28/12/2013

The Importance of Hope

Amidst the celebrations of the holiday season, there is an element of hope in all messages; hope for health and happiness in the new year, hope for seeing friends and family more often, hope for peace and prosperity, etc.

What is the importance of hope? The recent manifestations in Ukraine are an excellent example. Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets in icy weather to protest the refusal of President Yanukovitch to sign an accession agreement with the European Union (EU). There was never any promise by the EU that the agreement would lead to eventual membership. Nor were there any promises by the EU that it would bail out Ukraine from its catastrophic economic situation. The people of Ukraine were in the streets because they had hope that being affiliated with Europe would give them a better future.


 

What is the relationship between that hope and reality? If one looks at Greece, Spain and Portugal one could certainly argue that membership in the EU has come at a very high price. The number of unemployed in those countries, especially among the young, is frightening. And, Great Britain remains dubious at best about being fully integrated into a united Europe. There is more than just the English Channel that separates the islands from the continent.

Given that reality, which many educated Ukrainians certainly understood, why was there so much enthusiasm for the EU? Fear of being reunited in the Russian sphere of influence would be an obvious answer. Rather than saying that people were enthusiastic about the EU, one could say, by negative reasoning, that people were fearful of once more being under Moscow’s domination.

But that argument cannot explain the hundreds of thousands of people in the streets, many waving European flags. If the anti-Russian sentiment was dominant, one would have expected to see flags of the Russian Federation being burnt or desecrated in some fashion. That didn’t happen. No, the enthusiasm for being part of Europe, on whatever level, was genuine. And arguments about the very slim chance of eventual membership or the painful consequences of affiliation had very little resonance.

In this holiday season, it is important to remember the importance of hope. In Ukraine, it drove people out into the cold for weeks on end. It allowed an individual not only to survive 27 years in prison, but to come out a new man full of positive feelings even to those who had imprisoned him. It enabled him to unite and lead a ruthlessly divided country.

Change is a crucial element of hope. We are hopeful because we see that things can be better. While much attention was recently focused on the extraordinary life of Nelson Mandela and his transformation, little was said about Frederik De Klerk and his change. On a visit to Geneva several years ago, De Klerk told me that the reason for his change was the realization, finally, that the apartheid system was wrong. It was as simple as that. What made him change is obviously more complex.

Barack Obama’s autobiography “The Audacity of Hope” touched a positive nerve around the globe. His extraordinary story reverberated in a world where positive endings are what we want to witness. We relish reading about others’ success because we hope something similar will happen to us. We also dream of some form of transformation. Obama’s audacity and success in becoming president is what we all hope for, each in our own way.

Very best wishes for the holiday season and a new year full of hope and transformation.

 

December 27, 2013

 

 

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