International Papers

Monsters in Masks

The European press was softening up public opinion Monday for airstrikes against Serbia with gung-ho editorials and grueling eyewitness accounts of Serbian atrocities in Kosovo. Even a liberal paper such as the Independent of London ran an editorial headlined “The time has come to show that Nato’s threats aren’t empty.” The bombing of Serbia was “a grim duty, but as in Iraq, it must be done,” it said. Another liberal British paper, the Guardian, led its front page with a story beginning: “The Serbs did not want us to see it, but there was no mistaking the hellish fires raging in Kosovo yesterday as ethnic Albanian villages were torched by Serbian security forces.”

All the world’s major newspapers seemed to have reporters on the spot. In Australia, the Sydney Morning Herald carried a report from Kosovo headlined “Masked boogiemen drive children into the snow.” The report began, “Wailing children stumbled alone out of Srbica, wearing only jumpers in the wind-whipped cold, not knowing which way to turn on the main road. Shoes lay scattered along the road as if their owners had just stepped out of them, together with scraps of clothing. Fleeing civilians spoke of summary executions on the street. … The international community’s worst fears have been realised.”

The image of monsters in masks was common to the reporting both from Kosovo and from Borneo where, according to the Sydney Morning Herald, “masked men, some in Indonesian military uniforms, attacked the village of Ritabou, looting and vandalising homes and firing on civilians.” Describing Indonesian military intervention in West Kalimantan, an Indonesian-controlled territory on the island of Borneo plagued by ethnic and religious conflict, the paper said that “armed mobs paraded the severed heads of their victims through villages” and that “the bridges in one town had been hung with the dismembered parts of the victims’ bodies.” It explained, “The fighting in West Kalimantan was sparked by a local dispute over a bus fare.”

The same story led the front page of the Independent of London under the eight-column headline “Cannibal warriors feast on bodies of their victims.” The paper’s reporter on the spot, Richard Lloyd Parry, wrote that “warriors carrying spears, rifles and machetes displayed a severed ear and a human arm and offered me lumps of hearts and livers torn from the bodies of ethnic Madurese, who have become the target of a large-scale ethnic purge. … One man displayed and then ate a piece of cooked flesh, which he claimed to have cut from the body of a murdered man.”

A more pleasant story was the first successful circumnavigation of the world by two men in a balloon, the Breitling Orbiter 3. Their achievement was generally received with enthusiasm–the Times of London said mankind should rejoice and El País of Madrid that it had been the world’s last great adventure–but there were also dissenting voices. The Independent said that “travelling around the world by balloon does not herald any wonderful technological breakthrough to benefit humankind,” and the Sunday Telegraph of London gloated over entrepreneur Richard Branson’s failure to achieve this ballooning record after four attempts. It said that the Virgin boss could now perhaps focus on the bigger challenge of getting his British train service to run on time. “If you did that, Mr Branson, you would have broken all your own records,” it said. In the Paris evening paper France-Soir, a direct descendant of Jules Verne, of Around the World in 80 Days fame, complained about people saying that the author’s dream had finally been realized. Jean-Michel Verne wrote that the author’s vision had nothing in common with this technological and commercially sponsored feat.

The European press was also much preoccupied with the choice of a successor to disgraced Luxemburger Jacques Santer as head of the European Commission in Brussels. A consensus seems to be building around Romano Prodi, the centrist former Italian prime minister, with Germany’s Die Welt coming out Monday in his support. “The name of Romano Prodi is a synonym in Italian for integrity and economic competence,” the paper said. It claimed in its main front-page story that German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder has also pledged Prodi his support.

The Oscars came too late for Europe’s Monday morning papers, but Alexander Walker, veteran film critic of the London Evening Standard, wrote in an op-ed piece that the Academy Awards encourage Hollywood’s overheated, overhyped obsession with blockbusters, which is strangling the creative spirit. He also criticized “the collusive relationship of Hollywood and the media.” The volume of movie advertising has never been so high, he said, and there is also “an unprecedented plethora of news about movies and moviemakers. Most of it is uncritical, otherwise journalistic access to the big names in the casts and the films with big numbers in their budgets is denied by the gatekeeper publicists.” The Standard’s front page carried a photo of weeping Gwyneth Paltrow under the banner headline “Shakespeare Cleaneth Up.” In a similar Shakespearean wordplay, the Sydney Morning Herald of Australia captioned a picture of Paltrow “Gwyneth winneth.”

In an interview with the British broadcasting weekly Radio Times, Woody Allen insisted he bears no grudge against Mia Farrow, who won a long and bitter custody battle against him. “I had a 13-year relationship with Mia and found her to be very bright, beautiful and a fine actress,” he said. “She’s not a monster. She has many positive qualities, but people in crises do desperate things. I wouldn’t define her personality or her life by that dark period.” Allen said that he always books two rooms when he checks into a hotel with his third wife, Soon-Yi, so that he can have a bathroom to himself. He also said he is mystified by his films’ lack of success in the United States in comparison with their reception in Europe. “It’s a big mystery to me why my work isn’t popular [in America],” he said. “I’m typically American: born in Brooklyn, like baseball, go to basketball, play jazz. It doesn’t depress me, but I’m bewildered.”