Nervous anticipation as world welcomes 2017

What lies ahead: This year will also bring the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

Our look ahead suggests the new year will bring political change, major anniversaries and even a head transplant. But after the shocks and upheaval of 2016, will 2017 be any different?

‘The year 1916 was cursed; 1917 will surely be better!’

So wrote Tsar Nicholas II of Russia in his diary 100 years ago. His words were ill-founded: in February he abdicated, prompting the most tumultuous year in his country’s history.

A century on, the world has emerged from a turbulent 2016. But after Britain’s vote to leave the EU and Donald Trump’s election as president of the USA, what might come next? Here are seven clues:

1. Trump becomes president. On January 20th, the unlikeliest political story in living memory will become a reality. Trump will take the oath of office and become the most powerful person on Earth.

2. Brexit negotiations begin. The year will also open with a court announcement on the legality of the UK government’s plans for EU withdrawal. Theresa May, the prime minister, has promised to issue notice of the departure — and prompt a flurry of domestic and international wrangling — by March 31st.

3. Major elections in Europe. Nationalist right-wing parties will seek gains in Germany, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic. A victory for Marine Le Pen in France’s presidential election could end the EU. And in Italy the anti-establishment Five Star Movement could take power if an election is called.

4. Russia sets the agenda. Vladimir Putin has tightened his grip on Syria. And Trump’s apparently lukewarm commitment to NATO may allow Putin to expand his ambitions in eastern Europe this year.

5. China — US tensions. Trump is keen to bring jobs back to the USA and has adopted a hardline anti-China stance. Beijing has responded angrily. If relations break down, China and North Korea may become more assertive.

6. Centenary of communism’s birth. The upheaval in Russia in 1917 allowed the Bolsheviks to seize power in October and create the USSR, a totalitarian communist behemoth. The anniversaries of two revolutions will inspire fierce debate over Marxism’s role today.

7. The world’s first head transplant. If Italian neurosurgeon Sergio Canavero successfully replaces a human being’s entire body, it will be the most astonishing of several possible medical advances in 2017.

Looking forward

A new year means nothing, say some. The stresses and tensions of 2016 will continue in 2017. Trump’s election and the Brexit vote did not happen in a vacuum; the forces behind them built up over years. As Spectator columnist Alexander Chancellor writes, ‘time does not divide itself into annual compartments; it just seamlessly rolls along.’

This will be a new chapter, others reply. History is full of years with special significance, and 2016 will be remembered just as 1789, 1945 and 1989 are. This year could easily see normality return.

You Decide

  1. Are you looking forward to 2017?
  2. Will 2017 be substantially different from 2016?


  1. Write a list of 10 predictions for 2017 (five about you, and five about the wider world). Briefly explain why you made each of them. Keep them in a safe place, so you can check them on December 31st 2017.
  2. Choose one of the seven themes outlined in this article. Research its importance in more depth. Prepare a one-minute talk explaining your findings to your class.

Some People Say...

“New year, same world.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Aren’t all these politicians’ decisions a bit irrelevant to me?
Events such as Trump becoming president and Brexit will have an important impact around the world. They will affect people’s wealth and incomes, which in turn will affect the opportunities you have. For some, the events in this piece could be the difference between living in a democracy and not, or even life and death. And even if that is not true of your country, its military — which you might join, or have to pay taxes towards — may be involved in defending those which are affected.
But why should I think about any of this now?
Even if you are not bothered by the new year, many people are — including powerful people who have great influence. Whether it really matters or not, it is a good chance to take stock of world events.

Word Watch

The revolution began on February 23rd on the Julian calendar, which Russia used at the time. Its anniversary will occur on March 8th, on the Gregorian calendar, commonly used worldwide, and adopted by Russia in 1918.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, an alliance of 28 nations. Trump has threatened to cut adrift allies who do not contribute more to their own defence. Putin may pose a particular threat in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
Trump has already called Taiwan’s president, which suggests he may end the long-standing US policy of co-operation towards China.
October 24–25 1917 on the Julian calendar (November 6–7 on the Gregorian calendar).
The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics led by Russia controlled much of eastern Europe. It ceased to exist in 1991.
The ideology of the philosopher Karl Marx: he argued capitalism would and should be replaced by socialism, as governments ensured equality of outcome between classes.
Canavero’s subject is a 31-year-old man with a muscle-wasting disease, who depends on others for basic needs.

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