Tuesday 30 May 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Tuesday. 30/5/2023

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images


Time to catch app

Though well known for its efficiency, much of Germany’s bureaucratic life is still about paper. Having recently moved to the US, I was required to send a physical letter to my German bank to register a change of address and phone number. The US can be similarly backward: after using a digital coronavirus vaccine certificate on my phone for more than a year while living in the UK, getting my final booster shot here in the US landed me a physical card as proof instead.

Ukraine is light years ahead of Germany and the US. Mykhailo Fedorov, the country’s deputy prime minister and minister of digital transformation, was in Washington last week to unveil an app called Diia, which has been providing Ukrainians with all manner of public services on their smartphone since 2019. You can use it to open bank accounts, upload a digital copy of your passport or even start a business. Since the war, it has allowed Ukrainians to report Russian troop movements and seek compensation for damage to their homes. As every request is recorded and much of it is automated, it has cut down on government corruption too.

Ukraine is making Diia’s technology open source and has already offered the code to Estonia. Here in Washington, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) has partnered with Ukraine and is working with developing nations that want to create their own versions. At its flashy unveiling last week, the head of USAID, Samantha Power, joked that it would be nice to have such an app in the US. She said this with no conviction that it would happen – but is it really so hard to imagine? Has the country given up on making such improvements to how we live? The Ukrainian example (and my German experience) proves that help with bureaucratic tasks can have positive outcomes far beyond cutting down on paperwork.

Christopher Cermak is Monocle’s Washington correspondent. For more opinion, analysis and insight, subscribe to Monocle today.

Image: Shutterstock


Friendly intentions

Fresh from a historic joint visit to a memorial dedicated to South Korean victims of the bombing of Hiroshima (and a half-hour meeting on the sidelines of the G7), Japan’s prime minister, Fumio Kishida, and South Korea’s president, Yoon Suk-yeol (pictured, on left, with Kishida), are continuing to mend the fractured relationship between their two countries. As a further sign of the diplomatic thaw, a Japanese Maritime Self-Defence Force destroyer will be flying the Rising Sun flag when entering the port of Busan tomorrow, as part of joint naval drills. Despite being the official ensign of the force, the flag is widely seen in South Korea as a symbol of Japanese wartime imperialism. Its use had created tensions in the past but can now be read as a sign of improving ties between the nations.

Image: Getty Images


On the safe side

Unesco has announced that its global journalist-protection project, Supporting Safe Spaces for Journalists in Conflict Situations, will reach Latin America this year. The initiative, which offers legal and psychological support to reporters, as well as safe newsrooms, is a response to increased violence in the region, where more than 200 journalists have been killed in the past decade.

Threats, intimidation and other forms of aggression, often leading to exile or censorship, are also common. In 2022 a report published by Reuters and the University of Oxford deemed Latin America the most “lethal region” for journalists in the world. Unesco hopes to export the model elsewhere. With press freedoms in countries such as Hong Kong and Turkey also in sharp decline, creating a network that prioritises journalists’ safety can only be good news.

Image: SLA / Mikkel Eye

Urbanism / Denmark

Back to nature

The municipality of Køge, 39km southwest of Copenhagen, has made nature an intrinsic part of an entirely new neighbourhood. Copenhagen-based design studio SLA is behind the new Søndre Havn district, which took over a former industrial harbour. The firm’s approach uses nature as a means to tie the community together and create a sustainable urban environment that is resilient to a changing climate.

Central to its development are two components: the pedestrian promenade that encircles the district and the green commons that are spread across it. Not only do the fields provide lush greenery and recreational spaces for residents but they also enhance the area’s biodiversity and efficiently manage rainwater run-off. “We’re showing all the benefits of implementing a strong, nature-based design,” says SLA’s CEO, Mette Skjold. “The project can act like a prototype for how to think, plan and develop the surrounding area.”

For more agenda-setting stories on design, urbanism and how to improve our cities, pick up Monocle’s June issue, which is on sale now.


Sounds of the summer

UK pop icon Sophie Ellis-Bextor is back with a new album, Hana. Released this Friday, the record is inspired by east Asia and concludes a geographical trilogy that took Ellis-Bextor to eastern Europe for Wanderlust and Latin America for Familia. She tells The Monocle Minute more about the album.

Was Tokyo a big inspiration for the album?
Yes. I went there for the first time in February 2020, just before the world tilted. So it was always going to be quite a significant trip but then it took on an extra significance. I found the city inspiring. I have a track called “Tokyo” on the album. The funny thing is that I wrote it before I went – I was trying to imagine the city in my head.

Your music has inspired many new musicians – but what are your influences?
For this record in particular, I was influenced by nostalgia. I was accessing a lot of memories of songs that I listened to when I was younger. It became quite a safe place to go inside my head. It sounded like the things that I was doing in the early 2000s.

What are your plans for the summer?
There are various festivals lined up: Latitude and Mighty Hoopla, among others.

To listen to the full interview with Sophie Ellis-Bextor, tune in to Friday’s edition of the ‘Monocle Weekly’.

Image: Andrea Pugiotto

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