Berlin mayor Franziska Giffey, a dating app for US conservatives and Andrew Mueller on the new populists.
When the new Colombian ambassador to Venezuela, Armando Benedetti, shook hands with president Nicolás Maduro in August, it marked a shift in relations. In the years prior to that handshake, Caracas and Bogotá had traded insults and threats, inflaming tensions and decimating trade along their shared border.
After he took office in August, one of the first actions of Colombia’s new leftist president, Gustavo Petro, was to restore diplomatic relations with Venezuela after a three-year freeze. His predecessor, conservative Iván Duque, refused to recognise the socialist Maduro as president, branding him a “dictator” and endorsing his rival Juan Guaidó as the country’s head of state. In this endeavour he was joined by the US, then led by Donald Trump. Having outlasted both Duque and Trump, Maduro’s position would seem to be stronger now.
Colombia and Venezuela are bound by deep cultural and historical ties. During the 19th century, the two nations were part of a post-colonial state known as Gran Colombia. “We are the same people,” Colombian congressman Gabriel Becerra Yañez tells monocle.
But re-establishing relations was more than a nod to shared history. There has been a slide in cross- border trade from about €7bn in 2008 to €225m in 2020. The Colombo-Venezuelan Chamber of Commerce estimates that reopening the border could create at least 120,000 jobs for both countries, while the Colombian government says that trade with Venezuela could reach €1.2bn this year – an increase of 200 per cent when compared to 2021.
Colombian Felipe Díaz, who runs a business that manufactures shoes in the border town of Cucuta, hopes that he will now be able to get back on his feet. “Most business owners have been waiting for this to happen for years,” says Díaz. “We’ve suffered greatly. The border should have never been closed in the first place.”
Who vs who: Albania vs Iran
What it’s about: A series of large-scale cyber-attacks on Albania, which shut down a number of government websites and digital services – including the systems used by state police to monitor who enters and leaves the country. Albania determined that these attacks were orchestrated by Iran, and accordingly severed diplomatic relations. Despite Tehran’s indignant denials of involvement, Iranian diplomatic staff in Albania were given 24 hours to pack up and push off.
What it’s really about: Albania’s anger at Iran’s nonsense is real enough, and entirely justified. But Albania has for many years been something of a sanctuary for Iranian opposition group the Mujahideen-e-Khalq (mek), a gang of ascetic Marxist-Islamist weirdos best imagined as a sort of cross between Hezbollah and the Moonies. Also, Iran seethes at Albania’s closeness to the United States, possibly more so because it’s a nominally Muslim country. In 2020, after Albania’s prime minister, Edi Rama, endorsed the US assassination of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khameini, called Albania “very small and devilish.”
Likely resolution: It is not the first time something like this has occurred – Albania also threw Iran’s ambassador out in 2018, accusing Tehran of plotting terrorist attacks. If and when an Iranian ambassador is allowed back to Tirana, they would be ill advised to get too comfortable.
Mayor of Berlin
Urban mobility has been at the top of the political agenda in the German capital in recent months. Berliners have pushed for continuation of the 9-Euro-Ticket, a nationwide policy where travellers could use public transport for €9 a month. And there could soon be a referendum on whether to make the entire inner city of Berlin car-free. Will the city’s mayor, Franziska Giffey, put on the brakes?
You’re not entirely in support of the initiative to make Berlin car-free. Why?
Social Democrats – and I am one – are always focusing on a balance [between] social, ecological and economic interests. I’m not convinced that in an extreme position, like a totally car-free city, we can have that balance. What happens to someone who cannot afford to live in the city centre but has to travel there to work during the night at a hospital? Everything we are doing to protect the climate has to have a social dimension.
What do you propose?
To make public transport more accessible. When they can afford it, people will leave the car and use public transit.
What’s standing in the way of that happening?
Our buses have to be electrified and we need more loading infrastructure. We are investing to improve it for pedestrians, bicycles and cars. You have to have balance – mobility in different forms.
