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This is an excerpt of our Smart Cities newsletter. To receive the full version each week, go to VIP signup here.
Welcome to Friday, where Russia intensifies shelling in eastern Ukraine, Biden lands in South Korea, and a Mercedes becomes the most expensive car ever sold. Meanwhile, for German daily die Welt, Cosima Lutz explores the sizzling question of the skyrocketing price of cooking oils.
The Johnny Depp-Amber Heard defamation suit has become a Hollywood media storm, with a cast of celebrities and a plot of villain versus victim.
But the truth, writes Catalina Ruiz-Navarro of Latin American feminist media Volcánicas, is far more complicated. Most worrying are the very real consequences for victims of domestic violence that will endure long after the trial's closing credits roll.
In this trial, Depp has to prove that Heard's accusations in a piece she wrote in an article for The Washington Post are false; and yet the trial has been more about proving that she is an aggressor. And it seems that this can be proven. There are audios of Heard admitting that she hit Depp. It seems that many of the fights had to do with Depp continuing to use alcohol and drugs despite being supposedly rehabbed. It seems that Heard was also a rude and exploitative boss and hung out with a group of obnoxious and capricious friends.
It is said that Amber Heard is harming all the victims of sexist violence by setting this precedent of lies, but the ones who are doing potential harm to them are us, those who prefer to simplify moral dilemmas, those who do not understand the complexity of the victims, and those who hide behind Heard to create a hostile environment that discourages women from speaking up in the future.
To say that Heard's behavior is "morally problematic" is an understatement. Precisely for this reason, this case is putting our feminist principles to the test: how to assimilate that women are aggressors and that they lie, and at the same time continue to believe the victims?
To summarize, she is a villain. Thus, Depp becomes "the good victim" because it is easier to see things in black and white and because as a society, it is still hard for us to imagine that a woman can be both a victim and an aggressor.
— Catalina Ruiz-Navarro / Volcánicas
• Russia ready to step up attacks in Donbas: The British Ministry of Defence said Friday that more Russian troops are likely to be deployed to Donbas, while Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned that the war is reaching its “bloodiest” phase. The Russian parliament also announced on Friday that it would consider a bill to allow Russians over 40 and foreigners over 30 to enlist in the military.
• New video evidence of war crimes in Bucha: The New York Times conducted a week-long investigation that pieced together witness testimony, exclusive video footage of Russian soldiers leading a group of Ukrainian captives to a courtyard in the city of Bucha to find conclusive evidence of cold-blooded executions of civilians, and possible war crimes.
— Read all the latest at War in Ukraine, Day 86 —
• Joe Biden begins Asia tour in South Korea: U.S. President Joe Biden has arrived this morning in South Korea, where he is set to begin a diplomatic tour of Asian countries. Biden aims to strengthen U.S. influence in the region over China and Russia, and to launch the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework.
• North Korea shuns international COVID help: As North Korea reports more than 2.2 million cases amid its first COVID outbreak, Pyongyang has not responded to offers of help by the U.S., South Korea and UNICEF. The country has repeatedly declined to accept coronavirus vaccines from the international community.
• First case of monkeypox confirmed in France: French health authorities have confirmed a first case of monkeypox in the Paris region. More than 30 cases have been reported by countries in Europe and Northern America, among which Spain, Sweden, the UK, Portugal, the U.S. and Canada.
• Israeli lawmaker resigns, condemns “harassment” of Palestinians: Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi, an Arab-Israeli lawmaker, has resigned from the ruling coalition, making the government lose its parliamentary majority. She accused the leaders of harassing Palestinians and condemned the violent police intervention during the funeral of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.
• Rihanna and ASAP Rocky welcome baby boy: Sources have confirmed the birth of singer Rihanna and rapper ASAP Rocky’s first child, a baby boy born on May 13. No word yet on the name, which should come as soon as possible. Also, no more showing off mama’s baby bump in fabulous maternity fashion.
Greek daily Kathimerini mourns the passing of composer Vangelis Odysseas Papathanassiou, who died yesterday at age 79. Known simply as “Vangelis”, he had received an Academy Award for his score on Hugh Hudson’s 1981 “Chariots of Fire” before penning the soundtrack to “Blade Runner”.
Germany’s Mercedes-Benz announced it had sold a rare 1955 SLR Coupe to a private owner for 135 million euros (or $142 million) at auction, making it the most expensive car ever sold. The record was previously held by a 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO, which sold for €45 million in 2018.
