Thursday 1 September 2022 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Thursday. 1/9/2022

The Monocle Minute

Image: Shutterstock

Opinion / Priit Hõbemägi

Final curtain

I saw Mikhail Gorbachev with my own eyes in February 1987. He was speaking to youth organisations about Communist Party propaganda in the lecture hall of a big, grey, ugly building next to the party’s local headquarters. Rising to the lectern he said, “Welcome, young communists of Riga, capital of Latvia!” Except that it wasn’t Riga and it wasn’t Latvia. It was Tallinn, Estonia.

This blunder was characteristic of Gorbachev. The results of his actions were often very different from his original intentions. As Soviet watchers understood at the time, he wasn’t on a mission to dissolve the Soviet Union. His buzzword, “perestroika”, means “rebuilding”; the goal was to rescue the Soviet empire from the crises left by previous leaders and keep it intact. But he attempted this so incompetently that it all fell apart in his hands.

The coup attempt against Gorbachev in August 1991 remains a mystery. Three half-drunk party hardliners announced a putsch and a halt to all reforms on Soviet state TV. I can’t help but wonder whether Gorbachev was the playwright of this little drama: perhaps he hoped that the coup would turn back the clock on his reforms, allowing order to be restored in the Soviet Union despite the fall of the Berlin Wall. It did not. I was one of the millions of people living under the umbrella of the Soviet Union at the time, watching on television the trembling hands of the generals. I knew at that moment that this putsch – and the Soviet Union itself – would collapse and that maybe Estonia would have a chance to regain its independence. It did later that month.

Gorbachev will be remembered internationally as the architect of a peaceful revolution but that’s not the view here in Estonia. Was he a good man? The answer is no. I believe that Gorbachev was an evil man, like every Soviet leader before him. He rose to the top by playing by the same rules as Stalin, Brezhnev and others. If he had had his way, the Soviet Union would have continued in a “refurbished” fashion and occupied nations – such as Estonia – wouldn’t have seen freedom until today. Luckily for us, he was a klutz.

Priit Hõbemägi is editor in chief of Estonian newspaper ‘Postimees’, based in Tallinn.

Image: Deniz Guzel

Culture / South Korea

Art and Seoul

London-based art fair Frieze opens its first Asia event tomorrow at the Coex Convention and Exhibition Centre in Seoul. More than 100 galleries are exhibiting at Frieze Seoul, including global names such as Hauser & Wirth, Gagosian and David Zwirner that give this inaugural outing international clout. The fair also shines a spotlight on South Korea’s vibrant contemporary art scene: Frieze Seoul takes place at the same time as the Korean International Art Fair and the Busan Biennale. “Seoul is a dynamic place with a sophisticated, inquisitive collector base and art-world infrastructure,” Patrick Lee (pictured), director of Frieze Seoul, tells The Monocle Minute. “The arrival of Frieze is a huge validation of the city and its place within the arts ecosystem.” With Asian collectors playing a greater role in the international art market, Western fairs are eager to grow their presence in the region. As the South Korean capital seeks to become a global art hub, Frieze Seoul could prove to be the final piece in the puzzle.

Hear more about Frieze Seoul on today’s edition of ‘The Globalist’ on Monocle 24.

Image: Reuters

Politics / Haiti

Domestic violence

Haiti has been rocked by widespread protests in recent days as the country’s leader, Ariel Henry, faces fresh calls to stand down. Demonstrators blame Henry, who has served as the Caribbean country’s acting prime minister and president since the assassination of president Jovenel Moïse in July 2021, for a significant rise in the cost of basic goods and a troubling spike in kidnappings.

“There was an inevitability about these protests but there’s no consensus about what comes next,” Christopher Sabatini, an expert on Haiti at Chatham House in London, tells The Monocle Minute. While the population of Haiti, one of the world’s poorest nations, is accustomed to hard times, “The complete breakdown of the state and rise of extreme violence are relatively new,” says Sabatini. That makes Henry’s position as prime minister untenable. “Any leader who comes after Henry will need to confront the problem head on,” he says.

Image: Jan Søndergaard

Media / Denmark

Clear spot

In the post-industrial harbour of Aarhus is the headquarters of Danish tabloid newspaper Jyllands-Posten. Here, architecture studio Henning Larsen has combined an open, nonhierarchical feel with discreet security features: the artwork featuring hundreds of ceramic tiles in the building’s entrance is a disguised security barrier. Since the newspaper published 12 cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad in 2005, it has received numerous terrorist threats. “We have ongoing security needs but our business is to bring transparency to society, so a newspaper building should reach out to the public,” editor in chief Jacob Nybroe tells Monocle.

The site opened in February 2020, three weeks before Denmark entered lockdown. As a result, many staff members have only recently got to know their new digs. The building has also facilitated new projects. The auditorium is home to networking groups Vision and Knowledge, which hope to host leading news-makers for talks and debates. “Our brand is concrete, honest and straight-talking, and that’s reflected in the architecture,” says Nybroe.

For more about our visit to ‘Jyllands-Posten’ and other sparkling new media HQs, pick up a copy of Monocle’s September issue, which is on newsstands now.

Image: Getty Images

Tourism / Japan

In-bound flights

Japan is at last reopening – but incrementally. Yesterday, prime minister Fumio Kishida, who had just returned to his office after recovering from coronavirus, announced a welcome easing of travel restrictions. As well as removing pre-flight testing for vaccinated visitors, Japan will allow tourists to visit on their own from 7 September – current rules only allow guided tours. The daily cap on travellers entering the country will also be raised from 20,000 to 50,000.

It’s far from a full opening but with Japan experiencing record coronavirus cases this summer and some hospitals still struggling, the measures reflect the domestic mood. Kishida also fears that a sudden full restart could upset the airline and tourism industries, and result in the kind of travel chaos seen in Europe and the US this summer. While the cap will frustrate many outsiders, Japan is hoping to make a soft landing by learning from other countries’ examples.

Monocle 24 / The Menu

Recipe edition, Sam and Sam Clark

A simple recipe by the duo behind London’s Moro and Morito restaurants.

Monocle Films / Paris

How to enjoy life

Join us for a whirlwind tour around the cobbled streets, cocktail bars and jazz lounges of Paris to explore how to enjoy the small things in life and find out why hedonism (in moderation) matters.


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