International Papers

Who’s Sorry Now?

Viagra still refuses to be ousted from its dominant position in the world’s press. Le Monde of Paris, France’s most prestigious newspaper, reported Tuesday that the anti-impotence drug was almost certain to be excluded from the list of medicines approved for free prescriptions by the French state social security system. In a front-page comment in La Repubblica of Rome, celebrated columnist Gianni Riotta called Viagra “the Peter Pan trap” and asked whether it was really a medicine against male impotence or, rather, “a chemist’s aphrodisiac.”

“Does it serve to cure an illness or to regulate eternal adolescence? Does it belong to the world of pharmaceutical drugs or to that of aesthetic surgery, like silicone breast implants?” Riotta asked. Viagra, he went on, creates the illusion that time never ends and that the seasons are forever renewed. “Leaders like Clinton and Blair, who are already middle-aged, are described as ‘young,’ ” he said. “But at Sinatra’s funeral, the eternal Gregory Peck amazed us with his beauty and his bearing.” When the year 2000 arrives, he concluded, “the most beautiful and happiest old people, pill or no pill, will be those like Peck, proud, aware, and strong in their imperfect human reality.”

Tuesday was “National Sorry Day” in Australia, but not in Japan, which, despite Emperor Akihito’s state visit to Britain this week, could not bring itself to apologize unequivocally for the Japanese atrocities inflicted on British POWs in Burma during World War II. The London Evening Standard said in an editorial that “no reasonable person could feel any personal animus against Emperor Akihito” but that “most Londoners will feel little reason to celebrate,” because “the rising sun flag remains, for much of the world, a symbol of terror and shame.” “Former Japanese prisoners-of-war may be old, and their grievances generated long ago,” the Standard concluded. “But their anger and bitterness deserve the sympathy of us all.”

Australia was meanwhile sharply divided over the need to apologize to Aborigines over their past treatment by European immigrants. In the “red corner,” said the Age of Melbourne Tuesday, was the “National Sorry Day mob,” while in the “blue corner” was Australian Prime Minister John Howard, heading the anti-apologizing “National Reconciliation Week.” The newspaper reported that “hundreds of thousands of Australians today formally apologised to the ‘stolen generations’ of Aborigines, but John Howard was not among them.” The prime minister had told parliament that “a formal national apology, of the type sought by others, is not appropriate.”

While Deputy Opposition Leader Gareth Evans was reported as saying, “There’s something very sad about a man who can’t say sorry,” “National Sorry Books” had been signed by half a million people, including “the Catholic bishops of Australia, trade unions and teacher organisations.” The Age also quoted Queensland Premier Rob Borbidge as saying that “the whole sorry industry has gotten a bit out of hand.” Rupert Murdoch’s daily, the Australian, reported that Botany Bay, New South Wales, where Captain Cook landed in 1770 with the first white settlers from Britain, was to be renamed “to reflect its Aboriginal heritage.” The Guardian of London, in a front-page report from Sydney Tuesday, said that one suggestion due to be discussed by tribal elders of the Dharawal people was that Botany Bay (so called because of the exotic plant life found there by Captain Cook) should change its name to “Gillingarie,” a word in the Dharawal language meaning “land that belongs to us all.”

The big vote for democracy in Hong Kong Sunday was welcomed by the South China Morning Post, although the paper expressed concern in an editorial Monday that the high voter turnout, despite torrential rain, might have been at least partly due to “the offer by the retail chain, Giordano, of a 40 per cent discount to anyone who took along the commemorative card to show they had voted.”

“This may just have been a piece of clever marketing, but it comes perilously close to using a financial incentive to influence the election,” the editorial said. “What next–voter air miles?” It said that “the first multi-party elections to be held on the soil of the People’s Republic of China” might not please those who would wish Hong Kong to be a less political society, “but once it has been let out, the electoral genie is hard to put back in the bottle.”

In Indonesia, newspapers have been competing to denounce President Suharto’s successor, Jusuf Habibie, saying that during his 20 years as Minister for Technology and Research he had amassed a fortune of around $60 million. The Jakarta Post said this weekend that Habibie was “not only short of political legitimacy” but was also an “anti-market personality” who believed in “crony capitalism.”

In Rome, the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano defended the Dominican order’s campaign to beatify Girolamo Savonarola, the fire-and-brimstone monk who was excommunicated, hanged, and burned in Florence 500 years ago. The paper described him as an “illuminated master of spirituality” and a “tireless preacher for social reform.”