Friday 20 August 2021 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Friday. 20/8/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Shutterstock

Opinion / Ed Stocker

Turning their backs

There has already been much talk about how swiftly the Taliban took control of Afghanistan. Much talk, too, about the defiant stance of Joe Biden, who had made it one of his election pledges to get the last US troops out of the country. What’s clear – no matter how it’s branded by any of the powers that had boots on the ground – is that few contingency plans were ever drawn up. The only plan was to get out and get out fast.

Despite the Taliban’s assurances that they are now version 2.0 – cuddlier and more open to women’s rights – the scenes of desperation at Kabul’s airport are an early warning of the humanitarian fallout that’s just beginning. The nations that invested a 20-year presence in Afghanistan, including Canada and the UK alongside the US, should be aware that this is the consequence of a poorly thought-out exit strategy and they need to assume responsibility for what happens next.

The thorny issue of illegal immigration has already caused tensions within the EU, with the likes of Italy and Greece complaining that responsibility is not shared equally. Will more refugees try to reach European shores by road and boat in the coming months? That seems likely. Accepting a sizeable number of Afghan refugees is one way to mitigate this problem – although when will a neat figure ever be enough? And any resettlement scheme shouldn’t be limited to only the translators, fixers and journalists who have aided Western countries. The White House has set aside $500m (€427m) and is drawing up special immigration visas for Afghans but it hasn’t announced how many people the US will allow in. The UK and Canada have each promised to welcome up to 20,000 Afghans, yet the latter’s home secretary, Priti Patel, says that the UK’s share will only be 5,000 for the first year as it would be impossible to take that many refugees at once. As for the ones kept waiting? Too little, too late.

Image: Getty Images

Diplomacy / Germany

Power trip

Angela Merkel joins Vladimir Putin in Moscow today for their first in-person meeting since January 2020. One item is firmly on the agenda: Nord Stream 2. The near-finished but controversial pipeline, which will transport natural gas from Russia to Germany and the rest of Europe, is due to be completed on Monday. But many remain unhappy with its implications. “Nord Stream 2 makes it difficult for Europe to appear to have a coherent foreign-policy strategy [against Russia],” says Samantha de Bendern, a specialist in the EU and Russia at UK-based think-tank Conflict Studies Research Centre. The pipeline means that Russian gas will no longer need to pass through Ukraine to reach Europe. “With this new means of getting fuel to Europe, Russia can shut off Ukraine’s oil and gas to penalise the nation without damaging EU relations.” Merkel’s next stop is Ukraine on Sunday. Assuaging concerns there will be no easy task; reserves of goodwill are running low.

Image: Alamy

Urbanism / Australia

Solar system

Melbourne is in a race against time to protect its citizens’ access to sunlight, as new high-rise developments continue to cast a long shadow over Australia’s “garden city”. Last year, during the Victoria capital’s marathon lockdown, Melburnians flocked to green spaces in order to, as deputy lord mayor Nicholas Reece put it, “exercise, enjoy the outdoors and gather safely”. Limited measures prohibiting the extent to which skyscrapers can overshadow public space have existed since 1999. But to extend them, councillors must endorse new winter-sunlight controls before a final stamp of approval from the minister for planning.

The proposal involves tweaking the calculations to account for winter’s shorter days. “We want to protect these precious spaces for people to soak up winter rays,” says Reece. But safeguarding the city’s vitamin D supply won’t be easy. Melbourne’s leaders will need to find a balance between protecting its citizens’ health and encouraging post-pandemic investment and construction.

Image: Alamy

Transport / Vietnam

Keeping track

When the Vietnamese government began finalising plans for a pair of high-speed passenger rail lines – one connecting the northern cities of Hanoi and Vinh, and the other the southern metropolises of Ho Chi Minh City and Nha Trang – the fate of the country’s current low-speed tracks was in the balance. That is until the Ministry of Planning and Investment proposed that the existing 2,600km-long system be upgraded to the tune of €22bn rather than scrapped. The move, which will allow freight and passenger trains to operate alongside the new lines, is savvy. Countries that only focus on low-speed options are often forced to play catch-up later (as is the case in the UK), while investing too much solely in high-speed rail can severely limit services on regional routes for the people who need them most. In Vietnam, a two-speed strategy is sending all the right signals.

Image: Getty Images

Politics / Cuba

Nixed messages

The Cuban government clamped down this week on its citizens’ social media posts – a move that has drawn outrage from free-speech activists worldwide. President Miguel Díaz-Canel has said that the measure, which includes a ban on any statements that the government believes might damage “the country’s prestige”, is part of a wider campaign against “misinformation and cyber lies”. But analysts fear that the ruling, which comes a month after widespread anti-government protests, is really designed to stifle opposition movements. “It’s not a surprise, sadly,” Christopher Sabatini, senior research fellow for Latin America at Chatham House, tells The Monocle Minute. “Some people had hoped that these new voices and avenues of expression could be accommodated but this indicates that the DNA of this government is still present. It is still trying to own the information space and set the narrative.”

M24 / The Entrepreneurs

Nude and Overflow

Much of our personal and business finance is now managed through apps, with fintech platforms available for everything from payments to savings. We meet Marty Bell, co-founder and CMO of Nude, to learn more about the platform helping you invest for a dream home. Plus: CEO and founder of Overflow, Vance Roush, tells us about his career and why he’s making it easier to donate stocks.

Monocle Films / Berlin

Studio Babelsberg: reel deal

Despite the ubiquity of digital effects in cinema, Berlin’s Studio Babelsberg has preserved the craft of prop making. Its lifelike items continue to appear in some of the biggest movies today. We inspect the studio’s stunning hand-built sets and its museum-like archives.


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