Despite its name, the Arctic Circle Assembly in Reykjavík, which wrapped up this Saturday, was not an exclusively Arctic gathering. More than 60 countries were represented among the delegates, the furthest-travelled of whom hailed from as far from the Arctic as you can possibly get. In the queue for excellent boxed lunches of fresh Icelandic produce, your correspondent observed a tattooed attendee from New Zealand in traditional Maori costume. The assembly, however, was notably Arctic in demeanour and tone: practical, unfussy and broadly collegiate.
With due recognition of the pitfalls of stereotyping people by their virtues, it was refreshing to hear issues discussed with a splendidly Scandinavian disdain for theatrical grandstanding. But two things were notably absent: self-congratulation and Russia. Among Arctic countries in the decades following the Second World War, there was a certain amount of preening about “Arctic exceptionalism”. This was the idea that whatever differences that the region’s nations might have had, they – including Russia – could work constructively together on the Arctic itself. It was startling and sobering to hear from many people, even those involved in entirely apolitical scientific research, that their contact with Russia – formal and informal, professional and friendly – had simply ceased. Nobody expected these dialogues to resume any time soon.
This is entirely Russia’s fault and the other Arctic countries will probably improvise workarounds for its absence in the finest pragmatic traditions of the region. It would be better equipped to do so with help from elsewhere but the summit’s delegates were anxious that the region’s stability was starving it of attention. The world should not forget to look north. Conflict here isn’t impossible and the effects of climate change will be transformative. As Finland’s ambassador to Iceland, Anu Laamanen, told Monocle, “If you lose the Arctic, you lose the world.”
Australia’s prime minister, Anthony Albanese, is meeting Joe Biden at the White House today to address concerns about China’s influence in the Pacific. The Aukus deal, which permits the UK and US to share nuclear propulsion technology with Australia, will be central to the talks.
The pact also allows the US further access to Australia’s vast deposits of rare-earth minerals, whose global supply is currently dominated by China. Both countries have focused on sharpening their Indo-Pacific strategies and solidifying their defensive co-operation. Amid the rapidly evolving Israel-Hamas conflict, the meeting presents an opportunity for the nations to pursue their shared priorities.
Japan’s bullet trains will no longer be leaving smoke trails in their wake as they puff into stations between Tokyo and Osaka. Passengers in need of a cigarette will have to wait until they reach their destination as operators JR Central, West Japan Railway Company and Kyushu Shinkansen all have plans to remove their onboard smoking rooms by spring 2024. At present, the Tokaido Shinkansen’s N700 series features several standing-room spaces, accessed via sliding doors where carriages connect, in which passengers can enjoy a puff.
While journeys might seem to drag on longer for smokers, tobacco-free trains will mean that non-smokers in the poorly ventilated carriages will no longer be forced to sit in a cloud of smoke. The rail companies cite health concerns and the decreasing number of smokers as reasons for their decision and plan to replace the facilities with emergency water supplies. The Nozomi line has already remodelled its smokers’ rooms as small meeting spaces. But these solutions seem rather uninspired. Couldn’t the rooms be converted into something more fun – a bar, perhaps?
Poland’s Law and Justice (PiS) party, which has been in power since 2015, lost its majority in the country’s general election last Sunday. The election, which had a record turnout of more than 70 per cent, has paved the way for opposition parties, headed by former European Council president Donald Tusk, to form a centrist coalition and has given hope to the country’s creative industry. Though talks are still in progress, many are already speculating about how a new leadership might repair the damage caused by the PiS’s illiberal policies. Nowhere have these effects been felt more keenly than in the arts. Under the party’s leadership, the sector came under increasing government control, with those who were critical of the state dismissed and funding redirected to projects that toed the party line. Despite the challenges, the sector was able to survive through local government funding, as well as assistance from private foundations. Change is finally in the air but the optimism of Poland’s creative community is tempered by caution.
A series of coups has highlighted France’s often troubled relations with Africa. In Monocle’s November issue, we visit Senegal to see what needs fixing.
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The Czechia-based brand produces limited-edition products through collaborations with emerging and established designers. We meet its co-founder Jana Zielinski.