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Green eyes on the Green Isle

Ireland

Ireland may be the sick man of Europe but the new Taoiseach (or prime minister), elected in February, still earns around €230,000 a year – the highest of any OECD countries.

Let them eat grapes

Turkey [ALCOHOL]

Planning on a few cocktails on your next holiday in Turkey? You might need a bank loan to pay for it. The government has increased a special tax on alcohol by 30 per cent, making Turkey one of the most expensive countries in the world to have a drink. It also introduced new regulations limiting alcohol sales and ­advertising. Caterers will need permission to serve at outdoor events such as weddings and it will be illegal to hand out free alcohol, including at gallery openings and receptions. In some cases, it raises the drinking age to 24.

The election-year move has fuelled charges by secular Turks that the Islamist ruling party – the Justice and Development Party or AKP – is trying to “Islamicise” lifestyles. “Who has ever interfered? They drink [freely] until they sneeze and retch,” a furious Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said. He later apologised for his comment but insisted that the aim was to protect youth from harmful habits.

Last year the prime minister made headlines by urging Turks to eat grapes instead of drinking wine. His deputy Bulent Arinc fanned the fires by telling critics, “Life is not just about sex and wine.”

Analysts say the party is trying to appeal to its religious conservative base before June parliamentary elections – while helping to balance the country’s books on the backs of drinkers who wouldn’t vote for the AKP anyway.

Election watch

Finland

17 April

Type:

Parliamentary Candidates: Finland’s PM, Mari Kiviniemi, appointed in June 2010, may struggle to get re-elected. Although personally popular, her government’s approval rating is in the mid-40s. Thirty-four of Finland’s 200 MPs are not seeking re-election.

Issues:

Should compulsory Swedish lessons in Finnish schools be axed?

Monocle comment:

Finland is worth watching – a country with recent experience of recovery from a banking collapse.

Doing the Congo

Georgia [DIPLOMACY]

Georgia’s Foreign Ministry had a busy 2010, establishing diplomatic relations with more than 20 countries; and signs are that 2011 will be just as fraught with activity. So far this year, communiqués have been signed with Tuvalu, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia. But it’s unlikely that Georgia will be importing Congolese goods soon. The reason for the diplomatic drive is simple – any UN member state that Georgia’s foreign minister Grigol Vashadze can “snap up” is one more country that cannot be persuaded to back the breakaway states of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which Russia has recognised as independent.

Q&A

John Godson

Member of parliament

Lodz, Poland

Godson, who was born in Nigeria, is Poland’s first black MP.

What would you like to achieve?
Providing free wireless internet in public spaces, increasing state aid to mothers returning from maternity leave, and also deepening Poland’s ties with African states.

You have called on Polish politicians to put greater focus on the world’s newest country-to-be, Southern Sudan. What could be done to help?
The South Sudanese need every possible help to establish their own country, including training for future government employees and assistance with institution-building. Unfortunately, Poland hasn’t been very active in Africa but hopefully Poland’s upcoming presidency of the EU in the second half of 2011 will be a perfect occasion to boost our efforts.

Why did you decide to move to Eastern Europe?
I was a student in Nigeria when I came across an article about a young man who was killed by the KGB because of being a Christian. After graduating I went to Poland on a mission. It was 1993, communism had collapsed and the country didn’t look much like what I read in that magazine. Poland has been my home for almost 18 years now.

Turkey’s other culture clashes:

  1. Sex:
    Under pressure from the Board of Education, three academics were fired from Istanbul’s Bilgi University earlier this year after a student turned in a pornographic film for his dissertation. The entire film department was also shut down.

  2. Cosmopolitanism:
    Expats in Turkey are still talking about the bloody attack last September on an art gallery opening in central Istanbul. A mob attacked guests and were reportedly armed.

  3. Headscarves:
    Turkey’s secular establishment continues to battle religious Muslims over the issue. A top court in January ruled that wearing one during a university exam is “unlawful”.

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