Monday. 1/5/2023

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Andrew Mueller

Political portents

The rulers of ancient Greece would go to Delphi to solicit the advice of a hallucinating priestess. The rulers of modern Greece, along with potentates and policymakers from other jurisdictions, go to the same vicinity for the Delphi Economic Forum, where the deliberations (if not the dinners) are rather more sober.

Delphi’s agenda is vast. There are discussions on everything from Russia and Ukraine to the possibilities of quantum computing and the merits of teaching classical Greek. But if one theme emerged from this year’s forum, it was that Turkey’s election of 14 May is the most important scheduled event of 2023. It’s startling to consider the degree to which Turkey’s voters could reshape the world. The country has Sweden at its mercy when it comes to the Nordic nation’s Nato bid. It can make the eastern Mediterranean a geostrategic headache instead of just a conundrum. It occupies a chunk of an EU member; it is sort of at war in Syria and Iraq. Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan (pictured on poster, on left) – if that is still his job description a month or so from now – will decide whether the democratic world retains a significant asset or the authoritarian realm claims one.

The general attitude at Delphi was fatalism rather than optimism. Harris Georgiades, chairman of the foreign and European affairs committee of the Cyprus parliament, told me that he wasn’t sure a change of leadership would make much difference to Turkey’s trajectory. Qubad Talabani, deputy prime minister of the Kurdish regional government in Iraq, candidly admitted, “We just deal with what we have to deal with because we’re not really in a position to influence any outcomes.” At one Delphi panel, Turkish-American economist Nouriel Roubini worried that Erdogan might yet engineer a dramatic crisis ahead of the election. The world stays up all night to watch the results of US presidential elections come in; we should keep just as riveted and wary an eye on this one.

Andrew Mueller is Monocle’s contributing editor and host of ‘The Foreign Desk’, which airs on Saturdays at 12.00 London time on Monocle Radio. For more opinion, analysis and insight, subscribe to Monocle today.

Image: Reuters

Diplomacy / RUSSIA & CHINA

Deep freeze

Following talks between Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin (pictured, on right, with Xi) in March, Russia and China strengthened their burgeoning Arctic alliance by signing a memorandum on maritime law enforcement last week. Though the agreement is limited to combating internationally recognised crimes such as smuggling and illegal fishing, the ever-closer collaboration between the two nations is likely to have economic consequences too. Russia’s Arctic infrastructure will be useful for China, a self-proclaimed “near-Arctic state”, in establishing a “Polar Silk Road” and accessing the region’s rich hydrocarbon reserves. The accord, which comes as Sweden seeks to follow Finland into Nato, is a further sign of the High North’s increasing political polarisation. Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the other member nations of the Arctic Council – Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Canada and the US – stopped working with Moscow. On 11 May, Norway will take over the council’s rotating chairship from Russia. The latter’s new cold-front alliance could make any attempt at dialogue even frostier.

Image: Alamy

Business / Panama

Green growth

The World Bank has signed off on a $150m (€136m) loan aimed at boosting environmentally friendly growth and development in Panama. The financial incentive should improve access to energy and the internet in remote regions of the country, protect its mangroves (pictured) and help to decarbonise land transportation.

According to the World Bank, the initiative could start to yield positive outcomes by 2025. Panama’s government is also optimistic. “This financial operation will enhance [our] efforts in establishing the policy foundations to foster the country’s sustainable economic growth, low emissions and resilience to climate change,” said Panama’s economy and finance minister, Héctor Alexandre, in a statement. Given that one of the country’s goals for the next decade is to use its natural and cultural heritage to attract foreign investment, protecting its landscapes is as much a strategic move as it is a moral one.

Image: Kochi Metro Rai

TRANSPORT / INDIA

High water

The first two routes of India’s new water metro system were unveiled in the Keralan port city of Kochi last week. The project is expected to be completed by 2035, when 78 electrically propelled boats will serve 15 routes, with 38 stops that will also be connected to the wider Kochi Metro Rail network. According to Keralan authorities, the vessels (pictured) can be powered in 15 minutes and carry as many as 100 passengers per trip, and will last about 10 years.

Making better use of its waterways should help Kochi to ease road congestion in a state that is home to some 34 million people. At the unveiling ceremony, India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, said that he hoped the project would open up new tourism possibilities, while Kerala’s chief minister, Pinarayi Vijayan, called it a blueprint for transport systems in other Indian cities. Ambitious initiatives such as this will be fundamental in reshaping mobility in many traffic-stricken cities around the country.

Image: Shutterstock

Culture / UK & UKRAINE

Sing for victory

Preparations for the 67th Eurovision Song Contest, which will begin on 9 May, are well under way. Though Ukraine won last year’s competition, the event will be hosted in Liverpool instead of Kyiv – but Ukrainian musicians will still have a leading role in the show.

Many of the country’s former Eurovision contestants will take to the stage, from Verka Serduchka, who impressed in 2007 with “Dancing Lasha Tumbai”, to Jamala, who won in 2016 with powerful ballad “1944”. Also appearing will be Tina Karol (pictured), who took part in 2006 with “Show Me Your Love” and is now a pop star at home, as well as a prominent wartime activist. Karol has sung for front-line fighters and hosted the finals of The Voice Ukraine from inside a bomb shelter. “Artists have a huge role in a moment like this: we have the ability to lift morale,” Karol tells The Monocle Minute. Ukraine is once again among the favourites to win this year’s contest but it will face stiff competition from Sweden’s Loreen and Finland’s entry, Käärijä.

Image: Alamy

Monocle Radio / The Menu

Tbilisi’s Old Town

This week, Sally Howard explores Tbilisi’s Old Town, the heart of the ancient Georgian capital. She tries a selection of sharing dishes with heavy Persian, Mongol and Russian influences and, of course, a healthy dollop of sour cream.

Monocle Films / Global

Monocle preview: May issue, 2023

Monocle’s third annual Design Awards honour the top 50 objects, places and designers that have popped onto our radar over the past year. Expect stunning buildings, cosy furniture and saké in cans. Elsewhere in Issue 163, we find out how Russia recruits spies (and why it needs to), set up home at the world’s premier property fair and step out in spring fashion.

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