking wintry, the indignados movement of Spain and southern Europe and the Occupy movement have called attention to new political actors irrupting onto the scene of events: graduates without a future, slum dwellers, organised workers and unemployed youth. Latin America also played a role in the global tumult: the student upheaval in Chile, the Gandhian-like citizens’ campaign against state and narco terrorism in Mexico, the indigenous-led uprising in the mining regions of Peru, and the grassroots agitation of the Bolivian social movements to defend their land and culture. The electoral process in Russia has called out a wave of protest which shouts ‘fraud’. In other places there are human rights movements, anti-corruption movements, women’s dignity movements et al. These manifestations are highly diverse in their social and political composition. They are anti-systemic, usually non-violent and non-ideological, non-sectarian and raise fundamental questions which challenge the existent order dominated by the now well-known 1% enabled by venal politicians and police and military collusion.
Will popular protest come to be this century’s signature (collective) event? We live in a context of rapid technological innovation, social change and institutional decay. Within only a few years we have seen the rise of blogging and phenomena such as Twitter, Tweet, Facebook etc. These new tools have played a huge role in the success of the freedom movements in Egypt, Libya and are part of the scene in every street demonstration from Bahrain to Bogota. No longer is information and communication the monopoly of the elites nor beyond the means of the ordinary person. Many commentators observe that the new technologies will ‘flatten’ hierarchies, but also say that they do not forge strong ties among the users.
These will certainly be years full of turbulence. The economic situation is still uppermost in people’s minds. New global powers are emerging, the old imperial power is in its last militarist stage, the planet cries out in unhealed pain.
As members of a church which cannot deal very easily with change we look around for those areas of life where a more connected Christianity may be in practice. Adam Mickiewicz was a Polish poet though born in Lithuania around 1800. He became a socialist because he was a Christian. He once wrote to Pope Pius IX, a man he did not trust, “Rest assured that God’s Spirit dwells under the work blouses of Paris labourers.” The ghost of Pius IX haunts the Vatican’s corridors. The Spirit of God is not there. She is out and about, doing something new, even though we cannot see it through our time-smudged lenses.