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[Opinion] The Year That Was
2008 brought forward just as many challenges as triumphs
Sarah Cento (SarahC)     Print Article 
Published 2009-01-03 10:48 (KST)   
There are several reasons why 2008 should be remembered. The year that passed was marked by one defining concept: change. Whether the changes themselves have improved our lives, or made them more difficult, is hard to determine and varies between individuals.

But one thing is certain. Hindsight has verified that the world has progressed. From occurrences felt around the globe to those equally as poignant on a national scale, looking back on 2008, it is evident that this was a year which changed the world forever.

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In February Australia broke its silence on Aboriginal affairs with one word. Sorry.

The Labor party fulfilled their promise to the Australian people only months after having been elected late in 2007, to apologize to the indigenous people for past mistreatment.

In Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's sorry speech the government accepted responsibility for the injustices of the past, specifically victims of the stolen generation stating, "We apologize especially for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country."

The event was not without alternative opinions from the opposition party. The Liberal party in Australia have traditionally opposed the apology on the grounds that it occurred in past generations by previous governments. Although they technically supported the motion, opposition leader Brendan Nelson reiterated their position infamously stating "It is reasonably argued that removal from squalor led to better lives," to which hundreds of people symbolically rose and turned their backs to the opposition leader.

However the apology from the Kevin Rudd was accepted in the spirit by which it had been offered "in the spirit of reconciliation" and "without qualification," hence signalling a new era in Australian history.

The world was united and simultaneously embraced a healthy level of competition during the Beijing Olympic Games. Every four years the best athletes from around the world compete in the most famous and significant of all modern sporting competitions.

The Beijing Olympics certainly didn't disappoint. The medal tally contained one significant and unexpected surprise. For the first (and most likely the last) time in many years, Great Britain was able to surpass Australia.

At the closing ceremony IOC President Jacques Rogge declared the Beijing Games to have been "truly exceptional." In addition to the athletic aspects of the games it also brought to light the political unrest enshrouding the Tibetan struggle for independence. Although they continue their plight for independence, it grasped the attention of the world.

2008 was also the year for another internationally orientated event. World Youth Day took place in Sydney and welcomed Catholics around the world to take part in prayer and worship on a large scale. The week of celebrations attracted up to half a million participants. It proved that even in a largely secular country such as Australia, spiritual devotion still exists even amongst the younger generation.

Perhaps even more importantly, Pope Benedict XVI made a formal apology to victims of child sexual abuse by members of the clergy in Australia on behalf of the Catholic Church, signifying an acknowledgement of these occurrences internationally. An apology had also been made in 2002 by Australian bishops.

Elections were held around the globe. New Zealand voted in new Prime Minister John Key from the National party. He secured 44.93 percent of the votes and effectively ended the eight year leadership of Labor candidate Helen Clarke, who was the second female Prime Minister of New Zealand and the first Female Prime Minister to have been elected.

Elections were also held in Zimbabwe, with less credibility. They were described by the Human Rights Watch as being "deeply flawed" and resulted in the opposition, Morgan Tsvangirai withdrawing from the second round of votes due to the dangerous situation in which it left his voters. Robert Mugabe was the only running candidate for the second round of votes.

Violence enshrouded the elections. However, through all of this it is necessary to accredit the way in which there was a serious attempt by some to conduct legitimate elections and to work toward a different future for Zimbabwe. Late in 2008 Zimbabwe was also devastated with cholera, drawing a turbulent end to what will go down in Zimbabwean history as a turbulent year.

Economically, the world changed dramatically. The lending of subprime loans to people who couldn't afford to repay them became detrimental on a large scale. Just as the crisis unfolded, countries around the world were creating packages to bail themselves out.

This revealed what is perhaps the most prominent flaw in capitalism, where it becomes necessary to privatize the gains and socialize the losses. The impact transcended into the lives of average families worldwide through the losses of jobs, decrease in house values and the increase in competition for the rental market.

The fact that money talks became more evident than ever before, as issues such as the environment and conditions in the third world seemed to become less important. The Australian government only committed to a five percent reduction in greenhouse emissions by 2020, well short of the 25 percent target which has been advocated by scientists and conservationists. However, the United Kingdom stepped up and committed to an 80 percent cut in emissions by 2050.

However, even when Wall Street, Freddie Mac, Fannie May, General Motors, Morgan Tsvangirai and Australia's spot on the medal tally said "no we can't," Barack Obama turned around and said "Yes we can." Forty five years after Martin Luther King Jr. announced to the world that he had a dream the United States elected its first African American president, and the Democrats simultaneously dominated the senate.

Months of rallies and debates took place coming up to the election. John McCain declared himself a true maverick, "a Republican without money" while Barack Obama claimed his greatest virtue would have to be "his modesty" and both candidates made "Joe the plumber" a household name.

However most importantly, the fourth of November became a pivotal day in American history, somewhat solidifying the gains of the civil rights movement.

As the sun sets on another year we can reflect on what has passed and indeed determine that we have come very far. However, it is imperative to realize that however much we have progressed there is still more to achieve and that 2008 brought forward just as many challenges as triumphs.

Sarah Cento is a student in Sydney, Australia.
©2009 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Sarah Cento

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