The price of cooking oils and fats has gone up dramatically. Indonesia has even banned exports of palm oil. Suddenly, what type of oil we use — and how — has become an important question, reports Cosima Lutz in German daily Die Welt.
🛒 As long as there is enough cooking oil on supermarket shelves, discerning chefs make their choice based on taste, healthiness and environmental impact. Now, concerns around production, prices and health implications mean that, more than ever before, the choice of cooking oil is taking on a moral dimension. But empty supermarket shelves raise the question of how people can cook and eat without oil. According to the German Federal Statistical Office, the price of cooking fats and oils has gone up by 27.3% since last year. There are many reasons for this: supply problems caused by the pandemic, bad harvests, and Russia’s war on Ukraine, which has affected shipping routes and stockpiling.
🍽 The symbolic value of oil goes far beyond a simple culinary choice. Since ancient times, olive oil has been a symbol of peace, life and innocence. But even using only the purest olive oil to cook dinner does not prevent you from unknowingly consuming something unhealthy: In a recent study, the magazine Öko-Test tested 19 olive oils and judged 16 of them – including organic options – as “unsatisfactory”. And until the 1970s, only the poorest used rapeseed oil for cooking, due to its high erucic acid content. A significant proportion of the harvest of rapeseed but also soya, maize and wheat ends up as biodiesel. In the context of worsening food shortages, Germany’s Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development Svenja Schulze wants to put a stop to this.
⛽️ The German Sunday paper Bild am Sonntag appealed to drivers’ consciences: “No one filling up their car wants to be responsible for making world hunger worse. We must stop putting food into our petrol tanks.” E10 petrol was once considered to be eco-friendly, but now its green credentials have been called into question because of competition for land between food and energy crops. Oil is fuel for both killing and life. One thing will not change because it is part of our evolutionary programming: Humans love to eat fat because the body stores it for times when food is scarce.
➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com
“No one asked Gene Kelly ‘why do you dance?’”
— Asked during a masterclass at the Cannes film festival why he insists on doing all his own stunts, U.S. actor Tom Cruise drew a humorous comparison to Hollywood icon Gene Kelly to explain that risk-taking is in his blood. Cruise was awarded a surprise Palme d'Or by the festival, where he is premiering his Top Gun: Maverick movie.
Ukrainian protestors stand at Brandenburg Gate in Berlin to mark Vyshyvanka Day, an International day to celebrate Ukrainian heritage and traditions, traditionally celebrated on the third Thursday of May. Photo: Dominic Gwinn/ZUMA
✍️ Newsletter by Lisa Berdet, Lila Paulou and Bertrand Hauger
Let us know what’s happening in your corner of the world!
The price of cooking oils and fats has gone up dramatically. Indonesia has even banned exports of palm oil. Suddenly, what type of oil and how we use it to fry foods, dress salads and process products has become an ever more important question.
Russia may allow over-40s to enlist in military as resources are needed to step up the assault in eastern Ukraine.
After the fall of Mariupol, Vladimir Putin appears to have his eye on another iconic southern coastal city, with a strong identity and strategic location.
Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.
Yet one month on, a quick look at the map shows that many of the worst-hit cities are those where Russian is the predominant language: Kharkiv, Odesa, Kherson.
Then there is Mariupol, under siege and symbol of Putin’s cruelty. In the largest city on the Azov Sea, with a population of half a million people, Ukrainians make up slightly less than half of the city's population, and Mariupol's second-largest national ethnicity is Russians. As of 2001, when the last census was conducted, 89.5% of the city's population identified Russian as their mother tongue.
Between 2018 and 2019, I spent several months in Mariupol. It is a rugged but beautiful city dotted with Soviet-era architecture, featuring wide avenues and hillside parks, and an extensive industrial zone stretching along the shoreline. There was a vibrant youth culture and art scene, with students developing projects to turn their city into a regional cultural center with an international photography festival.
There were also many offices of international NGOs and human rights organizations, a consequence of the fact that Mariupol was the last major city before entering the occupied zone of Donbas. Many natives of the contested regions of Luhansk and Donetsk had moved there, taking jobs in restaurants and hospitals. I had fond memories of the welcoming from locals who were quicker to smile than in some other parts of Ukraine. All of this is gone.
Putin is bombing the very people he has claimed to want to rescue.
