Monday. 8/8/2022

The Monocle Minute

Image: Jan Sondergaard

Opinion / Jaakko Tapaninen

Good neighbours

When I grew up in Finland in the pre-meme, pre-screen era, the most popular jokes were about the Nordic people. The punchline wasn’t always about one nation. What was funny were the stereotypes that exposed small but often telling differences in thinking and behaviour between groups of people who would happily acknowledge their many similarities. We defined ourselves in opposition to the world – as neutral and Nordic. In other words, we felt that we posed no threat to anyone (in particular the Soviet Union), yet we had values (Western). We belonged to the West without the bloc membership to prove it.

This ambiguous status changed significantly when Finland became a member of the EU in 1995 and again when Russia attacked Ukraine in 2022. We Finns and Swedes are now knocking on Nato’s door together. Norway, Denmark and Iceland have been members of the alliance since its founding. Whereas EU membership replaced Finnish aloofness with a focus on finally feeling like Europeans (despite in some sense having always been so), the Russian aggression against Ukraine and the subsequent talks with Nato have made Finland focus on its near neighbours, especially Sweden.

When the going gets tough – in everyday life as in global geopolitics – you look at the practicalities of defending yourself, your closest friends and your allies. The Nordic countries are a family. And like any sometimes dysfunctional family, we know each other’s ways, for better and for worse. We have been allies, enemies and kingdoms in various combinations over centuries but we ultimately built societies that are alike. Nato membership could be a game-changer that brings the Nordic countries even closer together. And not only the traditional Nordic countries – Iceland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland – but also the Baltic states, especially Estonia, which are increasingly part of the team.

Jaakko Tapaninen is a Finnish writer, journalist and founder of strategy and content consultancy Great Point. This column is an excerpt from an essay in ‘The Monocle Companion’, our first paperback. Pick up a copy on select newsstands and bookshops today, or online at The Monocle Shop.

Image: Getty Images

Economy / UK

Costly comments

Bank of England governor Andrew Bailey (pictured) was quick to rebuff comments by Liz Truss, the frontrunner to be the UK’s next prime minister, that her government would set “a clear direction of travel” for monetary policy. That’s currently the remit of the central bank. “The fabric of the independence of the Bank of England doesn’t change with changes of government, changes in views,” Bailey told the BBC on Friday. Truss wouldn’t be the first leader keen to tinker with interest-rate policy but she would find herself in unedifying company: Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan and former US president Donald Trump have all attempted to meddle, to mixed results. Doing so means exposing a country’s economic health to the whims of politicians. With Truss insisting (to howls of disagreement from most economists) that she could avert an impending recession with tax cuts, she’d do well to listen more carefully to the experts.

Image: James Mollison

Defence / Canada

Olive branch

Canada has committed 225 troops to a UK-led programme that will train Ukrainian volunteers to fight Russian forces. Over the coming months, 10,000 Ukrainians will be flown to the UK to complete a five-week training course. The announcement marks a partial restart of Operation Unifier, a long-term Canada-led mission to train soldiers from inside Ukraine that was put on hold last winter (read a profile of Operation Unifier in Issue 98 of Monocle).

But some argue that a country with the world’s second-largest Ukrainian diaspora (after Russia) should be doing more; for one thing, the cabinet had authorised as many as 400 military trainers. Political motivations are also suspected as the deployment was announced mere hours before Ukraine’s ambassador to Canada had scheduled a press conference to express disappointment at Canada’s involvement in the rebuilding of a Russian pipeline. Canada has contributed more than CA$600m (€456m) in military support to Ukraine but let’s hope that it doesn’t stop here.

Image: Getty Images

Urbanism / Ghana

Rub of the green

Ghana’s government has announced plans to begin planting large numbers of trees in urban environments as part of its new Green Street Project. And while many others have similar initiatives aimed at mitigating rising temperatures, the West African country has further ambitions. Samuel Abu Jinapor, minister for lands and natural resources, says that the programme is driven by aesthetics and aims to be “part of [a number of] measures to beautify our cities”. The first phase will be rolled out in Kumasi, Tamale, Sekondi-Takoradi and Accra, where president Nana Akufo-Addo planted trees (pictured).

The goal is to turn the cities into lush and verdant metropolises. International critics might view the government’s new green agenda as an effort to distract from other issues: the parliament has been under fire this summer for debating one of Africa’s worst anti-LGBTQ laws. But investing in the look and feel of an urban space is important for the wellbeing of citizens too. If it helps to cool the environment, all the better.

Image: Locarno Film Festival/ Massimo Pedrazzini

Cinema / Switzerland

Call to action

Situated between the Swiss Alps and Lake Maggiore, the 75th edition of the Locarno Film Festival concludes this week with the awarding of its Golden Leopard statuettes at the Piazza Grande. The festival is positioning itself as a space for auteurs to experiment and is fostering emerging talent, with new artists’ residencies for young and aspiring film-makers.

“The task of a festival is no longer just to entertain,” says Marco Solari, the event’s president. “It must also educate and help the next generations to recognise the beautiful and the profound.” This follows Switzerland’s passing of the so-called “Lex Netflix” (Netflix law) in May, obliging global streamers such as Amazon Prime, Disney+ and Netflix to reinvest 4 per cent of their Swiss revenue back into local production and content. With the Zürich Film Festival gearing up for September, Switzerland’s film industry is rolling in the right direction.

Image: Alamy

Monocle 24 / The Global Countdown

Argentina’s pop charts

This week, Monocle’s Fernando Augusto Pacheco looks at the top songs in Argentina.

Monocle Films / Global

Retail special: tasty tipples

Monocle Films visits makers of sherry, gin and whiskey to discover their recipes for success. The memorable flavours and sharp designs of their refined drinks are a perfect tonic for the year ahead.

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