Tuesday. 16/3/2021

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Christopher Cermak

Working agreement

This past weekend, regional elections took place in two German states, Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate. Below the main headline – that the ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU) is vulnerable, having suffered historic defeats in both states ahead of September’s federal elections and Angela Merkel’s retirement – is an even more intriguing story: unusual experiments in governing were rewarded by voters in both states.

Victory in Baden-Württemberg went to incumbent state premier Winfried Kretschmann and the Greens, who, for the past 10 years, have been governing a state for the first time in the party’s history, with the CDU serving as the junior coalition partner. The experiment has shown voters that the Greens are ready for greater responsibility and it could be a harbinger of what comes after September’s federal elections. National polls currently have the CDU in the lead and the Greens as the country’s second-largest party. A national coalition between these two parties would have been unheard of a decade ago but it now seems a little more likely.

In Rhineland-Palatinate, victory was handed to an even more complex governing arrangement led by state premier Malu Dreyer and the left-leaning Social Democrats, the Greens and the pro-business Free Democrats. That such a three-way coalition (also a first in German history) could have held together for an entire legislative period is striking. Its success has national implications too, giving hope to the left that a willingness to compromise could yet see it outmanoeuvre the CDU and return to power.

For many nations the very concept of ideologically opposite parties harmoniously governing together is quite foreign – especially in times of increasing political polarisation. And yet the results in Germany this weekend suggest something that many of us have forgotten: voters are inclined to reward a well-functioning government, no matter the political constellation.

Conflict / Afghanistan

National discord

Last week, Afghanistan’s government banned girls over the age of 12 from singing in public. However, the outcry it triggered has resulted in the proposal being swiftly reversed. Women across the country uploaded videos to social media sites of themselves singing, accompanied by the hashtag #IAmMySong. The education ministry’s claim that the ban was issued in error was met with scepticism from activists who believe that it symbolises a resurgence of fundamentalist ideals. It also comes amid fears of a possible return to power by the Taliban following the US-brokered peace deal and the upcoming deadline for US troops to leave the country. “Recent US peace proposals have allowed the Taliban power sharing and prestige when they should have been brought to account over their continued gruesome violence,” Massoumeh Torfeh, former director of strategic communication at the UN Assistance Mission for Afghanistan, tells The Monocle Minute. “This has had a ripple effect; some officials are already trying to appease the Taliban with a welcome sign.”

Politics / USA

Where credit’s due

US president Joe Biden visits his home state of Pennsylvania today, the first stop on a weeks-long itinerary to promote his administration’s biggest achievement so far: the $1.9trn (€1.6trn) coronavirus stimulus package. The first cheques will arrive at US households this week and Biden is keen to take full credit.

Such politicisation of a presidential response to a national emergency would have seemed unthinkable just over a decade ago, when Barack Obama passed his own massive stimulus bill in 2009 following the global financial crisis. Yet for some Democrats the lesson is that Obama’s failure to campaign cost him political capital and made it harder to get his agenda approved later in his term. It’s a trap that Biden – whose next priority is reportedly an ambitious infrastructure-spending proposal – is keen to avoid. And, of course, the mid-term congressional elections are less than two years away. In other words, the permanent political campaign has officially arrived.

Society / Japan

Early blooming

The Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) officially declared the start of Tokyo’s cherry blossom season last Sunday – 12 days earlier than average and the earliest since the JMA started keeping records in 1953. The announcement is made when one particular tree, of the Somei-yoshino variety, blooms in Yasukuni Shrine in the centre of the Japanese capital. Normally Tokyo’s green spaces would then soon be covered with blue tarpaulins for people to sit on as they revel under the blossoms but this year, like last, will be a subdued affair. Green spaces such as Yoyogi Park are being cordoned off with crash barriers, and signs are instructing people not to gather under the cherry trees. Yet even in their homes people are eagerly awaiting hanami (flower viewing) this year. Aoyama Flower Market, a chain of Tokyo florists, reports that sales of cut cherry branches are up 20 per cent and blossom arrangements up 60 per cent this year. Nothing will stop the Japanese from celebrating the arrival of spring.

Cinema / Global

Eyes on the prize

The Oscar nominations were released yesterday and, in this unusual year, streaming-only films are being considered for the first time. All eyes are on the eight Best Picture nominees, which include the visually beautiful Nomadland; and Minari, about a Korean-American family moving to Arkansas. Here are three other highlights that you might have missed:

  1. In a historic Best Director category, two women have been nominated: Chloé Zhao (the favourite) for Nomadland and Emerald Fennell for Promising Young Woman. Before this year, only five women had ever been put forward for the award.

  2. Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga has been nominated for Best Original Song, namely the ballad “Húsavík”, which might boost tourism to the small Icelandic town of the same name. We’re happy to see that the Academy is appreciating the famed song contest, which organisers are determined will go ahead this May in Rotterdam.

  3. A Tunisian film was nominated for the first time in the Best International Feature Film category. The Man Who Sold His Skin is the story of a Syrian refugee who allows his back to become a canvas for an acclaimed tattoo artist. Romania has also received its first-ever nod and the other three hopeful nations in this section are Denmark, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Hong Kong. We always like to see a newcomer do well.

M24 / The Menu

Celebrations

We feature two businesses celebrating anniversaries: restaurateur Vivek Singh reflects on 20 years of The Cinnamon Club in London; and Mikael Petrossian of the eponymous French luxury food retailer tells us about the company’s 100-year history.

Monocle Films / Global

Retail special: tasty tipples

Monocle Films visits makers of sherry, gin and whiskey to discover their recipes for success. The memorable flavours and sharp designs of their refined drinks are a perfect tonic for the year ahead.

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