International Papers

Of Dictators, Benevolent and Otherwise

Ehud Barak, who took office Tuesday as Israel’s new prime minister, was heralded Wednesday in the Jerusalem Post as the country’s most powerful leader since the old days of Labor Party dominance, which ended two decades ago. Barak has “artfully protected his freedom of movement,” the paper said in an editorial. “He has built a government that cannot be brought down by any single party, surrounded himself with a deliberately weak cabinet, and left outside his government a demoralized and confused opposition of less than a third of the Knesset. In short, the newly launched Barak era has the makings of the democratic version of a benevolent dictatorship.” Ha’aretz, which led its front page Wednesday with a report that Barak is planning to seek détente with Israel’s “enemy number one,” Iran, against strong objections by his own military intelligence, also pointed out in its Wednesday editorial that Barak has “achieved his fundamental goal–a government unthreatened by a sword of Damocles over its head.” It said that the hopes and expectations of “the entire public” are with him.

Abroad, the Times of London said Barak’s overtures toward Israel’s neighbors will be “widely welcomed” but warned that he needs to get a move on. Although he now enjoys “a formidable amount of individual political authority,” it is unlikely that he will “be able to retain such power on a permanent basis,” the paper said in an editorial. “It will not be long before the Labour Party starts to resent its semi-detached leader, before secular and religious parties find cause to conspire against each other within the Cabinet, and before the voters demand immediate action on other domestic issues.” A comment piece in the Independent of London Wednesday said that Barak has come to power “with the immense advantage of succeeding Benjamin Netanyahu, who, in three years, became the most widely detested Israeli leader at home and abroad since the formation of the state. Mr Netanyahu is now expected to disappear, unlamented in Israel, on to the American lecture tour circuit, though there are no signs of anybody offering the $60,000 he is asking for a single speech.”

In Paris, Le Figaro, which led its front page with Barak’s advocacy of a “peace of the brave” between Israel and its Arab neighbors, published an interview Wednesday with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who described Barak as a “promising” prime minister who will “probably adopt the same line as [assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak] Rabin.” Mubarak also said he hopes to arrange an Arab summit meeting–the first since 1996–in the autumn, with the inclusion of Iraq “at a level of participation still to be determined.” Asked why Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic caved in to American military pressure while President Saddam Hussein of Iraq has not, Mubarak replied, “One lives in Europe, the other in the Middle East.” In Italy, Corriere della Sera of Milan published an interview with Rabin’s widow, Leah, who warmly praised Barak as a brilliant man who will push the peace process forward and finish the work her husband did until his murder in November 1995. Barak will create a completely different climate from that of the past three years, during which Netanyahu “continually went back on his word with the Arabs and nurtured the culture of distrust,” she said.

In Russia Tuesday, Izvestiya published a rare interview with President Boris Yeltsin in which he said he will retire next year when his current term of office ends and hand over power to a successor elected by the people. While this disclosure failed to excite those observers who think that the main issue is whether Yeltsin will live to see out his term, it was described in the Moscow Times as “noteworthy” in view of the speculation that has been going on in the Russian media for years that he will never voluntarily give up power. The president told Izvestiya that he has a successor in mind but will not identify him because “as soon as I name him, he won’t be let live calmly, he will be henpecked.” But he warned against this person being regarded as “a successor to the throne,” since the next head of state will be chosen not by Yeltsin, but by the Russian people.

Yeltsin also confirmed that the body of Lenin will eventually be removed from the mausoleum in Red Square and buried in an ordinary grave (a story taken up Wednesday on the front page of Germany’s Die Welt). “The question is when,” he said. “The problem is a serious one. Lenin in his mausoleum is an historical symbol of our past, but I agree with Alexiy II, patriarch of all Russia, when he says that it isn’t Christian-like behavior to keep the body of a long-dead person on public display.”

The Times of London led its front page Wednesday with the jailing in Serbia of a TV technician who sparked the biggest anti-Milosevic demonstration since the Kosovo war by breaking into a broadcast of a basketball championship match to urge viewers to take to the streets. The demonstration by around 30,000 people in the town of Leskovac was one of several across Serbia Monday. The tabloid Daily Express reported Tuesday that attempts to secure asylum for Milosevic in Libya, South Africa, Russia, or China have all come to nothing.

Most British papers also reported a speech in the House of Lords Tuesday in which former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said that Britain’s treatment of the former Chilean dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet has left her country’s “reputation for loyalty and fair dealing in tatters.” She said that his arrest while under sedation in a London hospital was “inhumane” and “unlawful,” and that while Chileans have so far responded to it “with great restraint,” it should not be assumed that they will continue to do so, “particularly if Sen. Pinochet, who is not in the best of health, were to die in Britain.” In an editorial, the conservative Daily Telegraph agreed with Thatcher that Tony Blair’s government was doing Britain unnecessary harm “merely to enable the vengeful pack in pursuit of Pinochet to settle their scores.”