International Papers

Europe Goes Bananas

With the Italian government involved in what Corriere della Sera of Milan last Friday called “the gravest crisis in relations between Italy and America since the end of the Cold War,” Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini declared in an interview Monday with the same paper that “the alliance with the United States and Italy’s loyalty to NATO are not in question.” The same point was emphasized in an interview with La Repubblica of Rome by Italian Justice Minister Olviero Diliberto, who said that he would nevertheless go to the United States “as soon as possible” to discuss with Janet Reno how to bring to justice those responsible for the deaths of 20 skiers in the Italian Alps last year when a plane flown by U.S. Marine Capt. Richard Ashby sliced through cables carrying a gondola and sent it crashing to the ground.

National outrage over Ashby’s acquittal last week on charges of involuntary manslaughter encouraged Communist leader Armando Cossutta to demand the removal of American bases from Italian soil and generated an internal crisis within Italy’s coalition government, La Repubblica reported. Prime Minister Massimo D’Alema was caught in cross-fire between the Communists and the Atlantic loyalists, it said.

The U.S. Marine court decision provoked an outburst of anti-American comment in the Italian press that is without parallel in recent years. As Prime Minister D’Alema left for Washington last Friday to meet President Clinton, he was warned by Corriere columnist Ennio Caretto not to be “too diplomatic” because the United States was guilty “almost of an act of war in our country” and, if Clinton wanted the continued unconditional use of bases in Italy, he must be told to stop “treating it as a province of his empire.”

Sunday, after the Clinton-D’Alema talks, Eugenio Scalfari, the founding editor of La Repubblica who is now a columnist at the paper, was hardly less harsh. “Any court that wasn’t a Marine court would either have condemned the pilot of the homicidal plane or would have shifted the focus of the trial onto the responsibility of his superiors,” he wrote. The justice “solemnly promised” by the United States after the tragedy had been denied, he added, with “the arrogant contempt that the military of the empire shows toward satellite countries and their citizens.” Scalfari rejected anti-American posturing, but said that, given the transformation of the situation since the U.S. victory in the Cold War, there was now an urgent need for a revision of NATO “to construct an international community in which there would no longer be masters and servants but free and equal men.”

The death of Stanley Kubrick was big front-page news in Britain, Italy, and France, but not in Germany. In Britain, perhaps because he lived there from 1961, hermitlike in his country house north of London, he was generally saluted as a genius. Even more so in Italy. In Corriere della Sera, a front-page comment by Tullio Kezich, headlined “Shame on you, Hollywood,” complained that “this undisputed giant of the Seventh Art” won only one Oscar, and that only for the special effects in 2001: A Space Odyssey. In La Repubblica, in which his death was the main front-page lead Monday, Michele Serra compared him to Salman Rushdie, but as a fugitive from “another kind of fatwa, a typically Western one: condemnation to fame, photographs and interviews, television and awards ceremonies, juries and society; because he was, after all, the most famous and celebrated living author of the most important language of the century, the cinema.”

The “banana war,” another source of major tension between Europe and the United States, rumbled on noisily in the British press, with the Financial Times leading its front page Monday with a story saying that, in retaliation for Washington’s stance on the matter, Caribbean countries were threatening to renege on a treaty with the United States to fight drug trafficking. “The Caribbean Community (Caricom), a 15-member regional trade group, said at the weekend that its members were reconsidering the drug control pact and would also not honour several economic treaties because of Washington’s decision to impose sanctions on European imports,” the FT said.

The liberal Guardian of London said Monday in an editorial, headlined “US must not go bananas,” that only 9 percent of European Union bananas now came from the Caribbean, compared with over 40 percent from the three giant American corporations–Chiquita, Del Monte, and Dole. “Free trade has obvious benefits,” it went on, “but the rules must take into account the needs of developing nations and the new world of multinational companies.” Pointing out that “the latest US complaint came within 24 hours of another big Chiquita donation to the Democratic Party,” the Guardian said it supported the view of the International Institute for Environment and Development that “trade disputes brought by governments that have received financial support from likely beneficiaries should be null and void.”

The Daily Telegraph of London led Monday with the looming crisis in the Northern Ireland peace process as a result of the Irish Republican Army’s failure to make even a token hand over of weapons to allow a new Ulster executive to be formed. Britain’s Daily Express reported that everything now depends on President Clinton achieving a compromise between Republican and Unionist leaders at a meeting in the White House next week. In Israel, Ha’aretz led its front page Monday with a report that Yasser Arafat is to ask Clinton, when they meet in Washington March 23, to give formal support to the Palestinian right to establish an independent state. “Arafat’s meetings with Clinton without parallel invitations to [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu are viewed in Israel as an international affront to Netanyahu during an election period and as encouraging Arafat’s promised declaration of independence,” Ha’aretz said.

By the time Monica Lewinsky arrived in Britain Sunday to begin an 18 city book signing tour, the British press seemed to have exhausted its interest in her. After massive coverage last week, her arrival was peremptorily reported, but interest will doubtless build up during the week. In London’s Evening Standard last Friday, firebrand columnist Julie Burchill called Lewinsky a saint and a sister. “The sweet, sly, man-pleasing sister of all of us who don’t know whether to hit or hug, who gives herself in a heartbeat to the wrong men for all the right reasons,” Burchill wrote. “Let’s love her while she’s here, and be thankful that she never took that swallow dive off the roof, for truly she has added to the gaiety of nations as no-one ever will again.”