Tuesday. 26/1/2021

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Carlota Rebelo

Danger signs

The Portuguese presidency is a largely ceremonial role but one of its most important tasks is to uphold the constitution. So it should be welcome news that incumbent president Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, one of the country’s top constitutionalists, was re-elected this weekend with more than 60 per cent of the vote. But perhaps more significant was the performance of populist right-wing candidate André Ventura (pictured), who came in third with 11.9 per cent. Ventura never expected to win; rather his candidacy was a trial run of sorts for regional elections in October. Ventura hopes to follow the path of far-right parties in Italy and France by earning seats on councils and in city halls, and building a base of support from there.

It’s worth remembering that Portugal was a dictatorship only 47 years ago. My generation, and that of 38-year-old Ventura himself, is privileged to be born in a democracy and just as the country was preparing for EU membership. But we are also born to parents and grandparents who lived through the brutal Estado Novo regime and know how important it is to keep that cautionary memory alive for future generations. My grandfather was a fierce opponent of the Salazar dictatorship. He was persecuted by police and eventually forced into exile of Madeira with my grandmother and their four children in tow. I was the first person in my family to be born on the island. Back then it was viewed as a piece of rock stranded in the middle of the Atlantic – and a good enough place to escape the glare of the authorities.

So my family know just how bad extremism can be; they’ve lived through it. I don’t want to do the same. Yet we should be under no illusions: the threat of it is very real today. Lessons about how to stop this movement from growing should be learned from other countries. And the media needs to play its part too.

Society / Japan

Games over?

Japan’s push to vaccinate its population ahead of the Tokyo Olympics is hitting roadblocks before the jabs drive has even begun. A Kyodo News survey revealed that 80 per cent of the country’s 47 prefectural capitals are worried that they don’t have enough doctors and nurses to administer the vaccines. And now a new forecast predicts that it will be October before Japan manages to inoculate 75 per cent of the population (the amount considered necessary to hit herd immunity), several months after the Games are slated to begin on 23 July. Japan has ordered more than enough doses for its population of 126 million but Taro Kono, the minister in charge of the vaccination programme, has already disavowed the target of securing the ordered doses by June. The vaccination programme is due to begin with 10,000 health workers in late February and a simulation is being held in Kawasaki this week. But it’s an uphill struggle to convince the public that holding the Olympics is still a good idea.

Diplomacy / Turkey & Greece

Talk round

Yesterday, Greece and Turkey opened their first direct dialogue since 2016 about their conflicting claims to natural gas reserves and sea borders in the eastern Mediterranean. Just last August the two countries appeared on the brink of war after Turkey sent a seismic-survey ship to explore for reserves in waters claimed by Greece.

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s newfound enthusiasm for talks might be linked to expectations that Joe Biden will be less supportive than Donald Trump, along with a recognition that stable EU market access is essential to bolster Turkey’s ailing economy. Whatever the reasons, Erdoğan appears to have a willing partner on the other side. “I’ve always encouraged President Erdoğan to sit down and discuss the main difference that we have, which is the delimitation of our maritime zones,” Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said in an interview in [Monocle’s February issue] (https://monocle.com/shop/product/1904485/issue-140/). “The story goes back decades but we can resolve it. If we can’t, that’s why international courts exist.”

Business / Netherlands

Trouble Dutch

Protests in the Netherlands against lockdown and the country’s new 21.00 curfew descended into violence on Sunday as fires were lit in Eindhoven, more than 200 people were arrested across the country and thousands were fined for breaking curfew. It laid bare the struggle to demonstrate opposition to the government’s measures in a reasonable way. The initial protest was partly organised by restaurant owners, many of whom have a justifiable beef over the handling of the pandemic, including the baffling delays in testing and a stumbling tracing programme. “A lot of people were protesting because they think that the government is pulling down their freedoms but a large number were there to start a riot – and they got what they wanted,” Hans van der Beek, a journalist at Het Parool, told Monocle 24’s The Briefing. Businesses now find themselves stuck between a rock and an even harder place: they face economic ruin but have little way to separate their plight from the violence of the fringe.

Music / Brazil

Shaking it up

MC Fioti’s booty-shaking floor-filler “Bum Bum Tam Tam”, one of 2017’s biggest Brazilian hits, sparked several remixes, including one with a host of international artists such as Colombian superstar J Balvin. But its latest reworking has given it an unexpected new lease of life. Why? Its title is strikingly similar to the name of a key player in Brazil’s fight against coronavirus: Instituto Butantan, the São Paulo-based public institution that earlier this year won emergency approval to manufacture and distribute vaccines in the country in partnership with China’s Sinovac. Now MC Fioti (pictured) has recorded new lyrics: this time it’s a vaccine rather than a bottom that “shakes our minds”. An accompanying video filmed at Instituto Butantan shows its workers happily dancing away to the song’s sleek funk beats. “Bum Bum Tam Tam (Remix Vacina Butantan)” has been praised by politicians and scientists alike. Expect it to be the hit of the summer in Brazil – and with good reason.

M24 / The Foreign Desk

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Monocle Films / Switzerland

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