INS Vikrant is not India’s first aircraft carrier but it is the first that the country has built itself. Vikrant, from the Cochin Shipyard in Kerala, is an expression of national prestige as well as a guarantor of national security.
“Possessing a carrier is a statement of belonging to a small club of major powers,” says Alessio Patalano, senior lecturer in war studies at King’s College London. “Between military necessity and political utility, it’s not unfair to suggest that the latter wins the day.”
Vikrant, delayed and over-budget, has been compared with China’s new Fujian-class carriers. But, as Patalano points out, India doesn’t need to compete directly with China. “India’s maritime power is not a standalone asset but a tool within multilateral frameworks,” he says, “Access to valuable maritime allies is a luxury that Beijing does not possess.”
It was tempting, for a moment there, to believe that the boil had been lanced. The boil in this metaphor is the carbuncle of paranoid, hyper-conservative, populist nationalism. In Germany in September 2021, Alternative für Deutschland lost 11 Bundestag seats. In France in April, National Rally’s Marine Le Pen failed for the second time against the centrist’s centrist, Emmanuel Macron. The Nordics were a solid bloc of centre-left social democracy, as was (and, in fairness, is) the Iberian Peninsula.
Well, not so fast. On 25 September, Italy elected a conservative coalition, of which the heftiest component is the Brothers of Italy – with roots tracing to the Italian Social Movement, founded by fans of Benito Mussolini after the Second World War. Two weeks before that, Sweden elected what will probably become a right-wing coalition government including the Sweden Democrats, whose history is scarcely more savoury.
It poses a challenge for the EU, of which Italy and Sweden are members. Before Italians voted, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen warned that the EU has “tools” for dealing with member states that decide to be difficult. It’s not clear, however, that this is the case: the EU has not succeeded in encouraging co-operation from serial norm-defier and values-flouter Hungary, which has a population barely bigger than London’s and a gdp almost half that of Denmark. Italy is the EU’s third-largest economy; Sweden its seventh. The resolve of both has been key to Europe’s defiance of Russia. The EU and Nato have framed the conflict with Russia over Ukraine as one of values: Rome and Stockholm should be reminded which side of it they should be on.
The immediate aftermath of the Italian election presented lessons in how to do it – and how not to. In the former camp, Estonia’s prime minister Kaja Kallas, who referred neither to Italy’s election nor its winner but to Rome’s co-operation thus far in Ukraine’s defence. In the latter, UK prime minister Liz Truss, who tweeted delighted greetings directly to her new Italian counterpart, Giorgia Meloni. Europe’s other nations will have to deal with Italy and Sweden’s governments; they do not have to pretend to enjoy doing so.
Andrew Mueller hosts ‘The Foreign Desk’ on Monocle 24
These days, nothing will sink a hot date quite like talking politics. But for Americans who look good in red, a new dating app aimed at matchmaking conservatives in the US promises to be a place where “you can connect with people who aren’t offended by everything”. The Right Stuff might sound like satire but, “We’re dead serious,” says co-founder John McEntee. It was created because, “other dating apps have gone woke,” says their website.
McEntee’s name might be familiar to Trump-watchers: he was made director of the White House Presidential Personnel Office, promoted from bag carrier, in the febrile final months of the last administration, just before the storming of the Capitol. Behind the scenes, he says, dating in Washington was less riotous. “One of our co-founders actually went on a date from an app, ordered the drinks, and before he could even finish his sentence saying he worked for Trump, the girl got up and left.”
But, McEntee says, it’s the system that’s the problem, and The Right Stuff will offer an alternative. “On the other dating apps out there, you can add a feminism tag or a climate-change tag to your profile but there is nothing for conservatives: no Second Amendment tag, no pro-life tag. So you’re in a space that doesn’t care about what you want or what you’re looking for.”
Ladies and gentlemen, please form an orderly queue.
Images: Alamy, Getty Images
Illustrator: Michal Bednarski