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The start of the World Cup soccer tournament in France dominated much of the world’s press this week. The elaborate opening ceremony in Paris, featuring giant plastic racial stereotypes parading at 1 mile per hour down the Champs Elysees with forklift trucks as feet, was not greatly admired abroad. “Violence and boredom at the opening festival in Paris,” said Germany’s Die Welt in a front-page headline Thursday. The British press was also sniffy about what it saw as tedious French artistic pretentiousness. The French press covered the World Cup from every conceivable angle, with Le Monde dwelling in an editorial on the glory of soccer as “the only truly universal sport.” A special supplement reported on everything from the exploitation of football symbols by the French fashion industry to the difficulties experienced by Iranian censors in cutting images of South America’s scantily clad female football fans from TV coverage. The conservative Paris daily Le Figaro ran a long philosophical essay by French academic Jean d’Ormesson suggesting football, having supplanted religion and patriotism, is the new “opium of the people.”
The Italian press provided especially full coverage of the war between its former African colonies Ethiopia and Eritrea. In a comment titled “The Brief Illusion of the Afro-Optimists” by Domenico Quirico, the Turin paper La Stampa said President Clinton’s hopes for the continent have been “felled like a tornado” by the war. Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki and Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi were regarded by the United States as two of the most important African “young leaders,” rejecting violence, promoting democracy, respecting human rights, and encouraging economic reform. But now they seem “bent upon repeating the cruel and monotonous rites of the religion of totalitarianism.” “Offering themselves to the United States as bulwarks against Islam, they filled their arsenals with old Pentagon stock, which they are now discharging copiously on each other,” the article said. President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, whom Clinton visited earlier this year, is hardly better, it added. He was the inventor of the “no-party system”–“a more sophisticated version of the old one-party system that led Africa to shipwreck and plunder.”
In Nigeria, where President Gen. Sani Abacha died Monday, the independent, pro-democracy Post Express called on the new military leadership to release political detainees and establish a “Government of National Unity” as first steps toward re-establishing a civilian democracy. “Its first job would be to restore civility to this nation,” the paper said. “There has been so much violence, so much corruption, so much arbitrariness and so much criminality in this land.” Another recommended priority: to “restore confidence in the spirit of nationalism,” because “the rate at which Nigerians flee their fatherland or vandalise public property should worry any government of the people anywhere.” Finally, it should organize a “National Conference to discuss the sore problems that make us a disunited and grossly discontented people.”
South Africa’s Johannesburg Star, commenting in an editorial on President Nelson Mandela’s appeal to African leaders this week to rid their continent of tyranny, was just as pessimistic: “A man-made famine in Sudan, the current border conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea, and ongoing difficulties in bringing peace to Rwanda are among outrages that suggest the end of tyranny in Africa is a long way off.” The Star also criticized Clinton for his handling of the nuclear weapons crisis in the Indian subcontinent: He should replace “sanctions, disapprobation, and isolation” with the promotion of India to the United Nations Security Council and the Group of Eight in exchange for India holding a plebiscite in Kashmir. “If Clinton wants to avoid a nuclear catastrophe for the world and the dustbin of history for himself, he has no other choice,” the paper said. “His reward would be just as tangible. He’ll be remembered as the greatest American president of the 20th century.”
In a front-page comment Thursday, La Stampa took a serious and condemnatory line on the marketing in America of Pol Pot’s deathbed sandals as “the new youth symbol of revolutionary anti-Western romanticism.” It lamented “the speed with which, through a banal pair of sandals, there is happening in record time the iconic beatification of one of the most savage mass murderers of our time.” “It’s a shame for those millions of skeletons to which the victims of the great Pol Pot massacre have been reduced. They can’t even wear sandals.”