Tag Archives: Irina Shayk

Transparency, International: Five Reasons Why Monocle’s Annual Soft Power Survey Needs Reexamining


Firmly entrenched as we now are in the era of emergent big data, barely a week seems to pass without some kind of new rankings list – in areas from academic attainment to public transportation system safety – being published. Many of these are indubitably worthy, but one of the great recent additions to this panoply is Monocle’s Soft Power Survey (‘MSPS’). The MSPS orders countries by their performance in the arena of soft power, a concept that encompasses fields such as culture, education and innovation, and which deserves far greater prominence, particularly when contrasted with its costly and increasingly insane military counterpart.

This being said, for any index to carry a high level of authority, its rankings have to be both comprehensible and justifiable; on reading its latest iteration (Power Play, 12/16-01/17), we at Mediolana – after some contemplation – think there are at least five reasons why Monocle’s Soft Power Survey desperately requires reexamination (and quite possibly recalibrating):

  1. We’re Number One. The United States (position: 1) has been placed at the pinnacle of the index after a year in which its political system has – after decades of decline – well-and-truly jumped the shark, with much of the rest of the world looking on in much the same way as observers to a car crash. This choice alone jeopardises the value of the entire index, and begs the question: what exactly would the US have to do to rank poorly? In truth, Brand America has arguably never quite recovered from the humanitarian and fiscal sinkhole of the present series of Middle Eastern conflicts; how Monocle can attribute more weight to a Beyoncé album than to (unmentioned) deep structural problems is a genuine mystery.
  2. Oh, Those Russians. Almost as baffling as America’s ascension to the top of the MSPS is Russia’s non-placement – it does not make the cut of 25 ranked nations. Again, this seems scarcely credible: the Russian Federation has won the hosting rights for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, arguably the most potent soft power event of all; moreover, the nation clearly punches above its weight in the news media sector, even if not all its organs are necessarily outlets of record. And in sectors as diverse as fashion (think: Irina Shayk) and education (where there is a serious, long-term plan to propel its HE sector into the elite category), Russia is enough of a player to make its exclusion from a soft power index difficult to understand.
  3. Blood on the Beachfront. Similar to the United States, Brazil (19) enjoys an augmented ranking in this year’s survey – and only Monocle knows why. 2016 saw its elected president removed from office in a manner which can charitably be described as eyebrow-raising; correspondingly massive and bitter protests; and no end in sight to the plague of senseless urban violence which casts a huge shadow over this undeniably beautiful country – and which means that Brazil at ‘peace’ rivals war-torn Syria when it comes to its annual tally of civilian murders. The ‘games’ element in the bread and games formula – soap operas, footballers and an invidious Summer Olympics – cannot paper over these these chasms.
  4. Soft Power ≠ Skiing. Austria (21) is many things – tidy, well-administered, efficient – but twenty-first century soft power giant it is not. A generally stable and functional political system aside, it is in fact a real struggle to think of any heavyweight soft power assets in this Alpine nation’s possession, so its inclusion in the MSPS – just behind China (20), but ahead of India (24) – does little to dispel the idea that this index is, at least in places, borderline arbitrary.
  5. Our Absent Friends. As well as Russia, there are other absentees from the Soft Power Survey which do not inspire confidence in the index’s criteria. Unlike Brazil (with which it shares a number of similarities), Mexico is a rapidly-developing culinary superpower; unlike Portugal (15), Turkey has both a twenty-four hour English-language international news network and a world-class airline; and unlike Poland (25), the United Arab Emirates is a country that connects the planet via Emirates and Etihad, and also contains no less than three global or regional hubs: Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah. Basic computational errors such as these must be remedied if the MSPS – which surely merits a much, much wider audience – is to reach its full potential.

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Is the Royal Wedding a Good Deal for the UK? Five Alternative Brides Suggest Other Possibilities

The build-up to the 29th April 2011 wedding of Prince William of Wales and Catherine ‘Kate’ Middleton has generated the kind of wall-to-wall coverage that only once-in-a-generation nuptials, wars or FIFA World Cup hosting rights contests can. But while a seemingly infinite amount of rainforest has been expended speculating upon which dukedom the couple may be allocated or the attendance of certain Middle Eastern aristocrats, few if any seem to be asking whether the soon-to-be Princess Catherine represents the most imaginative choice of spouse in the present climate. While Kate Middleton will almost certainly be hugely popular – at least initially – in the heartlands of Middle England, the young lady from the Parish of Bucklebury is unlikely to add significant value to the economy of the United Kingdom; given that ceteris paribus the UK is likely to struggle to retain the position of global economic pre-eminence it has enjoyed for much of the past two centuries, this is not an entirely insignificant issue.

