Wednesday. 30/3/2022

The Monocle Minute

Image: Rena Effendi

Opinion / Alexis Self

Ways of escape

Georgia is on the up. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the country seemed to suffer more than other former Soviet socialist republics. There was a civil war, an invasion by Russia and a revolution. But after the turmoil came more than 10 years of peace and increasing prosperity. Though Russia still occupies about 20 per cent of its territory (as Georgians are quick to point out), rising tourism and investment has transformed the capital Tbilisi from a crime-ridden Eurasian outpost to a hip, bustling young city. But now that its belligerent northern neighbour is up to its old tricks again, some Georgians fear that they could once again pay the price.

I arrived in Tbilisi in a snowstorm; my driver from the airport joked that the Russians had brought the weather with them. Georgia’s interior minister Vakhtang Gomelauri claims that more than 30,000 Russian citizens entered the country in the three weeks after the invasion of Ukraine. Recent estimates suggest that number has increased as much as threefold since then. The purpose of my trip was to meet some of them, hear their stories and try to discern what life was like in Russia as a new iron curtain was being drawn.

On the whole my interlocutors were young and had travelled from Moscow and St Petersburg; all were fervently anti-war. They spoke of a country divided between parents and children, cities and small towns; the clock turning back to the dark days of the cold war. Donos (or “snitching on your neighbours”) was back in fashion and a “cult of suffering”, as one called it, was consuming the country. These young Russians’ hearts bled and tears fell for Ukrainians fighting for a brighter future. For them, especially those left behind in Russia, it seems that the lights have well and truly gone out.

Image: Getty Images

Diplomacy / Ukraine

Common ground?

Just under three weeks ago, after Ukraine and Russia’s foreign ministers met in Antalya for the first time since Russia’s invasion, prospects for a settlement of the war looked bleak. Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, emerged from the talks disheartened, suggesting that there was little point in meeting since his Russian counterpart had not come ready to make any concessions. Fast-forward to yesterday and a fresh round of talks in Istanbul, opened by Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan (pictured) who called for an end to the war, yielded some surprising results. Russia has promised to scale back attacks on Kyiv as a show of good faith, while Ukraine is open to neutrality if its security can be guaranteed by others. Still there is scepticism in Kyiv. Oleksandr Danylyuk, the former head of Ukraine’s national security and defence council, tells Monocle that it might simply be a ploy by Russia to refocus its military efforts away from the capital and towards capturing the east of Ukraine. “There are more questions after today’s talks than real answers,” he says.

For more on the prospects for peace in Ukraine, tune in to latest editions of ‘The Monocle Daily’ and ‘The Globalist’ on Monocle 24.

Image: Public City

Design / Canada

Let there be light

The winning design for a new national memorial in Canada’s capital Ottawa has been unveiled. And despite its commemoration of a sobering chapter of Canada’s recent history, the plan is for a rather glittering affair. The LGBTQ2+ National Monument will represent discriminatory, cold war-era government policies that sought to identify and exclude members of those communities from jobs in the public sector.

Winnipeg-based studio Public City designed the structure, which will be built on a leafy stretch of riverbank west of Canada’s parliament building and include a charming new public park. At its centre will stand a large column, the interior of which is carved to resemble the billowing insides of a stormcloud, lined with silver; the interior will be clad with small, mirrored squares, like a jumble of inverse mirrorballs. It’s a luminous interpretation of the decades pushing for change that will unfold at the new public area by 2025.

Image: Muir Vidler

Art / Global

Piece by piece

The art market has bounced back to above pre-coronavirus levels, after shrinking by almost a quarter at the height of the pandemic, according to the latest Art Basel and UBS Global Art Market report. Some key trends include an increase in private sales as opposed to public auctions and the continued dominance of the US as the world’s largest market, though China has climbed into second place ahead of the UK. The sector has gone through some changes, including an increased appetite for digital art, but figures show that, for the most part, it’s still business as usual. In the past year, recovery has been largely skewed in favour of major auction houses trading a small number of ultra-expensive pieces. For all the talk of massive overhauls and a new normal, the sector’s post-pandemic business model still looks and feels a lot like the old one.

Tourism / Thailand

Dried up

Thailand’s new year celebrations begin in a fortnight but there are growing fears that the forthcoming Songkran festival, which is famous for huge water fights and public soakings, will be another washout. Government officials confirmed this week that a ban on water-throwing activities will be enforced for a third year over an uptick in Omicron cases. Traditional cleansing ceremonies and water-pouring rituals will still be allowed at temples. However, a Songkran holiday without a water fight on Bangkok’s Khao San Road is a bit like La Tomatina without the tomatoes: very dry. The news is especially sure to put a dampener on the tourism industry; some business groups have accused the government of sending confusing signals by opening borders and relaxing entry requirements while restricting one of the country’s most enduring annual events. Instead of allowing tourists to empty their water pistols as well as their wallets, government officials seem intent on shooting themselves in the foot.

Image: Alamy

M24 / Tall Stories

Sights and sounds

Andrew Tuck ponders the lessons that old photographs of cities can teach us about our contemporary metropolises.

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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