MUNICH — What a crappy year you were 2016. With your terrorist attacks, the British going mad with Brexit and the Americans electing a Twitter troll as commander-in-chief. In Syria and other war zones, people were drowning all year in blood. On top of all of that, many of our most beloved artists and performers left the stage, forever, last year. And yet ...
Yes, folks it is high time to interrupt all of this turn-the-calendar mourning and shout out loud and clear: People around the world have never been better, healthier and happier. It's the mind's natural predisposition to record only bad news, and no doubt there has been plenty. But that's also one reason why all the good news goes unnoticed – Another reason is that positive developments often happen more subtly, they build up over decades and therefore never really make big blips on the human emotional radar.
People have forever been convinced that things have just changed for the worse. In a 2015 survey, only 6% of Americans claimed the opposite. In 2010, 2005 and 2000 the number of optimists was similarly low. But such a sentiment deceives, says Max Roser, an economics professor from the Oxford University.
According to Roser's statistics, the number of people living in poverty has been steadily dropping, relative to the world population. 1981, 44% of the inhabitants of the earth lived in life-threatening precarious conditions; in 2015 the number has dropped below 10% — Even as the total world population has continued to climb. Over the same time period, ever fewer people have to go through life illiterate, infant mortality is sinking across all social classes, life expectancy is on the rise worldwide and despite current conflicts like the one in Syria, historically compared, the number of people dying by violence is dropping.
Still, the optimists continue to be far outnumbered. Surveys show that people are convinced that extreme poverty is on the rise, that there is more crime and less and less hope for the future. Perception is calibrated by the force of negative events, which, on top of that, usually occur with a bang: an earthquake, a humanitarian catastrophe, they all trigger great emotions. Long-term trends for the better, on the other hand, hardly ever produce dramatic images, nor are adept at providing a convincing narrative. Good news happens in silence and passes right past the attention of the masses.
This in a tragedy in its own right. Being submerged by an image of the world that is both unrealistic and negative creates nothing but fear. And fear, we know, usually leads to bad decisions. Some at least we are stuck with for awhile.
The United Nations, UNICEF, Red Cross and other international humanitarian organizations seems to be trying to reach the Polish-Belarusian border, where Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko is creating a refugee crisis on purpose.
WARSAW — There is no doubt that the refugees crossing the Belarusian border with Poland — and by extension reaching the European Union — were shepherded through by the regime of Alexander Lukashenko. There is more than enough evidence that this is an organized action of the dictator using a network of intermediaries stretching from Africa and the Middle East. But that is not all.
It can be seen in films made available to the media by... Belarusian border guards and Lukashenko's official information agencies.
Tactics of a strongman
Refugees are not led to the border by "pretend soldiers" in uniforms from a military collectibles store. These are regular formations commanded by state authorities. Their actions violate all rules of peaceful coexistence and humanitarianism to which Belarus has committed itself as a state.
Belarus is dismissed by the "rest of the world" as a hopeless case of a bizarre (although, in the last year, increasingly brutal) dictatorship. But it still formally belongs to a whole range of organizations whose principles it violates every day on the border with Poland.
Indeed, Belarus is a part of the United Nations (it is even listed as a founding state in its declaration), it belongs to the UNICEF, to the International Committee of the Red Cross, and even to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
Polish soldiers set up a barbed wire fence in the Border Zone near Krynki, Belarus
Lukashenko would never challenge the Red Cross
Each of these entities has specialized bureaus whose task is to intervene wherever conventions and human rights are violated. Each of these organizations should have sent their observers and representatives to the conflict area long ago — and without asking Belarus for permission. They should be operating on both sides of the border, as their presence would certainly make it more difficult to break the law.
An incomprehensible absence
Neither the leader of Poland's ruling party Jaroslaw Kaczyński nor even Lukashenko would dare to keep the UN, UNICEF, OSCE or the Red Cross out of their countries.
In recent weeks, the services of one UN state (Belarus) have been regularly violating the border of another UN state (Poland). In the nearby forests, children are being pushed around and people are dying. Despite all of this, none of the international organizations seems to be trying to reach the border nor taking any kind of action required by their responsibilities.
Their absence in such a critical time and place is completely incomprehensible, and their lack of action raises questions about the use of international treaties and organizations created to protect them.
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