Wednesday. 16/3/2022

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Alexis Self

Against the current

History beatifies the defiant, who stand alone against the might of an oppressor. Then there are those who break ranks to protest something in which they were themselves complicit. To this latter category – the Von Stauffenbergs and Gorbachevs – is now added Maria Ovsyannikova, an editor at Russian state-run broadcaster Channel One. On Monday evening, she interrupted the channel’s primetime live show to shout “stop the war” while carrying a sign that read, “Don’t believe the propaganda. They’re lying to you here.”

Some might argue that Ovsyannikova, who has worked for Channel One for eight years, should have made her protest sooner. But the pearl-clutching against Russia from Western politicians and corporations, who happily did business with Putin’s regime before public opinion turned irrevocably against it, is almost laughable. In the UK, many Russian oligarchs whose looted fortunes depended on the Russian president’s patronage have long been welcomed with a warm embrace, given access to the highest echelons of society and even awarded titles. None of them has yet had the courage to do what Ovsyannikova has. As any editor working for a major Russian news outlet will have known, she could have well faced a long stretch in a penal colony. Instead, after 14 hours of detention without any access to legal help, she was fined 30,000 roubles (€255) and, fortunately, released.

Of course, sometimes acts of defiance are too little, too late. If a grave crime has been committed then justice must be served, whatever the culprit’s contrition. But Osvyannikova isn’t guilty of a heinous crime and her act, orchestrated in order to be seen by as many Russians as possible, will earn her a place in the pantheon of the defiant – especially if its message gets through to its intended audience.

Image: Getty Images

Culture / Venice

Know your enemy

Cultural and design institutions are trying to juggle sanctioning Putin while not veering into Russophobia. In Venice, the Art Biennale might just have found that middle ground. Organisers say that they won’t allow any involvement from the Russian state when the Biennale kicks off next month but will still allow independent citizens of Russia to participate. “For those who oppose the current regime in Russia, there will always be a place,” said the organisation in a statement. The move rightly acknowledges that Russians in the creative industries have long used their craft to speak out against Putin and it makes little sense for the Biennale to close its doors to them. The 23rd International Exhibition at Triennale Milano, a design fair that kicks off in July, is expected to take a similar approach. More organisations should take note.

Image: Shutterstock

Coronavirus / China

Square one

About 30 million people have been plunged into lockdown across China, some two years into the pandemic, as the government faces new tests to its “zero-Covid” approach. Volunteers have been recruited to enforce the new measures in the northeastern Jilin province and southern city of Shenzhen. Streets are also being patrolled by drones and disinfected at regular intervals.

It’s a stunning sight that’s reminiscent of the early days of the pandemic and a sharp contrast to most of the rest of the world, which is continuing to loosen up. Officials no doubt have their eyes on Hong Kong, which has pursued a similar strategy but currently has the world’s highest death rate. Whether China can stamp out cases once again remains to be seen; 5,280 were reported on Tuesday. But half of people aged 80 and over have yet to be vaccinated and China would do better to focus on them.

Image: Getty Images

Aviation / Portugal

Unforeseen delays

This week marks the 77th birthday of Portuguese national carrier TAP but it’s far from an occasion for candles and cake. The airline received multi-million euro taxpayer bailouts in both 2020 and 2021, and an anniversary event at the Museu do Ar in Sintra this week was dominated by soul-searching. “Not saving TAP would cost infinitely more than what we injected,” said Pedro Nuno Santos (pictured), the country’s minister of infrastructure and housing, at the event. “TAP would no longer have a hub in Lisbon,” he later said to Expresso. “The hub would move to Madrid.” The earlier relief meant safeguarding some €3bn in exports plus untold amounts in soft power too. The Portuguese government’s clear-eyed decision to separate finger-pointing politics from essential funding has stood the carrier – and by extension the country – in better stead to weather the storm. Despite the headwinds of a pandemic, war in Europe and a price-hike on fuel, TAP can be confident of staying aloft. That said, it should still buckle up for a bumpy ride.

Image: Getty Images

Art / Hong Kong

Never silenced

Hong Kong artist and dissident Kacey Wong’s first solo exhibition since he began his self-imposed exile in Taiwan opens today in Tainan. Battlefield Apocalypse includes photographs that Wong (pictured) snapped during the 2019-2020 pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong and features a neon sign that reads “Hong Kong Today, Taiwan Tomorrow”. It’s a nod to the growing fear that Taiwan may suffer a similar fate to Hong Kong, where political dissent has been effectively outlawed, civil society has withered under a draconian security law and ties between Hong Kong’s leadership and Beijing have strengthened. Wong is one of many Hong Kongers, including politicians, protesters, activists and artists, who fled the city and set up shop in Taiwan. Although his works were deemed a violation of Hong Kong’s National Security law, he explained on Twitter, his exhibition remains open to all in Taiwan.

Image: Drew Daniels

M24 / Monocle On Culture

Review: ‘Red Rocket’

Red Rocket is the latest film from Sean Baker, who brought us Tangerine and The Florida Project. The film tells the story of Mikey Saber (Simon Rex), a washed-up pornstar who returns to his hometown of Texas City, where he is quickly taken by Strawberry, the teenage employee of a doughnut shop. Robert Bound and guests Tim Robey and Hannah Strong discuss the performances and music, and ask whether Mikey really is as irredeemable as he appears.

Monocle Films / Global

Retail special: tasty tipples

Monocle Films visits makers of sherry, gin and whiskey to discover their recipes for success. The memorable flavours and sharp designs of their refined drinks are a perfect tonic for the year ahead.

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