Friday. 8/1/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Christopher Cermak

No exceptions

Those of us living in stable Western democracies tend to maintain a simple belief about the darker sides of governance: “It can’t happen here.” Instead we look at the rise of populists, authoritarians or even just plain-old bumbling politicians in other countries with a mix of horror and bemusement, and scoff, “We would never have elected them.” That’s because populists and nationalists tend to be, well, nation-specific: Silvio Berlusconi would never have succeeded in Hungary; Viktor Orbán would have flopped in the UK; and Boris Johnson wouldn’t have made it, well, anywhere else.

So now the entire world is looking in horror towards the US – once a beacon of democracy – as its reputation lies in tatters after supporters of Donald Trump stormed the US Capitol on Wednesday; four people died in the incident. Many global leaders condemned the insurrection as, to paraphrase Emmanuel Macron, “un-American”. Many Americans, including me, can only bow their heads and agree. We too couldn’t help but ask as we watched the scenes unfold, “How did this happen here”?

Perhaps it’s this very notion of exceptionalism that is the biggest threat to any and every Western democracy today; it leads us to be blind to, or dismissive of, any attack on our freedoms. Rationally, we all understood that the bitter rhetoric of the past four years under Trump, and the bitter politicisation of our nation that began long before he entered the political stage, made it inevitable that violence would ensue. And yet still, in our hearts, many of us never really believed that it would come to this. Perhaps the lesson, then, is that we should all acknowledge – before it’s too late – that it could happen anywhere.

Image: Getty Images

Health / Japan

Staying the course

Japanese prime minister Yoshihide Suga has declared a regional state of emergency effective from today until 7 February and unveiled new measures to tackle coronavirus in four prefectures in the Kanto region: Tokyo, Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa. Bars and restaurants must now close at 20.00 and the total compensation for co-operating businesses has been increased to ¥1.8m (€14,000). The number of reported cases in Tokyo exceeded 2,000 for the first time yesterday and experts believe that dining and drinking out have been chiefly responsible for the rise. But the new declaration also comes with mixed messages: sports and other events can continue with a maximum of 5,000 attendees or half the venue’s capacity (whichever is lower). The reception has been mixed too: some Japanese believe that it came too late, while others think that the measures are too weak to reverse the trend. Nobody has a magical solution to this pandemic but Suga will need to show particularly strong leadership: his approval ratings are dropping fast.

Image: Getty Images

Politics / Hong Kong

Comparing protests

The siege that unfolded in Washington on Wednesday sparked heated chatter and a heavy dose of political spin as China woke up to the news yesterday. State-owned media and Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing camp both compared the Capitol’s deadly stand-off with the storming of Hong Kong’s own Legislative Council in July 2019 (pictured). American lawmakers can “finally experience this democratic violence and get a taste of what it is like for the legislature to be occupied,” Ann Chiang of Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing DAB party wrote in a post on social media.

On the pro-democracy side, reactions were more divided. Many noted that, unlike in the US, Hong Kong protesters dealt with a government that wasn’t democratically elected; others seemed to take heart by drawing parallels between Trump’s demands (however irrational) for fair elections and theirs. Suffice it to say that Hong Kong’s own democratic debate remains tense – after all, the events at the Capitol came just after Wednesday’s mass arrest of more than 50 Hong Kong opposition figures.

Image: Getty Images

Diplomacy / Venezuela

Shifting sands

In 2019 the EU heralded Juan Guaidó (pictured) as interim president of Venezuela in the face of Nicolás Maduro’s authoritarianism. In fact, Guaidó’s star rose to such an extent that he attended Donald Trump’s state of the union speech last year to ringing applause from Congress. But while the EU still broadly supports Guaidó, seeing him as a leading member of the opposition in Venezuela, it has dropped references to him being the country’s legitimate head of state. The reason? Maduro has taken control of Venezuela’s National Assembly this week following disputed elections in December. This power grab has left Guaidó, who used to preside over the legislative body, without an institutional base. He has set up a separate assembly and government but it has no military backing. However much the EU has condemned Maduro’s dubiously democratic actions, it now faces a diplomatic headache.

Image: Getty Images

Housing / India

House proud

Narendra Modi kicked off the new year by announcing a building scheme that he hopes will transform housing in India. The Light House Projects, part of a pilot programme for the Global Housing Technology Challenge-India, plans to build more than 6,000 homes in six different styles across six Indian cities. Every style will aim to pilot modern building technologies that allow for cost-effective and speedy construction. In Indore, for instance, traditional bricks-and-mortar walls will be replaced by a prefabricated sandwich-panel system; in Ranchi, modular houses will be built using a German 3D-construction system. Modi has urged designers and developers to visit the projects for inspiration. It’s a nice sentiment but with India experiencing a housing shortage of an estimated 100 million homes, it’s a drop in the bucket for now. The private sector will need more than just inspiration from Modi for this deficit to be eliminated.

Image: Shutterstock

M24 / The Foreign Desk

Explainer 247: The fight for the Central African Republic

CAR president Faustin-Archange Touadéra has been re-elected for another term. However, widespread violence from militias purportedly under the direction of former president François Bozizé look set to undermine his premiership. Andrew Mueller explains.

Monocle Films / Shimane Prefecture

The master craftsman: Shimada Takayuki

The unassuming Shimada Gama workshop in Gotsu doubles up as an open-air museum of traditional stoneware pottery. It specialises in creating large pieces that are burnt in a sloped wood-fired kiln. We talk to the 73-year-old master Shimada Takayuki about the challenges of passing the rare skill and aesthetic sensibility down to his son and grandson.

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