Tuesday. 10/8/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Benno Zogg

Border disorder

Ever since the mass protests against Belarus’s stolen election a year ago, and the ensuing state violence, the country has regularly made headlines and a series of escalating diplomatic incidents has kept security analysts such as myself very busy. But this year the authoritarian regime of Alexander Lukashenko (pictured) has taken the national crisis to a new international level by weaponising migration. Prior to Iraqi Airways’ suspension of all flights to Minsk last week, the city’s airport had been receiving several weekly flights from Iraq. Recently, hundreds of Iraqi migrants and refugees have been intercepted by Lithuanian guards at the border. Lukashenko is accused of facilitating the flow of Iraqi migrants into an EU member state as a means to negotiate sanctions relief from the West.

In Belarus the summer has been calm, at least on the surface. There have been no street protests; people appear to be going about their lives, while Minsk’s restaurants and bars are packed. Yet there is a tension in the atmosphere that is different to what I’ve sensed on my previous visits to the city. Frustration and resignation are widespread as the regime has intensified its crackdown on civil society. A few weeks ago more than 50 NGOs were banned in the country. Meanwhile, most Belarusians expect nothing from the constitutional reforms that Lukashenko has promised; it’s hard to believe that he would relinquish power and pave the way for genuine pluralism.

Many Belarusians have all but lost hope of change and see little prospect of a democratic future. I have met many who are keen to emigrate but even this has become more difficult. Belarus has closed almost all of its land border, while its neighbours are fortifying their sides of it in response to the manufactured influx of refugees. Most flight routes into and out of Belarus have been cancelled, following the Western sanctions imposed after the Ryanair aircraft-hijacking incident in May. One can only hope that this cycle of escalation, sanctions and counter-sanctions finds an end – for the sake of Belarusians and the migrants caught in the crossfire.

Benno Zogg is Monocle’s security correspondent, based in Zürich. He visited Minsk last week.

Image: Tampere Tramway Ltd./ Pasi Tiitola

Finland / Transport

Ticket to ride

It’s a big week for the southern Finnish city of Tampere as it becomes only the second place in the country to have its own tram system. There’s plenty of excitement over its distinctive red trams, which launched yesterday. Prime minister Sanna Marin attended the official inauguration event in the city on Sunday and the national media were present to witness the first journey a few hours later at 04.26 on Monday morning. The buzz is understandable considering the significant potential that the new transport system unlocks: the line connects the suburban centre of Hervanta to more central parts of the city, offering an environmentally friendly and speedy way of getting around. Just as importantly, the trams are expected to become a tourist attraction and boost Tampere’s position as a major urban centre.

Image: Jo Duck

Health / Australia

Shots in the arm

On Sunday, Melbourne’s lord mayor, Sally Capp (pictured) quietly announced vaccination incentives – including performance tickets, as well as shopping and accommodation vouchers – making it the first local government in the country to do so. While Australia has maintained impressively low coronavirus numbers, thanks to its strict border control, the Delta variant has prompted several cities to go into lockdown once again as case numbers surge.

The national government has a target vaccination rate of 80 per cent, which it promises will end the need for lockdowns and help to loosen border restrictions. But Australians have been slow to get vaccinated: only about 18 per cent of the population has received both jabs. This is partly due to poor public-health messaging, compounded by the previously low rates, which have meant that too few Australians feel much urgency to get vaccinated. Yet, frustratingly, no other incentives are on the cards. The country’s prime minister, Scott Morrison, told parliament on Monday, “We’re not considering a cash splash.” With Aussies still stuck abroad, efforts to reopen the country must be prioritised. It’d be great to see quiet incentives shouted about – and a countrywide initiative to boot.

Image: Getty Images

Culture / Spain

Protected speech

Are your conversations with your friends meaningful enough to receive Unesco-protected status? If you live in the southern Spanish town of Algar (pictured), perhaps they are. As in many municipalities across the country, its residents step out of their whitewashed houses into the streets every evening to shoot the breeze with their neighbours in the cool, fading light. This custom is so integral to Algar that its mayor, José Carlos Sánchez, is bidding for its inclusion on Unesco’s list of intangible cultural heritage. However, unlike Argentinian tango or Albanian folk iso-polyphony, conversation isn’t unique to Algar, and Sánchez’s ploy has largely been perceived as a publicity stunt – a successful one at that, since people are pondering it. Still, that such an intrinsic human activity might even warrant UN protection should give us pause for thought. Face-to-face communication is both a frivolity and an essential need – one that social media has been chipping away at for some time. Without it, we’re barely human.

Image: Globo/Paulo Belote

Television / Brazil

Best in shows

For the past year and a half, Brazilians have only been able to enjoy repeats of their favourite soap operas after the filming of new productions was paused as a result of coronavirus. But this week, amid much excitement, a new soap opera premiered on the country's largest broadcaster, Globo. The programme is called Nos Tempos do Imperador (In the Times of the Emperor) and features top talent, such as the actor Selton Mello (pictured), who stars as the country’s last emperor, Dom Pedro II. The timing couldn’t be better: Globo is under pressure to catch up with investment in Brazilian productions, following Netflix’s rapid rise in the country. That’s good news for soap opera fans. Also hitting screens later this year will be Um Lugar ao Sol, the story of twin brothers separated at birth, and the second season of the wildly successful miniseries Verdades Secretas, a look at the hidden world of high-end escorts.

M24 / The Menu

Masters of flavour

The three-Michelin-starred chef Dani García’s new London restaurant, plus how the drinks brand Empirical breaks the rules of existing alcohol categories.

Monocle Films / Global

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