Wednesday 19 July 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Wednesday. 19/7/2023

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Tim Mak

Outside looking in

Though the dust has settled and attention has been diverted away from last week’s Nato summit in Vilnius, Ukrainians still feel as though they’ve been stabbed in the back. While the bloc’s members congratulated themselves on standing united with Ukraine, the issue of the country’s admission to the alliance remains unresolved.

In the midst of a war against a nation that Nato had, for decades, viewed as its biggest threat, Ukraine was not given a timetable or a clear invitation to join the organisation. According to a recent survey, a staggering 89 per cent of Ukrainians want their country to become part of the military alliance. Despite his compatriots’ overwhelming wishes, Volodymyr Zelensky was forced to swallow a bitter pill and attend the summit without the promise of membership.

While Western nations issued a joint communiqué last week that ambiguously stated, “Ukraine’s future is in Nato”, its citizens aren’t exactly hopeful. From their perspective, they’ve been doing the alliance’s dirty work for a generation, spilling their own blood to degrade Russia’s military effectiveness.

It’s clear that Western leaders are out of touch with the everyday trauma that occurs in Ukraine and the cost of resisting a full-scale Russian invasion. “People are saying that we shouldn’t be so upset about Nato’s rejection and that additional military help will do the job,” said Stas Olenchenko, a Ukrainian writer. “I want you to imagine seeing your family member barely surviving domestic abuse for a year and then hearing that all the police will do is send pepper spray.”

Russia was, no doubt, watching the summit closely. Putin’s autocratic government understands only two things: force and deterrence. Nato equivocation will be paid for, just as many poor Western decisions have been in this war, by Ukrainian suffering and loss.

Tim Mak is a war correspondent based in Kyiv and founder of The Counteroffensive. For more opinion, analysis and insight, subscribe to Monocle today.

Image: Shutterstock

Politics / Thailand

Swing the lead

Thailand’s parliament is meeting for a second time today to nominate a prime minister. The outcome is likely to be a rerun of last Thursday’s vote when Move Forward’s Pita Limjaroenrat (pictured) failed to secure enough support from rival politicians and senators. While his pathway to the premiership appears all but closed, attention is shifting to the list of alternative candidates from other parties in the Move Forward-led coalition; chief among them is businessman Srettha Thavisin from Pheu Thai, who has expressed his readiness to lead the country.

His candidacy is thought to have more crossover appeal than either Limjaroenrat or Paetongtam Shinawatra, daughter of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. In order to secure enough votes, however, Pheu Thai might need to form a new coalition that excludes Move Forward from government altogether. Such a move might be interpreted by voters to be an establishment plot to block progress in Thailand and could end up costing Pheu Thai dear at the next election.

Image: Felix Odell

Urbanism / Stockholm

Out of the woods

Stockholm has been setting an example of environmental sustainability for other European capitals for decades and it’s now preparing to set the bar even higher. The Swedish capital will soon become home to the “world’s largest wooden city”, which will comprise 2,000 homes, 7,000 office spaces and a variety of restaurants and shops made entirely from wood. It follows in the footsteps of a similar project in 2015 entitled “Stockholm in Wood”, which featured 6,000 new apartments made entirely from timber (pictured).

The new complex, which is due for completion by 2027, will be designed by Scandinavian studios Henning Larsen and White Arkitekter and developed by the property company Atrium Ljungberg. Mass timber has become the material of choice for developments focused on sustainability and recent projects such as the Ascent tower in Milwaukee or the Sara Kulturhus centre in Skellefteå have already proven its potential. Aside from the environmental benefits of using a natural material that reduces carbon emissions, Stockholm’s new neighbourhood project aims to improve quality of life by reducing commuting times and the capital’s workplace deficit.

Image: Alamy

Transport / Japan

Lap of luxury

While most countries are focused on getting their core train services to run smoothly, Japan’s network is already ultra-efficient, meaning that the nation’s rail operators are able to concentrate on improving the overall travel experience. The latest launch is Tobu Railways’ Spacia X, a lavish six-car train that connects Asakusa in Tokyo to Nikko, an area famed for its national park, hot springs and the elaborately decorated Toshogu Shrine.

Its design blends architectural features from the two regions: the grand Nikko Kanaya Hotel – Japan’s oldest existing resort hotel – is the inspiration for the cockpit lounge car, while the exterior references the traditional craft of woven bamboo. The train is carbon neutral too, with a 40 per cent reduction in carbon dioxide, and it is fully powered by renewable energy. With panoramic windows, a top-class lunch made from premium ingredients and comfortable seating, the new train is a reminder that travel can be more than just a means of reaching a destination. We’ll be reserving a box seat in one of the snug semi-compartments.

Image: Universal Pictures

Culture / USA

Going nuclear

Oppenheimer is a biographical thriller about the story of American scientist J Robert Oppenheimer and his role in the development of the atomic bomb. Directed by Christopher Nolan (pictured, on right, with Cillian Murphy) and released around the world this week with a budget of $180m (€160.4m), it is widely regarded as the most anticipated movie of the year. Nolan tells Monocle how he transformed the stories that he read in history books into moving images on screen.

J Robert Oppenheimer has an antic energy throughout the film. How essential was this to his characterisation?
I wanted to portray the events of Oppenheimer’s life as an experience to be shared with the audience so that they could come to some sort of understanding of him rather than judging him. I want them to be caught up in the sense of momentum and pressure that is propelling him forward.

How easy was it to write dialogue from a history book?
You have to breathe life into historical characters. I read thousands of pages of historical transcripts before making Oppenheimer – they’re amazing source material. What the characters say is verbatim, though the dialogues have been tidied up so that they fit the tone of the film. We are not making a documentary but a dramatic feature.

The scale of the film is huge. What effect did you intend to create with this?
It’s not just about the literal scale of the set that we built or the world that we are trying to create – it’s about the humanity involved. We knew that we needed the vistas of New Mexico and the thunderous nature of its local weather to create a dramatic feature. Ultimately, though, a lot of the scale comes from the characters themselves and the disparate points of view that they bring together; it was important to show how the community of scientists and military personnel interacted.

For the full interview with Christopher Nolan, tune in to the forthcoming Monday edition of ‘Monocle on Culture’ on Monocle Radio.

Image: Shutterstock

Monocle Radio / The Urbanist

Siam Square, Bangkok

James Chambers takes us to Bangkok’s Siam Square to see why pedestrians are making good use of this refreshed piece of public realm in the Thai capital.

Edits / Monocle

Monocle preview: July/August issue

Who tops our liveable leaderboard? Monocle’s annual Quality of Life Survey puts the world’s best cities through their paces and profiles the urban centres on the up. We also get set for summer by gardening in Hiroshima, dining in Marseille and dancing in Mexico City. Plus: how Bratislava’s bass-playing, architect mayor is helping the city to find its groove. Grab your copy today.


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