International Papers

Royal Shenanigans

A scandal rocked the Belgian monarchy when it was revealed Thursday that much-respected King Albert II has an illegitimate daughter working as an artist in London. The revelation, made in a new biography of Belgium’s Queen Paola by a precocious 18-year-old Flemish student, Mario Daneels, shook the image of a royal family famed for its moral rectitude. Le Soir of Brussels said Thursday in an editorial that the king of the Belgians is “the incarnation of a unifying morality and of proclaimed virtue.” He presides over what Belgians regard as “the ideal family … even the incarnation of the family.” But the paper concluded that if the king casts more light on the matter (he has so far refused to comment), the long-term consequence might be no more than to make him seem more like an ordinary mortal. Another leading Belgian paper, La Meuse, expressed regret that “the last symbol of a united Belgium is sinking into the bedclothes,” but in general the press was less condemnatory of the king’s adultery than of the intrusion into his private life. Because of this, La Libre refused to publish the name of his illegitimate daughter, Delphine Boel.

The Times of London splashed the story on its front page Friday, together with a large photograph of Boel, 31, seated on one of her artistic creations, a multicolored papier-mâché chair. It said she is the product of an affair between King Albert, now 65, and a Belgian aristocrat–Baroness Sybille de Selys Longchamps–during an early, troubled period in his marriage to Queen Paola. Boel was raised by the baroness and her former husband, a Belgian industrialist, after the queen refused to accept her as part of the royal family. She now lives in Notting Hill but has gone into hiding since the Belgian press descended on the fashionable west London district this week. The Times quoted the landlord of a pub opposite her apartment as saying, “I see her going out most days in quite wild clothes, like patchwork trousers. She’s often spattered in paint.”

The Daily Telegraph of London led its front page Friday with a boycott by Prince Charles, the heir to the British throne, of a banquet hosted Thursday night by Chinese President Jiang Zemin, because of his “contempt for China’s human rights record.” The paper said the rebellious gesture will cause new tensions between the prince and the government of Prime Minister Tony Blair. Although a royal spokesman said later that Charles intended no snub to China but was bound by an earlier engagement, the paper said the prince was “motivated by his admiration for the Dalai Lama, whom he has met at least twice in defiance of Government policy.” It reported that the exiled Tibetan leader paid a private visit to the prince’s English country estate five months ago.

In an editorial, the Daily Telegraph favorably compared Charles’ behavior with that of Rupert Murdoch, who “was much in attendance on the Chinese visitor, first at a Downing Street lunch given by the Prime Minister, then at a British Museum exhibition of Tang treasures sponsored by The Times, his flagship in this country. … Murdoch has chosen to flatter an odious regime in the hope of making a fortune from the Chinese market. Prince Charles, at whose family Mr Murdoch’s family constantly snipes, has decided that supping once with the devil is enough” (the prince attended an earlier banquet for President Jiang at which his mother, the queen, was host). The Telegraph also said that a special report on Taiwan that the Times had been due to publish Tuesday had been postponed until after Jiang’s state visit.

The liberal Guardian united Friday with the conservative Telegraph in condemning the British police for its treatment of protestors against the Chinese president. “The right to assemble and the right of free speech remain two of the most fundamental rights in a democratic society,” it said in an editorial. “Yet little knots of human rights activists have been manhandled and herded by the Metropolitan Police in a desperate attempt to keep them out of sight and hearing of President Jiang.” The Guardian said that one of these manhandled protestors ought to bring a civil action against the police, so as at least to identify “which officer was in charge and from whom he received his instructions.” In Italy, a country which the Dalai Lama visited this week, La Repubblica of Rome reported Friday that the Italian government has decided to extend the same privileges to Buddhist lamas and Zen masters that it allows to Christian and Jewish religious leaders, including tax breaks and the right of access to hospitals and prisons.

The election of Megawati Sukarnoputri as vice president of Indonesia under President Abdurrahman Wahid was widely welcomed around the world as improving the prospects for order and democracy in the country. In an editorial Friday, the South China Morning Post of Hong Kong said peace should return to the streets now that “the mother of the nation” had the vice presidency. “Once little more than a symbolic position, the post must be regarded as pivotal, given the five-year term of office and the poor health of Mr Wahid, said sometimes to fall asleep in mid-conversation.” But it said the new government faced a difficult task in reducing the army’s political role. The Independent of London said that Megawati’s appointment “offers her bruised and fragile country its best hope of consolidating its infant democracy.” The Jakarta Post, however, reported that “massive protests” have been taking place in eastern Indonesia by supporters of former President B.J. Habibie, who withdrew from the election after losing a confidence vote. In South Sulawesi, where Habibie was born, protestors took over the local radio station and broadcast demands for eastern Indonesia to secede and become an independent state.

The Times of London Friday published an interview with Tina Brown, who denied that her new magazine, Talk, is failing. “I have the tremendous security of knowing that our business picture is very strong and that takes a lot of stress off,” she said. “All my stress now is getting the product accepted, getting it better.” Publisher Ron Galotti said Talk had “probably the most successful launch in the history of magazines” and had sold more than 1 million copies of its first issue in September. He also said advertising revenue–464 pages sold for just under $19 million–is “way ahead of budget.” Brown said, “At this magazine we have a five-year plan. No-one expects it to make a profit within five years. We are on plan and on budget.”