Tuesday 21 November 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Tuesday. 21/11/2023

The Monocle Minute

The Opinion

Against the wall: A border guard near the boundary area between Finland and Russia

Image: Getty Images

Geopolitics / PETRI BURTSOFF

Crossing a line

The Finnish government has closed all but two crossing stations on its border with Russia. The drastic measure follows accusations that Moscow has been transporting undocumented migrants to the border and encouraging them to cross over. Finland claims that this “hybrid operation” is a form of retaliation for its new defence co-operation pact with the US. The anti-immigration Finns’ Party wields plenty of influence in the country’s right-wing government; the border closures seem to be straight out of its playbook.

The government is walking a tightrope. Its need to send a tough message to Russia is understandable. In light of their country’s history, Finns are acutely aware that attempts to appease Russia rarely succeed and that projections of power are more likely to work. However, Finland is bound by international treaties clearly stating that applying for asylum is an inalienable human right.

Though two border crossings remain open for asylum seekers at the time of writing, there is now talk of closing them too. What is at stake is Finland’s reputation as a Western liberal democracy that respects a rules-based international order. The “happiest nation in the world” cannot cherry-pick which international obligations it fulfils. The number of asylum seekers, who are mostly from the Middle East, is still relatively small: a few hundred have arrived in Finland this week. It’s a number that the country can easily manage.

Despite its denials, there seems little doubt that Russia is behind all of this and that its goal is to destabilise Finland, Nato’s newest member. By closing the border, Finland thinks that it is projecting strength. But the decision has already caused a public outcry and political infighting in the country. That is exactly what Russia wants.

Petri Burtsoff is Monocle’s Helsinki correspondent. For more opinion, analysis and insight, subscribe to Monocle today.



No end in sight

Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, will meet his Algerian counterpart, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, in Algiers today in an effort to facilitate an end to the deadly conflict in Gaza. He is also expected to visit regional heavyweights Egypt and Jordan in the coming days. The trip comes as Erdogan continues to push for a ceasefire and renewed diplomatic efforts to bring about a lasting solution between Israel and Palestine. “Erdogan doesn’t play the role of a mediator any more and supports not only Palestinians but Hamas,” Yossi Mekelberg, an associate fellow at Chatham House, tells The Monocle Minute. “While his country is still a Nato member, his position is straining relations with other alliance members. By going to a country that is also critical of Israel, he will meet like-minded leaders but this is not necessarily helpful.”

Towering above: Azabudai Hills in Tokyo

Image: Alamy


Cutting the ribbon

After years of planning and construction, mixed-use development Azabudai Hills in Tokyo will open officially on Friday. Members of the press were shown around the complex yesterday as part of a phased opening of one of the city’s biggest-ever developments, which includes a VIP ceremony today. Azabudai Hills will eventually host 20,000 workers, 3,500 residents and an estimated 30 million annual visitors. Architects such as Sou Fujimoto and Thomas Heatherwick have worked on what the developers, Mori Building, are calling a “city within a city”.

One of the big attractions is TeamLab Borderless, a digital art museum by Tokyo collective TeamLab, which has been moved from its previous home in Odaiba. Today’s visitors will be given a sneak peek of two installations (there will be more than 50 when the museum opens in February). “We’re excited,” TeamLab’s Takashi Kudo tells The Monocle Minute. “We have moved on technically and can express more of ourselves here. Think of it like an artwork: we can use more colours than before.” The previous iteration of TeamLab Borderless was once the world’s most-visited museum dedicated to a single group or artist, so expectations are high.

Perfect spot: ‘The Polar Gate’ by Adok at Christmas Design in Bergamo

Image: Adok


Christmas time in the city

From this Saturday to 7 January, the Italian city of Bergamo will host the first edition of Christmas Design, a 45-day exhibition celebrating the festive period. After sharing the honour of being 2023’s “capital of culture” with nearby Brescia, it seems that Bergamo is keen to maintain the creative momentum. To that end, it has invited artists and designers to create 20 installations that will soon be unveiled across its streets and piazzas.

The event is organised by Studio GPT with support from the Municipality of Bergamo and the city’s tourism board, Visit Bergamo. The installations will include 3D murals, sculptures and videos by Italian creatives such as up-and-coming designers Chiara Arrigoni and Martina Nodari, and design studio Adok. As well as raising Christmas cheer, the installations also aim to honour Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. Expect plenty of fairy lights and Italian festive flair.

Beyond the Headlines

Shelf knowledge: Hlib Velyhorskyi

Q&A / Hlib Velyhorskyi

One for the books

Hlib Velyhorskyi is the founder and director of Biblioteka. The reference library with more than 8,000 volumes of rare and out-of-print artist publications was founded in Kyiv in 2016 and has recently relocated to Bloomsbury in London. It hosts books and magazines on art, design, architecture and photography, as well as running public programmes. Here, Velyhorskyi tells The Monocle Minute about what sparked the initiative and what it aims to be.

How did Biblioteka begin?
There were two directions that we wanted to move in. One was to collect artist publications, which are really taking off at the moment. But the other was to experiment with what a modern library could be and how it could host exciting programmes for music, screenings and exhibitions, and render them in a very unique way.

What types of publications do you house?
We have quite a few different things that are very broadly connected by the theme of art. For example, we have the entire archive from Photobookshow, a project that has held photography-book exhibitions since 2011. We also have bits on architecture and graphic design, collections of zines and dummy copies sent to us by artists of books that are now out of print.

Are you open for visits?
We’re working to have regular visiting hours from 2024 but we are doing appointments at the moment. And, of course, any events that we run are open to the public.

For more on Biblioteka, tune in to the latest episode of ‘The Stack’, on Monocle Radio.

Image: Getty Images

Monocle Radio / The Foreign Desk

Can there be peace for Israel and Palestine?

It has been six weeks since Hamas’s attack on southern Israel, which indiscriminately killed about 1,200 people and prompted a brutal and unrelenting retaliatory ground insurgency led by the Israeli Defence Forces. The local authority so far claims figures of 11,000 dead. Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, vows to bring an end to Hamas but is that even possible? And what comes next? Will there be a Gaza left to govern? And can there ever be peace? Andrew Mueller speaks to Nimrod Goren, Khaled Elgindy and Sanam Vakil.


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