Friday. 19/8/2022

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Ed Stocker

In the balance

In Italy, the mid-August holiday of Ferragosto has been and gone, people are slowly trickling back to cities and rain has arrived (for the northern part of the country, anyway). Oh, and its citizens have a potentially seismic general election to look forward to at the end of September. For the majority of the campaign, current affairs programmes have been off the air and people have been dipping into light summer reads, rather than heavy politics.

The far-right’s Giorgia Meloni has managed to keep the highest profile. Giant campaign posters greet people alighting high-speed trains post-vacanza in Milano Centrale station and there are dozens of smaller ads (pictured) around town declaring that everyone is apparently “ready” for the change she represents. Meloni had been trying to give her campaign credibility in the past few weeks – much of it aimed at those who might fear her election – by distancing herself from fascism. Then a video emerged this week of her giving an interview to a French channel in 1996, aged 19, in which she said that Mussolini was “a good politician”, before adding that “everything he did, he did for Italy”.

Will it make a difference? So far, not so much. The left is still hopelessly divided and the latest cobbled-together alliance of former prime minister Matteo Renzi’s Italia Viva party and the centrist Azione is polling at about 5 per cent, with Meloni’s Fratelli d’Italia still leading and the Democratic Party a close second. A done deal? Well, it’s still hard to tell, as Italy’s politicians won’t have a truly captive audience until all the holidaymakers get home.

Ed Stocker is Monocle’s Europe editor at large.

Image: Getty Images

Geopolitics / Estonia

Serve and protect

Estonia was hit this week by its largest cyberattack since 2007, affecting more than 200 websites. The context is similar: the 2007 attacks followed the relocation of a Soviet-era memorial, known as the Bronze Soldier, from central Tallinn to the outskirts of the capital; this week, the Estonian government removed a Soviet tank monument in the eastern city of Narva. The culprit didn’t come as a surprise, either. A Russia-backed pro-Kremlin hacker group claimed responsibility. What is promising compared to last time is how unaffected the country’s services have been. According to Luukas Ilves, undersecretary for digital transformation at Estonia’s Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications, “services were not disrupted”. “With some brief and minor exceptions, websites remained fully available throughout the day,” he says. It is clear that a lot of lessons have been learnt since 2007, which is likely to boost the case for Estonia’s heavy investment in technology in order to help handle matters of state – and defend them too.

Image: Alamy

Society / Canada

Sign language

The number of native French speakers in Québec is declining, according to census data released this week. In 2021, 74.8 per cent of Québécois considered French their mother tongue, down from 77.1 per cent in 2016. For the first time, the number of households that primarily speak English in the province has exceeded a million.

The timing couldn’t be more dramatic: Québec’s provincial elections are expected to take place in October and, while the language issue has always been a hot topic, tensions are high after the controversial Bill 96 was approved in May that enforces increased use of French in schools, businesses and healthcare. For their part, Anglophone rights groups worry that the data will only increase language restrictions and insist that a growing English-speaking population in Québec (probably boosted by newcomers from other provinces) should be celebrated. Either way, the response to the census proves that the language issue, which is as old as Canada itself, shows no signs of abating.

Image: Alamy

Politics / Hong Kong

New start

More than 10,000 people were arrested during the protests that rocked Hong Kong in 2019. Most were young and about 2,200 were university students with promising careers ahead of them. Since a national security law in effect banned political opposition, protestors have either left Hong Kong or tried to rebuild their lives. Three years later, this group’s barriers to re-entering society range from half-completed degrees, background checks and psychological trauma to pending trial dates. Project Change offers hope. The NGO is part of a small network of civil society groups quietly providing assistance to these people. Established in 2020 to offer arrested students counselling and information, it started to help them return to education or find employment last year. “We have to face the issue of reconciliation,” co-founder Pauline Sung tells Monocle. “We should give these people a second chance.” After numerous successes finding work experience for convicted protestors, her organisation is now ready to broaden its scope and encourage more companies to get involved.

A longer version of this report appears in Monocle’s September issue, which is out now.

Image: kvartal95 / Netflix

Media / Poland

When life imitates art

Volodymyr Zelensky’s media successes and soft-power plays are well documented. The Ukraine president’s latest triumph comes in the form of a Polish remake of the series that crowned his success as a comedian and opened the way for his political career. In Servant of the People (pictured), Zelensky played a teacher who becomes Ukraine’s president after a video of him ranting to his pupils goes viral.

Production company Polot Media is working on a Polish-language version, Sługa Narodu, featuring actor Marcin Hycnar (who hasn’t yet expressed any ambitions to follow in Zelensky’s footsteps). This follows a recent US re-release of the original series by Netflix and the acquisition of international rights by Swedish distributor Eccho Rights. The Ukrainian programme was initially mocked but has proved undeniably important to building Zelensky’s profile; we’re sure that the Polish version will continue to play a part in his cultural offensive.

Image: Shutterstock

Monocle 24 / The Foreign Desk

Scott Morrison: That’s not my job

Revelations have emerged that the former prime minister of Australia had himself sworn in to five cabinet positions while serving as the leader of the government. Andrew Mueller tries to explain his rationale.

Monocle Films / Global

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