According to the latest data from the local authorities, 80% of the port city has been destroyed by Russian bombs, artillery fire and missile attacks, with particularly egregious targeting of civilians, including a maternity hospital, a theater where more than 1,000 people had taken shelter and a school where some 400 others were hiding.
The official civilian death toll of Mariupol is estimated at more than 3,000. There are no language or ethnic-based statistics of the victims, but it’s likely the majority were Russian speakers.
So let’s be clear, Putin is bombing the very people he has claimed to want to rescue.
Putin’s Public Enemy No. 1, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, is a mother-tongue Russian speaker who’d made a successful acting and comedy career in Russian-language broadcasting, having extensively toured Russian cities for years.
Rescuers carry a person injured during a shelling by Russian troops of Kharkiv, northeastern Ukraine.
Yes, the official language of Ukraine is Ukrainian, and a 2019 law aimed to ensure that it is used in public discourse, but no one has ever sought to abolish the Russian language in everyday life. In none of the cities that are now being bombed by the Russian army to supposedly liberate them has the Russian language been suppressed or have the Russian-speaking population been discriminated against.
Sociologist Mikhail Mishchenko explains that studies have found that the vast majority of Ukrainians don’t consider language a political issue. For reasons of history, culture and the similarities of the two languages, Ukraine is effectively a bilingual nation.
"The overwhelming majority of the population speaks both languages, Russian and Ukrainian,” Mishchenko explains. “Those who say they understand Russian poorly and have difficulty communicating in it are just over 4% percent. Approximately the same number of people say the same about Ukrainian.”
In general, there is no problem of communication and understanding. Often there will be conversations where one person speaks Ukrainian, and the other responds in Russian. Geographically, the Russian language is more dominant in the eastern and central parts of Ukraine, and Ukrainian in the west.
Like most central Ukrainians I am perfectly bilingual: for me, Ukrainian and Russian are both native languages that I have used since childhood in Kyiv. My generation grew up on Russian rock, post-Soviet cinema, and translations of foreign literature into Russian. I communicate in Russian with my sister, and with my mother and daughter in Ukrainian. I write professionally in three languages: Ukrainian, Russian and English, and can also speak Polish, French, and a bit Japanese. My mother taught me that the more languages I know the more human I am.
At the same time, I am not Russian — nor British or Polish. I am Ukrainian. Ours is a nation with a long history and culture of its own, which has always included a multi-ethnic population: Russians, Belarusians, Moldovans, Crimean Tatars, Bulgarians, Romanians, Hungarians, Poles, Jews, Greeks. We all, they all, have found our place on Ukrainian soil. We speak different languages, pray in different churches, we have different traditions, clothes, and cuisine.
My mother taught me that the more languages I know the more human I am.
Like in other countries, these differences have been the source of conflict in our past. But it is who we are and will always be, and real progress has been made over the past three decades to embrace our multitudes. Our Jewish, Russian-speaking president is the most visible proof of that — and is in fact part of what our soldiers are fighting for.
Many in Moscow were convinced that Russian troops would be welcomed in Ukraine as liberating heroes by Russian speakers. Instead, young soldiers are forced to shoot at people who scream in their native language.
Starving people ina street of Kharkiv in 1933, during the famine
Putin has tried to rally the troops by warning that in Ukraine a “genocide” of ethnic Russians is being carried out by a government that must be “de-nazified.”
These are, of course, words with specific definitions that carry the full weight of history. The Ukrainian people know what genocide is not from books. In my hometown of Kyiv, German soldiers massacred Jews en masse. My grandfather survived the Buchenwald concentration camp, liberated by the U.S. army. My great-grandmother, who died at the age of 95, survived the 1932-33 famine when the Red Army carried out the genocide of the Ukrainian middle class, and her sister disappeared in the camps of Siberia, convicted for defying rationing to try to feed her children during the famine.
On Tuesday, came a notable report of one of the latest civilian deaths in the besieged Russian-speaking city of Kharkiv: a 96-year-old had been killed when shelling hit his apartment building. The victim’s name was Boris Romanchenko; he had survived Buchenwald and two other Nazi concentration camps during World War II. As President Zelensky noted: Hitler didn’t manage to kill him, but Putin did.
Genocide has returned to Ukraine, from Kharkiv to Kherson to Mariupol, as Vladimir Putin had warned. But it is his own genocide against the Russian-speaking population of Ukraine.