Tuesday 19 September 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Tuesday. 19/9/2023

The Monocle Minute

The Opinion

Politics / Emmanuil Papavasileiou

Beneath the smoke

At last year’s UN General Assembly in New York, Greece’s prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, was at loggerheads with Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, over questions of sovereignty in the Aegean. This year, however, the diplomatic mood between the two countries is warmer, with the two leaders expected to meet tomorrow, reportedly in a bid to reset ties. This, in itself, is good news – but Mitsotakis seems to be aping Erdogan’s favoured strategy of using foreign policy as a distraction from domestic problems.

Outside chance: Kyriakos Mitsotakis

Image: Getty Images

World under water: a flooded neighbourhood in the city of Larissa

Image: Getty Images

His government has faced its most challenging summer to date. Wildfires have ravaged the country, with the island of Rhodes and forests in areas such as the Evros region making international headlines for the sheer scale of their destruction. At the beginning of this month, Storm Daniel flooded residential areas in Thessaly, revealing the nation’s emergency mechanisms to be woefully ill-prepared – all despite the government’s promises of a swifter, more organised system last year.

During his speech to the Thessaloniki International Fair on Saturday, Mitsotakis said, “Whatever was lost will be built back better.” But he also conceded that mistakes had been made by disaster-response agencies and acknowledged the public outcry. He added that, despite this summer’s unprecedented disasters, Greece retains a powerful economic and geopolitical position that allows it to “look towards the future”. Indeed, over the summer, Greece welcomed a series of leaders, including Volodymyr Zelensky and India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, who pledged to boost trade, business and defence ties.

But with climate-change-related disasters intensifying, the country needs to focus in earnest on disaster response. Fostering better relations with neighbouring states and attracting foreign investment might earn Mitsotakis a few points but voters at home need to see action on the ground too.

Emmanuil Papavasileiou is Monocle’s newsletters editor. For more opinion, analysis and insight, subscribe to Monocle today.


Image: Getty Images

Affairs / Europe

Pain and grain

Ukraine has announced its intention to sue Poland, Hungary and Slovakia in the World Trade Organization over restrictions on its agricultural exports. In March the EU decided to impose a temporary ban on products such as Ukrainian grain, a surfeit of which was entering the bloc as a result of Russia’s naval blockade of the country. When Brussels announced last week that it was lifting the ban, the three countries on Ukraine’s western border declared their intention to maintain it, leading Kyiv to criticise the EU’s claim to champion free trade.

This accusation has fallen particularly hard on Poland, whose government has been especially vocal in its support for Ukraine since Russia’s invasion. According to analysts, Warsaw’s decision to continue the ban is intended to appease rural voters ahead of the country’s general election on 15 October. The move, however, threatens to undermine EU solidarity. Spain’s agriculture minister has suggested that it might be illegal, while his French counterpart has also slammed it. A small hit to farmers’ revenues is surely a price worth paying to keep Ukraine’s economy going.

Piece of the action: ‘Cangaço Novo’

Image: Alamy


Drama ahead

Brazil is making waves with new TV productions on international streaming platforms, such as Cangaço Novo (“New Bandits”), released on Amazon Prime this summer. The action-packed eight-part series has been a worldwide success, reaching the top 10 in 53 countries and proving that Brazil can produce far more than just traditional telenovelas.

Still, telenovelas remain a key cultural export. Broadcaster TV Globo has been exporting the genre to about 130 countries since the 1970s. However, it will soon face serious competition from US platform HBO Max. Earlier this month, the streaming company started shooting its first original telenovela, Beleza Fatal (“Fatal Beauty”), which features Brazilian stars including Camila Queiroz. As a veteran of the genre, Globo remains well in the lead – but as Brazilian TV continues to increase its international presence, the competition will only intensify.


Mind your language

Mandarin classes are booming across the Middle East, with Saudi Arabia recently becoming the first country in the region to make it mandatory for all secondary schools to teach the language twice a week for one term a year. Meanwhile, the UAE – one of Beijing’s closest trading partners in the Arab world and home to the region’s largest Chinese diaspora – has implemented Mandarin programmes in 158 schools. The boom is a sign of China’s growing influence as it seeks to make soft-power inroads in a corner of the world long regarded as a sphere of US influence. It also signals the willingness of Riyadh and Abu Dhabi to strengthen their economic ties with Beijing. “The increased interest in Mandarin and Chinese culture reflects the country’s status as the world’s second-largest economy and an important trade partner for the Middle East,” Mustafa Alrawi, acting managing director at CNN Business Arabic, tells The Monocle Minute. “There is interest on both sides, in terms of education providers offering Mandarin and pupils and parents seeking it.”

Beyond the Headlines

Face in the crowd: Greg Myre

Image: Jennifer Griffin

Q&A / South Africa

The release of Nelson Mandela

In the Room is Monocle Radio’s series featuring conversations with eyewitnesses and key players of historical events. In the latest episode, Greg Myre, a journalist who witnessed Mandela’s release, and Niël Barnard, a former head of South Africa’s National Intelligence Service who conducted clandestine talks with Mandela, speak to Andrew Mueller.

Andrew Mueller: Greg, where were you when Mandela walked out as a free man into a huge crowd of people, surrounded by the world’s cameras?
Greg Myre: I was in Cape Town, in the crowd in front of City Hall. It was a Sunday afternoon and everybody was waiting. When he arrived, people started banging on his car. City Hall officials were so fearful for his security because the African National Congress didn’t want the white police handling security – it feared that it would lead to fighting with the black crowd. But the ANC didn’t have its own security forces. Think of it as a sort of huge rock concert with minimal security and you just didn’t know how it was going to play out.

AM: What were you thinking when he was about to speak in front of the crowd?
GM: Being in that sea of humanity was electric but we were squeezed in like sardines. I couldn’t move or get out. This was before mobile phones and I was trying to figure out how to call my office. Then he was at the balcony. His appearance struck me: he was a young, rugged boxer in his forties when he went to prison but now he was a 70-year-old man, looking very distinguished. None of us knew what kind of physical shape he would be in or what he would look or sound like until he delivered those remarks.

AM: Niël, what were your conversations with Mandela like? What did you talk about?
Niël Barnard: He realised from the beginning that I wasn’t trying to be like a cunning politician. I was trying to inform him about the facts and we developed a very, very personal relationship. In the end, we trusted each other. The main way I would describe our deep understanding and even intimate relationship is that we were quite direct and open with each other. And in my view, that is perhaps the most important characteristic of intelligence: to speak the truth and not what you think the truth is.

To listen to the full interview, tune in to the latest episode of ‘The Foreign Desk’ on Monocle Radio.

Monocle Films / Fashion

Why traditional fashion thrives in Germany

Lederhosen and dirndls aren’t just donned for Oktoberfest in southern Germany; tracht has been experiencing a renaissance in recent years with many wearing these traditional clothes every day. Monocle Films travels across the region to meet the makers and retailers who are successfully keeping this traditional heritage alive while adapting it for contemporary tastes.


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