Wednesday 13 September 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Wednesday. 13/9/2023

The Monocle Minute

The Opinion

Justice ministers, assemble: delegates at the Council of Europe summit in Riga

Image: Council of Europe

Diplomacy / Christopher Cermak

A tree with roots

On the banks of a canal in Riga, there’s a willow tree that was planted to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the country’s independence from the Soviet Union. “The willow is a symbol of change,” reads the plaque below it. “It grows furiously. If broken by the storms of life, it puts down new roots and rises again, even stronger.” As Russia continues its war in Ukraine, it’s a sign of just how much the Baltic countries have in common with the embattled nation.

As I’ve travelled across the region over the past week, I’ve come across no shortage of events focusing on the ongoing war. “We will never stop being a platform for Ukraine,” Inese Libina-Egnere, Latvia’s justice minister, tells me on the sidelines of the Council of Europe summit in Riga. The summit has brought together European justice ministers, including Ukraine’s, to discuss ways to hold Russia accountable for its actions. Riga is also hosting 30 warships and 3,200 military personnel from 14 countries for the next two weeks for a defence exercise on the Baltic. The exercises will partly focus on how to strengthen coastal defences, says Latvian navy commander Maris Polencs.

People in the Baltic region are quick to remind the rest of the world that their countries are very different: Estonia tends to look north to Finland, for instance, while Latvia and Lithuania look south to Poland. But their shared history of occupation ties them together. When it comes to the Baltics’ outsized support for Ukraine, however, Libina-Egnere rejects this historical lens. “It’s about values,” she tells me. At a time of increasing war fatigue in the US, with questions being asked about its continuing support, this is the lesson that I will take home with me to Washington. We shouldn’t have to be Russia’s neighbour to understand what’s at stake in Ukraine. It’s about values and justice – and letting that willow tree keep spreading its roots, however it sees fit.

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


Rising prospects: National Party leader Christopher Luxon

Image: Getty Images

Politics / New Zealand

Changing tide

As campaigning ramps up in New Zealand ahead of October’s general election, most signs point to a change of government and the return of the centre-right. The latest opinion poll gives the opposition National Party a commanding double-digit lead over the ruling Labour Party, which can no longer count on the leadership of two-time election winner Jacinda Ardern. Chris Hipkins, who took over as prime minister when Ardern resigned in January, enjoyed a brief honeymoon period but a string of cabinet scandals and rising household bills have dented his chances of pulling off another victory for the centre-left.

The gloomy outlook that the treasury set out yesterday in a pre-election fiscal update is unlikely to boost Labour’s chances of staying in power, despite some of the official forecasts being better than expected. Responding to the news, National’s leader, Christopher Luxon, accused the government of having “no plan to turn things around”. With little more than a month until voters head to the polls, Luxon and National appear to be in the box seat.

Built to last: a Rural Studio project in Alabama

Image: Benjamin Rasmussen


Picking winners

The winners of Japan’s prestigious Praemium Imperiale awards were announced yesterday, with each recipient receiving ¥15m (€95,000). Awarded since 1989 by the Japan Art Association – whose honorary patron is Prince Hitachi, the emperor’s uncle – the awards are considered a valuable soft-power tool by many Japanese diplomats. While this year’s recipients include some well-known talents – Olafur Eliasson for sculpture, Wynton Marsalis for music, Francis Kéré for architecture, Vija Celmins for painting and Robert Wilson for theatre/film – it was one of the 2023 grants for young artists that jumped out for Monocle.

Nominated by Hillary Rodham Clinton in her capacity as one of the scheme’s international advisers, Rural Studio in Alabama is a pioneering project that takes architecture students out of the classroom to design and build everything from homes to skate parks – even a fire station – for use by local communities. It’s a project that we reported on in our July/August issue and we couldn’t think of a better winner. Head here to read our full report.

Trade / Peru

The zest that money can’t buy

Less than a year after Peruvian president Pedro Castillo was booted out of office for attempting to dissolve Congress, the country continues to be rocked by one political crisis after another. Away from the offices of state, however, another particularly bitter crisis is brewing: a lemon shortage, which has caused prices to almost quintuple in some areas. A staple of almost every family’s shopping basket, lemons are a key ingredient of ceviche, Peru’s cherished national dish. With many Peruvians squeezed out of the supermarket citrus aisle by the price hike – caused, in part, by Cyclone Yaku in March, which destroyed lemon harvests, as well as El Niño and the effects of global heating – a black market has emerged, with police intercepting contraband lemons from Colombia. In response, Peru’s finance minister, Alex Contreras, advised families to substitute ceviche with chicken, a suggestion dismissed by many as culinary blasphemy. Luckily, the shortage is expected to be short-term – but it’s a reminder that extreme weather can cook up trouble in unexpected ways.

Beyond the Headlines

Write on time: Anya Hindmarch and Itoya’s stationery shop

The List / London

Height of style

The media and buyers will descend on the UK capital this week as London Fashion Week kicks off on Friday, running until Tuesday 19 September. While invite-only runway shows will take place across the week, plenty of citywide events and exhibitions will be open to the public. Here are our top three picks.

1. Visit Anya Hindmarch’s new stationery shop
The brand has partnered with Japanese stationer Itoya at The Village in Belgravia to create a selection of joyful pieces that will animate your desk.

2. Browse Hermès’s kiosk at The Lawn on the Strand
Open from tomorrow until 16 September, the pop-up is inspired by iconic Parisian newsstands and will be handing out the latest edition of the brand’s biannual Le Monde d’Hermès magazine.

3. Try a traditional English breakfast from Burberry
The label’s latest collaboration with north-London-based Norman’s Cafe aims to blend British luxury with everyday life. While the brand has plans to take over the café’s physical space until 17 September, a travelling Burberry x Norman’s food truck will also parade the streets of London to serve the city’s hungry fashionistas.

Image: Alamy

Monocle Radio / The Big Interview

Steve Earle

One of the most acclaimed singer-songwriters of his generation joins Andrew Mueller to discuss his new tour and why his enduring hit “Copperhead Road” is the newest state song of Tennessee, where marijuana remains illegal.


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