Thursday. 6/8/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Andrew Tuck

After the blast

Beirut. It’s a city that has played a surprisingly large role in the life of Monocle. We have hosted events in the Lebanese capital; we have reported on its design scene and its complex politics; and we have been blessed with a series of passionate correspondents on the ground. It’s almost been a rite of passage for Monocle staff to head there – and we have encouraged our team not only to write about the place but to make sure they add on a few days to swim at the Sporting Club beach, check in to the Hotel Albergo and have a night on the tiles in Gemmayze and Mar Mikhael. And out of all of this has come deep friendships with the likes of food campaigner Kamal Mouzawak and bookshop owner Rania Naufal.

These people have also made sure to qualify our passion for the city: they see the sectarian fissures; they can explain the terrible failings of governance; and they know what war with your neighbours means. It’s an unbelievable country where unbelievable things just keep happening. Yet the explosion on Tuesday evening that devastated swathes of the city we know so well, so far killing more than 100 and injuring thousands (including our current correspondent there, Leila Molana-Allen), still stunned us; the footage of that mushroom cloud rising above the port and the death rattle of shattering glass stopped you in horror.

Beirut – indeed Lebanon – was already struggling with hospitals stretched by coronavirus and a severe financial crisis that, at times, has seemed set to trigger a revolution. And now? The Lebanese have rebuilt their country again and again, and will once more. But the point is that they shouldn’t have to. It’s a nation failed by corruption and ineptitude, and leaders who should have stood aside years ago. As the dust literally and metaphorically settles, you hope that, this time, someone will pay for allowing thousands of tonnes of explosive ammonium nitrate to be left in the port for years and that anger and resolve will deliver a new Lebanon. The people deserve a new start. This is too much for anyone to bear.

Politics / Italy

North poll

Ever since it abandoned the “North” in its moniker in 2018, Italy’s Lega Nord party – now simply Lega – has undergone a remarkable rebranding exercise. Outspoken leader Matteo Salvini (pictured) has refocused the party on an “Italy first” nationalist message and moved away from Lega’s federalist origins, which involved promises to secure fiscal independence for the industrial north of the country from the poorer south. While the rebrand has gained Salvini national notoriety, not all voters in the party’s northern heartlands are happy: Italian newspaper La Repubblica reports this week that nearly a third of long-standing members haven’t renewed their membership. Meanwhile, a new poll shows that Veneto’s governor Luca Zaia, who is part of Lega’s old guard, could win comfortably in September’s regional elections even if he were to run as an independent. Rumours of a party schism are rife, though Zaia denies that he plans to leave. Lega still leads national polls but, if the schism widens, things could go south for Salvini.

Trade / EU & Canada

Dairy diplomacy

Halloumi, a national delicacy in Cyprus, has found itself at the centre of a diplomatic tussle over the EU’s trade deal (known as Ceta) with Canada. Cyprus wants halloumi to be protected, in the mould of champagne or parma ham. But the deal grants access to the Canadian market to halloumi producers outside Cyprus. The European Commission has suggested that “geographical indication” may be awarded if the divided island could work towards a state of unity. No such luck: Cyprus’s parliament has instead tried to force Brussels’ hand by voting against the deal. It’s a risky move, according to Hosuk Lee-Makiyama, director of think-tank ECIPE. “It does not necessarily translate into international leverage,” he says. “If there’s one thing that the [EU] member states don’t like, it’s a single country trying to derail it for everyone else for the sake of domestic gain.”

Environment / China

Scaling down

Global commercial fishing is a fishy business indeed. The world’s 20 top fishing countries control 80 per cent of the catch. Of these 20, none has a greater fleet, with a more expansive reach, than China. Nearly 17,000 Chinese vessels roam the seas, making the country, according to one report, the single greatest contributor to the global fisheries crisis (it is estimated that 90 per cent of the world’s fishing stock is overfished). In a bid to ameliorate its increasingly slippery reputation and rehabilitate a dwindling stock, China has announced a three-month moratorium on the fishing of squid in international waters. China’s fleet accounts for as much as 70 per cent of the global squid catch, so this is likely to make a noticeable difference to the beleaguered cephalopod population. For Beijing, it’s also a move to improve its image: the moratorium might offer some reassurance to environmentalists and coastal nations that China is trying to control its appetite.

Society / Japan

Decline and fall

Japan’s population has dropped for the eleventh consecutive year. According to the latest survey by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, its population stood at 124 million in January, down half a million from last year and marking the largest drop since the register began in 1968. On the encouraging side, the survey found that there are now 2.86 million foreigners living in Japan, also a record and up by 7.5 per cent year on year. Another positive is Fukuoka, one of the three Japanese cities that have been regular standouts in Monocle’s Quality of Life surveys, which has seen its population grow by 10,000 to 1.59 million. In recent years, Fukuoka has attracted young people and families due to its affordability, access to nature and international connections. But reversing the national population decline will require a broader effort, backed by the public and private sector, to change a number of trends in society and working culture for the better.

M24 / Monocle on Culture

‘The Fight’

Robert Bound speaks to film-maker Eli B Despres about The Fight, a new documentary that he’s co-directed about four different cases taken on by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Monocle Films / France

Vive le béret

Monocle Films pays a visit to the last béret-maker in France and meets the Irishman trying to revive this quintessentially French piece of headwear.

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