Wednesday. 26/1/2022

The Monocle Minute

Image: Lesha Berezovskiy

Opinion / Stephen Dalziel

What’s in a name?

When Leonid Brezhnev was the leader of the Soviet Union, I spent a year as a student in the capital of Ukraine (pictured). At the time it was usually referred to with its Russian pronunciation, “Kiev”. Now we call it Kyiv, the way Ukrainians say it. Such subtleties of language have become very important in the establishment of the Ukrainian identity, which was suppressed in Soviet times.

The very name of the country has also changed slightly but significantly in Russian and in English. Consciously or unconsciously, Russians see the word krai (“edge”) in the name Ukraine; Vladimir Putin certainly sees it that way, believing that Ukraine is the edge of what he still seems to regard as the Russian empire. In the past, Russians referred to things taking place na Ukrainye (literally “on Ukraine”); now the correct Russian is v Ukrainye (“in Ukraine”). And for the same reason, please don’t make the mistake of saying in English “the Ukraine”. It’s just Ukraine. We wouldn’t say “the England”, would we?

This is not mere semantics. How a country sees itself and how it wants to be regarded by others is vital to its sense of nationhood. The Russian and Ukrainian languages are similar but no more the same than are Spanish and Italian. There are also cultural similarities, as well as differences. In music, Russians play the balalaika; Ukrainians play the bandura. But perhaps the biggest difference now is that, after the collapse of the USSR, Ukrainians have discovered a vital concept that distinguishes them from Russians: they now know what it means to live in a free, sovereign state. They certainly don’t want a return to the kind of Soviet serfdom that Putin has to offer.

Stephen Dalziel is a Russia expert, author and regular contributor to Monocle 24. You can hear more from him on the latest edition of ‘The Monocle Daily’. Read a dispatch from Kyiv by novelist Artem Chekh in the February issue of Monocle, which is out tomorrow.

Image: Shutterstock

Politics / Global

Trust now

Transparency International’s latest Corruption Perceptions Index was released yesterday, ranking 180 countries by their perceived levels of public-sector corruption according to experts and businesspeople. At first sight the results look familiar: Finland, Denmark and New Zealand share the top spot followed by Norway, Singapore and Sweden. But a closer look reveals some longer-term developments: nations such as South Korea, Estonia and Italy have seen a steady improvement, while some advanced economies such as Canada, Australia and the US have fallen. One cause: “Although some countries’ democracies are strong and human rights are respected, some have been playing a role in establishing safe havens for money from more corrupt countries,” Delia Ferreira Rubio (pictured), chair of Transparency International, told Monocle 24’s The Briefing. Another development Rubio points to, even in some advanced economies, is the use of the coronavirus pandemic “as an excuse for concentration of power alongside the weakening of mechanisms used to keep those in power accountable”. Let’s hope the trend can be reversed.

Image: Shutterstock

Diplomacy / Thailand & Saudi Arabia

A coming truce?

Thailand’s prime minister, Prayut Chan-ocha, made a surprise visit to Saudi Arabia yesterday, ending a diplomatic rift that has endured for more than 30 years. Bilateral ties between Bangkok and Riyadh have been broken since 1989, when a Thai migrant worker stole jewels from a Saudi prince, including a 50-carat blue diamond. Official relations soured further when a set of gems recovered by Thai police and returned to Saudi Arabia were reported to be fake, and three Saudi officials were killed by unknown assailants in Thailand on an ensuing visit.

While the whereabouts of the blue diamond is still unknown, there is also plenty of mystery surrounding Prayut’s last-minute trip to Riyadh, which was only announced on Sunday following an invite from crown prince Mohammed bin Salman (pictured, on right, with Prayut). Thais are wondering how the “blue diamond affair” was finally resolved, why the sudden haste when the pandemic has kept the government close to home, and – most of all ⎯⎯ what gifts their prime minister will come back with on his return to Thailand today.

Image: Sundance Institute

Cinema / USA

Change of scene

Though Sundance Film Festival, which has been up and running for a week, was moved online this year, it will be welcoming cinemagoers in-person this weekend. From Friday to Sunday, independent venues across the US, from Amherst Cinema in Massachusetts to the Northwest Film Forum in Seattle, will be showcasing some of the highlights of the festival, which is usually held in Park City, Utah. With titles such as Kristin ver Linden’s thriller Alice (pictured) and Brazilian family drama Mars One on the programme, American film buffs will have plenty to choose from. The event’s organisers have long been seeking inventive ways to connect with a broader audience. Taking the show on the road is a novel approach that is worthy of a regular scene in the production.

Image: Getty Images

Media / Germany

Net losses

Germany’s media and advertising industries have taken a united stand against Google this week in the hope of thwarting the technology giant’s latest changes to its Chrome browser. It plans to block third-party access to users’ browsing data next year, which could see online publishers record a loss of up to 70 per cent in revenue. The move aims to safeguard privacy and would make it difficult for advertisers to use data collected by Google, denying them of one of their main methods of targeting users. Google will still be able to access this data. In response, eight German trade associations, representing most of the country’s media and advertising industry, have written a letter opposing the changes to the European Commission, which is already investigating Google for anti-competitive behaviour in online advertising. Germany has long been a strong advocate for online privacy but a pushback from its publishers will test its resolve.

Image: Alamy

M24 / Tall Stories

Perili Köşk, Istanbul

Emily Wither visits Istanbul’s historic haunted house, which shifts from an office space during the week to an art gallery at weekends.

Monocle Films / France

The secret to baking bread

Paris baker Christophe Vasseur runs the successful corner shop Du Pain et des Idées and knows the secret of the perfect loaf.

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