International Papers

Brits as Corny as Iowa in August

In the run up to Vladimir Putin’s confirmation as the new Russian prime minister Monday, papers continued to speculate about the reasons for his predecessor’s removal. In the Sunday Times of London, Yeltsin biographer Leon Aron declared that “the sole rational explanation [for the dismissal of Sergei Stepashin] appears to be a sudden deterioration of Yeltsin’s health and his expectation of incapacitation or even death. … It is reasonable to assume the president wanted to see in the Kremlin someone he could trust in the interregnum to keep a firm hand on the wheel.”

The Jerusalem Post said that Stepashin “proved to be nicer and more honorable than the Yeltsin entourage hoped or the opposition feared. … In contrast, it is widely assumed that Putin would be prepared to do whatever it takes to assure that the Yeltsin family remains a commanding presence in Russian politics.” The Post also said that Yeltsin’s attempts to “subvert or cancel” elections could backfire, and added, “Even more ominous is the possibility that political infighting in Moscow could shift the real power to regional governors, many of whom are even less democratic and more self-serving than Yeltsin himself. The fragmentation of a country with thousands of nuclear weapons could have terrible repercussions far beyond Russia’s borders.”

The London Observer speculated that Yeltsin might try to hold on to power by causing the cancellation of elections. “This could be done,” the paper said, “either by declaring a state of emergency or a hasty union with Belarus, so that Yeltsin, who cannot by law have more than two terms, could become Federal President–as Slobodan Milosevic did in Yugoslavia when his term as Serbian President finally ran out.”

Newspapers in Britain, Ireland, and Colombia fronted remarkably similar photographs of impassioned gatherings this weekend. The European shots were taken in Omagh, Northern Ireland, where thousands marked the one-year anniversary of the bomb that killed 29 and injured more than 200; the Colombian crowds protested the assassination of humorist and journalist Jaime Garzón, probably by right-wing paramilitarists.

Regarding Omagh, Britain’s Sunday People said that last year’s bombing by the splinter group Real IRA could easily have derailed the peace process, but “the desire for peace was too strong for one breakaway IRA group to torpedo it. All sides now owe it to the Omagh victims to make sure that, by next August, they are signed up to a fair and lasting peace.” The Sunday Telegraph took a less positive view, saying, “Strip away all the talk about peace and progress and look at what has actually happened in Northern Ireland since the Good Friday deal. The brutal reality is that the only concrete changes are the weakening of the forces of law and order and the simultaneous strengthening of the paramilitaries whose ranks are now swollen by a number of former prisoners.”

In Colombia, El Tiempo said Garzón was killed because of his attempts to bring an end to the political fighting in Colombia, especially his negotiations with leftist groups, and also because of his efforts to secure the release of many kidnap victims. An article in the Guardian of London Saturday said that “Colombians have long ago become desensitised to violence. Apathy is deeply ingrained and it is unlikely things will change, despite the widespread repugnance and anger shown by most of the country’s citizens,” but an editorial in El Tiempo suggested otherwise. Echoing the cries of Colombians who lined Garzón’s funeral parade, the paper said, “NO MORE. NO MORE. NO MORE. … Let the government, FARC, ELN [the country’s two largest leftist rebel groups], the paramilitaries, and the extreme right end their deafness and understand that we are not afraid.”

The British papers took a field trip to the United States for the straw poll and came back with stories that made Iowa seem more like a distant planet than a Midwestern state. The Independent on Sunday puzzlingly described Des Moines as “a cross between 1930s Berlin and Calcutta,” and speaking of the poll’s disproportionate influence on the U.S. electoral process said, “It is as if the population of a Lincolnshire village were pivotal in deciding the British government.”

A leader in the Times said that even if media inquiries into Republican front-runner Gov. George W. Bush’s private life were to “uncover damaging details” it might not put him out of the running, since ” ‘character issues’ have less power than they did to wreck candidates. The Clinton era has rewritten the rulebook. Unless Mr Bush has committed some major sin very recently, he is likely to survive any new revelations.” The paper added that Sen. John McCain of Arizona may have helped his chances by staying out of the straw poll: “He has thus placed himself to emerge later as a new voice that could win over voters who found beauty in none of those parading their credentials at Ames, Iowa.”

If electoral politics are indeed a beauty contest, and if a history of sinning is no longer an impediment to electability, perhaps Warren Beatty could become president. A story in Friday’s Independent put a positive spin on his possible run. Despite his lack of electoral experience, the paper said Beatty had “several key qualifications”: “He fosters instant name recognition. He is good-looking. He is smart, charismatic and a good talker. True, he has an infamous past as a skirt-chaser, but unlike Bill Clinton, with his taste in big-haired trailer-park mistresses, he can honestly say he has slept with some of the most beautiful women in the world.”