Wednesday 27 July 2022 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Wednesday. 27/7/2022

The Monocle Minute


Nancy Pelosi’s proposed trip to Taiwan, Egypt’s New Alamein City, Russians flock to Finland and Croatia’s new bridge.

Image: Lesha Berezovski

Opinion / Christopher Cermak

Combatting fatigue

“There is no fatigue, no tiredness,” Olha Stefanishyna (pictured), Ukraine’s deputy prime minister responsible for European affairs, tells me at a summit hosted in Kyiv by first lady Olena Zelenska. She points to the weekend gathering itself as an example of Ukrainians using “each and every opportunity to make sure that the truth of the war is heard”.

Stefanishyna’s defiant tone belies an inevitably more nuanced truth here; officials at all levels of government have been thrust into impossible new tasks and responsibilities over the past five months since the invasion began – and they are tired. Mykhailo Fedorov, Ukraine’s minister for digital transformation, greets us with a weary smile; we’re his seventh of 14 meetings that day and it’s just gone noon. I ask Fedorov whether he ever imagined being in this position. He smiles and says that when he first joined Volodymyr Zelensky’s government, he expected to fight a “war on bureaucracy” – not an actual war.

Even for those not directly on the front lines, the regular hum of air-raid sirens in the middle of the night is enough to make anyone weary. Some officials we meet are more open about this daily reality. “God, we’re tired; we’re exhausted,” Ukrainian MP Lesia Vasylenko tells us. “But we cannot allow ourselves to lie down, bury our faces in the pillows and just cry it out.”

Five months into this conflict, fears about waning support abroad fuel officials to express confidence in their country’s victory; to live up to the resilience and defiance that has come to define them. There’s a lot of truth to this: Ukraine’s ability to fight and carry on living in the midst of war is an incredible thing to witness up close. But I can’t help but feel that showing some vulnerability might help people abroad empathise with the everyday realities of living here as well. However brave the resistance Ukrainians are putting up, war is exhausting. The greater the urgency of the international community to help bring it to an end, the better.

Christopher Cermak is Monocle’s news editor. For a copy of our special Ukraine report in Monocle’s upcoming September issue, subscribe to the magazine today.

Image: Shutterstock

Defence / US & Taiwan

Neither here nor there

Nancy Pelosi’s proposed trip to Taiwan in August has landed the speaker of the House of Representatives in a diplomatic pickle. If she departs for talks in Taipei, the US can wave goodbye to any prospect of rapprochement with Beijing, just as frosty Trump-era relations are starting to thaw. But staying home makes Washington appear weak in the face of China’s sabre-rattling in the region. Republicans are capitalising on this tricky situation by urging the senior Democrat to book flights and, while she’s at it, tear up Washington’s “One China” policy, which has been the foundation of US-China relations for 50 years. Former secretary of state Mike Pompeo is even offering to go along as moral support. Pelosi (pictured) postponed her Taiwan visit in April after she caught coronavirus but using the same excuse twice seems unlikely. Joe Biden said last week that the military is not in favour of the visit. Given the stakes, the US defence and political establishment had better get on the same page fast.

Image: Shutterstock

Urbanism / Egypt

Sea breeze

For millennia, settlers in hot countries have built cities on the coast to capitalise on trade while taking advantage of the sea’s cooling breeze. Egypt’s New Alamein City, a massive residential and tourist hub under construction near Alexandria, is going one step further by building the country’s first seawater-powered air-conditioning system. Cold water will be extracted from deep in the Mediterranean, pumped into a cooling station and then passed through pipes in buildings, lowering the air temperature inside while absorbing heat.

The project will initially consist of a single cooling plant estimated to cost $117m (€110m), which will have the capacity to cool entire neighbourhoods without the greenhouse gas emissions associated with typical energy-intensive air-conditioning units. “During the peak summer months, some 50 per cent of the electric power [in Cairo] goes to air-conditioning,” Alaa Olama, a UN consultant involved in the project, tells Monocle. “So this is an important solution for new cities.”

Read more about Cairo’s urban cooling plan in Monocle’s Mediterraneo Summer Newspaper, which is out now.

Image: Juho Kuva

Tourism / Finland & Russia

Final frontier

Finland has found itself in an awkward position this summer: it has become a destination for thousands of Russians after Moscow relaxed travel restrictions earlier this month. Russians have been flocking across the border, either for holidays and shopping or to make use of the Schengen agreement to travel on to other European countries. While EU rules don’t require members to stop issuing tourist visas, Baltic nations have unilaterally blocked access.

And with EU airspace closed to Russian planes, that leaves Finland as one of the only routes remaining to reach the continent. It’s a reality that is becoming increasingly uncomfortable for Helsinki: a public outcry has quickly stirred debate over whether the country should stop the practice or at least limit tourist visas but critics worry that this would only make matters worse. They point out that there are also positive aspects in maintaining contacts between Finnish and Russian people: seeing how things work in a free and democratic country can hardly be a bad thing.

For more on this story from Monocle’s Helsinki correspondent Petri Burtsoff, tune in to the latest edition of ‘The Monocle Daily’ on Monocle 24.

Image: Getty Images

Transport / Croatia

Bridging the gap

Croatia has opened a bridge that finally links its southern Adriatic coast with the rest of the country, allowing travellers to bypass a narrow strip of Bosnian territory that had separated popular tourist destinations such as Dubrovnik from the north of the country since the dissolution of Yugoslavia. The 2.4km overpass (pictured) from the mainland to the Peljesac peninsula comes as Croatia seeks a tourism rebound after two years of pandemic disruption.

“The importance of the bridge is enormous,” says Oleg Butkovic, Croatia’s transport minister. “It’s not only emotional due to the connection of Croatia’s territory but for tourism and the economy in general.” The long-awaited project is not without controversy: though mostly funded by the EU, it was built by state-owned China Road and Bridge Corporation, marking the first major Chinese infrastructure project in the country. Ordinary Croatians will care little about the superpower tensions in the background: no doubt the community is just happy to be reconnected.

Image: Harry Carr

Monocle 24 / Monocle on Culture

How did drag become mainstream?

Drag culture has sashayed its way into the mainstream. Robert Bound speaks to Nicole Pasulka, the author of the new book, How You Get Famous: Ten Years of Drag Madness in Brooklyn, and one of the UK's best-known drag queens, Amrou Al-Kadhi – otherwise known as Glamrou – about the sparkliest of art forms.

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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