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comment ––– global
Watch your language

Lilian Fawcett is learning Russian and thinks that if you want to understand the Ukraine war, then you should too.

When I tell people I’m learning Russian their first question is usually about the Cyrillic alphabet. It is not as complex as it looks. Detangling its rules is another matter. Most convoluted is the case system, which means that nouns (and their corresponding adjectives) are declined based on what role they play in a sentence: subject, object, indirect object, and so on. Even very simple sentences can cause a serious headache. Russian is also unforgiving when it comes to pronunciation. Depending on the stressed vowel, the same word can mean “I pay” or “I cry” (plach-u or pla-chu) – which could present problems in a restaurant. 

The second thing people ask me is: why now? In 2022 enrolments in Russian-language classes in the US and Europe slumped, with academics blaming the war in Ukraine. But rather than deter me, the past year has only strengthened my resolve to learn Russian. Eschewing a language because it is associated with a despotic regime means that we are less able to understand what might be motivating it. At a time when free media is muzzled in Russia, deciphering Putin’s words has been a key part of the West’s response to the invasion. 

Russia and Belarus derive their names from Kievan Rus’ (or Kyivan Rus), an ancient East Slavic state that encompassed a large area of Eastern Europe. The name Ukraine, meanwhile, comes from an old Slavic word for “borderland”, which referred to its position on the edge of Kievan Rus’. Russian nationalists use this etymology to argue that Ukraine is not an independent nation but part of a greater Russian empire. 

This language war is being fought on both sides. Many Ukrainians have tried to expel Russia from their culture and vocabulary as well as their territory. Ukrainian-language names for Ukrainian cities have become the norm: Kyiv rather than Kiev, Kharkiv not Kharkov. But this de-Russification risks fostering internecine hostility, as about a quarter of Ukrainians are native Russian speakers – including my Russian teacher, Zhenya. She has seen friends and family succumb to pressure and take up Ukrainian, a language they barely know. “We are actually doing what Russians claimed we did before the war started,” Zhenya told me, referencing Moscow’s lie that the invasion was necessary to protect Russian speakers (who were therefore Russian) living in Ukraine. Most Russian-speaking Ukrainians are from the east of the country, which has seen the war’s worst fighting and atrocities. Huge numbers of them have now fled abroad – a basic understanding of Russian would help those wishing to welcome them. Finally, some of literature’s greatest works, by the likes of Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and Chekhov, were written in Russian. And while reading them in the original language isn’t essential to uncovering their themes, which are universal, there is a special joy in the play and sound of words on the page as the writer would have written them. 

At the war’s grim first anniversary, language can help us connect with Russians trying to forge a peaceful future for their country. One day, Russia will need to recover from the cataclysm unleashed by Vladimir Putin. When it comes to integrating countries back into the international community, it helps if they can speak the same language.


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environment ––– singapore
Fake chews

Singapore is the only country in the world to have approved cultivated meat – meat made in a lab from animal cells – for the commercial market. The city-state’s tiny size means that most of what its population eats is imported; therefore, food security is a concern. At Cop27, Singapore’s environment minister, Grace Fu, hosted a dinner serving cultivated chicken, marking the first time that lab-grown meat appeared on the menu of a global summit. 

The cultivated meat industry is less than a decade old but start-ups such as Germany’s Bluu Seafood, which hopes to start selling its lab-cultivated “fish” in Singapore in 2023, are proliferating. Founded in 2020, Bluu Seafood presents lab-grown seafood as a healthy alternative guaranteed to be free of microplastics. It has a massively reduced carbon footprint. 

Christian Dammann, the company’s chief operating officer, strikes a messianic tone. “We can take one fish and feed 10 million people with it,” he tells monocle. “That means you don’t have to fish those 10 million fish from the ocean.” After Singapore, Bluu Seafood plans to expand into the US and Europe – regions likely to be harder to win over: cultivated meat is still awaiting approval in the EU.


media ––– turkey
In pod we trust

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When journalist Kemal Goktas was a child his parents used short-wave radio to listen to broadcasts from overseas. Decades later, when he set up his own podcast, he called it Kisa Dalga, Turkish for “short-wave”. Since launching, Kisa Dalga has done for thousands of Turks what those radio broadcasts did for him: brought independent news to a country where censorship is rife.

Over the past decade, hundreds of journalists have been jailed and scores of news outlets tamed as president Recep Tayyip Erdogan unravels Turkey’s democracy. A disinformation law criminalises the sharing of fake news; what is “fake” is decided by government-controlled regulators and courts. The presidential communications directorate is one of the most powerful parts of Erdogan’s court and from its office in the centre of Ankara, hundreds check for critical content in news sources of every language.

Podcasting is a bastion of free speech. Kisa Dalga broadcasts investigations and interviews with blacklisted opposition figures to about 40,000 listeners a week. It’s difficult for censors to scan audio compared to text and the financial might of podcasting platforms such as Spotify and Apple also makes it harder for the Turkish government to force them to remove content. “Controlling podcasts is more difficult,” Goktas tells monocle. “They want to use resources against big threats.” 

Turkey’s podcasting sector is a minnow. According to Ipsos research from 2021, just under two million Turks, about 2.5 per cent of the population, listen to them. But Turkish-language podcasts are growing, with many broadcasting subjects banned from mainstream media, such as lgbt issues and satire. Listeners tend to be young – a key demographic in June’s general election. 

The sector has space to grow: Ipsos identified 4.5 million extra potential listeners in Turkey. “When we started the podcast, our primary aim was not to reach a wide audience but the right audience,” says Fatih Aker, co-host of Odadaki Fil (Elephant in the Room), which offers a satirical take on Turkish society and current events and has had more than a million listens on Spotify. “Podcast listeners are special. It is a community that is open to new and different ideas, debates and free expression.” 


