The German press led Friday on the election of Johannes Rau as the country’s new president during the last ever meeting of the German parliament in Bonn before its return, after more than half a century, to Berlin. Following the example of the former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who insisted during the final Bonn session that the re-establishment of Berlin as the country’s capital doesn’t mean that “we are turning our backs on the values and basic principles of our constitutional order,” the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung said in a front-page comment that “the Germans and their politicians don’t want any other republic than the one they’ve got; they want … the calm continuation of a national success story after the greatest imaginable catastrophe.”
In an editorial titled “Auf Wiedersehen, Bonn,” the Times of London said many people still worry about what Germany might again become “once ruled from the harshly beautiful, eastward-looking, centre of Prussian and Nazi military expansion.” It said, “The Berlin Reichstag parliament has been rebuilt, all glass and mirrors, to discourage delusions of grandeur and infuse old Prussian authoritarian style with a taste of Bonn-inspired transparency. Rule from Bonn is now history. But its spirit should live on in Berlin.”
Most British papers led Friday with the failure of the British and Irish prime ministers to resolve a dispute over terrorist disarmament, which is threatening the Northern Ireland peace process. Despite five days of intensive negotiation in Belfast, David Trimble, the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, continues to insist that he will not agree to share power with Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army, unless the IRA simultaneously starts surrendering its hidden weapons. In an analysis of the problem, the Financial Times noted that decommissioning is a key element in every peace settlement, but that Northern Ireland stands out as a rare case where–by contrast, for example, with Kosovo–the issue was not resolved in the early stages of a deal and has been allowed to fester.
The other big British story Friday was the formal opening by Queen Elizabeth II of Scotland’s first national parliament in 300 years. She was hailed by the parliament’s presiding officer as “Queen of Scots,” the first monarch to be thus addressed since 1707. But the Independent noted “a whiff of rebellion” in the spontaneous singing by the entire parliament of Robert Burns’ anti-royal ballad “A man’s a man for a’ that,” which favorably compares the ordinary man with “Yon birkie ca’d ‘a lord’ /Wha struts an stares, an a’ that.” And the tabloid Daily Express found the queen “upstaged” by the actor Sean Connery, an advocate of full independence for Scotland, who received “the biggest cheer of the day” when he arrived in full Highland dress with kilt and sporran and announced menacingly, “This is only the beginning.”
The Guardian gave front-page treatment to Rupert Murdoch’s announcement at a press conference Thursday in London–just six days after his marriage in New York to his third wife, Wendy Deng–that his global News Corp. is to become “an Internet company.” He said he was starting a new company called eVentures in partnership with the Tokyo-based Softbank, the world’s biggest backer of Internet-related businesses. “Big will not beat small any more,” Murdoch said. “It will be the fast beating the slow.”
Henry Kissinger–in London to promote the latest volume of his memoirs–became the center of a controversy about the interviewing methods of the BBC. A column in Thursday’s Daily Telegraph strongly attacked Jeremy Paxman, one of Britain’s best-known radio and TV interviewers, for being “insulting” to Kissinger when he asked him if he felt “a fraud” on receiving the Nobel Prize for “bringing peace” to Vietnam, and whether he waited 17 years to produce these memoirs because he wanted “to rewrite history.” In a letter in self-defense published in Friday’s Telegraph, Paxman wrote, “It is surely unarguably true that the detente which Dr Kissinger so energetically promoted was built upon the assumption that the Soviet Union would exist for the foreseeable future. He now claims it was part of the process which led to the dismantling of the Communist empire.”
The Coca-Cola crisis in Belgium last month was due more to a mass psychological problem than to anything wrong with the drink itself, according to research reported in this week’s edition of the British medical journal the Lancet. Coca-Cola was banned in Belgium, Luxembourg, and France after more than 100 people, many of them children, claimed to have suffered severe nausea and headaches after drinking it. The company found “bad carbon dioxide” at one Belgian cannery and some fungicide on the outside of cans at another; but Belgian researchers from the Catholic University of Louvain now say that most of the health complaints made after this was reported in the media suggest a “mass sociogenic illness” requiring “social healing” rather than “medical cure.”
The Daily Telegraph reported Friday that a German truck driver working for a British haulage firm close to London’s Heathrow Airport has been awarded about $18,000 in compensation after his bosses and co-workers called him “Hitler” over the public address system, shouted “Sieg Heil” when he walked past, and referred to his truck as “the Panzer division.”