The World Today for May 08, 2024

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Wish You Weren’t Here


International tourism is arguably the fundamental building block of globalization. Visiting a foreign country, meeting different folks, soaking in the sites, and experiencing a new culture, are for most people the first steps in understanding the world beyond their native countries or home communities, and often make for a fun adventure. Unfortunately, that tourism has taken a toll.

In Venice, Italy, for example, an estimated 30 million people visit the beautiful city annually, wrote Smithsonian Magazine. Around two-thirds of those visitors spend less than a day, however. Their cash helps local businesses. But their trash, demand for amenities, and the congestion that results from their presence have caused problems serious enough for city officials to have imposed the world’s first entrance fee for a city.

Enacted on April 25 – Italy’s Liberation Day, which marks the fall of fascism in the country at the end of World War II, and the feast day of Saint Mark, the city’s patron saint – the 5 euro fee ($5.38) applies to day trippers who come between 8:30 a.m. and 4 p.m., reported the Art Newspaper. The charge has exemptions for students, the disabled and others.

Officials hoped the fee might reduce the burden that tourists place on the city and create incentives for people to offer goods and services for full-time residents, CNBC reported. Today, for example, as Venice has become a well-known stop for massive cruise shops, only 50,000 people live on Venice’s main island. In 1970, around 175,000 residents did.

Still, many Venetians opposed the fee. “I can tell you that almost the entire city is against it,” said Matteo Secchi, a resident, in an interview with the Guardian. “You can’t impose an entrance fee to a city – all they’re doing is transforming it into a theme park. This is a bad image for Venice … I mean, are we joking?”

Venice is not alone, however. Sustainability advocates are trying to slow tourism in numerous places around the world – from the majestic city of Dubrovnik, Croatia to the Asian nation of Bhutan, where hikers go to conquer the Himalayas, reported the Independent.

Sometimes these efforts are broad. In Amsterdam, where hordes of tourists visit to experience art and architecture, marijuana, and liberal prostitution laws, officials last year launched a public relations campaign to dissuade young British men from coming to the city, and then barred cruise ships from the city center. Recently, added the New York Times, the city has blocked the establishment of new hotels.

Italy’s Florence and Penang in Malaysia went further: They banned all short-term private rentals from platforms such as Airbnb.

Some destinations such as Machu Picchu in Peru and the Acropolis in Athens have instituted strict ticketing systems to keep tourist numbers down. “To reserve is to preserve” is the slogan by French locals for the Calanque de Sugiton in southern France.

At other times, officials address a particular issue. In the Japanese town of Fujikawaguchiko at the base of Mount Fuji, locals have erected an eight-feet-tall black screen next to a popular viewing spot to prevent annoying visitors from taking selfies there, according to the Rakyat Post. That’s the same tactic tried by the Austrian town of Hallstatt, which reportedly is the inspiration for the film, “Frozen,” and also featured in a Korean drama: The village of fewer than 1,000 residents receives 3 million visitors annually, inspiring local protests against mass tourism last year. Now, officials are doing what they can to reduce tourism numbers by one-third.

Then there are attempts to address behavior: Some towns such as Portofino on the Italian Riviera fine tourists hundreds of dollars for stopping and taking selfies, blocking traffic on roads and sidewalks. Others have tried banning eating “messy foods” at tourist attractions (Rome), snacking on late-night pizza, ice cream or cream puffs after midnight (Milan) or talking on phones on loudspeaker (Spain). Protests recently broke out on Spain’s Canary Islands, with residents saying they have reached their limit.

Meanwhile, Bali hands out a booklet outlining acceptable behavior to all visitors as part of a campaign to rein in unruly and disrespectful tourists, which has been a hot topic over the past few years.

“Many tourists don’t understand how deeply they can impact Bali with their actions,” I Nengah Subadra, associate professor of tourism at Bali’s University of Triatma Mulya, told National Geographic. “Dressing too casually, talking too loudly, or touching someone too intimately at sacred sites disrupts the island’s delicate spiritual balance.”


