New Year’s resolutions are always so bright-eyed and seemingly earnest, and the addresses delivered today and yesterday by many of the world’s leaders to their people were no different.
Some, like the UK’s David Cameron, took the opportunity to pat themselves on the back for a job well done in 2012, while promising a brighter 2013. Others like North Korea’s Kim Jong-un pledged greater prosperity in 2013; President Thein Sein of Myanmar vowed increasing transparency, and the Pope spoke of more peaceful times ahead. Only a couple of northern Europeans seemed to strike more pragmatic tones. German Chancellor Angela Merkel noted that the coming year would prove more challenging than the last, while Queen Margrethe II of Denmark said that while the outlook might seem “grim” to some, everyone should buck up and lower their expectations.
Here are highlights:
British Prime Minister David Cameron delivered a cheery assessment of his government’s progress in a New Year’s address that sounded more like a campaign speech. “On all the big issues that matter to Britain we are heading in the right direction and I have the evidence to prove it.” He said the huge budget deficit inherited by his government is forecast to be a quarter smaller this new year, that more people had jobs, taxes were less for lower-income workers, and there were more schools with tougher discipline. He called his a “government in a hurry” as it competed globally against countries such as China, India and Indonesia for jobs and opportunities, and said he was helping those willing to help themselves by reforming an “out-of-shape” welfare system that paid people not to work. “We can look to the future with realism and optimism,” he said in closing, steering clear of talk of a triple-dip recession that some economist have forecast. “Realism because you can’t cure problems that were decades in the making overnight. There are no quick fixes. And I wouldn’t claim otherwise. But we can be optimistic too. Because we are making tangible progress. We are doing what’s right for our country and what’s best for our children’s future. And nothing could be more important than that.”
It’s been a traumatic year in Europe with an ongoing recession in the euro zone and millions of people out of work. German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s New Year’s address did not gloss over these facts. She called for courage, unity and patience in the face of the continuing economic crisis—one she says will get “more difficult” this year. “That should not discourage us,” she said, “but, on the contrary, serve as an incentive.” She said the debt crisis is “far from over” and that international efforts to monitor financial markets should be stepped up, along with efforts by German citizens to help those suffering most from the crisis. Quoting Adolph Kolping, a 19th century German Catholic priest and social reformer, she said: “Whoever exhibits courage inspires courage.”
While it wasn’t strictly a New Year’s address, President Barack Obama yesterday delivered a quick speech promising progress on the fiscal cliff deal. (This came true later as lawmakers cut a last-minute deal, which still requires approval by the House of Representatives and the president’s signature). Obama said he would work over New Year’s to prevent a tax hike on middle-income people. Americans were counting on him and congressional leaders to get this done, he added. “They need us — they need us to all stay focused on them, not on politics, not on, you know, special interests,” he said. “They need to be focused on families, students, grandmas, you know, folks who are out there working really, really hard, and are just looking for a fair shot.” Obama’s speech was blasted by Republicans, who felt it was heckling lawmakers at the wrong moment.
Today during President Thein Sein’s first New Year’s speech he promised greater transparency and better communication with the nation. He too praised his country’s progress, pointing to the release of hundreds of political prisoners and less media censorship following decades of harsh military rule and his civilian government’s rise to power in 2011, and said more was to come. “We all know that our once closed and isolated society still has many aspects to reform,” he said.
In a New Year’s speech today—the first such speech in 19 years—North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong-un called for greater economic prosperity and a need to “remove confrontation” with his South Korean neighbors and unify. He failed to mention the suffering of his people, or how exactly he would reconcile South Korea’s requirement that North Korea disband its nuclear weapons program in return for major economic cooperation. “Let us bring about a radical turn in the building of an economic giant with the same spirit and mettle as were displayed in conquering space,” he said, referring to a satellite launch last month that the US and others called a ballistic missile test in violation of UN security resolutions.
The head of Russia’s Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, prayed for national prosperity and church unity, while reminding his followers to be mindful of their own salvation. Last week, in a more prosaic spirit, he called on clergy to curb their enthusiasm for expensive cars and to stop partaking of “holy sacraments” before driving. The church’s reputation in Russia has been marred by two high-profile car incidents, one in which a monk crashed his Mercedes SUV into road workers in Moscow, killing two and then fleeing the scene without calling for help.
Pope Benedict called for world peace and decried the evils of unregulated capitalism during his speech from St. Peter’s Basilica today. He said that despite terrorism, criminality, and a growing disparity between rich and poor, he felt convinced that the “numerous works of peace, of which the world is rich, are testimony to the innate vocation of humanity to peace.”
With a characteristically sobering address to her people, Queen Margrethe II on New Year’s Eve said it wasn’t just up to leaders to fix problems, but rather Danes should help themselves and be more realistic. “The current tendency is to imagine the perfect life with spouse, children, an inspiring job, exciting hobbies, and a youthful appearance irrespective of age, she said (video.) “Who could hope to live up to all that? Why should we? Sooner or later we may all come up against hardship. We shall all break our necks in a crisis, if only the perfect —and superficial—life is good enough!”