Out with the old and in with… the same?

Good riddance to 2020. I’m sure no one’s sorry to leave that year behind.

The philosopher John Gray believes that, far from being a story of human triumph as the world came together to produce multiple vaccines in record time, the novel coronavirus pandemic has been a tale of human vulnerability.

“The lesson of this year,” he writes, “is that we must learn to live in a world we cannot fully know or control.”

The lockdown took a toll on mental health, and many people lost jobs and loved ones.

It’s a mistake to imagine we will resume the march of progress after this year-long interruption. “We can use our growing knowledge to protect ourselves from the dangers of the natural world,” Gray says, “but we cannot rule over it.”

2020 was the year that shattered hubris, but it was also a year of progress.

After surviving more scandals than the North Atlantic convoys survived U-boats, Joseph Muscat is finally gone. Keith Schembri’s gone, too, along with Konrad Mizzi, and passive enablers like Edward Scicluna, Lawrence Cutajar and Silvio Valletta.

They really believed they were untouchable, but you brought them down.

The public inquiry into the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia has uncovered more details in less than a year than all those deliberately-endless magisterial inquiries have since 2013.

Unfortunately, I don’t expect changes for the better anytime soon. Far from kicking 2020 to the curb, I think we’re in for more of the same.

At the risk of being completely wrong, I’m going to peer into my faux-crystal ball and play Murd O’Damus. It doesn’t have the same sort of ring as Nostradamus, but Evarist Bartolo has the oracle utterance market cornered so it’ll have to do.

Here’s how I think 2021 will shape up.

The global pandemic will continue. Vaccines were created in record time, but it will take most of the year to inoculate enough people to achieve anything close to immunity in most EU countries.

We still don’t know if vaccinated people will continue to carry or transmit the virus, or how long immunity will last.

This winter will be more difficult than the last, with higher infection numbers than we saw in the first wave, and ongoing travel restrictions. But lockdowns will ease off in summer, allowing us to enjoy outdoor spaces and breathe a little fresh air — assuming Ian Borg hasn’t cut down all the trees.

Tourism will bounce back in a small way, but nowhere near pre-pandemic levels.

Still, there’s reason for hope beyond 2021. Michael O’Leary is banking on a bigger recovery in leisure travel than we saw after 9/11. He just ordered 75 new Boeing 737 MAX planes for Ryanair.

In the meantime, it’s a good opportunity to rethink Malta’s product, moving away from overcrowded mass market volume and towards tourism that capitalizes on the country’s utter uniqueness, both historical and cultural. Malta has so much more to offer than cheap all-inclusive weeks on a crowded beach. In the waning years of the pandemic, crowds are exactly what we’re trying to avoid.

Unfortunately, the global economy is in for a rough ride. Many businesses failed in the first wave, and they won’t be coming back.

As Gray points out, the devastation inflicted by successive lockdowns was worse than anyone expected. The weakened economy limps along thanks to repeated government stimulus backed by enormous levels of public borrowing, but this can’t continue without an eventual painful re-balancing of the books.

While the poorest were the first to be hit, middle-class unemployment and poverty could reach new highs thanks to collapsing service industries that saw demand evaporate in a locked-down world.

It’s a time to conserve, and a time to save.

I’ve seen some — including writers at Forbes and The Atlantic — predicting a post-pandemic Roaring 20’s period of excess, increased sexual promiscuity, and spending. They expect the human desire to socialise to bounce back the way it did after WWI and the Spanish Flu. But we know how that decade ended.

The economic situation will be made worse in Malta as the seeds that Joseph Muscat sowed start bearing bitter fruit.

Moneyval will return its verdict early in 2021, and I’m expecting to see Malta greylisted. The world’s financial watchdog won’t be fooled by the sudden flurry of activity on the part of the FIAU and police. Fines were dished out to minor players — some are disputing the arbitrary nature of those fines — but the big fish remain untouched.

The new police commissioner has yet to prove himself. While Schembri and Tonna might have been questioned, charges and convictions are what counts. So far, all we’ve seen is talk. Robert Abela’s been in power for a year, and ‘continuity’ is the only thing he’s managed to deliver.

On the governance front, the hodgepodge of legal reforms pushed through by the inept Edward Zammit Lewis in an attempt to placate the Venice Commission was far from convincing. Watch for Malta to clash with the Council of Europe throughout 2021.

Rampant trapping and hunting illegalities will see further action taken against Malta in the European Court, along with infringement proceedings as Malta refuses to shut the cash-for-passports scheme down.

Abela’s government won’t let it go until it’s pried from their greedy little hands because, with every other sector of the economy in the doldrums and pressure on Maltese banks driving international business away, they’ve become increasingly dependent on unsustainable easy money.

The trial of Yorgen Fenech accused of commissioning the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia will drag on, and 12 months from now, justice for Daphne and her stories will still feel very far away.

I predict further revelations that point to State involvement in the plot, while the power behind the throne does everything he can to make sure the consequences don’t land those who most richly deserve to be convicted any closer to a Corradino cell.

The European migrant crisis will escalate in 2021, as economic instability paired with droughts increases pressure on the EU’s southern borders — and disagreements between member states. Ongoing chaos in Libya, jihadist strife in Saharan Africa, and the seemingly endless Syrian civil war will make this worse.

Elsewhere in the Western world, the bitter culture war will continue, leading to further internal fractures in America and in countries heavily influenced by American culture: Canada, the UK, and parts of Western Europe. But the ‘woke’ movement has failed to make inroads in Asian and Islamic societies, which regard this marginal crusade with indifference bordering on contempt.

An America increasingly focused on its own internal conflicts will not lead effectively on the world stage. China is ready to fill this void, with Iran jockeying for control in the Middle East, and Russia running interference to sow dissent among Western allies.

America will remain militarily and economically preeminent for the duration of most of our lifetimes, but the global balance of power is shifting. Expect more turbulence on the world stage.

That’s what I think’s in store for us as we ease into 2021.

To cite a Chinese curse, we certainly are living in interesting times. But I do think good things are waiting for us in 2022 if we embrace this as a time for rethinking, and a time for change.

Thank you for taking the time to read my columns over the past year, and thanks to those who dropped me a line to discuss them.

I hope you have a safe and Happy New Year.

Here’s hoping for a much better 2021.

                           
                               
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Iain Morrison
Iain Morrison
17 days ago

Great reading Ryan. Thanks for keeping us entertainingly informed. A Happy New Year to you and yours!

David Briffa
David Briffa
17 days ago

A good article. Thank you, Ryan. Interesting to see you don’t predict trouble for Muscat and others from our American friends. I think Rijock’s ‘international worldwide network of spies’ will be proved right. Time will tell!

Salvu Felice-Pace
Salvu Felice-Pace
17 days ago
Reply to  David Briffa

Your articles are always interesting and with a touch of sarcasm.

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