In 2021, the coronavirus pandemic continued to be one of the most important events. Naturally, its influence on world politics and society remained the main focus of the Valdai Discussion Club experts.
At the beginning of the year, we published a book titled “The First Year of Covid-19” . It collected the most vivid and interesting articles of the Club’s authors which had been published on our website earlier, in 2020. They considered the first reaction to the pandemic, public fears during this period, the actions taken by the authorities, as well as the formation of fundamentally new behavioural and value attitudes, including projections and estimates of how much the pandemic would change the world.
The pandemic and its socio-political consequences, even after the release of this book, remained the centre of attention of the Club’s experts in 2021. One of the topics was the global Covid-19 vaccination policy. Roman Reinhardt analysed vaccine diplomacy and its contradictions . Djoomart Otorbaev warned against being overly optimistic that the vaccine would solve all problems. The complex issue of the impact of vaccination on human rights was also raised in our publications. In July 2021, a special Valdai Club conference was dedicated to this problem, with the participation of experts from the Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights.
Another important topic was the social impact of the pandemic. Apostolos Veizis in his article “From Sprint to Marathon” raised the issue of the long-term impact of the pandemic on socially vulnerable groups: the poor, refugees and other marginalised people. Ekaterina Savorskaya considered the paradoxes of the pandemic’s influence on green transformation; as these two seemingly unrelated things share many indirect connections. Richard Sakwa turned to the analysis of value categories and studied the impact of the pandemic on the perception of the concept of the common good, and on the dynamics of interaction between civil society and the state. Also in the focus of our attention was the attitude of citizens to medical assessments and forecasts regarding the pandemic, the problem of doctors’ participation in political strategies to calm society used by the authorities, and its possible ethical ambivalence. This issue was closely related to the problem of citizens’ trust in the authorities, the psychological and behavioural alienation of society from the state and the formation of the concept of what we called “medical totalitarianism”. We analysed this concept in the context of Michel Foucault’s well-known theory of “biopower”. This set of problems was reflected in the relevant sections of the large annual report of the Valdai Discussion Club, titled “The Age of Pandemic: Year Two. The Future Is Back”, published in October 2021.
A separate large topic of the Club’s work was the impact of the pandemic on international migration, on the value and ethical perception of global migrants, and on the dynamics of migrant phobia in host societies. Dmitry Poletaev and Andrey Korobkov prepared a special Valdai Club report on these issues. As part of its presentation, a thorough and frank discussion was held. Franсk Duvell, in the context of the relationship between the pandemic and migration, reflected on how to use the health crisis in mobility management. Eleonora Tafuro Ambrosetti reviewed the evolution of the Syrian refugee narrative in Turkey.
In addition to the pandemic, the climate agenda has become the most important event of 2021. The COP-26 Summit in Glasgow in October-November was at the centre of global interest, sparking a heated debate in the world regarding the strategy and pace of green transformation. The Valdai Club did not stand on the side-lines; we have organised a series of conferences on this topic, including a discussion on the immediate results of the Glasgow summit, held on November 18, as well as an analysis of the energy crisis in various regions of the world, held in December. The Valdai team of authors, with the participation of Maria Apanovich, Elena Maslova and Alexander Kaufmann, prepared a special report on the impact of climate change on global food security, which is scheduled to be published early next year. Christof van Agt discussed the importance of the factor of free markets, dialogue and solidarity for the energy transition. Anatol Lieven researched the impact of climate change on public interests. The impact of the green transformation on Russia was also considered.
The politics of historical memory in recent years has become one of the key topics in the expert work of the Club. Its analysis was continued this year as well. Matthias Uhl examined the influence of the GDR on the formation of historical memory and modern identity in Germany. In another text, he analysed the historical memory in Germany in connection with the 80th anniversary of the beginning of the Great Patriotic War. Arnaud Dubien compared the historical memory of Charles de Gaulle with contemporary French presidents. Pascal Boniface explored the legacy of de Gaulle and Mitterrand and how they were significant for today's French politics. Vincent Della Sala addressed the analysis of the politics of historical memory in Italy: the imperial past and its legacy, as well as the memory of the Italian communist party. Damdin Tsogtbaatar studied the politics of historical memory in Mongolia in connection with the centenary of the new Mongolian statehood. Alexei Miller examined the anniversary of the Russian Empire and the historical memory of it. Also, the influence of historical memory on modern politics and society was considered in connection with other anniversaries in 2021: for example, the 60th anniversary of the Berlin Wall in the context of Cold War ethics and the revival of its symbolism today, the 20th anniversary of Wikipedia, which raises the question of the contradictions between intellectual snobbery and the right to knowledge, the 10th anniversary of the Fukushima accident in connection with the formation of the concept of risk society, as well as in connection with the factor of hypocrisy in assessing disasters.
All these topics (the pandemic, climate and history) directly affect the evolution of values and moral norms in today’s global society. In this regard, the combination of values and interests in world politics was analysed. Kubatbek Rakhimov considered the problem of values in the context of digital transformation and put forward the concept of digital ochlocracy. Nourhan ElSheikh turned to the analysis of values in an atomised society. Anastasia Likhacheva examined the mutual influence of ethics and intelligence. Igor Istomin presented the Valdai Club Report on Revisionism in World Politics, including its value aspects Radhika Desai and Michael Hudson prepared a Valdai Paper on Value Alternatives to the Modern Global Financial System “Beyond the Dollar Creditocracy: A Geopolitical Economy” Dario Velo analysed the value of a peaceful world order and how realistic it is. Andrey Lankov presented the concept of “Kimjongism” in the value narrative about North Korea. Also in the focus of our attention were the values of tolerance (and whether tolerance regarding intolerant people is possible), questions about value discomfort as a cause of brain drain from countries which weren’t suffering economically, but were socially and politically unattractive, about the non-Western perception of democracy and its combination with the undemocratic politics , on the value aspects of the fight against corruption, about outer space as a vanity fair or the value of national pride and others.
Of course, all these serious questions are naturally far from being resolved. They will not disappear in the year 2022. And this means that the Valdai Club will continue to deal with them. We invite our readers to participate in the dialogue.