The electoral surge of the far right in Austria made the front pages of most European newspapers Monday. In Germany, it led the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and the Süddeutsche Zeitung of Munich, but curiously not Die Welt, which confined the story to an inside page. The Italian papers raised the loudest alarm. In La Repubblica of Rome, columnist Bernardo Valli said the achievement of the Austrian Freedom Party in getting more than 27 percent of the vote in the general election was “a slap in the face” for Europe. The party’s leader, Jörg Haider, who has praised Hitler and described former SS soldiers as “decent men of character,” won a share of the vote almost double that ever achieved by the xenophobic French party of Jean-Marie Le Pen, he said. (Le Pen has never got more than 15 percent.) The result could only be regarded as worrying, even “obscene,” by Austria’s neighbors, especially since Austria is now a member of the European Union, which espouses principles quite different to Haider’s.
Corriere della Sera ran a front-page cartoon showing Hitler as a jack-in-the box making the Nazi salute and shouting, “Sieg Haider!” Its eight-column headline was: “Austria, the hour of the extreme right.” Much of the press comment stressed the importance of keeping the Freedom Party from joining a new governing coalition. The Times of London, noting that Haider’s result “has thrown the country’s politics into turmoil, frightened investors and brought closer to power the leader of the largest and most radical far-right party in Europe,” said Monday in an editorial that it is a disaster for Social Democrat Chancellor Viktor Klima, an embarrassment for Austria, and “a triumph for a man whose political prejudices have shattered the country’s cosy and often corrupt consensus.” If Klima cannot form a government, Haider is next in line, it said. “For much of Europe, that would be unthinkable: the ghosts of the Nazi past have never been properly exorcised in the land of Hitler’s birth, and the image of the right-wing leader, denouncing foreigners as criminal, calling for the expulsion of asylum-seekers and denouncing the European Union, would make the international storm over Kurt Waldheim seem nothing by comparison.”
Following the close of polling in the Indian elections Sunday, Corriere della Sera announced on its front page that, according to exit polls, Congress Party leader Sonia Gandhi, Italian widow of the assassinated Rajiv Gandhi, has clearly lost to the nationalists, although the official results won’t be known until Wednesday. Indian papers led on the deaths of 18 people in violence during the final phase of polling, about which the Times of India quoted the chief election commissioner’s conclusion: “It’s gone off well.” In an editorial, the paper said: “Hot air, floods, blood, death and abuse–these are the abiding images of Election ‘99. … Not all is well with the polity.” The editorial described Sonia Gandhi as “stiff and inarticulate” and said many people considered her “a ventriloquist’s puppet and an instrument of a self-serving coterie.” The future of the Gandhi dynasty, it suggested, rests on her daughter Priyanka, whose “strength is her charm and her seeming ability to communicate with people.” But she will have to prove “she has a mind of her own and intends to use it regularly.”
British war correspondent Robert Fisk led the front page of the Independent of London Monday with a scare story about health-endangering contamination in Kosovo caused by the NATO airstrikes. “After insisting throughout its air bombardment of Yugoslavia that its use of depleted uranium [DU] munitions against Serb forces posed no hazard to human health, Nato officers in Kosovo now admit that particles from their shells may have contaminated soil near targets in Yugoslavia and could cause ‘inhalation’ problems, especially for children,” he wrote. In briefings to international aid workers in Pristina, one K-For officer warned of “contaminated dust” at the scene of depleted uranium munitions explosions and urged aid officials to stay 150 feet away from targets hit in NATO airstrikes. But NATO cannot–or will not–say where it used DU ordnance against Serb forces, Fisk wrote. He said that in Iraq, where the United States fired more than 860,000 DU rounds during the 1991 Gulf War, doctors subsequently found “an exponential increase in child cancers and deformities” among families living close to the targets. “One Iraqi doctor’s report in Basra last year recorded three babies born without heads in August along with four with abnormally large heads, six babies born with no heads in September, and two with short limbs,” he added. “In October 1998, another baby was born without a head and four with oversize heads.”
The Times of London led Monday with warnings from Irish police sources that dissident Irish Republicans are planning a series of high-profile terrorist attacks in Britain around the end of the year, including one on the Millennium Dome in Greenwich, London. The planned bombing campaign by the Real IRA, as the renegades call themselves, is considered by the police to be “a serious threat,” the paper said, and is designed to coincide with any millennium bug computer problems.
Harold Evans, former editor of the Sunday Times and the Times of London before he emigrated to America and became president of Random House, returned to Fleet Street Monday as a columnist from the United States. The first of his biweekly columns for the Guardian on the presidential election campaign is about the battle between Al Gore and Bill Bradley for the Democratic nomination and how they are both currently campaigning as underdogs. “The problem for both Gore and Bradley in the odd game of chicken they are now playing is that neither will be electable if they act the underdog for too long,” Evans wrote. As a new American citizen, Evans seems proud to use language that few British readers will understand, as in this explanation of why Bradley relishes his underdog status: “He has happy memories of those electric nights with the Knicks when he caught the opposition napping with a last-second slam dunk.”
The Daily Telegraph fronted a report from Paris that thousands of fish have been killed in the River Marne by a surfeit of champagne. The fish, mainly pike, roach, and tench, died when the residue of grapes from the last pressing was washed into the river by heavy rains last week.