Pomp and Circumstance


Russian President Vladimir Putin’s fifth term in office was marked Tuesday by an inauguration ceremony showcasing his domestic power, with the leader, now having been in office for nearly a quarter of a century, more firmly entrenched than ever, CNN reported.

The ceremony, full of pageantry and religion, involved Putin taking swipes at the West: “Russia does not refuse dialogue with Western states,” he said. “(Instead), the choice is theirs: do they intend to continue trying to contain Russia, continue the policy of aggression, (apply) continuous pressure on our country for years, or look for a path to cooperation and peace.”

Western countries including the United States and European nations boycotted the ceremony, describing the election as neither free nor fair. With no credible challenger – prominent opposition figures were either disqualified, jailed, or dead – Putin won March’s presidential election with 87 percent of the vote.

Putin will now have another six years at the helm, when he will be eligible to run again. First elected in 2000 – in an election that was the first democratic transfer of power in Russia – he has since tightened his grip over the country and cracked down on dissent, even more markedly so since he ordered the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Ahead of the inauguration, allegations surfaced by Ukraine’s security service (SBU) which said that Russia had sought moles in the Ukrainian agency to assassinate President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as “a gift to Putin before the inauguration,” the BBC reported.

The SBU said they thwarted a plot to kill Zelensky and other high-ranking officials and arrested two Ukrainian government protection officers, who they accused of being connected with the Russian secret services.

Meanwhile, the leaders of four Ukrainian regions annexed by Russia in 2022 – Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia – attended the inauguration ceremony.

France’s envoy to Russia was also among the crowd, a day after he was summoned to the Russian Foreign Ministry for a dressing-down over French President Emmanuel Macron’s statement that he was “not ruling out” sending troops to Ukraine, Agence France-Presse reported.

In response to what Moscow called “provocative statements and threats” by Western powers, Putin on Monday ordered his forces to carry out tactical nuclear weapon drills.

This marked the first time Russia publicly issued threats of resorting to nuclear warheads since the beginning of the war, wrote CNN.

“Tactical” or “non-strategic” nuclear weapons are less powerful than their strategic counterparts – hence they can be used in battlefield situations.

Pentagon spokesperson Maj. Gen. Patrick Ryder said the announcement did not signal a change in Russia’s military strategy but rather confirmed its “irresponsible rhetoric,” though the US has been bracing for Russian nuclear strikes in Ukraine since late 2022.

Hedging Bets


Thousands of Israelis took to the streets Tuesday calling for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to agree to the terms of a ceasefire deal that Hamas accepted, the Guardian reported.

On Monday, the armed group announced it had agreed to an Egyptian-Qatari ceasefire proposal following weeks of high-level diplomatic talks aimed at creating a pause to the seven months of fighting in the Gaza Strip and a return of Israeli hostages held in the Palestinian enclave.

Soon after, protests took place across Israel, including in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, calling on the government to agree to the deal: Under the proposed agreement, Israel would halt fighting for 42 days, followed by the release of hundreds of Palestinian detainees, while Hamas would free 33 hostages held in Gaza incrementally.

Demonstrators and opposition politicians at the protests, meanwhile, accused Netanyahu of “abandoning the hostages.” Israel estimates there are about 128 remaining hostages in the enclave, including 35 who the military says are dead.

Monday’s protests also echoed with calls for an end to the bloodshed and accountability for the lives lost in the Gaza war that began on Oct. 7.

Then, Hamas and its allies launched a bloody attack on southern Israel that resulted in the death of about 1,200 people and the kidnapping of more than 200 people.

Israel responded by launching strikes and a ground invasion against Gaza that have killed more than 34,000 Palestinians to date, according to Gazan officials.

While Hamas’ agreement was met with enthusiasm in Israel and abroad, Israeli officials said the deal did not meet its “core demands” and that it would continue its planned military offensive against Rafah in Gaza.

