Tuesday 25 August 2020 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Tuesday. 25/8/2020

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Fiona Wilson

A question of legacy

Shinzo Abe should have been celebrating a milestone yesterday: he overtook his great-uncle, Eisaku Sato, as Japan’s longest continuously serving prime minister. But the champagne was put on ice as Abe (pictured) spent several hours in hospital; his second visit in a matter of days. Although last week’s visit was described as a routine health check, rumours are circulating that Abe is unwell and possibly experiencing a return of the debilitating ulcerative colitis that previously forced him to resign as prime minister in 2007.

There has been much talk recently of Abe’s fatigue as he grapples with the ongoing fallout from the pandemic. The Japanese economy has been hit hard and cabinet approval ratings have dropped to 36 per cent, the second-lowest figure since Abe returned to power in 2012. It’s been a tough year for all world leaders but Abe’s misery has been compounded by the postponement (and possible cancellation) of what should have been a triumphant Tokyo Olympics. The scrutiny of his legacy has begun, with some saying that, although he is good at winning elections, he hasn’t managed to pull off his key objectives. Abe’s ambition to reform Japan’s pacifist constitution has never had much popular appeal, while any gains from Abenomics, his reboot of the economy, have been wiped out by the coronavirus crisis.

“In politics, the question is what you have achieved rather than how many days you have served,” said Abe yesterday, when asked to reflect on his record-breaking tenure. He added that he had put his “heart and soul, every single day” into delivering on his policy promises. But Abe’s rivals are now circling and a snap election could be in the offing. It looks as though choppy waters are ahead for Japan.

Image: Getty Images

Defence / Sweden

War games

Sweden has been busy preparing for war – or the possibility of it. Its Total Defence Exercise, which began in November 2019, is carrying out major programmes this summer before concluding in 2021. The exercise, Sweden’s first in more than 30 years, is intended to prepare the neutral nation to defend itself in any scenario. “It brings together more than 400 different entities, from private companies to volunteers and the armed forces,” says Elisabeth Braw, who will be chairing a discussion on the exercise today at the Royal United Services Institute in London. As Sweden is not a member of Nato, its dependence on its own response to aggression is greater than many of its European neighbours. But it’s also just good practice. “Sweden is one of a handful of countries in the West that would actually be prepared for an invasion right now,” says Braw. “Soldiers must train in order to be ready for battle; the same goes for a country.”

Image: Getty Images

Society / USA

Force for good

Hundreds of wildfires continue to tear through drought-stricken northern California, having already burned about half a million hectares of land and forced tens of thousands of residents from their homes. Last week state governor Gavin Newsom asked Canada and Australia for help due to a shortage of resources and firefighters; now he has turned to the National Guard. The federal reservist force has sent some 240 service members and a helicopter to help battle the blazes.

The guard has a long history of responding to natural disasters but has been in the spotlight in recent months for something different: its role in responding to domestic Black Lives Matter protests, including when President Trump called 5,000 National Guard members to Washington in June. The ongoing blazes are a good reminder of the National Guard’s purpose, not as a security force to be wielded against civilian protesters but a body that can help protect Americans who are facing an emergency.

Image: Getty Images

Politics / Lithuania

Chain reaction

Belarus’s president Alexander Lukashenko yesterday stepped up his efforts to quell the growing protest movement, with authorities arresting three key opposition leaders. But the swelling protests could yet become too much to bear, especially given the solidarity of the country’s neighbours. Thousands of Lithuanians turned out on Sunday to link arms and form a human chain stretching more than 30km from the capital Vilnius to the Belarus border. “We are not indifferent and we will never be indifferent,” Lithuanian president Gitanas Nauseda told the gathering. “More than anyone else, you can understand Belarusians, because not so long ago you went through the same as we do now,” Belarus’s opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, currently exiled in Lithuania, said via video message. The demonstration harked back to 1989, when more than a million people joined arms across Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, and sparked a successful uprising against the Soviet Union. Could they help to do something similar again?

Image: Alamy

Cinema / China

Opening credits

China’s war epic The Eight Hundred is a big-budget film that was tailor-made to be played in Imax cinemas. This weekend it broke $100m (€84m) at the box office, making it the first major blockbuster of 2020, which is all the more impressive given the ongoing struggles in the world of film. Cinemas in China have been open since 20 July and attendance is rising; the hope is that other countries will follow suit as a series of international blockbusters prepare for delayed releases later this month, including the on-again off-again release of director Christopher Nolan’s film Tenet. “I think that as far as the [physical] distancing is working, people are feeling confident. It’s whether they want to see a new product,” film critic Karen Krizanovich told Monocle 24’s The Globalist. In other words, it’s time to get back to critiquing the quality of releases rather than the state of cinemas themselves.

M24 / Tall Stories

Dawson’s Heights, London

We head to South London to visit an impressive housing estate where there’s a growing sense of community.

Monocle Films / Georgia

Tsinandali tunes

The first edition of a Georgian festival that’s bringing together musicians from the Caucasus to discuss their shared future.


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