Wednesday. 25/8/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Megan Gibson

Foolish gift

What a time to be Belarus. Under the authoritarian regime of Alexander Lukashenko (pictured), Europe’s last dictatorship has spent the past few months engaging in a series of antagonistic diplomatic moves, from hijacking a Ryanair flight that carried a dissident Belarusian journalist in May to more recently directing a steady flow of Middle Eastern and Asian migrants to its borders with Poland, Lithuania and Latvia. This has all taken place amid a backdrop of crackdowns on demonstrators and opposition figures within the country. Many took to the streets to protest the results of the August 2020 presidential election – widely believed to be stolen – which delivered Lukashenko another win.

These actions spurred the EU, the US, Canada and the UK to impose further sanctions this month on Belarus, with the aim of squeezing Lukashenko and his inner circle. Lukashenko, however, remained publicly defiant, responding, “You can choke on your sanctions.”

Yet just as the international community is attempting to pile pressure onto Belarus, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) this week awarded the nation $1bn (€851m) in order to help it tackle the coronavirus pandemic. The IMF decided not to include Belarus in the list of countries with illegitimate regimes, such as Venezuela, Myanmar and, now, Afghanistan, to which the group won’t offer funds.

The IMF claims its decision was “guided by the international community”, which has yet to formally declare Belarus an illegitimate government, but the move has been met with understandable disbelief and outrage. Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the opposition politician thought to be the rightful winner of last August’s election who was driven from the country by the regime, has protested against the transfer of funds, saying that it won’t go towards combatting the pandemic but would mean “more terror against Belarusians”. It’s hard to imagine what a further emboldened Lukashenko might do but it appears that the world might soon find out.

Image: Shutterstock

Diplomacy / Taiwan & Lithuania

Mutual friends

Taiwan’s ruling party has invited senior members of Lithuania’s political leadership to visit the island once the pandemic subsides. The invitation, backed by Taiwan’s minister of foreign affairs Joseph Wu (pictured), continues a flurry of diplomatic exchanges this year that might include de facto embassies opening in both Taipei and Vilnius. Lithuania’s strengthening ties with Taiwan have won US backing and drawn condemnation from China. Beijing has recalled its ambassador to the Baltic state, suspended rail links and imposed trade sanctions, while its state-owned media has published several scathing articles. Amid the usual vitriol, Hu Xijin, editor in chief of Beijing mouthpiece Global Times, makes some salient points. “It is rare to see small countries specifically seek to worsen relations with major powers,” he wrote earlier this month, also noting that Lithuania has gone further down the anti-China path than any other European nation. As countries large and small try to avoid favouring one superpower over another, Lithuania is going out of its way to side with Washington in the Sino-American tussle for global influence.

Image: Alamy

Energy / Norway

Crude discourse

The question of just how long Norway should continue to extract oil has emerged as a key issue ahead of its parliamentary elections in September. The future of drilling became a hot topic after the International Energy Agency warned against developing new oil and gas fields in order to limit global heating to 1.5C.

The effect of that report was compounded by news from the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate, which noted that more than half of the country’s oil reserves have probably not been discovered yet. And don’t expect Norway to be in a rush to stop the cash flowing in from the petroleum industry: so far only smaller parties have demanded a rethink; the bigger parties have been more careful in their approach. Labour party leader Jonas Gahr Støre, who is widely expected to become Norway’s next prime minister, says that he has no plans to call for an end date. Green energy is coming but he believes a more natural transition is possible.

Image: Shutterstock

Politics / Philippines

Playing it safe

The Philippines’ president Rodrigo Duterte has agreed to run as his ruling party’s candidate for vice-president in next year’s elections. The PDP-Laban party is also expected to endorse Duterte’s aide and incumbent senator, Christopher “Bong” Go (pictured, on right, with Duterte), as its presidential candidate. As Duterte is legally barred under the country’s constitution from seeking another term as president, critics view his move as a play to retain power beyond his one-term limit. Duterte’s interest in the second-highest position in the country is also seen as a strategic manoeuvre to shield himself from potential trouble post-presidency, including a possible investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity. The ICC’s prosecutor is eager to launch a formal investigation into the widespread killings committed during Duterte’s highly controversial anti-narcotics campaign and the president wants to shield himself from inquiry – and retain power for as long as possible.

Image: Getty Images

Environment / Global

Reality bytes

As computer servers creak and overheat under the weight of our texts, emails and holiday photos, Silicon Valley is finally waking up to the problems of storing all this data. After last month’s damning report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), some of the world’s largest technology firms have started putting concrete proposals on the table to try to out-green one another. Facebook has pledged that by 2030 it will restore more water than it uses (mostly for cooling data servers and powering algorithms). Meanwhile, both Apple and Amazon have made pledges to reduce greenhouse gases. However, as Josh Cowls, a researcher at the University of Oxford’s Internet Institute, told Monocle 24’s The Globalist, “There might be some unintentionally negative outcomes from this.” Cutting the use of water in data centres can actually drive consumption up, as other forms of energy are used to keep servers operational. It’s important, therefore, that individuals act too. Luckily, in that regard, it’s a win-win: conducting our social lives face-to-face rather than online is good for the planet’s health and our own.

Image: Paolo Rosselli

M24 / Tall Stories

Monte Amiata housing complex, Milan

Monocle’s Ivan Carvalho visits a postwar apartment complex from the 1960s that remains a thriving mini-city today.

Monocle Films / Global

The Monocle Book of Gentle Living

From how to make the most of your free time to rethinking the way you work, shop and even sleep, this book is packed with tips for making good things happen, doing something you care about and finding a slower pace of life that’s kinder to yourself, those around you and the planet.

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