Thursday. 6/1/2022

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Column / Chiara Rimella

Seats of power

For many, he remains the butt of jokes – not only about Italian politics but also the country in general. However, Silvio Berlusconi has once again proved himself to be undefeatable. The much-derided former prime minister is currently being considered by some as a potential candidate for the role of president, a figure chosen by parliament to guarantee national unity and ensure respect for the constitution. That such a controversial man should be in the running for the republic’s most venerated office speaks volumes about how divisive (and inconclusive) the search for a plausible name has been so far.

This is undoubtedly why many in parliament have now set their sights on an altogether different candidate: Mario Draghi (pictured). As the former head of the European Central Bank and current prime minister, “super Mario” has already achieved the seemingly impossible feat of herding a coalition of stray political cats into a workable government. Politicians can’t put themselves forward for the role; they must be chosen by at least two thirds of MPs in an anonymous vote. But despite not officially having thrown his hat into the ring, he has clearly signalled that he would be available should duty call.

But would swapping roles really be a smart move? Yes, taking the president’s sash would ensure that Draghi remains at the forefront of politics for another seven years, rather than being ousted at the end of this term. But vacating his current role would only give way to another frustrating game of musical chairs. There are few, if any, who would be able to reunite the present coalition and thereby avoid yet another potentially fractious general election. In Draghi, Italy has found a solution with which to bolster its economy and international standing – but it must be wary of using the same plaster on all of its wounds.

Image: Shutterstock

Politics / France

Emmerder, most foul?

Emmanuel Macron has received a vociferous backlash from right-wing presidential rivals after he said yesterday that his aim was to “emmerder”, or “piss off”, the non-vaccinated. The row has brought to a head his government’s increasingly no-nonsense approach to the five million citizens still avoiding inoculation. National Rally leader Marine Le Pen wrote, “Macron will always go further in his contempt and liberticidal measures,” while far-right candidate Éric Zemmour described the president’s statement as “the admitted, accepted cruelty that parades in front of the despised French people”. Under France’s health passport system, citizens currently require proof of either a negative PCR test or vaccination to enter venues including restaurants, cafés and cinemas. A proposed amendment will remove the option to test and exclusively allow entry to the vaccinated from 15 January. Detractors insist that Macron’s attitude proves his unsuitability for office. But taking a firm line for the good of his country, rather than capitulating to appease the ill-informed, will look like leadership to many. April’s elections will show whether France agrees.

Image: Getty Images

Politics / Lithuania

Regional delicacy

Lithuania’s president Gitanas Nausėda has caused a political storm by saying that it was a “mistake” to allow Taiwan to open a representative office in Vilnius (pictured). The opening of the branch in November prompted an angry reaction from Beijing, which recalled its ambassador and downgraded diplomatic relations, preventing the issuing of visas and blocking imports from the Baltic country. Though Taiwan has more than 20 such offices in other countries, the branch in Vilnius is the only embassy in Europe under the nation’s own name, rather than that of its capital city, Taipei.

President Nausėda now seems to be putting the blame on his own government, who, he says, had not consulted him about the plan. Nonetheless, Taiwan still hopes that its budding relationship with Lithuania will survive. Its latest show of gratitude involved buying 20,000 bottles of Lithuanian rum that were destined for China but seemed likely to be blocked by customs. But not even this (literally) heartwarming gesture is likely to be enough to counter Chinese intimidation.

Image: Alamy

Society / Canada

Cost of contrition

In the better-late-than-never category of news, Canada’s government has agreed to pay CA$40bn (€27.8bn) compensation to indigenous survivors of the country’s child welfare system. For many years, First Nations children were forcibly removed from their families and sent to schools, such as the former Old Sun Residential School (pictured), that were often culturally insensitive and abusive, or else funnelled into foster care. The agreement comes after decades of advocacy and a 15-year legal battle against the federal government which, though it expressed contrition for past abuses, opposed the distribution of funds. If the agreement is ratified, the Assembly of First Nations estimates that 200,000 people could be eligible for a share of the CA$20bn (€13.9bn) that will be allocated to individuals. The same amount will be used to fund long-term reform of the child welfare system, including support for 18 to 25-year-olds who leave foster care. It’s something that many countries would do well to emulate.

Image: Getty Images

Fishing / Japan

Masters of the tunaverse

Yesterday saw Japan’s much-celebrated first tuna auction of 2022 (pictured). Held in Tokyo’s vast Toyosu market, the annual event never fails to make front pages in a country where tuna is not only a staple of most people’s diets but the fishing industry is a cherished cornerstone of the economy. By the time the bell was rung to signal the start of the auction at 05.00, the market was filled with restaurant owners and private chefs desperate to get the first fish of the day. That honour went to a 211kg bluefin from Oma, a famous tuna-fishing port in Aomori in the far north of Honshu, which was snapped up for ¥16.9m (€130,000). How much traders are willing to spend on a big tuna is often seen as a barometer of the health of the fishing industry and hospitality sector. If so, it looks set to be a year of net gains for fishermen and sushi chefs.

M24 / Food neighbourhoods

Recipe edition, Esra Muslu

A delicious aubergine recipe by the woman behind London’s new Zahter restaurant.

Monocle Films / Greece

Athens: urban inspiration

Athenians have a knack for injecting pockets of greenery and a sense of innovation into their ancient city. Their urban interventions are aimed at cooling down this dense metropolis and safeguarding its sacred sights as much as the neighbourhood life. We climb its seven hills to get a fresh perspective on the city’s charms.

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