Playing the clarinet on a nuclear scale
Tori Otten

-Analysis-

As Kim Jong-un again edges the world closer to an unthinkable nuclear showdown, the tribulations of a humble music store owner in Berlin may help explain why it's so hard to figure out what to do with North Korea.

German daily Die Welt spoke last week with Andreas Schmucker about a court case pending against him after he sold a flute and a clarinet to three North Korean tourists in 2015. Within a matter of days, German authorities had informed him that he had violated a European Union trade sanction against North Korea that forbids the sale of luxury goods, including musical instruments. The penalty is up to five years in jail.

Five years for a clarinet seems a little extreme, though Schmucker — who was unaware of the EU embargo on musical instrument sales — almost certainly won't serve any time. But what is no less relevant from this tale is the reality that three citizens of the so-called "hermit kingdom" were touring the streets of Berlin.

Is Kim Jong-un a veritable madman or just a skilled poker player?

No, the Pyongyang puzzle is not easy to solve. The sound heard early this morning by residents of Hokkaido, Japan, was of missile sirens, not music. North Korea had successfully launched a missile over the northern island. Although this is the third time in recent history that Pyongyang has fired a missile over their neighbor, the other two times — in 1998 and 2009 — were satellite launch vehicles. This time, the missile appears to be a Hwasong-12, a newly developed intermediate range ballistic missile.

The world reacted quickly. South Korea immediately ordered a live bombing exercise, in a show of "overwhelming" military force. Japan called on the U.S. to increase pressure on North Korea, calling the missile an "unprecedented threat." Experts urged the U.S. government to forget diplomatic talks and crank up the sanctions. While an emergency United Nations Security Council meeting was called, U.S. President Donald Trump — who had responded with incendiary threats after Pyongyang's previous missile tests — released a more nuanced statement early Tuesday.

When it comes to North Korea, the world seems at a loss. Is Kim Jong-un a veritable madman or just a skilled poker player? Should Trump really prepare to unleash "fire and fury" or open up secret back-channel talks? Tighter sanctions or more clarinet shoppers in Berlin?

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Coronavirus

Bravo Italy For World’s Strictest Vaccine Mandate - But Where’s Mario?

Italy's new "Super Green Pass" is great, but where's "Super Mario"? Such a sweeping measure, which requires workers to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test, risks encroaching on the fundamental right to work. It's necessary right now, but also needs Prime Minister Mario Draghi to explain why.

Dove sei, Mario Drahi?

Massimo Giannini

ROME — There is not a single good reason to criticize Italy's new "Super Green Pass", the new decree announced on Thursday that will mandate more than 20 million of the country's workers to prove they've tested negative to COVID-19 or that they've been vaccinated to work, beginning Oct 15.

It is the right thing to do in a country locked in a decisive, long and painful fight against the pandemic. Some 10 million Italians still haven't been immunized and the pace of the vaccine rollout has declined significantly in September, with the number of shots administered daily dropping from 142,000 to about 70,000.

We have written it many times and repeat it now: Against the backdrop of possible new restrictions in the winter, the mandatory "green pass" is no "health dictatorship," but a way to keep the economy open and strike a fair balance between the freedom of a few and everyone's right to health. Extending it to employees and self-employed people is not discrimination. It is protection and prevention.

There are times in the life of a nation when taking the ultimate responsibility is called for.

But precisely because of the significance of this measure, Prime Minister Mario Draghi's silence on it was striking. He should have personally explained this decree to Italians. Instead, the news was announced by government cabinet ministers in a press conference. Draghi's absence was likely a way to underline that all the four political parties underpinning his government, including Matteo Salvini's far-right Lega Party, agreed on the measure.

But surely this is not enough. There are times in the life of a nation when taking the ultimate responsibility is called for, and this is one of those. We stand again at a crucial stage of Italy's fight against the virus, and the "Super Green Pass" calls into question our most precious asset beyond life: work, with its rights and duties. With an entire community of skeptics needing to be convinced and engaged, a prime minister worthy of that title must put not only his signature on it — but also his face.

Support Worldcrunch
We are grateful for reader support to continue our unique mission of delivering in English the best international journalism, regardless of language or geography. Click here to contribute whatever you can. Merci!
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