Could other brides have offered more tangible relief from an imbalanced, debt-ridden and resource-light economy? Prince William – the Succession to the Crown Act 1707 notwithstanding – would have done well to consider the following potential candidates:

1. Irina Shaykh. Born Irina Shaykhislamova in 1986 at Yemanzhelinsk, a small town in the southern Urals near the Russian Federation’s border with Kazakhstan, Shaykh has swapped a provincial existence for the life of an über-international model with apparent ease. But she has far more to recommend her than traffic-stopping looks: via her Russian nationality and Tatar ethnicity, Shaykh could have been a vital bridge between the UK and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, an entity that is a cross between NATO and the EU in terms of functions and which includes Russia and China as its two biggest member states, with four mineral-rich Central Asian territories completing the present roster. Instead, the 1.78m talent appears to have attached herself to that most uncommon of commoners, Cristiano Ronaldo.

2. Katrina Kaif. Arguably the most eligible single woman in the world’s biggest film industry, twenty-six-year-old Kaif – one of eight children born to an Indian Kashmiri father and an English mother – has seen her stock gradually rise in Bollywood to the point where she is almost synonymous with the word ‘blockbuster’; her career was kick-started by a starring role in the 2007 international hit Namastey London, apposite since Kaif is a British national who works in India on an employment visa. Her status in India – where major film stars are deities in a way that celebrities in Europe and North America can barely conceptualise – means that Kaif could have opened doors for the UK in an economy that Goldman Sachs estimates will surpass the United States in US dollar terms by 2043. She will instead make progress with Dostana 2, a comedy set to be released later this year.

3. Sthefany Brito. A Brazilian national whose first name is the bane of spellcheckers everywhere, the twenty-three-year-old Brito notched a Most Promising Newcomer award from the Sao Paulo Association of Art Critics back in 2001 for her performance as Samira, a Moroccan girl in the Globo telenovela The Clone. The immensely cute Paulista is also a young divorcée, having already married and divorced hyperactive AC Milan and Brazil forward Alexandre Pato. As princess, she could have increased British influence in the Americas and particularly in her country of birth, now the seventh largest economy in the world by nominal GDP and one which is undergoing a social transformation that renders it unrecognisable from the Brazil of recent decades; a future as the spouse of another technically-accomplished footballer surely beckons.

4. Carissa Putri. Of Indonesian, German and Dutch extraction, Frankfurt-born Carissa Putri Soelaiman is the most exotic bridal candidate. The face of Rexona, TelkomSpeedy and Marie France Bodyline, the twenty-six-year-old – an alumnus of Pelita Harapan University’s Faculty of Social and Political Sciences – also has a burgeoning acting career, with her most famous role to date being that of an Egyptian Coptic Christian in the intriguingly titled drama Ayat Ayat Cinta (‘Verses of Love’, 2008). More practically, Putri represented the keys to the heart of ASEAN, presently a bloc of ten member states in South-East Asia with a 2010 GDP of nearly US$2trn and which has concluded free trade agreements with – amongst other countries – China, Japan, India and Australia. Putri is pressing home this point in her current role as Brand Ambassador for Nokia Indonesia.

5. Lena Meyer-Landrut. A high school graduate who came from nowhere to win the 2010 Eurovision Song Contest as a nineteen-year-old, Meyer-Landrut offered extraordinary princess potential. Her genuinely iconic looks and charismatic eccentricity might have revitalised the House of Windsor in a way that little else could; her bloodline (Hungarian nobility) and nationality (German) made her a perfect fit for a family whose original name is Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. But even more attractive than this: the chance to anchor the United Kingdom to Europe’s powerhouse economy, the land of the mittelstand, the exporter’s exporter. This missed opportunity will become all the more apparent if Meyer-Landrut bags the 2011 Eurovision title, an occurrence that is almost as certain as William and Kate getting married.

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