International Papers

The Monk in Gucci Shoes

The main story around the world Tuesday was the terror in East Timor, for which the Jakarta Post joined papers everywhere in putting most of the blame on the Indonesian government. In an editorial, the paper accused Indonesian President B.J. Habibie of perpetuating the errors of his predecessor, President Suharto, the man who ordered the invasion of the former Portuguese colony in 1976. By continuing Indonesian military rule in the territory, Habibie provoked the East Timorese into overwhelmingly rejecting his offer of autonomy within Indonesia, the paper said. It also talked of a looming political crisis in which Habibie is likely to lose the support of the Indonesian military.

In Hong Kong, the South China Morning Post said that Habibie, after repeatedly promising to keep the peace, was either being duplicitous or had lost control of his senior military leaders, who were vehemently opposed to independence for East Timor. “Either way, the status quo is intolerable,” the paper said in an editorial. “Other nations are reluctant to dispatch their own peacekeepers without an invitation from Jakarta. But they should seek that permission actively and be ready to follow through. Meanwhile, they should tell Jakarta that World Bank and other loans are blocked until the Government honours its many pledges to maintain order and let East Timor have the freedom it chose.”

Around the world, opinion hardened not only against Indonesia but also against the United Nations. The Times of London called on the Jakarta government to let U.N. peacekeepers in, and the Guardian said there was no longer any alternative to foreign intervention. The Independent called the U.N. decision to pull its current mission out of East Timor “a grand Pontius Pilate-style washing of hands” and “a treacherous abandonment for the Timorese people.” In Paris, Le Figaro accused the United Nations of “letting Timor founder in chaos”; and Le Monde, calling it “an Asian Kosovo,” named Portugal, Australia, and the United States as the countries which are morally obliged to form the kernel of a rapid intervention force “to stop Indonesia carrying out a new crime against humanity.” In Italy, La Repubblica of Rome ran a front-page commentary by Noam Chomsky blaming the United States for the fate of the East Timorese because of its failure to withdraw support from its “Indonesian client” or to tell it that its game was up.

Following the drubbing received by German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder in two state elections this weekend (a subject that naturally dominated the German press Tuesday), the Financial Times of London said the outcome was predictable. “Mr. Schröder has presided over a thoroughly muddled and quarrelsome coalition since he defeated Helmut Kohl in last year’s general election,” it said in an editorial. “The main victors [in the east German state of Brandenburg] were the reformed communists in the Party of Democratic Socialism, with 23 per cent of the vote, and the extreme nationalist Deutsche Volksunion, which will sneak into the state parliament with 5.2 per cent.” In a brief comment published on the front page of Corriere della Sera of Milan, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel expressed alarm at the success of the Deutsche Volksunion, which he said exploits unemployment to stir up racism. “It would be useful to know the percentage of young people who identify with the German extreme right,” he wrote. “One must hope it is not a large percentage. All those who put their faith in German youth must encourage them not to be seduced by simplistic and unworthy solutions to real problems.”

Corrieredella Sera also reported on its front page a claim by the British author John Cornwell that he has found evidence in the Vatican archives that Pope Pius XII was a visceral anti-Semite who helped and supported Hitler from when he came to power until the “final solution.” The paper was referring to a trailer in Vanity Fair for Cornwell’s new book Hitler’s Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII that was omitted from VF’s European edition. It quoted Jesuit church historian Giacomo Martina, a professor at the Gregorian University in Rome, as saying that the claim was “shameful.” “How, for example, can it be reconciled with the fact that in 1940, when the pope learned of plans by the German resistance to kill Hitler, he passed the information on to the British authorities? To understand the pope’s caution in denouncing the persecution of the Jews, it would be useful to analyse the similar caution shown by the Allies. The same reasons for prudence guided both of them.”

Another Vanity Fair article led Tuesday’s Daily Telegraph of London–an interview with Rupert Murdoch in which the media mogul referred to the Dalai Lama as “a very political old monk shuffling around in Gucci shoes.” In an editorial, the Telegraph (which is locked in bitter competition with Murdoch’s Times) called his comment “almost endearingly wicked,” having no purpose but to strengthen his business links with China. “What Mr. Murdoch told Vanity Fair is profoundly wrong,” the paper said. “The Chinese have treated the people of Tibet abominably since they invaded in 1959.”

In Israel, both Ha’aretz and the Jerusalem Post ran editorials Tuesday welcoming the decision by Israel’s High Court of Justice that some of the rougher interrogation methods used by the country’s security service are illegal. Ha’aretz said Israelis could take pride in the decision, even though it made the service’s work more difficult. The Jerusalem Post said, “It is difficult to think of another nation that would be willing to take such a bold step to protect the human rights of suspected terrorists, at a time when the threat of terror is still so very real.”