Wednesday. 18/5/2022

The Monocle Minute

Image: Shutterstock

Opinion / Markus Hippi

Learning from history

For my generation, growing up in Finland meant growing up with the memory of the Second World War and the fight against the Soviet Union. I got used to listening to my grandfather’s stories of what he saw on the front line and my grandmother’s unending longing for her childhood home, which was lost to the wrong side of the new border when the war ended.

The decades that followed the war were defined by a fear of Russia. The main goal of those in power in Helsinki was to guarantee the peace and security of our land and people. Decisions revolved around how Moscow would feel about them. At times the repeated mantra of an eternal Finnish-Soviet friendship resembled a form of group psychosis.

The fall of the Soviet Union and Finland’s EU membership in 1994 began to change the dynamics. My country felt more independent and proud as its gaze shifted to the West. It became more international and began to see its relationship with Russia as an asset. Surely Finland would understand Moscow better than most other countries, thanks to its close contacts? The idea of Nato membership felt unnecessary as it would only cause tensions.

This year has changed everything. The Finnish people have taken Russia’s invasion of Ukraine personally. Yesterday the country’s parliament gave its overwhelming approval for its Nato application and foreign minister Pekka Haavisto (pictured) signed a petition for membership. The extraordinary support makes clear just how fundamentally the way in which we see our place next to Russia and in the world has changed. We don’t know what the future holds, except that, if we become Nato members, we won’t be alone again if history repeats itself.

Image: Getty Images

Diplomacy / UK & EU

Divided we fall

The UK’s foreign secretary, Liz Truss (pictured), announced yesterday that her country would introduce legislation allowing it to renege on some commitments under the Northern Ireland protocol with the European Union. With no timeline, the legislation seems more like an empty threat for the moment but it has inevitably rattled the wider continent. Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney responded, “Breaking international law is not the answer.” Not only does this come at a time when Western unity and respect for international law are paramount – it wasn’t so long ago that even France was praising UK-EU co-operation on Ukraine – but it follows elections in Northern Ireland won for the first time by Irish nationalists Sinn Féin (which backs the protocol). Gambits in negotiations are common but timing is everything. It’s hard to see why this is the best moment for Downing Street to bring long-stalled talks to a head, especially when a united front might serve the UK and EU better against fiercer foes to the east.

For a fuller discussion of the future of the Northern Ireland protocol, tune in to the latest edition of ‘The Monocle Daily’ on Monocle 24.

Image: Shutterstock

Defence / Mali

Fraying alliance

Mali has announced its withdrawal from the G5 Sahel regional anti-jihadist force, which also includes Mauritania, Chad, Burkina Faso and Niger. The alliance was formed in 2014 and boasts a force of some 5,000 troops to combat terrorism in the region. Mali was due to assume the ceremonial role as its head this year but the G5 blocked this in order to punish the country’s rulers for its attempts to stay in power for several more years. Neighbouring countries have encouraged Mali’s military junta to hold democratic elections since it seized control through a succession of coups. Economic sanctions on Mali from West African states began in January; the blocking of the presidency is the latest attempt to urge Bamako to rethink its actions.

The UN recently strengthened its own peacekeeping forces in the Sahel and Germany has signalled that it is willing to continue to assume responsibility in the region. It’s looking increasingly likely that other states will have to pick up the tab for combating the region’s jihadists, with or without Mali’s help.

Image: Paulius Staniunas

Business / Malaysia

Open for business

Malaysia dropped all coronavirus testing and quarantine requirements at the beginning of this month for fully vaccinated visitors and George Town, a top destination for tourists and expats on beach-fringed Penang, is ready for the influx of travellers and workers. Digital Penang was launched in 2020 by Sivavenayakam Velayutham to bring investment to the city, which is celebrated for its colonial-era architecture and excellent food but is also becoming a hub for entrepreneurs seeking a relaxed pace and friendly business environment. “We’re getting a lot of inquiries from start-ups around the world,” says the founder of the non-profit, who Monocle met for our May issue. Now that in-person events are back, the city’s cultural schedule is packed too, from the George Town Literary Festival in November to smaller art openings across its many galleries. “We have programmes filled up until the end of the year,” Wanida Razali, manager at arts hub Hin Bus Depot, tells Monocle.

To read the full story of George Town, pick up a copy of Monocle’s May issue on newsstands or subscribe today.

Image: Getty Images

Urbanism / USA

High and dry

Los Angeles and its surrounding areas will implement some of the harshest water restrictions in Southern California’s history at the end of the month as a severe drought continues. Gardens can only be watered twice a week and residents have been ordered to reduce water usage by 35 per cent. The news has understandably caused some consternation. “Is there a special exemption for our koi carp pond?” one resident asked at a town hall meeting in Las Virgenes district.

Los Angeles would be wise to look down the coast to San Diego. A drought in the 1980s that punished its economy spurred an ambitious project that has since saved about 450 litres of water per person a day in residential use. The initiative included simple technological tweaks in showers and plumbing but also landscaping: residents were paid to rip out water-glugging lawns in exchange for alternatives better suited to the city’s climate. With more droughts likely, it’s better for such measures to be taken sooner rather than later.

Image: Alamy

Monocle 24 / Monocle on Culture

Foghorns and the music of the coast

Robert Bound is joined in the studio by musicologist, writer and radio presenter Jennifer Lucy Allan, who also has a PhD in foghorns. Her book The Foghorn’s Lament: The Disappearing Music of the Coast has just been published in paperback. It charts the history of the foghorn, its poetic role at the boundary of land and sea, and how its bellowing sound captures the imagination.

Monocle Films / Global

‘The Monocle Book of the Nordics’

Following in the footsteps of our best-selling titles The Monocle Book of Italy and The Monocle Book of Japan, this is a thrilling exploration of Europe’s northernmost reaches. Order your copy from The Monocle Shop.

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