Tuesday. 4/1/2022

The Monocle Minute

Image: Stefan Ruiz

Opinion / Christopher Cermak

Meet in the middle

Where has diplomacy gone? For all our talk of upholding decency and values-led diplomacy in the West, it feels as though we’ve fallen further away from our goals. Last year was meant to be the year that it all changed. The US would be back promoting the rules-based system and all of us – governments, the media, civil society and ordinary citizens – could begin to heal our fractured nations. And yet it’s not just in the US that people seem to be at each other’s throats, with little room left for compromise or understanding.

From individuals to superpowers, China to the US and Europe, we’re polarising into separate camps that have little capacity to reach a consensus. We’re all standing up for what we believe in but seem determined to bludgeon our opponents into submission in the process. It feels as though we have little choice: how do you respond to flagrant human rights abuses in China, rule of law violations in Hungary and Poland, or anti-vaxxers in the US and Europe, if not with an uncompromising and undiplomatic stance? Surely we can’t just keep talking and letting them get away with it? There’s misinformation, populism and autocracies. And to top it all off, frankly, after the year we’ve all had, we’re just tired. We don’t have the energy to reach out, understand and mediate disputes in our families, communities or nations. They’re not going to understand; better to punish the other side and hive ourselves off. We need a bit of self care right now anyway.

This isn’t really a column of answers (“They never are”, I hear you say) but somehow the approach has to change. The work of diplomacy, of mediation, of compromise, is hard. And it’s become even more difficult as our world splits into parallel versions of the same reality. So maybe this column is just a nod to those – the UN and its secretary general Antonio Guterres (pictured, read my interview with him from last year here), the peace mediators, the compromising politicians and community activists – who are still doggedly trying to reconcile differences. When so many of us seem to have given up trying, let’s salute the people and organisations who are still looking for answers to end our polarisation, and reach across the aisle with a helping hand.

Image: Alamy

Defence / Nato & Russia

Noisy neighbour

The Kremlin has warned both Finland and Sweden against joining Nato as tensions continue to rise between the military alliance and Russia. Helsinki and Stockholm pursued a policy of neutrality throughout the cold war but Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and Moscow’s decision to send tens of thousands of troops to the border with Ukraine have angered policymakers in both capitals. In recent days, Finland’s president, Sauli Niinistö (pictured), has even refused to rule out applying for Nato membership. “The expansion of Nato has been discussed for many years and Russia’s typical response is to threaten both Sweden and Finland,” Mark Galeotti, author of the forthcoming The Weaponisation of Everything: A Field Guide to the New Way of War, tells The Monocle Minute. While there’s little real risk of a military invasion of Finland or Sweden, what matters is the message sent by keeping the door to Nato membership open. “It is a political rebuke to Moscow for its heavy-handed approach in Ukraine,” adds Galeotti.

For more on this story, tune in to today’s edition of ‘The Briefing’ on Monocle 24.

Image: Alamy

Economy / France

Home boost

Perhaps it should come as no surprise that we’re thinking more about our homes, given that we’re spending more time there than we once did. In France this has translated into record sales and prices for 2021. It follows an anomalous 2020, when eight weeks of lockdown hampered sales. Last year, France’s median house price climbed 7.7 per cent to €267,524, a rise in prices for the seventh consecutive year, coupled with record amounts of borrowing due to low interest rates. The exodus of people from the centre of Paris has gathered steam, with movements towards the suburbs and other main cities; Brittany (pictured) in particular saw a big jump in house and apartment prices. People also want to sell property as quickly as possible: it took an average of 80 days to complete in 2021, compared to 91 the previous year. A clear sign of the times – and of the importance of finding your ideal home.

Image: New Beacon books

Culture / UK

Paying the word

A crowdfunding campaign that raised more than £70,000 (€83,350) in just a few days has helped to save the UK’s first black bookshop. New Beacon Books was founded in 1966 by political and cultural activist John La Rose and his partner Sarah White. It announced last week that it would be forced to close its physical shop in London’s Finsbury Park neighbourhood due to a combination of decreased footfall during the pandemic and the popularity of online retail. Advocates set up a fundraiser and the subsequent donations will allow the bookshop to remain open, restore its publishing platform and even consider moving to new premises. As the UK’s only remaining independent black publishing and bookselling entity, this show of support is not only a win for the industry but a triumph for the increased diversity of publishing. And a positive news story to ring in the new year to boot.

Image: Shutterstock

Media / Hong Kong

Finished articles

This year is already shaping up to be a dark one for press freedom in Hong Kong. Independent outlet Citizen News (whose founder Chris Yeung and chief editor Daisy Li are pictured) will cease operations today after an abrupt announcement that blamed Hong Kong’s “deteriorating media environment” and fears for employee safety. The Citizen News shutdown comes hot on the heels of last week’s closure of Stand News, another Hong Kong-based media platform, following a police raid; two of its journalists have been charged under a colonial era anti-sedition law. Press-freedom groups and foreign officials have condemned the arrests and raids, though the Hong Kong government says that they had nothing to do with press freedom and, rather, were about protecting the rule of law. Citizen News and Stand News, along with Apple Daily, which shut in June after authorities froze its assets over alleged national-security violations, were Hong Kong’s most prominent independent news outlets. Heading into the new year, the city’s media landscape looks bereft.

For more on this story tune in to the latest edition of ‘The Daily’ on Monocle 24.

M24 / The Global Countdown

Top songs of 2021

Our worldly programme presents a rundown of last year’s best tracks from around the globe.

Monocle Films / Sweden

Sweden’s Arctic: green innovation

Norrbotten in Sweden is blessed with natural resources but more recently has been turning heads because of its growing roster of innovative start-ups. We bear witness to the region's effort to change heavy industries into clean businesses.

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