Friday. 1/4/2022

The Monocle Minute

Image: Alamy

Opinion / Alexander Zhuravlyov

Truth hurts

More than a month after the start of the war between Russia and Ukraine, my own reaction has shifted through a wide range of emotions: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance and, finally, analysis. Through all of that came the realisation that, unlike many Russian expats such as myself, a vast majority of people inside Russia do not want to know the truth about the war. This was the hardest fact to accept – and even harder to explain. But here goes.

A friend of mine, a young woman in St Petersburg, absolutely refuses to acknowledge both the tragic events taking place on the frontline and those around her in everyday life. For her, like millions of others, it has become a matter of mental self-preservation to believe that closed shops will reopen soon, the shelves will somehow be quickly restocked and everything will get back to normal in no time. It would be an oversimplification to say that she is a victim of state propaganda. Rather, she is a living example of what it’s like to exist in a post-truth society. She declares that everyone around her is lying or being paid to lie and that it is impossible to trust anyone except her immediate circle of friends and family.

For such people in Russia, moral considerations are immaterial; they’re only interested in keeping themselves ensconced in a comfortable bubble by negating reality. State propagandists know and use this to their advantage. The state TV channels work to create fantastic stories about nationalists and fascists in Ukraine, about Pentagon-run biolaboratories directed against ethnic Russians. The purpose of these fantasies is to create a distorted sense of togetherness, of being besieged by an external, hostile world. The question is whether anything can burst through this bubble as the war continues. That could lead to civil outrage and collapse of the present regime – but only if Russians are willing to accept reality.

Alexander Zhuravlyov is a Russian-born journalist who spent 30 years working for the BBC Russian Service in London.

Image: Getty Images

Politics / Tunisia

Divided state

Tunisia kickstarted one of the greatest upheavals of the Arab Spring, when longtime president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was ousted in 2011. Now the north African nation is in a fresh political turmoil, which has been roiling since last summer. On Wednesday evening, current president Kais Said formally dissolved parliament, which had been suspended since July. The move came after 120 lawmakers called for parliament to be reinstated in an online meeting; the president has since said that some members may face justice for their actions. Said, once a political outsider, had previously claimed that his move to paralyse parliament was necessary to preserve the state and its institutions from corruption. But completely removing any challenge to his power suggests that he has become a product of that state dysfunction, rather than its saviour. “This makes it utterly clear to outside observers that Said has moved Tunisia away from democracy and towards autocracy,” says Erin Clare Brown, Tunis correspondent for The National.

Hear more from Erin Clare Brown on Tunisia’s future on today’s edition of ‘The Globalist’ on Monocle 24.

Image: Shutterstock

Business / Vietnam

Fully charged

Vinfast, Vietnam’s first manufacturer of electric vehicles, announced this week that it is building a $2bn (€1.8bn) factory in North Carolina to produce batteries, electric buses and SUVs. Founded in 2017, it aims to compete with established manufacturers in the US and Europe. It is also planning to open a facility in the automotive heartland of Germany. Vinfast is owned by Vietnam’s largest conglomerate, Vingroup, which the country’s government hopes will become a global leader in technology.

The start-up’s domestic popularity is growing: last year its non-electric Fadil model was the best-selling car in Vietnam. (Vinfast aims to move to a fully electric fleet by the end of this year.) Will US consumers embrace the brand? Joe Biden said that the factory, which was unveiled at a ceremony attended by Vinfast’s CEO Le Thi Thu Thuy and North Carolina governor Roy Cooper (pictured, on right, with Le), will create 7,000 American jobs. The president then called it “the latest example of my economic strategy at work”. Not a bad sign when the US government passes off a company’s success as its own.

Image: Ben Roberts

Society / Netherlands

Dutch master plan

Amsterdam turns 750 years old in 2025 and is already planning its anniversary party, with a special birthday wish for its residents to pitch ideas for the bash. To ensure that the event is worthy of Amsterdam’s history, the city has promised to contribute up to €50,000 in funding for each idea that’s selected, via a new foundation to organise the event called Amsterdam 750. Starting today, Amsterdammers can apply for subsidies for their ideas, which can cover themes ranging from sports and culture to entrepreneurship. Celebrations will start one year before the big day and feature daily events throughout all districts of the city. The initiative is supposed to give citizens the opportunity to decide how they want to celebrate the birth of the capital, while also sparking an extra bit of community spirit after the pandemic. It’s an innovative approach that other cities would do well to follow: surely the more that residents can be involved in organising their own birthday party, the better?

Image: Alamy

Urbanism / Japan

After park

The arrival of spring is shining a negative light on the aftermath of last summer’s Tokyo Olympics, as the green areas around the Kengo Kuma-designed Olympic stadium (pictured) are in an unhealthy condition. About 130 trees were replanted as part of the project but many were thoughtlessly placed, according to Chikayasu Hamano, professor at the Tokyo University of Agriculture. He says that the soil is infertile while some of the trees, which are vulnerable to dry weather, are being exposed directly to the sun with no shade. Tokyo’s metropolitan government meanwhile is pushing forward with a redevelopment that involves rebuilding the existing baseball and rugby stadiums, and adding two new commercial towers. Due to these developments, the park will lose 34,000 sq m and almost 900 of its 1,904 trees (some of them centuries old) could be chopped down. Tokyo should pause and think about exactly what kind of Olympic legacy it wants to leave.

M24 / The Entrepreneurs

Ampler

Urban-mobility innovators are operating in an increasingly crowded and competitive marketplace. So how do the best e-bike brands, particularly newer independents, ensure they make their mark? Meet the co-founder of one of the best in the particular business: Ardo Kaurit, CEO of Estonian e-bike brand Ampler. Despite coming from a country with no bicycle-manufacturing heritage, Kaurit and his team have quietly put their e-bikes on the map.

Monocle preview: April issue, 2022

Monocle’s April issue features our annual retail survey, a report from France ahead of its presidential elections, an interview with Fiat’s CEO on his electric ambitions and a visit to America’s oldest independent art school, plus much more. Order your copy today from The Monocle Shop.

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