Friday. 15/5/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Fernando Augusto Pacheco

Torched songs

I’ve been covering the Eurovision Song Contest for Monocle since 2013. Every year, it is my responsibility to ensure that the Monocle 24 playlist is dotted with the best Eurovision songs and to provide live updates on the night. I’ve been there for groundbreaking performances, such as Conchita Wurst’s victory for Austria in 2014, and historic moments, such as when the contest’s first winner, the late Swiss singer Lys Assia, made an appearance at a Eurovision afterparty.

And so I felt sad that this year’s event in Rotterdam couldn’t go ahead. Not only will its intriguing contestants lose the opportunity to spend some time in the limelight but 2020 marks the departure of Jon Ola Sand as the contest’s executive supervisor. At the helm since 2011, he’s expanded the event’s reach and become something of an institution among fans. “It’s been 10 really good years at Eurovision,” says Sand, who will return to working at Norway’s national broadcaster, NRK. “I am really proud but it was time to [pass] the torch.”

While there are no live performances this year, it warms my heart that there will be a two-hour TV special tomorrow evening. Sietse Bakker, the show’s executive producer, is dedicating the broadcast to “the 41 artists who put their heart and soul into their performances [for] perhaps the most important three minutes of their career”. As she says, “they deserve a special show to showcase their songs.”

Bakker is also hopeful that the contest will return to the Netherlands next year. That should provide some solace to this year’s favourites, such as Bulgaria’s Victoria (pictured), whose entry “Tears Getting Sober” will feature tomorrow but who also plans to return with a new song in 2021. “I believed in my song but maybe we will make an even better song next year; we’ll see,” she told me. As I prepare to sit back and enjoy tomorrow night’s show, I’m reminded of what Sand famously says every year before voting starts: “Take it away.”

Politics / Israel

Buying time

After three elections and more than 500 days of political deadlock between Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who currently faces corruption charges, and opposition leader Benny Gantz, the pair will swear in a controversial unity government on Sunday. The arrangement will see Netanyahu remain leader for another 18 months before handing power to Gantz for the rest of the three-year term – if the handover happens, that is. “Netanyahu will do anything and everything he can to remain in power and avoid facing the charges against him,” says Yossi Mekelberg, senior fellow at Chatham House’s Middle East and North Africa programme. “And Gantz is a dead man walking, politically. He was supported by a coalition that saw him as the only way of forcing Netanyahu out – he has betrayed them.” The upshot: Netanyahu has bought himself time. Don’t expect him to give it up easily. “In 18 months we can expect the political circus to start again,” says Mekelberg.

Diplomacy / USA

Tightening the screw

US secretary of state Mike Pompeo (pictured) has been keeping busy. As well as a lightning-quick visit to Israel this week, he has been increasing the pressure on what the Trump administration sees as the western hemisphere’s two rogue nations: Venezuela and Cuba. The latter has this week been reinstated on the State Department’s list of nations that “do not fully co-operate” with counter-terrorism efforts. The decision was prompted by Cuba’s refusal to hand over members of Colombia’s ELN guerrilla group to Colombian authorities after peace talks in Havana collapsed following an ELN bombing in Bogotá in January last year. Ted Henken, an associate professor of Latin American studies at CUNY, says, “[The decision has] little to do with actual concern over behavior – and everything to do with angling to play the ‘tough on communism’ card” ahead of US elections. Expect this to change if Joe Biden wins in November: he has signalled willingness to return to a policy of engagement with the island nation.

History / Los Angeles

As it happens

There’s no doubt that we’re living through an unusual time that will be studied by historians, statisticians and scientists in the future. One institution hoping to help is the Los Angeles Public Library, which has asked Angelenos to submit entries that tell stories of how the pandemic has affected their lives and the city as part of its Safer at Home archive. Submissions can vary but are expected to include personal notes, photographs, signs and creative works. They will be catalogued and made available to the public in the library’s digital portal, which is known as Tessa. LA’s effort follows similar programmes across the world and you can listen to our story on the Finnish National Museum’s archive on The Urbanist. It might feel strange to realise that you’re living through history in the making but, when done well, these archives will be a worthwhile resource for future generations.

F&B / Austria

For starters

Austria edges further out of lockdown today as the country’s restaurants and cafés reopen their doors. It’s a welcome step given that, as in many places around the world, hospitality has been one of the country’s hardest-hit sectors. Patrons worldwide are likely to be cautious to begin with, so governments still need to come up with innovative strategies to get their F&B economies back on track. Austria’s government has announced a €500m stimulus package for the restaurant industry, while every household in Vienna has been sent a €50 voucher to spend on a day or night out at their favourite establishment. It’s a canny way to get the Viennese back to their favourite schnitzel or strudel joint; check out issue 131 – our Austria special – for a rundown of the best. Booze is not covered by the voucher but Austrians, please have an extra glass of grüner veltliner for the rest of us.

M24 / The Foreign Desk

China and India’s border brawl

After Chinese and Indian troops stage a cross-border fistfight (and not for the first time), Andrew Mueller explains how the dispute began and asks whether this is likely to escalate further, or if it’s just a case of bored boys being boys.

Monocle Films / Global

Mater: designed to last

Long before environmentalism became a popular concern, Henrik Marstrand created Mater, a Danish furniture company that prides itself on timeless pieces with sustainability at the core. Marstrand’s entrepreneurial spirit and faith in the circular economy is changing perceptions of good design.

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