Tuesday. 9/2/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Fernando Augusto Pacheco

Facing the music

We have a saying in Brazil that the new year only starts after Carnival ends. This time last year, Brazilians were busy partying away in the lead-up to the traditional Carnival season. The week-long revelry seems to expand every year; pre-Carnival parties have become almost as exciting as the real thing, which, without the current restrictions, would be beginning on Friday. Among my friends I am among the least “Carnivalesque” but I still enjoy staying up late and watching the incredibly beautiful performances of the country’s best samba schools on television – the days off are welcome too.

On a trip to São Paulo at the turn of the year, I caught a sneak peek of some gigantic floats while driving past the hangar of a samba school. Sadly these floats will have to wait another year to be seen. This year there will be no samba schools performing in the sambódromo, no block parties on the streets and no costumes. It all represents a huge hit to the Brazilian economy: the newspaper Folha de São Paulo estimates that without the celebrations the country will lose 8bn reais (€1.2bn).

There will no doubt be online events this week but, it must be said, it is impossible to translate Carnival into a virtual format. The main ingredients of the event that defines Brazil are sweat, love, fun and communal celebration. I’ve found myself gaining a newfound appreciation for it; I hope that Carnival will never be cancelled again. And that means improving my hip-shaking moves in time for next year’s festivities.

Image: Alamy

Diplomacy / USA

Rights club

US secretary of state Antony Blinken (pictured) announced yesterday that the US will seek to rejoin the Human Rights Council (HRC) when a new batch of members is elected later this year. The UN institution currently counts among its members Russia and China, two nations under pressure this week for, respectively, the detention of opposition leader Alexei Navalny and the alleged torture of Uighur Muslims. The decision is part of an effort by President Biden to reassert US global leadership by rejoining international institutions that the Trump administration argued were biased and no longer worthy of US participation. While it’s hard to question Biden’s move to rejoin an international agency such as the World Health Organization (surely even inept co-operation on global health is better than none at all), the Geneva-based HRC deserves more scrutiny. At Monocle, we’re all in favour of diplomacy but, if serial human-rights abusers are not ejected from the HRC, it’s worth questioning whether US-led reform efforts will help.

Image: Alamy

Politics / Pacific

Family feud

A diplomatic storm is raging in the Pacific and it threatens to destroy the remote region’s hard-won political unity. Palau, an archipelago of some 18,000 souls, has quit the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) over a dispute about who should lead the intergovernmental body. A split vote at last week’s annual meeting saw Henry Puna, a Polynesian and former prime minister of the Cook Islands, become PIF’s new secretary-general. Puna edged out Gerald Zackios from the Marshall Islands, a rival candidate put forward by the five Micronesian nations, including Palau (pictured).

The vote broke with its informal tradition of revolving leadership: the Micronesians claim that it was their turn to lead the group of 18 nations and that more countries could follow Palau out the door. Pacific nations often refer to themselves as one large family, which strives for regional harmony and is committed to collective action. The way in which the region weathers this latest crisis will show how strong those bonds truly are.

Image: Getty Images

Hospitality / Spain

Recovery rooms

Barcelona’s mayor Ada Colau is proposing a permanent ban on room rentals of fewer than 30 days, an extension of a temporary ban imposed over the summer. It’s the culmination of a long-running battle against the likes of Airbnb to stem the transformation of housing into holiday lets. In 2011 the city introduced mandatory licences for apartments offering short-term stays; the granting of new licences was then frozen in 2014, and in 2018 a new ID system was implemented to verify whether apartments listed on holiday-rental sites were complying with regulations. According to Mayor Colao, none of this was enough as apartments still falsely claimed to be “hosted” by a live-in landlord. But while Barcelona may need to tackle housing shortages and curb rising rents, now seems a strange time to institute a ban. Home-stay rentals will no doubt be crucial to reviving tourism this year; cities should be careful not to make the sector’s recovery more difficult than it needs to be.

Image: Alamy

Culture / Japan

Guiding star

Never let it be said that ancient institutions can’t move with the times. Daigoji (pictured), a Buddhist temple in Kyoto dating back more than 1,100 years, is partnering with a Japanese satellite developer to launch a tiny temple into space. If all goes to plan, Gounji, the miniature shrine, will set off in 2023. The purpose of the ambitious project is to create a borderless temple, complete with a diminutive Buddha statue and mandalas, that will be “open” to anyone in the world. Requests can be sent via the Gounji website and priests at Daigoji will hold special services to send prayers up to the satellite. They will also be praying about a range of global issues, from overcoming environmental disasters to epidemics. The satellite, which is being developed by Terra Space, will orbit Earth every few hours and followers can track when it will be in range for worship. Fundraising for the project is now underway.

Image: Shutterstock

M24 / The Foreign Desk

Who is the ‘international community’?

Last week the military in Myanmar seized control of the country and detained its elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, along with other politicians. The international community responded with condemnation and threats of consequences. But what do we actually mean by “the international community”? What power does it have? And do Myanmar’s generals – or anyone else – really care what it thinks? Andrew Mueller is joined by Aye Min Thant, Daniel Russel and Paul Rogers.

Monocle Films / Sweden

Sweden’s Arctic: green innovation

Norrbotten in Sweden is blessed with natural resources but more recently has been turning heads because of its growing roster of innovative start-ups. We bear witness to the region's effort to change heavy industries into clean businesses.

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