Few years in Europe’s postwar history will be so little missed as 2020.
It kicked open the door to fear, upheaval and death on a scale unrivalled in peacetime for more than a century. Death walked unabashed in cities and villages, the lonely rooms of retirement homes, the overwhelmed intensive care units of hospitals.
Across Europe, AP photographers have captured the images that encapsulate the year gone by.
Images of coffins in affluent northern Italy shocked the continent, just as a picture of a Spanish patient in his hospital bed pushed out onto a sunlit, seaside promenade to recuperate spread a frisson of hope.
As COVID-19’s full power to kill and disrupt invaded the consciousness of hundreds of millions of Europeans, many lives were cut short but all were turned topsy-turvy: Masks became mandatory, workplaces relocated to studies, kitchens and closets lit by the glow of video conferences — punctuated by the hum of household life and cameo appearances by children or pets. For many, work stopped altogether or was suspended for months by repeated lockdowns, as government aid replaced monthly paychecks.
Economic activity withered and travel largely ground to a halt, together with most forms of social gathering — this Christmas will be a feast of seclusion.
But the close of the year brought the hope of inoculation. With vaccines approved in Britain and the European Union, and the first jabs administered, the continent keyed up for an gigantic vaccination race to outstrip the speed of infection.
2020 also unleashed a wave of protest and societal scrutiny, rising from the police killing of a Black man in the U.S. Many European societies were called upon to assess the darker recesses of their own history and examine their enduring contemporary imprint.
Britain officially demolished its political ties with the continent by leaving the EU in January after nearly half a century, and the two sides spent the rest of the year failing to strike a deal on the economic terms of their divorce.
On Europe’s easternmost fringes, war in the mountains of Nagorno-Karabakh killed thousands and offered an unsettling insight into future battlefields where drones can rain death on ill-prepared armor columns and troops.
In Belarus, opposition swelled to a strongman in power for 26 years, whose re-election in a tainted process triggered massive demonstrations that drew a heavy police crackdown.
Migrants and refugees continued to seek a better life in the continent, and hundreds died on their way to European shores. In Greece, a notorious island camp burned down, only to be resurrected a few miles down the road.