On Tuesday, Israeli forces rolled into Rafah and seized control of the Philadelphi Corridor, a key crossing to Egypt and a crucial aid entryway for Gaza, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Israeli military officials said the operation was aimed at dismantling Hamas’ infrastructure in response to recent attacks on Israeli soldiers.

But the Rafah invasion came as Hamas and Israeli representatives were to meet in the Egyptian capital on Tuesday to iron out the terms of the agreement. Analysts told the Journal that the offensive is tied to the negotiations as Israel seeks to increase pressure on Hamas.

Hamas described Israel’s operation as a “dangerous escalation” that would disrupt the flow of aid to the city.

Meanwhile, Israel’s international allies, including the US, have opposed the Rafah invasion. The Egyptian Foreign Ministry also condemned the Rafah operation, warning against any Israeli attempt to expand control in the Philadelphi Corridor, without specifying potential actions.

Paying in Stones


Zimbabwe has introduced a new currency, in an effort to resolve the years-long currency crisis and economic troubles plaguing the southern African country, the Associated Press reported.

Last week, the government issued banknotes and coins of the ZiG – short for “Zimbabwe Gold” – nearly a month after it launched the new currency electronically.

The ZiG is backed by the country’s gold reserves and marks the latest effort by the Zimbabwean government to stop the nation’s long-running currency problems: Officials previously suggested a series of proposals to replace the Zimbabwean dollar, including introducing gold coins and also a digital currency.

Observers noted that it is the sixth currency that Zimbabwe has used since the 2009 collapse of the Zimbabwean dollar amid severe hyperinflation that has reached at times five billion percent. The hyperinflation resulted in the issuing of a 100 trillion Zimbabwe dollar banknote, volatile price changes and the use of the US dollar in the local economy.

Today, the US dollar is still used by Zimbabweans to pay for a variety of goods and services, such as rent, school fees and groceries. Locals often take their local currency earnings and exchange them for US dollars on the black market because banks do not issue the currency.

Following the launch of the ZiG, while officials expressed hope for the new currency as it is backed by the country’s gold reserves, many Zimbabweans remain unconvinced about it, with even some government departments refusing to accept it.

Still, the government is pushing businesses and citizens to use the new currency, including arresting more than 70 street forex dealers since the ZiG’s introduction, Al Jazeera added.

Authorities blame the black market dealing for distorting the currency exchange rate. Despite government crackdowns, many dealers have gone underground and found creative ways of continuing their trade, including using WhatsApp to find new clients and warn each other about police raids.


Big City Lights

Many young people leaving a small town struggle when moving to the big city.

These individuals would be able to easily relate to the trials and tribulations of Englishman Ben Browne who experienced the same when he moved to London in 1719.

His life, struggles and achievements are detailed in dozens of letters that the 27-year-old sent to his father during the early 18th century, the Smithsonian Magazine reported.

“These letters are so relatable, and they show nothing has really changed,” said Emma Wright, collections manager at Townend, the historic Browne family home in Cumbria, England, where the letters are on display.

In his handwritten correspondence, the young lad described his new job training as a law clerk, lamenting the long working hours and low pay.

Browne would frequently ask for money for rent, but also to buy stockings, wigs and other items that were considered necessary for life in the big city at the time. Despite his complaints, he had a rich social life that included quite a lot of partying.

Some letters also highlight how Browne married his employer’s maid, Mary Branch, and the young man’s efforts to get his father’s approval for the marriage. Initially disparaging of his son’s choice, the older Browne eventually accepted the marriage.

Still, everyone has secrets: Scholars have found that Browne liked to collect books, which was a considerable expenditure at the time – prompting questions about how he could afford them.

While the correspondences offer a very vivid view of the 18th-century city life of a young person, they also detail historical events that took place in London at the time.

Soon after his arrival, Browne wrote about a big demonstration by London’s weavers who were “starved for want of trade.”

Historians explained that he was referring to the Spitalfields silk weavers’ protests against imports of calico from India, which they said reduced demand for their products.

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