Global, Global Investigates

Global Investigates: Then and now – what did the world look like 30 years ago?

January 2022 welcomes a new year full of hope for the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, ambitious goals to cap global warming, and marks Concrete’s 30th Birthday. First published in 1992, this issue marks our 384th publication. In those 30 years, the world has changed drastically, countries have collapsed and new countries formed, global tensions have ebbed and flowed, we have experienced a technological revolution, and yet, in many ways, the world of 1992 and the early years of this decade are startlingly similar.  As Mark Twain so famously said, “history doesn’t repeat itself, it rhymes.” 

1992 marked a fantastic year for Democrat Bill Clinton, who in the 1992 Presidential election claimed victory to become the United States of America’s 42nd President. Clinton was inaugurated on January 20 1993 and held office until January 20 2001, having served two terms as president. Clinton’s presidency was a dramatic one, swinging from great success, particularly with the economy, to his 1998 impeachment for his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. 

Clinton’s most ambitious legislative initiative was a plan to provide Americans with universal healthcare, still a contentious issue in America 30 years later. Clinton’s initiative collapsed when it failed to gather any major support in Congress. Clinton also was a protector of abortion rights, vetoing many Republican policies aiming to restrict access to abortion care.

30 years on, America continues to grapple with the very same issues. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of universal healthcare. American health insurance is typically provided in part by employers. However, the loss of jobs and drop in household income has greatly exacerbated the problems associated with insurance-based healthcare. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, in a recent poll, as many as 68 per cent of adults said the out-of-pocket costs they might have to pay to access healthcare would be very or somewhat important to their decision to seek care if they experienced symptoms of COVID-19. Failure to test or receive treatment prolongs the pandemic as little is done to prevent spread.

The Guttmacher Institute, a pro-choice think tank, has decried 2021 as the “worst year” for abortion rights in nearly 50 years as dozens of laws passed aiming to restrict access to abortion at the state level. in 2018 Mississippi introduced a ban on most abortions after 15 weeks which has since been overruled as unconstitutional. The case is now with the Supreme Court. A decision to reinstate the Mississippi ban would effectively overrule the 1973 Roe v Wade case which introduced legal abortion care and would pose a significant threat to abortion care across America. Mississippi is also looking to overrule the Planned Parenthood v Cassey decision in 1992 which prevents states from banning abortion before the point of viability at around 24 weeks. As we enter 2022, America is still fighting many of the same healthcare battles it was fighting in 1992. 

2022 also marks an American election. On Tuesday, November 8, America is set to take to the polls in the Midterm elections. All 435 House of Representatives seats and 34 of 100 Senate seats will be contested. This will also be the first election affected by redistricting following the 2020 census. 

2022 also marks the 30th anniversary of the 1992 Los Angeles uprising. Throughout April and May, a series of protests occurred following the jury acquittal of four Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officers charged with using excessive force in the arrest of African-American Rodney King. 

Thousands protested across six days following the verdict. The situation was only calmed after the California National Guard, United States military, and several law enforcement agencies deployed more than 5,000 troops. 63 people were killed, 2,383 injured and more than 12,000 arrested by the end of the uprising. 

2022 carries the ongoing momentum built by the Black Lives Matter movement, which reached its peak on June 6 2020 when half a million people across nearly 550 locations in America protested the murder of George Floyd during a police arrest in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Recent polls, including one by Civis Analytics which has worked on Democratic election campaigns, suggested between 15 million and 26 million people protested across America. This would make the protests the largest movement in the country’s history. As we enter the new year, the fight for racial justice across the world is still ongoing, built upon centuries of violence, injustice, and the hopeful foundations laid by previous civil rights movements. 

1992 is one of the most significant years in Europe. Ministers from 12 countries in the European Community (EC) signed the Treaty on European Union and the Maastricht Final Act following years of debate. This officially established the European Union (EU). The formation of the EU laid out a timetable and framework for economic and monetary union, taking on the responsibilities of a common foreign and security policy and judicial affairs including immigration, drugs, and terrorism. 

Although Britain left the EU officially on January 31 2021, it is in 2022 that we expect to begin to more clearly see the results of this decision. Whilst the impact of COVID-19 has somewhat obscured the impact of Brexit so far, the 2019 Brexit Deal: Potential Economic Impact study published by the British government projected Brexit would lower the UK’s growth by up to 6.7 per cent over 15 years. 

In 1992 white South Africans overwhelmingly voted for political reforms to end apartheid and establish a new power-sharing multi-racial government. The vote passed with 68.8 per cent of the vote with a record turn-out, which in some districts was as high as 96 per cent. Only one of the 15 voting referendum districts voted no – Pietersburg in the Northern Transvaal, a rural conservative stronghold.

Nelson Mandela, the President of the African National Congress who was famously jailed for 27 years for his campaign against segregation, said he was “very happy indeed” with the result. 

The 1992 Olympic Games are noted as the last time both the Summer and Winter Olympics would be held in the same year.

The 16th Winter Olympics were held in Albertville, France. 64 nations and 1,801 athletes competed in the six sports and 57 events. This was the last Winter Olympics to include demonstration sports, including curling, aerials and ski ballet, and speed skiing. 1992 was also the last Olympics to feature an outdoor speed skating rink.

The summer Olympics were held in Barcelona, Spain. These games were the first olympiad since 1972 that no country had boycotted. A record 196 countries took part in the opening ceremony. Latvia and Estonia both made their first independent appearance since 1936 following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Lithuania entered its first national team since 1928. The collapse of the USSR created a further 12 new national teams. They chose to compete as one team under the title of the Unified Team but at all medal ceremonies, the individual national flags would be raised for each athlete. Following the collapse of the Berlin Wall, Germany competed as one country for the first time since 1964. South Africa returned to the games for the first time in 32 years following the end of apartheid.

The 2022 Winter Olympics are being held in Beijing, China. Beijing will become the first city to host both a summer and winter Olympics, having hosted the Summer Games in 2008. Many of the venues built for 2008 are being used again in 2022 including the Bird’s Nest stadium. Organisers have said that all venues for the Games will run entirely on renewable energy.

Seven new events are being added to the Games with the goal of increasing female participation and to appeal to younger audiences. The new events include women’s monobob (single person bobsleigh), freestyle skiing big air with both men’s and women’s categories, and new mixed team events in short-track speed skating team relay, ski jumping, freestyle skiing aerials and snowboard cross. 

Unlike the 1992 games, the 2022 games could potentially be overshadowed by questions over China’s human rights records. In December, the United States announced it would be boycotting the games and would not be sending an official team over concerns of human rights abuses. America did say, however, its athletes could still attend and would be fully supported by the government. Australia, Great Britain, and Canada have also announced boycotts, following the United States announcement. China has been accused of imprisoning more than a million Uyghurs in detention centres in Xinjiang and eroding human rights in Hong Kong. 

Despite the 30 years that have passed between 1992 and 2022, many of the stories that dominated headlines 30 years ago are still similarly appearing in the news today. While some of these stories speak of reunification, peace, and collaboration, too many still grapple with racial injustice, attacks on women’s rights, and global conflict. Whilst 2022 is still fresh and full of hope, the global news cycle can never be fully predicted. In 2052, Concrete will be celebrating its 60th birthday and hopefully, its publications will speak of greater peace and prosperity than its 30th. 

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Aislinn Wright

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