Thursday. 18/8/2022

The Monocle Minute

Image: Lesha Berezovskiy

Opinion / Josh Fehnert

Beyond the headlines

Journalists, pundits and politicians take a guilty pleasure in making sweeping predictions about the future. But these proclamations – about wars, the weather or what’s next – are often based on scant facts. Scan the headlines and you’ll spot newsroom Nostradamuses making carelessly confident pronouncements about what’s to come for the economy, in an election or a referendum, often to be quickly proved wrong by an unexpected twist. At Monocle we’re rather more sceptical of narratives that lack nuance, of news that’s too neat.

It’s this curiosity about the world and a commitment to bear witness that underpins the stories in the September issue of Monocle magazine, which is out today. It’s there in our sit-down with Indonesian president Joko Widodo and our report on the architects trying to safeguard Tunis’s modernist buildings for the next generation. There’s also a bumper report from Ukraine that shows an often-overlooked picture of daily life beyond the front lines – one that acknowledges the grim and grinding war and the reality of Russian occupation but also leaves a little room for some guarded optimism. It’s a subtler story.

Our on-the-ground reporters witnessed pockets of positivity about some return to normality on their trip through Kyiv, Lviv and Chernihiv. People there are making plans to rebuild from the rubble; some still sunbathe on the banks of the Dnipro (pictured) and others play in the parks of Bucha. The images of joggers, people at restaurants and cyclists amid the reconstruction efforts show a moving resilience that few could have predicted.

How this war might end is impossible to know. That said, taking a moment to look beyond the headlines and observe what’s happening right now feels more important than the newsy navel-gazing.

Josh Fehnert is Monocle’s editor. Subscribe today to read our full Ukraine report and to support our independent reporting.

Image: Getty Images

Diplomacy / Serbia & Kosovo

Papers, please

The leaders of Serbia and Kosovo, which declared its independence from Serbia in 2008, are holding high-level talks in Brussels this week. Tensions flared earlier this month when Kosovo’s prime minister, Albin Kurti (pictured, on left with Nato’s secretary general Jens Stoltenberg), unveiled legislation that would make it mandatory for everyone – including Serbs living in Kosovo – to hold Kosovan documents. The law, which has been delayed until 1 September, soured relations to such an extent that Kurti and Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic have been holding lengthy, separate meetings with top brass from the EU and Nato. The military alliance has been leading a “peace-support operation” in Kosovo since its war of independence in the late 1990s. “These are deep-seated enmities and we should be keeping a watchful eye on events,” Richard Shirreff, formerly Nato’s deputy supreme allied commander for Europe, tells The Monocle Minute. “However, we should be cheered that Nato’s leadership is taking an active role in the dispute; the alliance’s diplomatic mission in Kosovo has helped maintain peace in the region for a number of years.”

Image: Harrods

Retail / UK

Big spenders

London retailer Harrods is revamping its men’s department and has just unveiled the first phase: a new grooming and fragrance room, and Europe’s biggest sunglasses department. “I’ve been observing the way in which our menswear customers shop for a few years now and this new space encapsulates everything that they could need,” says Simon Longland, Harrods’ head of menswear, who introduced a private fitting room for sunglasses and refreshed the product range with a mix of established and niche luxury brands.

In the fragrance section, for example, familiar names including Acqua di Parma and Penhaligon’s are stocked alongside newer labels such as Escentric Molecules. With more brands moving resources into their own outlets and online platforms, retailers are having to step up their game with ambitious shop designs to entice customers. Harrods’ refurbishment project comes at a cost of £200m (€237m).

Image: Getty Images

Trade / Japan

Losing balance

Despite being an export powerhouse, according to new data released this week, Japan’s July figures marked the 12th consecutive month of trade deficits, with the balance of more than ¥1.4trn (€10bn) in the red. The problem isn’t exports, however, which increased by 19 per cent, driven by sales of cars and chip-making devices. The biggest cause is a surge in demand for oil and gas amid a scarcity of energy sources in Japan.

Oil imports from the UAE have rapidly increased in the past year, along with liquefied natural gas (LNG) and coal imports from Australia. In normal times, Japan relies on Russia for a significant portion of its LNG and coal but as it transitions to new sources, Tokyo is scratching its head when it comes to bringing the trade balance back into green territory.

Image: Alamy

Energy / Switzerland

About-turn

The Greina Plateau, an Alpine tundra landscape that can only be reached by foot, is a glorious Swiss nature reserve. But it’s also linked to the Grimsel dam (pictured), which provides energy for half a million homes. That puts it at the centre of a battle over the balance between Switzerland’s energy and ecological needs. For nearly 20 years, the local power station has been seeking permission to raise the dam wall by 23 metres, boosting energy output but flooding parts of the Greina Plateau in the process. A federal court forced authorities to reconsider the plans in the name of conservation in 2020.

But now, with Europe facing a looming energy crisis, priorities are shifting once again; a scandal over three Swiss federal councillors serving on the Greina foundation, which has lobbied to protect the nature reserve, hasn’t helped its case. “Times are changing,” says Raimund Rodewald, managing director of conservation foundation Landschaftsschutz Schweiz. “We have to rethink our use and protection of nature.”

Image: NAARO

Monocle 24 / Monocle On Design

Otrivin Air Lab and badehotels

We learn about biodegradable polymers devised by Eco Logic Studio, take a dip at a Danish badehotel and pay a visit to boot-maker Phillipe Atienza’s workshop in Paris.

Monocle Films / France

Escape to la campagne: Normandy

Pierre-Edouard Robine traded city life to rediscover his farming roots in 2016. Since then, he has built a sparkling wine business and forages for Michelin-starred restaurants in Paris, alongside tending to his small herd of cattle. We travelled to his farm in La Courbe, Normandy, to lend a hand with tending the land and hear about the benefits of rural living.

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