Thursday 8 February 2024 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Thursday. 8/2/2024

The Monocle Minute

The Opinion

To the rescue? Olaf Scholz (on left) greets Joe Biden in the White House

Image: Alamy


Up against the wall

For Joe Biden, the issue of immigration was always going to be a tough battlefield. Last weekend, Senate leaders thrashed out a cross-party deal to stem arrivals at the country’s southern border but it now looks unlikely to pass Congress. Though reducing the number of immigrants is a top priority for Republicans, many seem reluctant to make any move that would actually address the issue, which they use as a daily political cudgel against the Biden administration.

For allies of the US, it’s the link between this domestic political battlefield and the real one in Ukraine that is causing headaches. Hoping to appease Republicans who were reluctant to continue funding Ukraine, the president bundled up aid for the country with stricter action on US border security. Now, the deadlock on migration has caused an impasse on Ukraine funding too.

Biden will be looking forward to tomorrow’s visit by Germany’s chancellor, Olaf Scholz. According to the White House, the two leaders will reaffirm their resolute support for Ukraine’s defence. However, given that even Volodymyr Zelensky’s emotional pleas failed to sway Congress in December, it seems unlikely that Scholz will be able to inspire a change of heart among GOP stalwarts.

For now, Biden’s only option is to rely on Europe to continue bankrolling Ukraine while he gets his own political house in order. This will be no easy task – especially as Donald Trump has a big lead on immigration and the Republicans will seek to keep the issue alive as the November election approaches. And, as Scholz knows, reforming migration and asylum systems is a huge task that Europe too has failed to do for decades. While the EU overcame its own political divisions this month to approve €50bn in funding for Ukraine, it shouldn’t hold its breath for a similar result on the other side of the Atlantic.

Charlotte McDonald-Gibson is a Monocle contributor based in Washington. For more opinion, analysis and insight, subscribe to Monocle today.


Affairs / Zimbabwe

Choose life

Almost 20 years after its last execution, Zimbabwe has scrapped the death penalty. Following months of debate in parliament and nationwide consultations, the country’s cabinet has chosen to abolish the colonial-era law this week in favour of lengthy prison sentences for the worst offences. President Emmerson Mnangagwa has long been an outspoken critic of capital punishment, having been on death row himself in 1965, following accusations that he had bombed a train while fighting against British rule. (His sentence was later commuted.)

“This is a welcome step that confirms the government’s commitment to respecting the right to life,” Harare-based journalist Nyasha Chingono tells The Monocle Minute. “Lengthy sentences for capital offenders will be a fair deterrent and Zimbabwe can now confidently join the ranks of other progressive democracies across the world that have made the same move.”

For more on Zimbabwe’s decision to abolish the death penalty, tune in to ‘The Globalist’ on Monocle Radio from 07.00 London time.

Off the wall: a visitor at Zona Maco

Image: Alamy

Art / Mexico

Eyes on the prize

Artists and collectors gathered in Mexico City yesterday to celebrate the 20th anniversary of one of Latin America’s biggest art fairs. Since its creation by its founder and president, Zélika García, Zona Maco has become the epicentre of the nation’s art scene. It provides a platform for Mexican creatives to engage with international galleries, in part by inviting curators from across the globe to organise special sections.

The highlight of this year’s edition is a $100,000 (€92,950) prize, set up in collaboration with the Erarta Foundation in Vienna, to be shared between the winning artist and gallery. The recipients will be decided by a public vote, allowing Zona Maco’s visitors to have a say. As the world increasingly turns to Mexico for inspiration, this art fair has plenty of achievements to celebrate and a bright future ahead.

English abroad: Walchwil’s lakefront properties

Image: Alamy

Society / Switzerland

Mind your language

Switzerland already counts French, German, Italian and Romansh as official languages, so it could be argued that there’s no need to throw another into the mix. But English is firmly on the rise across the country – and not necessarily in the places that you might expect, such as Zürich and Geneva. Switzerland’s Anglophone capital is Walchwil, a town in the canton of Zug with a population of fewer than 4,000, where more than 27 per cent of people speak English as their first language. The reason? It might have something to do with the highly desirable homes on the shores of Lake Zug, many of which are owned by wealthy expats.

Across the nation, almost 75 per cent of those between the ages of 15 and 24 speak English once a week. Many Swiss have raised concerns that it could usurp one of the country’s official languages. If the trend continues, expect an intensification of this war of words.

Beyond the Headlines

Image: Jamie Campbell

Q&A / Sheila Heti

Outside looking in

Canadian writer Sheila Heti is known for novels that draw heavily on her life and philosophy. Her latest book, Alphabetical Diaries, is compiled from a decade’s worth of her journal entries, which were transferred to a spreadsheet before being alphabetically ordered. The result is a work that breaks the traditional rules of storytelling. Here, Heti tells Monocle about her inspiration for the book and what she learned during the process.

How did you come up with this idea?
I started the project in 2010. I didn’t think that it would turn into a book. I just wanted to know what my diaries would look like if they were rearranged alphabetically. While I was writing my other books, I began to see how editing my journal in different ways would make it more interesting and even create characters and a sense of a contained world.

What did you learn about yourself during the editing process?
This kind of process works for me in ways that it doesn’t for other writers because my sentences are quite plain, simple and repetitive, so placing them in alphabetical order creates a rhythm. For other writers, whose style involves longer, more elaborate sentences, alphabetising their work wouldn’t produce the same result.

What do you find most fascinating about the idea of drawing on journals to create new work?
I love it when my friends send me entries from their diaries because they haven’t been written to be shared with others. So, when they are shared, they offer a more inward look at the writer. This view from behind the curtain creates a sense of intimacy and a useful space in which to think things through.

Image: Mathias Eis

Monocle Radio / Monocle On Design

CIFF: Soulland and By Malene Birger

We report from the Copenhagen International Fashion Fair (CIFF) and meet brands such as Soulland and By Malene Birger.


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