Friday. 8/7/2022

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Olga Tokariuk

Long-distance allies

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began on 24 February, Boris Johnson has visited Kyiv twice to meet Volodymyr Zelensky (pictured, on right, with Johnson) – more than any other Western leader – promising new weapons and more support. Ukrainians are so passionate about Johnson that the country’s musicians have made a song about him, its bakeries have dedicated a dessert to him and its artists have painted a portrait of him, disguised as a Ukrainian cossack. They have even Ukrainianised his name: Boris Johnsoniuk.

So the news of his resignation yesterday was met with disappointment and no small amount of anxiety. Johnson is seen as one of Ukraine’s staunchest supporters, who managed to rally other Western leaders to the country’s cause. Very few Ukrainians cared about his domestic troubles, nor did they care or know about the revelations this week that he had held private meetings with Russian oligarch Alexander Lebedev.

Options are being discussed on social media – half-serious, half-joking – about where Johnson will land next. Ukrainian diplomat and former US ambassador Valeriy Chaly suggested that Johnson should become the next Nato secretary-general and that Ukraine could join the Western military alliance under his tenure. Others have bolder ideas. One meme depicts a famous volunteer who led a fund-raising campaign to buy three Bayraktar drones in a new appeal for donations. “Let’s raise money to hire Boris Johnson as Ukraine’s next prime minister,” reads the text.

Johnson might have fallen from grace in the UK but he will undoubtedly remain Ukraine’s darling for his troubles. And the question that Ukrainians are now asking is: will the UK continue to support them as staunchly as it has under his leadership?

Olga Tokariuk is Monocle’s Ukraine correspondent.

Image: Getty Images

Politics / Japan

Nation in shock

Japan is reeling from the news that former prime minister Shinzo Abe (pictured), the country’s longest-serving premier, has died in hospital after being shot this morning while making a campaign speech in Nara. The suspect, named as 41-year-old Tetsuya Yamagami, was apprehended immediately along with what appeared to be a home-made weapon. Current prime minister Fumio Kishida, who was also on the campaign trail ahead of Sunday’s upper house elections, returned to Tokyo immediately. Visibly shaken, he condemned the act “in the strongest possible terms”. Government ministers, busy campaigning, have been recalled to Tokyo. Police say that the shooter, a former member of the Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force, intended to target Abe but his motivation remains unclear. It has been a shocking day in a notoriously safe country, one with extremely tight gun laws and almost no gun crime.

For more on the breaking news out of Japan and reflections on Abe’s life, listen to today’s edition of ‘The Briefing’ on Monocle 24.

Image: L’École de la Librairie

Literature / France

Personal touch

If many independent bookshops have managed to survive and, in many cases, thrive over the past few years, they owe it all to booksellers. These are the people providing good service and careful selection, in contrast to impersonal online outlets. That’s the belief guiding the activities of L’École de la Librairie, a school that trains booksellers in the Parisian suburb of Maisons-Alfort.

As well as a diploma for young graduates, it offers short courses for those seeking a career change later in life. The subjects covered include everything from stock-keeping and window displays to management and customer relations, taught in classrooms and at the Librairie La Ruche, a public-facing bookshop for practical exercises. “We might not have the same presence as Amazon but on some levels we win: curation, conviviality and advice,” says Alexia Dumaine, one of the school’s tutors.

Find out more about how well-trained shop assistants have the power to save bricks-and-mortar bookshops in our report in Monocle’s July/August issue.

Image: Getty Images

Defence / Latvia

Back in service

Latvia has announced that it will reinstate compulsory military service, which it scrapped three years after joining Nato. Since 2007 its military has consisted of career soldiers, plus national guards who volunteer part-time at the weekend. By contrast, fellow Baltic nation Estonia has maintained mandatory military service, while Lithuania follows the Norwegian model, which incentivises service by using a limited pool, making it an attractive entry on the CVs of young people.

Latvia’s resumed military service – voluntary from next year but mandatory from an unspecified future date – will apply to men aged 18 to 27 and take 11 months to complete; women will have the option of joining voluntarily. The government is “clearly hoping that Latvians will be motivated to do their part for the country”, Elisabeth Braw, senior fellow of the American Enterprise Institute, tells The Monocle Minute. “Since the country also recently introduced national defence education in all secondary schools, that might just happen.”

Image: Tom Glenn

Photography / UK

Cosmic contest

The stars aligned for 22 photographers this week as the shortlist for Astronomy Photographer of the Year was announced. Run by the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, London, the 14th edition of the competition features images including views of the lunar south pole (pictured) and the Southern Pinwheel galaxy, captured in Australia 270 years after its discovery. “It was really satisfying to see how many entrants challenged themselves to capture unusual, rarely imaged or transient events,” says Edward Bloomer, astronomer at the Greenwich observatory. “There are some things that you won’t have seen before and some things that won’t be seen again.” Another key theme was the effect of light pollution on astrophotography. “If you are in a city, it doesn’t mean that the stars are leaving you,” says Beijing-based Zezhen Zhou, who is shortlisted in the Young Astronomy Photographer of the Year category. “We shouldn’t lose our love of astronomy because of a bad environment.” The winner will be announced on 15 September.

Image: Shutterstock

Monocle 24 / The Foreign Desk

A troubled bill

Andrew Mueller explains the proposed Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill.

Monocle Films / Paris

Swimming in the Seine

As Paris embarks on a project to clean up the Seine ahead of the 2024 Olympic Games, we look at the process of readying the city’s river for its water-seeking dwellers, explore how it could affect the city and meet the guerilla urban swimmers who welcome the move.

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