Tuesday 23 January 2024 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Tuesday. 23/1/2024

The Monocle Minute

The Opinion

Cold light of day: Practising combat skills in Kyiv

Image: Reuters

Affairs / Julia Lasica

War or peace?

Slovakia’s prime minister, Robert Fico, has repeated his belief that the only way to end the war in Ukraine would be with territorial concessions to Russia. Fico will meet his Ukrainian counterpart, Denys Shmyhal, tomorrow and is part of a growing chorus of officials calling for peace talks between the two countries. But for Ukrainians, faced with the biggest Russian bombardment of their cities yet and a slowdown in military support from the US, this rhetoric marks another death knell for their dreams of stability and independence.

To their credit, many in Europe and the US are awake to Russia’s imperialistic ambitions. Sweden’s top officials have recently warned their compatriots of the looming threat of war, while Germany’s chancellor, Olaf Scholz, has berated EU allies over dwindling arms supplies to Ukraine. Across the Atlantic, Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley has been vocal in her pro-Ukrainian position, arguing that an increased flow of arms is the only way to prevent a wider war. But these efforts are tempered with signs of dangerous backsliding. In the US, Republicans continue to hold sorely needed packages of support hostage and Italy’s defence minister, Guido Crosetto, has linked any further aid to Ukraine with efforts to seek a negotiated settlement. European armies remain woefully unprepared for military threats too. Despite talk of rearming, the UK’s defence bosses are considering decommissioning two warships, potentially spelling the end for the country’s Royal Marines.

Many Ukrainians respond to talk of so-called war fatigue in Western societies with an eyeroll. While their families remain split across borders and artillery-chewed battlefields, the lives of Westerners remain untouched by war and rich Russians cavort in European capitals. Instead, Ukrainians are looking to the twilight years of the 1930s when talk of peace in Europe was also bandied about while nations, including Fico’s own Slovakia, were eaten up. Though the decision to ramp up military pressure might not feel the easiest or most natural, it is still the right one.

Julia Lasica is a researcher at Monocle. For more opinion, analysis and insight, subscribe to Monocle today.


Port of call: Blinken (centre) in Cape Verde yesterday

Image: Getty Images

Diplomacy / USA & Africa

Continental shift

US secretary of state Antony Blinken has embarked on a four-nation tour across Africa this week in a bid to bolster diplomatic ties. America’s top diplomat is set to visit Cape Verde, Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria and Angola to discuss US infrastructure investments and security issues. The tour is part of an effort to underscore Washington’s unwavering commitment to Africa, even as the Biden administration’s focus is on the conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East.

“With China and Russia increasingly flexing their muscles in Africa, the Biden administration doesn’t want to appear as though it’s ceding influence on the continent to its adversaries,” Thomas Gift, associate professor of political science and director of the Centre on US Politics at University College London, tells The Monocle Minute. “This trip is about reassuring Africa and the world of America’s commitment to sustained engagement in the region. Beijing and Moscow are sure to take note.”

Society / Japan

Walk the Line

Though little known in Europe and the US, Line is by far Japan’s most popular social-media service. According to a new survey conducted by JTB Tourism Research & Consulting Co, 89.5 per cent of respondents used the app, compared to 50.6 per cent for Instagram, 50.3 per cent for X and a lowly 17.7 per cent for Tiktok. Launched by NHN Japan (a subsidiary of South Korean firm Naver) in 2011, Line is now run by Japan’s LY Corporation and is the go-to app for 95 million people in the country when it comes to messaging, voice calls and video chats, as well as news updates and cashless payments. It offers a colourful communication platform that’s packed with characters and animated “stickers”, and a place for brands to advertise to a significant chunk of the population. Line has also taken off in other parts of Asia, such as Taiwan and Thailand. It isn’t just for young people, either: more pensioners in Japan use Line than email.

Mock-up: What Minsuk Cho’s Serpentine Pavilion might look like

Image: Serpentine

Design / UK

Building the future

This year’s Serpentine Pavilion will be designed by South Korean architect Minsuk Cho, founder of Seoul-based design studio Mass Studies. The temporary structure, which is built and opened to the public in London’s Hyde Park every summer, is often used as a conceptual testing ground for the selected architect. Cho’s project, called “Archipelagic Void”, looks to interrogate the relationship between indoor and outdoor spaces.

His design for the pavilion will see five structures positioned to create a small, central courtyard or madang, similar to those found in traditional South Korean houses. Given that the work of previous commission winners – including Zaha Hadid, Oscar Niemeyer and Rem Koolhaas, whose projects explored architectural geometry, simplicity and weather-responsive design respectively – has gone on to set industry benchmarks, we’re expecting Cho to have a similarly wide reach, with his work focusing on the indoor-outdoor connection being emulated by architects across the board.

Beyond the Headlines

Image: Alamy

Q&A / Alexander Payne

Setting the scene

Alexander Payne is an Academy Award-winning director. His latest film, The Holdovers, about three lonely people stuck at a New England boarding school over the winter holidays, has become an award-season favourite. Here, he tells The Monocle Minute about the film’s premise, its chosen setting and how the soundtrack was used to convey emotion.

Where did the idea for the film come from?
About a dozen years ago, I was at a film festival and caught a little-known Marcel Pagnol film from 1935 called Merlusse, which had a similar premise, though not the same story. I left the cinema thinking that a good movie could be made from that same general premise. Then I met David Hemingson, who had written a pilot that took place in a boarding school. So I asked whether he would consider writing a feature, because it was a world that I didn’t know. It was my first experience directing a writer and it ended up being a lovely collaboration between the two of us.

Why did you choose to set it in the 1970s?
I’ve always wanted to make period films but just hadn’t gotten to it yet. Both David and I had the premise but knew that it couldn’t be contemporary, because single-sex boarding schools are not so common any more. Therefore it had to be a period film. The selection of 1970 just felt right for the both of us and gave David tools to work with. I also thought that it would be an interesting challenge to have the film made to look and sound as though it had been filmed during that decade.

Tell us about the musical score.
That was a long and lovely collaboration between myself, editor Kevin Tent, London-born music editor Richard Ford, who we have worked with for 25 years, and composer Mark Orton, who scored my film Nebraska 10 years ago. We had to pin down the rhythm to support the comedic elements and the emotion without calling attention to itself. And, of course, there is the additional element of popular music from the period, which was both used as score and as music played by the characters.

For our full interview with Alexander Payne, tune in to the latest edition of ‘The Monocle Weekly’ on Monocle Radio.

Image: Gilles Draps

Monocle Radio / The Menu

A postcard from Shoreditch

Shoreditch in east London has long been a great place to eat. Its refined restaurants often set the pace for the rest of the city – and beyond. Plus: Monocle’s Emilie Wade heads to wine bar Oranj, where we learn more about the ever-growing demand for low-intervention bottles.


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