Wednesday. 30/9/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Megan Gibson

Dashed hopes

Two years ago I disembarked from an Austrian Airlines flight in Yerevan and began reporting one of the most hopeful stories of my career. Everyone I met in the capital of Armenia was positively buoyant months after the country’s remarkable “velvet revolution”, in which weeks of protests prompted the resignation of Serzh Sargsyan and ushered in Nikol Pashinyan, the leader of the revolution, as the country’s new prime minister.

From government ministers to bartenders, journalists to technology entrepreneurs, all were certain that the problems that had long held Armenia back – namely rampant corruption and oligarch-controlled monopolies – were now firmly in the rear-view mirror. But in the years since, it’s become apparent that change isn’t easy. There has been little evidence that corruption has been snuffed out and many Armenians are still living in poverty. And, as of Sunday, the country’s foremost simmering conflict has once again erupted.

For decades, Armenia and Azerbaijan have been in a stand-off over Nagorno-Karabakh. The contested region is within Azerbaijan’s borders but the majority of its population is ethnically Armenian. A Moscow-brokered ceasefire has been in place since 1994 but no peace treaty has ever been settled. Now fighting has resumed – resulting in dozens of deaths, including civilians – with both sides blaming the other for reigniting the conflict. The UN Security Council planned to hold an emergency session yesterday as concerns mount over whether the escalating fighting could become an all-out war, or a conflict that draws in other nations: neighbouring Turkey is a staunch supporter of Azerbaijan, while Russia has a military base in Armenia.

It’s too early to tell where these latest clashes are heading. But it’s safe to say this isn’t the bright new future that the Armenians spoke about excitedly in 2018 – and that the region’s people so clearly deserve.

Geopolitics / Portugal

Us or them

This week the US ambassador to Portugal demanded that the Iberian nation end plans to install Chinese-made 5G equipment nationwide or endanger its defence and security relationship with the US. The network, Washington argues, would put Portugal’s information at risk. Portugal was quick to rebut the US threat, claiming sovereignty, but will the EU support its decision to stand up to the US? Not necessarily. “The EU deals only with economic issues,” says Hosuk Lee-Makiyama, director of the European Centre for International Political Economy. “This matter crosses the line from economic to security concerns.” What’s more, Lee-Makiyama notes that the EU is extremely divided on the matter: Estonia has blocked China’s 5G involvement altogether, while Germany has put up no such barriers. With economic and security matters converging, the EU will have to hammer out a clearer line or risk more US meddling and its fractures expanding further.

Health / UK

Science and compliance

In the past six months we’ve become accustomed to doing as we are told. We wear masks on public transport, frequently wash our hands and – in England, at least – do our best to avoid falling foul of the confusing messages around who we can meet, where we can go and how many of us there should be; even Boris Johnson had to apologise after failing to get the rules straight in an appearance yesterday.

“We must be really conscious of the fact that, for the majority of people, science is a completely foreign language,” Monocle 24’s health and science correspondent, Chris Smith, told Monocle 24’s The Briefing. “If people understand it, they are more likely to support a course of action. If they don’t, they are more likely to be sceptical.” If our policy-makers want people to do as they are told, they should keep it simple – and relatable.

Transport / US and Canada

Still in the pipeline

Donald Trump says that he will grant a presidential permit to the A2A rail link, a $17bn (€14.5bn) project, that would carry freight and crude oil from Alberta’s oil sands to Alaskan ports. The Albertan government supports the move: its oil industry has long been looking for ways to get landlocked oil to Pacific ports and pipelines with similar ambitions have been delayed in recent years due to protests regarding their environmental impact and insufficient consultation with indigenous communities. But this rail link, along with creating a new supply line to northern settlements, could be set to provide indigenous communities with options to invest in it. Yet as wildfires engulf California and the Arctic continues to melt, any infrastructure that supports the fossil-fuel industry is likely to face fierce opposition in Canada. The scheme will need to pass environmental impact assessments and further regulatory approvals in both countries, making A2A an interesting idea – but far from a sure thing.

Arts / Hong Kong

Otherworldly goods

Many of us have developed a special relationship with our homes this year that, sometimes, verges on the spiritual. Or at least that’s the view of Household Gods, an exhibition by Hong Kong-based non-profit arts organisation Hart, which addresses our connection with the natural and supernatural in our most intimate settings. Starting today and running through November, it showcases the work of four artists in residence – Nadim Abbas, Shane Aspegren, Tap Chan and Wu Jiaru – and features specially commissioned pieces, including paintings, sculptures, installations and audio projects. Don’t miss Chan’s sculptural work exploring the psychology of space, or Aspegren’s sound pieces on the healing qualities of sonic frequencies. “Our minds are still sensitive to supernatural thoughts and feelings,” exhibition curator Ying Kwok (pictured, centre) tells the Monocle Minute. “The insight that the artists have shown when exploring human habits, rituals and emotions offer fresh viewpoints on modern life and the power of visual language.”

M24 / Meet the Writers

Max Seeck

Georgina Godwin speaks to the Finnish best-selling author Max Seeck, whose unique and gripping style of crime fiction is earning him plaudits across the world. He discusses the influence of his military past and the inevitable comparisons to Stieg Larsson.

Monocle Films / Japan

The bold business owner: Takeshi Yamanaka

In 1928 Maruni Wood Industry was born out of a fascination with the masterful carpentry in ancient shrines. Today its furniture is found in the Californian headquarters of Apple as well as airport lounges, galleries and restaurants around the world. We meet the company’s president to talk about the challenges of managing a family-run business.

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