Every January, Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky take to the WELL's public "Inkwell" conference for a "State of the World" discussion that ranges far and wide over the previous year and the year to come. Reading this is one of the highlights of my new year, every year, and this year is no exception.
I happen to be in Belgrade again -- I'll be here a few more days -- and things certainly have gone swimmingly for the current Serbian government. I don't know anyone anywhere who expected the "Radikalni" to do so well, once in power. Who would have thought that a political party called "Radicals" would actually be radicals?
The Radikalni do genuinely radical things, by local standards. They make people pay taxes. They inspect things. They punish corruption. They negotiate with former enemies, sign treaties and build infrastructure. They feed the living and they bury the dead, and boy do they ever win elections.
I've never before been in a Serbia with an actual government running it. I mean, Serbia is basically a small ethnic chunk from a not-very-big failed state of the 1990s. The region didn't much seem to need a national government at all, as far as I could see.
But the Radikalni are like some long-postponed 1989 new-broom thing happening. They've become a newfangled national regime. It's like they know how to run a country, even.
It's not like the Radikalni are nice 89er hippie liberation guys or anything, but I've never seen Serbia in such a state of public contentment and apparent stability. It's truly startling.
This development gives me the conviction that pessimism is public affairs is just a kind of arrogance. It's just flat-out impossible to know what people may be capable of, and even Mr Scrooge, that cramped and miserable man who was one bent, splintered mass of crooked-timber, can wake up one fine Christmas morning, mystically transformed into whatever the hell Mr Scrooge was after that.