Friday. 11/12/2020

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Joleen Goffin

Follow the leader

This year has been a stress test for many governments but for a country without one it has proved particularly challenging. After an inconclusive election in 2019, Belgium was run by a caretaker administration while squabbling political heavyweights tried to work through their differences to strike a governing coalition. When the pandemic hit in March, this temporary government was swiftly given emergency powers to lead the country through the crisis, revealing tensions between the federal and regional bodies.

It’s a quintessentially Belgian story. Before the pandemic Belgians didn’t really discuss our government (or lack thereof) at the gym or over a beer in the pub – after all, we’d seen it all before. The regional divide between the Flemish and Walloon populations isn’t something many people noticed or worried about. But this year those differences threatened to lead to disastrous consequences.

Belgium today has the world’s highest per-capita death rate for the pandemic and, while some point to population density or Belgium’s “transparent” way of counting deaths, others blame its fractured government authority and rising regional divisions. Only time will tell which argument is most convincing. In the meantime, with a new federal government finally sworn in, new prime minister Alexander De Croo has been primarily focused on avoiding a third wave at all costs. Tough measures will remain in place over Christmas.

“The political pressures are strong, both internally and externally,” says political scientist Régis Dandoy. “The Belgian government will have a balancing act between the parties who wish to continue the health effort, those who are already emphasising economic recovery and those who wish to take advantage of the situation to demand more autonomy for their region.” Belgium needs to find a way to keep it together in the new year.

Image: Getty Images

Diplomacy / US & Hong Kong

Flaring tensions

US sanctions have always had a long reach. The Japanese government confirmed during a cabinet meeting this week that any of the country’s banks with operations in the US will be required to comply with the same financial sanctions that the US imposed in August on Chinese officials tied to Hong Kong – including the city’s chief executive Carrie Lam. The US Treasury’s actions came in response to Beijing’s new national security law, which undermined Hong Kong’s autonomy and democratic processes. Countries often complain about US sanctions forcing their hand and the move by Tokyo could be seen as a strong stance in the dispute over Hong Kong, which has heightened tension between Washington and Beijing throughout the year. It might also strain Japan’s relationship with its historic rival. For Hong Kong’s democratic camp, this subtle stand must come as a sign of hope in a challenging time.

Image: Alamy

Politics / Germany

Speech recognition

Angela Merkel (pictured) has long been known more for her pragmatism than for stirring oratory. But as her final year in office nears and the pandemic continues to dominate politics, the former physicist is revealing a more human side. In a speech before parliament this week she offered an impassioned plea to knuckle down and help keep deaths to a minimum – particularly by taking the basic steps that could help bring the pandemic under control.

Germany is allowing families to gather over Christmas but Merkel expressed particular frustration about a political fight over bringing school holidays forward three days to help people shield before seeing their elderly relatives. “What will historical accounts of this event of the century say if we weren’t capable of finding a solution over a matter of three days?” Merkel’s speech reminds us that effective leadership needs to engage the public on an emotional level – even more than through hard enforcement and strict rules.

Image: Isha Shah

Theatre / UK

Hold the front stage

Have you ever seen a newspaper performed? Neither have we. But that’s the concept of the Living Newspaper series of six shows hosted by London’s Royal Court Theatre over the next two months. The premise is a novel one: every Tuesday a team of writers submit stories for a weekly newspaper, complete with regional and global perspectives, long-form pieces, agony-aunt columns and more. On the following Thursday through to Saturday, actors using this hot-off-the-press “script” will perform to a live, physically distanced audience of 15. For those who can’t attend, a digital edition will be live streamed on Sundays and released for on-demand viewing the following Monday. The first “edition” took place last night. The project will give more than 200 talented actors, artists, writers and stage technicians a chance to show their worth to audiences who are hungry for new theatre. Now that’s a headline worth shouting about.

Image: Getty Images

Urbanism / Jerusalem

High holy way

Work on Jerusalem’s newest transit service, an ILS200m (€51m) cable car connecting West Jerusalem with the Old City via Mount Zion, is set to begin within the coming weeks. However, the country’s High Court has yet to rule on a petition to scrap the project. One group that supports the petition is Emek Shaveh, a non-profit organisation that hopes to protect the historic quality of Israel’s landscapes. The critics focus on environmental concerns and argue that the cable car will transform the city’s famous vistas into a theme park. The project’s backers argue that Jerusalem is already overrun – they suggest that the cable car will in fact help to relieve tourist traffic along the Old City walls and the gridlock caused by tour buses. Perhaps we could propose another transport option to please both parties: the funicular. Low to the ground and equally effective, it could comfortably transport tourists up Mount Zion without affecting the view.

Image: Paulsta Wong

M24 / The Entrepreneurs

The long run

This week we’re on the run with three standout labels: Tracksmith, Satisfy and Hylo Athletics. From London, Hylo’s co-founder explains how he left behind a career as a professional footballer to create the sustainable shoe brand. In Paris, we meet a fashion-industry veteran who put French textile expertise to work on his new label, Satisfy. And in Boston, Tracksmith helps us to tackle the running commute.

Monocle Films / Entertaining

Japanese gift wrapping: Lesson 1

Many of us are planning to stay closer to home this Christmas, so make sure your loved ones have plenty of reading material. A Monocle magazine subscription and the inaugural issue of our stylish sister publication ‘Konfekt’ will keep you entertained and inspired well after the holiday season. Find your perfect gift at The Monocle Shop.

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