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politics –––  canada
Q&A

Ken Sim
Mayor of Vancouver
While scoring highly in monocle’s 2022 Quality of Life Index, the city of Vancouver was less enamoured with its leadership. Voters booted out the incumbent in October in favour of Ken Sim. monocle spoke to the new mayor about his plans. 

How will you attract businesses offering higher wages to keep up with the city’s expensive housing? 
We need to build more housing and create the conditions for a thriving business sector. We are a world leader in emerging technologies and we have seen significant investment from some leading technology companies. 

Why isn’t a congestion charge right for Vancouver?
We are strong believers in positive incentives rather than negative ones. That’s why we have chosen to support a significant expansion of Skytrain around the region, as well as a wide range of measures to make the city more walkable and accessible. 

Will the ‘alcohol in parks’ pilot become permanent? 
Yes. We’ve seen over the past two years that adults can be trusted to responsibly consume alcohol in city parks. Vancouver is home to a thriving craft brewery scene and British Columbia has superb wineries. This is an exciting opportunity to be able to enjoy those beverages in our city’s beautiful parks. 


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politics ––– trieste
Current affairs

When Zeno D’Agostino became president of the port of Trieste in 2015, the place had an air of the doldrums about it. The decline from its days as the premier seaport of the Austro-Hungarian empire seemed irreversible. But just seven years later it is seen as a role model for efficient public management in Italy, attracting considerable investment and favourable geopolitical attention. How did D’Agostino do it?

“First, I focused on the most competitive aspects of the port without obsessing about what our rivals were up to,” D’Agostino tells monocle. Due to its historic role as gateway to Mitteleuropa, Trieste is well endowed with railways, so investing in this asset was a no brainer; it is now Italy’s busiest rail-to-ship port. The president has used managerial nous with administrative foresight in a process of “insourcing rather than outsourcing”. As a result, Trieste’s offering continues to expand. 

Next on the horizon for D’Agostino is developing the port’s underwater capacities: a facility that stores and cools thousands of bottles of wine is already up and running, and Microsoft is set to store data in the waters of the port soon. “A successful port is not just about shipping goods,” he says. “It has to be more than that.”


diplomatic ––– spat
War and peace

Who vs Who: Democratic Republic of the Congo vs Rwanda

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What it’s about: The Democratic Republic of the Congo (drc) is supposed to be holding a presidential election on 20 December. Rwanda’s president, Paul Kagame (pictured, right), has suggested that drc president Félix Tshisekedi is preparing to postpone it – and implicitly accused Tshisekedi (pictured, left) of stirring up violence to create a pretext. Kagame also hinted that Tshisekedi’s election in 2018 was a fix. This played well with the drc, which retorted that Kagame was ill-equipped to mount a high horse over anyone else’s democratic credentials, having more or less made himself president for life. Tshisekedi described Kagame’s regime as “shameful, even diabolical”.

What it’s really about: There is history here, dating back to the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, after which Kagame’s Rwandan Patriotic Front chased the perpetrators into the drc. The countries have since been on opposite sides in two full-scale wars and any number of smaller skirmishes. drc believes that Rwanda supports the m23 rebel group in the drc’s east and accordingly ejected Rwanda’s ambassador from Kinshasa last October. 

Likely resolution: Peace talks between drc and Rwanda have been occurring in Luanda, mediated by Angolan president João Lourenço, although Kagame declined to turn up for November’s get-together, sending his foreign minister. This row will likely be with us for a while: Tshisekedi and Kagame clearly dislike each other – and each is a convenient enemy for the other’s domestic political purposes. 


The FOREIGN DESK
andrew mueller on...
Haiti unravelled

Late in 2022, Haiti’s acting prime minister, Ariel Henry, requested the urgent dispatch of foreign troops to his country. Such authorities as Haiti possesses had lost control of the capital, Port-au-Prince, which has become a battlefield in a gang war that has killed hundreds. UN secretary- general António Guterres duly asked the UN Security Council to consider sending a force to Haiti. As of this writing, nobody seems much interested.

This is a disaster – another disaster – for the people of Haiti. Even by the country’s formidably grim standards, the past 18 months or so have been a horror show. In July 2021, its president, Jovenel Moïse, was assassinated. Since then, things have unravelled dreadfully – though this being Haiti, they were never really ravelled. And in addition to gang violence, Haitians face hunger and disease.

But the cavalry will (probably) not be coming. It’s not 1915, when US Marines invaded following an earlier bout of chaos. It’s not 1994, when the US threatened invasion to force the resignation of a thuggish military junta and then deployed troops to oversee the restoration of an elected president. It’s not even 2019, which is when the most recent UN peacekeeping mission to Haiti wound down. Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya have dented enthusiasm for intervention in the west, especially in the US, and if Washington isn’t going to help Haiti, nobody is. Added to which, there is understandable reluctance to become too enmeshed with Ariel Henry, an ineffectual leader with no democratic mandate.

But there is perhaps a model for intervention worth considering. In 1999, East Timor was enduring something akin to Haiti’s present suffering, being terrorised by informal militias. An Australian-led military force intervened. The gangsters and hooligans who had been tormenting unarmed civilians with such confident swagger proved disinclined to try their luck with professional soldiers and a measure of order was imposed. Australia and its allies stayed only months before handing over to a UN transitional administration and peacekeeping mission. East Timor today is not perfect but it is in better shape than Haiti. Doing nothing is always the easy option but it incurs costs of its own. As things stand, it is Haiti’s people who are paying.
Andrew Mueller hosts ‘The Foreign Desk’ on Monocle 24


Photographer: Luigi Fiano 

Image: Shutterstock, Getty Images

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