International Papers

A Gloomy Celebration

The German press Wednesday celebrated the 10th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Die Welt led on Mikhail Gorbachev calling it “a happy day for all mankind.” The headline in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung spoke of “emotion and measured joy,” but the Daily Telegraph of London denied the existence of any joy at all. The paper said that Germans marked the event “in an almost gloomy mood, with many Berliners angry at the dominant role played by politicians in the commemoration of what was a popular uprising.” The celebrations at the Brandenburg Gate, it added, “could not obscure the fact that few, if any, Berliners tried to recapture the careless rapture of the event.”

One person who certainly didn’t demonstrate careless rapture was Margaret Thatcher, who wasn’t at the celebration with Gorbachev, former President George Bush, and former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl. The British press debated whether she had snubbed them or had been snubbed by them. The Times of London quoted her spokesman as saying that she hadn’t been “officially approached.” German organizers of the event told the paper that Thatcher had repeatedly been invited to attend, but she had declined. The paper recalled her well-known antipathy to Kohl and her quiet attempts, with the late President François Mitterrand of France, to stop German reunification by encouraging Moscow to block it.

In an editorial, Le Monde of Paris said Thatcher had tried to convince Mitterrand to join her in open opposition to a united Germany, but “the French president was too well-advised to directly oppose a movement which had surprised him, which he mistrusted, and which he may well have feared, but which he also knew to be inevitable.” Le Monde said the German celebrations were conducted “with a certain modesty, as if to allay the fears that a united Germany, not always wrongly, has traditionally provoked in its neighbors.” But the editorial went on to laud the new Germany as “a democracy which has nothing to envy in its neighbors and even, in many areas, is an example to them.” Curiously, given Thatcher’s resistance to a united Europe, Le Monde said she had mistakenly feared “that the first victim of the fall of the Berlin Wall would be European integration.” If that had been so, she would probably have welcomed it.

In an article published simultaneously in the Independent of London, La Repubblica of Rome, and El País of Madrid, British historian Timothy Garton Ash described his impressions of chairing a debate in Berlin among Bush, Kohl, and Gorbachev. He said he asked Bush about his famously understated response to the first news of the breach in the wall–“I’m very pleased.” Bush replied that what had been uppermost in his mind was to ensure that Gorbachev’s position in the Soviet Union was not threatened by American triumphalism. “I didn’t want to poke my finger in his eye,” Bush explained.

The Financial Times carried an editorial condemning Russia’s bombardment of civilians in Chechnya. It called on NATO and the European Union to speak out more strongly against the war. “The conflict is a grave embarrassment for the US and its Nato allies,” the paper said. “Russia claims it is simply behaving like Nato over Kosovo. But with every passing day, it appears to be behaving more like Milosevic’s Serbian forces, attacking an entire ethnic group, rather than defending humanitarian ideals.”

In a report Tuesday from the Chechen-Ingush border, the Toronto Globe and Mail said Russian attacks against Chechen civilians are happening so frequently and with such a similar pattern of destruction that aid workers and observers are having difficulty keeping track of them. As an example, it cited the confusion of a human rights investigator when asked about a Russian tank attack that killed or injured 22 children as they played soccer. “He had just finished interviewing witnesses who saw an attack on soccer-playing children, and he wondered if it was the same one,” the paper said. “In fact, there were two separate assaults on children playing soccer.”

The Moscow Times Wednesday reported the first crack in Russian political solidarity in favor of the Chechen war. It said the small liberal opposition party Yabolko has called for immediate peace negotiations, despite the overwhelming support for the war from the Russian media and public opinion. Russian newspapers have been speculating for days on the future of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, whose popularity has risen dramatically because of the war. The papers claim that the West is pressing for his removal from office. According to the Moscow Times Wednesday, the paper Komsomolskaya Pravda, citing unidentified Kremlin sources, reported that Putin has already been told by President Boris Yeltsin that he must either resign or end the war and fire the army chief of staff. “The President and the Kremlin have made a decision to cease military activities in Chechnya,” the paper was quoted as saying.