Monday. 14/3/2022

The Monocle Minute

Image: Stuart Franklin

Opinion / Alexei Korolyov

Invited guests

Although Poland has taken in the lion’s share of Ukrainians fleeing the war, Moldova is bearing much of the burden of Europe’s largest refugee crisis since the Second World War. At least 260,000 have crossed into Moldova, a country of 2.6 million people that is sandwiched between Ukraine and Romania. Relative to its population, more people have crossed over into its territory than any of Ukraine’s neighbours. I visited the country 10 days into the conflict, driving in from Romania. At a checkpoint near the southern village of Palanca, Rosian Vasiloi, chief of the country’s border police, told me that of the 10,300 Ukrainians who had entered Moldova in the previous 24 hours, 9,000 had carried on to Romania, an EU member state whose GDP per capita is more than double Moldova’s.

Moldova, of course, has its own history with Russia. In 1990 the Moldovan region of Transnistria declared independence. Mainly Russian-speaking, it is recognised only by Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Nagorno-Karabakh, all of which are breakaway regions with strong Russian ties and frozen conflicts. Russia freezes everything it touches.

Like Romania and the other countries that border Ukraine to the west, Moldova is trying to create a welcoming atmosphere for refugees. At the border crossing in Otaci, I was taken to see members of the Carabinieri, Moldova’s paramilitary force, who had joined the national humanitarian response. They were baking potatoes and placinta, a traditional Moldovan pie made with cheese and parsley, for the Ukrainians sheltering nearby. This was comfort food and, with a lack of adequate accommodation and transportation, it was all they could offer. The spirit of generosity was moving. One can only hope for more of it, not just in Moldova but also elsewhere.

Image: Alamy

Media / Scandinavia

Open source

A new initiative by three top Nordic newspapers is aiming to help counter Russian propaganda. Denmark’s Politiken, Sweden’s Dagens Nyheter and Finland’s Helsingin Sanomat have announced that they will begin translating their news on the conflict into Russian, so that Russians can access more reliable media as Moscow ramps up its war efforts. The announcement also comes as the Kremlin continues its crackdown on the last vestiges of independent regional media. Foreign outlets are also closing their operations amid draconian new rules that make it illegal to call the war in Ukraine an “invasion”. “It is, of course, sad that we don’t have reporters during these times inside Russian territory,” Kaius Niemi, senior editor in chief of Helsingin Sanomat, tells Monocle 24. “We have not given up on reporting on Russian issues but we have to do it differently than we did before.”

Image: Getty Images

Diplomacy / UK

Still together

Today is Commonwealth Day, an annual celebration of the historic, supranational bond between the 54 member states of the Commonwealth of Nations. The current iteration of this organisation emerged after the Second World War and is aimed at maintaining cultural and political links between the former colonies of the British Empire. The grouping is mostly symbolic but its constituents do meet semi-regularly, as well as contesting the quadrennial Commonwealth Games.

This year’s Commonwealth Day comes at a potentially pivotal time. Member states, 15 of which have Queen Elizabeth II as their head of state, are beginning to prepare for a time after her rule. Some, such as Barbados, have recently voted to sever constitutional ties with the UK. Although the direction of travel seems to be towards such a loosening – the celebrations are a humble affair – the rupture of the international order heralded by the invasion of Ukraine might throw into sharper relief the values that unite these 54 disparate nations.

Image: Getty Images

Urbanism / Japan

All clear

More than a decade after the earthquake-induced nuclear catastrophe at Japan’s Fukushima power plant, which prompted mass evacuations, the country’s government plans to reopen part of the area that surrounds the plant. Officials will decontaminate an area that includes the towns of Futaba and Okuma. In spring, the 11-year-long evacuation order on the towns will be lifted, allowing past residents to return. Still, an area 10 times the size of the one being decontaminated remains off limits. That highlights the scale of the task facing the government, which has yet to decide on a final storage location for the untold tonnes of contaminated soil from the disaster. Lawmakers have also sparked controversy with the suggestion that they could dump more than a million tonnes of contaminated water into the sea in the years to come. But logistical conundrums and the spiralling costs that come with clean-up efforts might be less important to thousands of residents who are finally allowed to return home.

Image: Getty Images

Coronavirus / France

Throwing off the mask

France’s pass vaccinal has been all but scrapped today across the country and masks are only required in hospitals, in care homes and on public transport (for those hot-footing it to the Alps, this does not include ski lifts). This is a major change from France’s strict coronavirus rules, especially so compared to its European peers, and comes as campaigning in the 10 April presidential elections intensify. The vaccine passes have long been controversial in France and sparked large-scale demonstrations against Emmanuel Macron. But the vaccine pass has helped to push the vaccination rate up to nearly 60 per cent, meaning that some 39 million citizens are triple-jabbed and health outcomes are far better for it. France is the world’s most visited country and for millions of people, both domestically and abroad, today’s news will be a welcome change.

Monocle 24 / The Foreign Desk

The Foreign Desk Live: Russia invades Ukraine – week three

We get the latest from the ground in Ukraine and an update on the diplomatic talks in Turkey. Plus: the view from Estonia and a look at how the conflict could reshape the world order. Andrew Mueller speaks to Maria Aveeda, Chris Cermak, Estonian foreign minister Eva-Maria Liimets and Mark Galeotti.

Monocle Films / Husavik

Ísbíltúr: Iceland’s ice-cream road trips

We hit the road with journalist Egill Bjarnason, finding the best spots to grab a cone on a journey into the Icelandic custom of ísbíltúr. It’s one of many Nordic lifestyle concepts that can teach us a thing or two about quality of life. Discover more stories and ideas from the region with The Monocle Book of the Nordics, available now from The Monocle Shop.

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