Thursday. 15/4/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Megan Gibson

Change of heart

Did you hear the news? Damascus is now safe. So says Denmark, anyway, which in 2019 deemed the Syrian capital secure enough to return to and in recent weeks has begun revoking a number of residency permits previously granted to refugees. The decision came as a surprise to the refugees whose lives are now once again being upended – especially those who are now being told they no longer have the right to stay in Denmark. It’s also a surprise to officials across the EU, human rights groups and journalists who’ve been covering the Syrian war for a decade.

Six years ago, I was reporting on the border between Austria and Hungary as waves of refugees – the majority of them from Syria – made their way to western and northern European nations in search of a safe chance to rebuild their lives. In interview after interview, Syrians told me that they had seen their neighbourhoods bombed, their friends and family killed and their lives crumble. But almost every one of them also said that they would have done anything to stay if it had been safe to do so.

Government ministers in Copenhagen who are trying to court right-wing votes with anti-immigration policies have defended the decision by saying that the asylum extended to Syrians was always temporary. While it’s fair for nations to adjust their policies on asylum in line with shifting world events and the ebb and flow of geopolitics, Denmark’s decision flies in the face of reality. Both the EU and human rights groups have pointed out that returnees to Syria are at risk of being arrested, tortured and even killed by the regime. Though it might be true that Bashar al-Assad’s forces have control of Damascus and that fighting in the city has ceased, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that the region is not safe – especially for those who once fled.

Image: Getty Images

Politics / Germany

Crowd control

When does a protest veer into extremism? Germany is asking that very question this week after state broadcaster ARD reported that domestic intelligence agency Verfassungsschutz is monitoring anti-lockdown protests, seeing them as a “new form” of extremism that doesn’t fall into typical categories. The trouble is that, as in other countries, anti-lockdown protests have been a mishmash of groups with differing motivations. Yes, there are right-wing elements and conspiracy theorists active in the movement (new group Querdenker is being closely watched in Germany) but the protests have also featured ordinary business owners frustrated by closures and, perhaps more importantly, citizens who have simply lost confidence in their country’s political leadership. Intelligence agencies reportedly fear that this explosive combination is leading ordinary individuals to become increasingly radicalised and violent. It suggests that the onus is on politicians too: restore trust or face an even bigger extremist movement in future.

Image: Getty Images

Business / UAE & Japan

Watch this space

The UAE announced this week that it will launch a rover to the moon in conjunction with Japanese company iSpace in 2022. The lunar vehicle will be entirely Emirati-designed but iSpace will provide the mission with wired communication and power. It’s an unexpected collaboration on the face of it but one that’s mutually beneficial: iSpace hopes to become a world leader in commercial space transportation. And for the UAE it marks the latest in a series of steps to enter the space race and continue the Gulf state’s quest for economic diversification.

The UAE hopes that space research will feed the development of a science and technology sector, which could ease its economy’s reliance on oil as the global energy industry pivots away from fossil fuels. There’s an even more ambitious plan for a Mars settlement within the next century. If the partnership goes well, perhaps Japan will be along for that ride, too.

Image: Shutterstock

Cinema / Global

That’s a wrap

The news this week that Los Angeles-based Arclight Cinemas and Pacific Theaters will not reopen any of their picturehouses has come as a shock to film buffs. The loss of such beloved institutions as the Hollywood Arclight multiplex on Sunset Boulevard (pictured), in a city at the heart of world cinema, has fired a warning shot to the industry. With the postponement of all but a handful of major studio releases, the distribution of films direct to online streaming sites and lockdowns keeping cinemagoers from the screen, the past year has been an uphill struggle for movie-theatre operators worldwide. Earlier this month, the UK government’s Culture Recovery Fund awarded grants totalling £27.6m (€31.8m) to independent cinemas – 87 per cent of which are outside London. But as they consider reopening after one of the world’s longest lockdowns, only one thing can prevent the loss of more theatres: a blockbuster return to the screen.

Image: Getty Images

Leisure / Switzerland

Off piste

While travel to skiing destinations has generally been discouraged this year, lucky locals in Alpine nations such as Austria and Switzerland have had the chance to continue hitting the slopes at resorts that stayed open. And while restrictions certainly didn’t make for a normal (or lucrative) ski season for many, one area has been booming: the Swiss association Loipen-Schweiz reports that cross-country skiers ventured out like never before. Sales of cross-country ski passes increased by nearly 50 per cent this season compared to last year, hitting an all-time high of 43,000. “We’ve been feeling the boom for about four years and now it’s really hit,” says Mariette Brunner, president of Loipen-Schweiz. The reasons are simple: cross-country trails offer easy access – no need to stand in a crowded gondola – and recent months have seen good snow conditions even in the lower-lying flatlands. It’s a worthy reminder that not everything this year has been an uphill struggle.

M24 / The Menu

Food Neighbourhoods: Recipe edition, Molly Baz

An easy recipe by food editor and recipe developer Molly Baz, who has just released her new book, Cook This Book.

Monocle films / Porto

Making it in Porto

Portugal’s second city is close to the country’s manufacturing heart and that’s why so many designers have made it their home. We meet some of the bright minds in town.

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