Wednesday. 16/11/2022

The Monocle Minute

Image: Russian strikes on the Ukrainian city of Lviv on Tuesday. Reuters

Opinion / Christopher Lord

The drift of war

The facts about the missiles that exploded in a rural village in southeast Poland yesterday are yet to be nailed down – who fired them, were these targeted attacks or weapons gone astray? US president Joe Biden has said the bombs were "unlikely" to have been fired from Russia but the growing consensus in Warsaw overnight was that a Russian-made missile had fell on Nato soil for the first time. One thing is indisputable: two Polish civilians have now lost their lives, almost certainly due to the ongoing war in Ukraine, and that will pressure Nato to shore up support for its eastern ally; expect a lot of military gravity shifting to Poland in the weeks ahead.

An emergency roundtable of the G7 gathered in the early hours in Bali, where leaders decided to wait for the results of Poland's investigation before deciding on a response. Direct military confrontation remains very unlikely, even if Russia is found responsible and article 5 is triggered – meaning an attack on one ally is an attack on all – but perhaps these extraordinary events change the calculation on a no-fly zone over western Ukraine, something discussed early in the invasion but backed away from by the US and others for fear of escalating the conflict. Poland will be waking up this morning wondering whether its own ambassador to Ukraine was right to insist on those measures back in March.

Nevertheless, the likelihood of a ceasefire that would leave Russia holding on to territorial gains in Ukraine seems more remote. Despite the nudging of several G20 leaders this week, such a plan was always anathema to Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, and the explosions are a terrible reminder of the human cost of the bombardments happening in Ukraine every day. According to the Ukrainian air force, around 100 Russian rockets were fired at the country on Tuesday, plunging whole cities into darkness amidst a bitter winter. If any of these missiles went across the border in error or in malice, it’s a miscalculation that will reverberate around the world.

Christopher Lord is Monocle’s US Editor. For more on events in Poland and at the G20, tune into The Globalist on Monocle 24.

Image: Getty Images

Demographics / Global

Young pretender

As the world reaches the population milestone of eight billion people, all eyes are on India. The South Asian nation will soon overtake China as the world’s most populous country. With a low fertility rate and increasing life expectancy, China is expected to experience a decline in its population as soon as next year. Moving towards an ageing society poses significant risks to a growing economy, increasing the chances of a major labour shortage in the future. Meanwhile, India has a demographic “youth bulge” and a median age of 29; it is dealing with a large, young population – but that’s not entirely good news either. The country lacks a large, labour-intensive manufacturing sector so its economy is unlikely to be able to absorb this expanding mass of workers. Whether India will be able to use the demographic shift to continue its rapid economic growth is yet to be seen but surpassing China in terms of population could also affect the latter’s relentless rise in international politics.

Image: Ben Roberts

Retail / Spain

Head of department

As the practicality and environmental cost of online retail come under increased scrutiny, department stores are on the rise again. Family-owned Spanish group El Corte Inglés is Europe’s biggest chain in the sector. Many outposts of the 82-year-old group are home to a wide array of services: in Madrid’s Callao location, you’ll find everything from a supermarket to a dentist. Chains such as Ikea, Zara and H&M challenged its unique position in Spain, as did online retailers. The pandemic also rocked profits but after consolidation and refinancing, the company’s books are back in the black. Significant challenges remain but the brand’s power endures. “Every Spaniard feels like El Corte Inglés is part of the family,” says Mar Areosa, its former head of customer strategy. As it pivots towards a greater focus on food and luxury clothing, and decides how to capitalise on its property portfolio, El Corte Inglés still holds plenty of answers about what the future of retail might hold.

Find out more about El Corte Inglés and its lessons for department stores worldwide in ‘The Forecast’, which is out tomorrow.

Image: Getty Images

Transport / Europe

Track record

Interrail, the pass that offers unlimited train travel across Europe, has just announced a record year for ticket sales, which hit nearly 600,000. The most tickets were sold in Germany, where about 142,000 were purchased; this number was supported by a nationwide scheme that allowed passengers to travel for just €9 a month. Switzerland came in second place, with 94,000 sold, which is perhaps unsurprising for a country where efficient train travel is the norm. In third place was the UK, with 63,000 sales.

The near-doubling of ticket sales from 2019 suggests that Interrail is no longer seen as just an initiative for backpackers seeking to travel in Europe between high school and university. Originally aimed exclusively at young people, the passes are now also available for children, adults and seniors. Widening its appeal to more nations and demographics is a smart move, particularly at a time when passengers are increasingly swapping the skies for tracks. Plus, it’s an effective way for national railways to wield soft power as they carry happy travellers across the continent.

Image: Getty Images

Sport / France

Hats off

The Paris 2024 Olympic mascots have been revealed to be a pair of Phrygian caps, floppy accessories that are a symbol of the French republic. The Phryges – in essence, smiling hats with legs – are a departure from the animal-themed mascots that usually represent countries in large sporting tournaments. But it’s doubtful that history will remember them fondly. Some members of the French media have ridiculed their shape, while others have criticised the fact that their toy replicas will almost all be made in China.

Since the 1968 Winter Games in Grenoble, the competition has included a mascot, starting with Schuss, another surreal red-faced figure but on skis. Some have proved to be both memorable and profitable, such as Cobi, a humanised Pyrenean mountain dog drawn in a cubist style, from Barcelona’s 1992 Olympics. Its merchandising was one of the main sources of income for the Games. The decision by the French to choose an ideal over an animal is not unprecedented in Olympics history but it is still quite rare. Only sales of the plush toys will reveal whether the gamble has paid off.

Image: Shutterstock

Monocle 24 / The Urbanist

Water in Las Vegas

Journalist HJ Mai assesses how the US city in the desert, perhaps best known for excess, has become a role model for others during the ongoing water crisis.

Monocle Films / Lisbon

Meet the Photographers: John Balsom

The Jogos da Lusofonia are an Olympics-style sporting event for people from the world’s Portuguese-speaking nations. We dispatched John Balsom – a photographer known for his powerful portraits – to the 2009 games in Lisbon. In our latest film, Balsom shares his memories of the assignment and how he captured such a fast-paced sports story on vintage film cameras. Discover more with The Monocle Book of Photography, which is available to buy today.

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