The grim theme that links the year’s main events

The oddest thing about 2009 was how normal it was. At the beginning of the year, the global economic crisis was still causing panic in prime ministers’ offices and presidential palaces across the world. Many politicians were looking anxiously back to the 1930s.

Those fears of a return to a world of soup kitchens and fascist marches turned out to be overdone. The German economy contracted by more than 5 per cent in the year to September. But in that month, the Germans still re-elected Angela Merkel – the very epitome of stolid, centrist good sense. The Japanese elections, a month earlier, were more dramatic – marking the end of the Liberal Democratic party’s almost uninterrupted hegemony over postwar politics. But it is still too early to tell whether Japan has really changed as a country.

For that reason, neither the Japanese nor the German elections make my annual list of the five most important events of the year. Instead, my top five for 2009 are as follows.

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