At a time of year when the emphasis is on giving, some nations can look back on 2021 with more satisfaction than others, writes Andrew Tuck. We’ve taken note for Monocle’s annual Soft Power Survey, which forms only a part of our generously proportioned double issue.
What a mad – and also kind of amazing – year we have had. As I write this editor’s letter, in a happily busy Midori House, it’s hard to remember how impossibly shaky the world looked 12 months ago. In the UK, one of the first countries to start a coronavirus vaccination programme, it would not be until 8 December 2020 that the first person was offered a jab. Today, in most developed nations, everyone who wants to be vaccinated has been.
But vaccines have also become part of a complex set of diplomatic manoeuvres. Countries including China and Russia have seen opportunities to win friends and gain influence with nations in need or, in some instances, attempt to scupper a country’s hopes of taking care of its citizens – China was accused of doing all it could to ensure that Taiwan was denied the doses it needed.
More altruistic donors have funnelled their contributions via Covax, the organisation attempting to make global access to the jabs more equitable. And the willingness to share, to behave with some benevolence, can be a good move for your nation’s diplomatic kudos. This is why we have added vaccine donations to the list of metrics that we used to judge this year’s soft-power superstar nations – a checklist that covers everything from a state’s foreign-aid budget to the charting prowess of its pop acts.
But another striking thing about this year’s rankings is how many previously glowing practitioners have been tripped up by the pandemic. If your nation pulled up its drawbridges, even when it meant stranding its own citizens overseas, then it lost influence (sorry Australia). You can’t win at the soft-power game if you are not fielding players, whether they are your sports stars or politicians. In short, it’s made for a fascinating ranking that will no doubt irritate some, delight others. But, as we said, it has been a topsy-turvy year. The survey starts here.
Somehow, while Colonel Gaddafi was still in control, I had a mini-break in Tripoli, staying in a hotel that was filled with an eclectic mix of oddball characters. I went to a museum dedicated to the great man, travelled into the desert, visited the Roman city of Leptis Magna and had coffee in the old Italian colonial-era cafés. It made a connection. Ever since, I’ve followed the twists and turns of the country’s often brutal history and wondered how this resource-rich nation could become the economic success that seemed so possible following Gadaffi’s demise.
As part of the redesign and refocus of monocle this autumn, we decided to let reports run longer where we have great access and a new story to tell. I am pleased that this month Libya is the focus of our long read (page 76). Mary Fitzgerald has been covering the country since the fall of Gadaffi. She used to live in Tripoli and for this issue she returned to discover a nation trying to get on with life, with business, even while so much lies in tatters and the threat of violence breaking out is never far away. Her account and the amazing photography of Rena Effendi capture this strange time but also suggest that there is a way for Libya to come together, even now.
In the aftermath of the Cop26 talks in Glasgow, we run two fascinating interviews with people at the forefront of the climate debate: Mads Nipper (page 99), the ceo of Ørsted, the Danish firm that’s the world’s biggest operator of offshore wind projects; and President Alvarado of Costa Rica (page 89), a country that has managed to protect its environment and grow its economy. Alvarado has a clear message: it’s time for bigger nations to up their game.
But there’s plenty of seasonal fun this month too. Our Inventory section (page 227) has you covered for Christmas and there are some very nice gifts on our fashion pages (page 210). And make sure you read Alexis Self’s report on a snowy battle of the buns in Naples (page 34).
Finally we’d like to say a huge thank you for all your support and feedback. monocle will celebrate its 15th anniversary in March and, thanks to our readers and partners, it’s set to be a great celebration. But for now, have a fun Christmas and, hopefully, an easy start to 2022.
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