Tuesday. 23/2/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Gwen Robinson

Tough talk

Myanmar’s protesters are rapidly becoming known for angry but creative demonstrations. The country ground to a halt yesterday as hundreds of thousands of people thronged streets throughout Myanmar in a general strike marking three weeks since the 1 February military coup. The Burmese attach special significance to numbers and “2222021” (for 22 February 2021) has been adopted as a leitmotif in numerous posters and social media posts, intended to echo the spirit of the “8888” uprising on 8 August, 1988, which was brutally suppressed by military forces.

At the time of going to press, security forces had made arrests but refrained from violence, despite warnings of force and a more ruthless display at the weekend in Mandalay, where security forces moved on striking shipyard workers, shooting at least two dead and injuring about 20 others. That incident followed the first death of a protester last week, a young woman shot by police in the capital Naypyidaw. Crowds flocked to her funeral on Sunday. Some young protestors featured in televised rallies yesterday spoke of their determination to resist “until the end”. Demonstrating alongside students are grannies and street vendors as well as hundreds of thousands of civil servants who have walked out of their jobs since the coup. The junta is also imposing nightly internet blackouts but, as with the demonstrations, protesters are showing resourcefulness in getting around internet firewalls.

Meanwhile, international responses include the imposition of sanctions by the US and other countries on Myanmar’s junta leaders and condemnations of the putsch from governments around the world, including unusually strong statements by fellow members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Singapore called the violence against protestors “inexcusable”. Japan, one of Myanmar’s biggest investors, toughened its initially cautious tone, expressing “grave concern” and calling for the restoration of democracy. Japanese beer giant Kirin announced that it was withdrawing from a joint venture with the military-owned MEHL. Such collective action across diplomacy, businesses and civil protests might – just might – convince the junta to rethink its approach.

Image: Shutterstock

Defence / DRC & Italy

Dangerous liaison

Yesterday’s death of Luca Attanasio, Italy’s ambassador to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), marks a dark episode in Italian foreign policy. Attanasio and two other men were killed when a UN convoy, part of a World Food Programme mission, was ambushed in eastern DRC. Having worked in Bern, Casablanca and Abuja before being posted to Kinshasa, Attanasio won the Nassiriya peace prize in 2020 for his efforts. In a recent interview he said that he knew that the ambassador’s job could be dangerous but that it was necessary to “set an example”. He is not the first Italian diplomat to be killed on a mission: in 1990, the ambassador to the Ivory Coast was murdered in Abidjan. Italy confirmed its strategic commitment to the sub-Saharan region in 2020, contributing military personnel to the European Takuba task force in the Sahel as well as renewing its participation in missions in the Gulf of Guinea and the Horn of Africa. Attanasio’s murder is a reminder of Italy’s deep involvement in the continent, as well as the human cost of such commitments.

Image: Shutterstock

Politics / USA

Mutual friends

At Donald Trump’s inauguration in 2017 both he and his predecessor, Barack Obama, stopped to greet Bob Dole as they left the ceremony. And in another sign of Dole’s cross-party clout, Joe Biden (pictured, on left, with Dole) visited the former senator’s Watergate residence in Washington this weekend, after news of his advanced lung-cancer diagnosis.

Now 97, Dole is a Second World War veteran and GOP old-timer in every sense: a member of the US Senate for 27 years, where he was majority leader for a time, he was the Republican Party’s nominee to take on Bill Clinton in 1996, losing soundly. He’s also proof that US politicians from both sides of the divide can talk to each other. Though Biden’s visit might seem very normal – here are two career politicians who overlapped in Washington for decades – it also sends a strong message after so much polarisation: you can care about someone, even if you don’t agree with them.

Image: Getty Images

F&B / UK

No time at the bar

Boris Johnson has laid out a slow and steady approach to the UK’s bleary-eyed emergence from six weeks of strict lockdown. The prime minister announced yesterday that schools will reopen in early March but shops must wait another month, while that most beloved of British institutions, the pub, will have to wait even longer. The nation’s watering holes will be able to open outdoor areas no earlier than 12 April and indoors no earlier than mid-May. UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said that the industry was “devastated” by the delay and that “a major package of financial support is imperative if hospitality is to survive”. Many pubs’ struggles pre-date the pandemic and, as hospitality is among the country’s most heavily taxed sectors, it deserves a shot in the arm from the government. The industry lost 650,000 jobs last year and its return to normality could be crucial to the UK’s economic recovery. It’s tough that the opening of pubs has been delayed; care should also be taken to ensure that as many as possible survive long enough to welcome punters again.

Image: Getty Images

Culture / Brazil

Striking portrait

When thinking of Brazil, Pelé would have been, for a long time, the first person who came to mind. But the footballing legend (pictured) has become more reclusive recently and rarely gives interviews. That is what makes Netflix documentary Pelé so fascinating. Directors David Tryhorn and Ben Nicholas spoke to the three-time World Cup winner at length for the film, which is out today. “He lights up a room when he comes in,” says Tryhorn. This look at Pelé’s life is, on the whole, positive and contains some incredible early footage of his first World Cup win in 1958. But it also addresses his uneasy relationship with Brazil’s dictatorship, which ruled the country for 21 years from 1964. Pelé was criticised by some for staying silent when many in the country expected him to take a stance. But Tryhorn notes the severity of the repercussions for criticising the dictatorship and the fact that the footballer was just 23 when it began. To this day, Pelé remains an apolitical figure but there is no doubting his footballing legacy.

Listen to the full interview with the directors of ‘Pelé’ on today’s edition of The Briefing on Monocle 24

M24 / The Entrepreneurs

Eureka 232: Mother Root

Bethan Higson founded Mother Root, a London-based aperitif brand, from her Peckham kitchen. The company’s first product, the all-natural Ginger Switchel, is a revival of a traditional mixture dating back to the 1700s, made from ginger, honey, apple-cider vinegar and chilli. Higson used her experience in the wine business to partner with restaurants and retailers in her neighbourhood.

Monocle Films / Turkey

Building a place for culture

We visit a Kengo Kuma-designed art museum in Eskisehir that’s set to become Turkey’s new cultural hotspot.

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