Tuesday 12 April 2022 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Tuesday. 12/4/2022

The Monocle Minute

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Opinion / Alexei Korolyov

Purpose of your visit

When Austria’s chancellor, Karl Nehammer, met Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv on Saturday, he was upstaged by Boris Johnson, who made a surprise appearance on the same day and was filmed walking chummily through the capital with Ukraine’s president. But Nehammer (pictured, in Kyiv) then stole the scene by announcing that he would soon visit Moscow, becoming the first EU leader to do so since Russia invaded Ukraine.

The trip on Monday attracted criticism both at home and abroad. Sergei Orlov, the deputy mayor of the besieged Ukrainian port city of Mariupol, described it as “unacceptable”, while critics in Austria warned that Nehammer would only provide fodder for Vladimir Putin’s propaganda machine, which would use the meeting to portray the Russian president as a respectable – and respected – leader. Nehammer acknowledged that any personal contact with Putin would be polarising but insisted that, given Austria’s neutrality and its tradition of close diplomatic relations with Russia, he was well placed to talk some sense into the Kremlin and attempt to build bridges.

In a press release following the meeting in Putin’s residence outside Moscow, Nehammer said that the visit was not a friendly one but “a must for me”. He said that he had discussed allegations of war crimes by Russian troops and made it clear to Putin that Western sanctions would remain in place as long as the war continued.

It’s not clear what, if anything, Putin’s reaction was to all of this; he was certainly already aware that sanctions would continue. Nor is it clear what the Russian president will do next. Even as the meeting took place, Russian bombs were falling on Ukrainian cities. Keeping lines of communication open is all well and good but the merits of such a visit should be assessed in terms of whether Nehammer brought home any concrete results – beyond simply offering Putin a good propaganda opportunity.

Alexei Korolyov is Monocle’s correspondent in Vienna.

Image: Getty Images

Politics / Pakistan

Change of ends

Shehbaz Sharif was elected as Pakistan’s prime minister yesterday but there will be no honeymoon period for the country’s new leader. The head of the centrist Pakistan Muslim League-N takes office after a tumultuous week in which Imran Khan tried every trick in the book to hold on to power. After losing key parliamentary allies and his working majority, Khan dissolved the legislative body and called for an election. But Pakistan’s supreme court rejected the measures and, on Saturday, Khan lost a vote of no confidence in parliament. Sharif will now grapple with many of the same issues that plagued his predecessor, including double-digit inflation, an uneasy legislative coalition and tensions with the US. And he will still have Khan clipping at his heels: in the wake of the vote, the former cricketer called for protests against his removal and tens of thousands of Pakistanis have obliged. Elections are scheduled for late 2023 but could be brought forward; Khan will be aiming for the middle stump.

Image: Getty Images

Elections / Nigeria

Southern discomfort

Nigeria’s vice-president, Yemi Osinbajo, has announced that he intends to run for the presidency in next February’s elections but fears over Nigeria’s political stability are already mounting. The problem is that Osinbajo’s ruling All Progressives Congress (pictured) and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party are struggling to pick a southern candidate. With more than 250 ethnic groups and economic disparities between the poorer north and wealthier south, Nigeria’s political elites have operated on an informal understanding to rotate power since 1999.

Both parties face pressure to replace incumbent president Muhammadu Buhari, a northerner, with a southerner – which Osinbajo, the probable frontrunner, is not. “If you want peace in Nigeria, the southeast should produce the next president,” said Pa Ayo Adebanjo, leader of the sociopolitical organisation Afenifere, over the weekend. “Should a northerner win the 2023 elections, it will be goodbye to Nigeria.” The country must find a way to reconcile its regional differences with its democracy or risk a political crisis.

Image: Alamy

Urbanism / USA

Reclaiming the streets

According to research newly published by the US non-profit Governors Highway Safety Administration, pedestrian deaths in the country rose by 17 per cent in the first half of 2021. Chief among the causes, the report suggests, is that too many roads prioritise fast-moving traffic and have paths providing inadequate space for those walking. Local governments need to encourage slower driving speeds, expand footpaths and create more dedicated bike lanes that offer a buffer between cars and pedestrians. For inspiration, they could look to New York City Council, which is calling for $3.1bn (€2.8bn) to build new protected bike and bus lanes, as well as about 100,000 sq m of extra walking space for citizens. Here’s hoping that mayor Eric Adams sets a precedent for other cities to follow.

Image: Alamy

Film / France

Breaking the habit

After a successful run in French cinemas, director Paul Verhoeven’s latest film, Benedetta, enters UK theatres on Friday. It stars Virginie Efira (pictured, with Verhoeven) as a lesbian nun in the 17th century and the Belgian has already picked up a César nomination for best actress. Benedetta’s mix of playfulness, eroticism and violence is classic Verhoeven.

The Basic Instinct director says that the film challenges some of the moralistic undertones of cinema today, for example by including elements of sex and nudity that have gone out of fashion in Hollywood. It’s a daring approach supported by Efira, who was given free rein by Verhoeven to develop her character. “I like that the film is a bit risqué,” she tells Monocle. “In the film I also do things like come back from the dead. I can’t say that I’ve ever done that before.” Who can argue with that?

You can listen to Fernando Augusto Pacheco’s interview with Virginie Efira on a special episode of ‘The Monocle Weekly’ on Monocle 24.

Monocle 24 / The Big Interview

Nicole Stott

Veteran Nasa astronaut Nicole Stott sits down with Andrew Mueller to discuss her time on the International Space Station and what life in Earth’s orbit taught her about solving challenges on the planet.

Monocle preview: April issue, 2022

Monocle’s April issue features our annual retail survey, a report from France ahead of its presidential elections, an interview with Fiat’s CEO on his electric ambitions and a visit to America’s oldest independent art school, plus much more. Order your copy today from The Monocle Shop.


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