International Papers

Basqueing in That Kosovo Attitude?

In Spain, the Basque separatist group ETA called off its 14-month cease-fire last Friday, prompting public outrage. The liberal El País reported that the country’s conservative president, José María Aznar, told Congress that Basque separatist political leaders “are closer to the Europe of Kosovo, which represents exclusion and ethnic cleansing, than the Europe of the euro, which represents integration and pluralism.” The mainstream Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) recently formed a coalition with extreme separatist parties, prompting Aznar to compare the party’s attitude with that of the British and French prime ministers in 1938, who tried, unsuccessfully, to stop Hitler with [territorial] concessions to avoid World War II.”

An editorial in the right-wing ABC supported the invocation of Kosovo, damning the nationalists’ focus on “ethnicity, linguistic imposition, collusion with ETA terrorism, dishonest rewriting of history, and social exclusion.” In Catalonia, another Spanish region with separatist ambitions, La Vanguardia of Barcelona decried the president’s attack on the PNV, using the Basque term “Euskadi” for the region rather than the Spanish equivalent.

El Correo, a daily from the Basque city of Bilbao, condemned Aznar’s pronouncements, warning that the growing chasm between Basque public opinion and that of the rest of the country could generate “a verbal escalation whose final objective couldn’t be other than to deepen the abyss” between people “likely to take Basque nationalism to the ballot box and those who would like to prevent a sovereignty debate.” Surprisingly, none of the editorials connected the president’s attack on PNV with his announcement the same day that a general election will be held in March 2000.

A leader in the Financial Times responded to the findings of an investigative commission that linked 54,000 Swiss bank accounts to victims of Nazi persecution and concluded that some financial institutions made “deliberately misleading statements” to Jews who sought family assets lost in World War II. The paper said, “Switzerland must come to terms with this uncomfortable past. It was not alone among neutral countries in profiting from the war, and Nazi persecutions. There is clearly resentment amongst Swiss voters at their country being singled out for special attention by Jewish groups. That was one factor in the recent electoral success of the right-wing Swiss People’s Party. … As far as humanly possible, it must be righted.”

A commentary in the South China Morning Post of Hong Kong reveals that China’s leaders are obsessed with “the legacy thing.” The president is putting the finishing touches on the multi-volume Selected Works of Jiang Zemin, which will “lay the theoretical foundation for Mr Jiang’s status as the equal of Mao and Deng.” But Jiang’s track record will be “marred by serious flaws,” specifically his refusal to “heal the wounds” of the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989 and his “singularly inept” handling of the Falun Gong sect. The piece says that Prime Minister Zhu Rongji’s “quest for a place in the Communist-Chinese pantheon is informed with a poignant urgency. At 71, the premier is a man in a hurry.” Zhu, too, is judged harshly, since most of his social reform pledges have remained unfulfilled, but the economy is on an upswing, and the “WTO breakthrough” is a boost to his hopes. Zhu has said that when he leaves office he will write a study “on how to make a go of a ‘Chinese-style socialist market economy.’ ” The piece concludes that Zhu “will have more than kept faith with his Communist-Chinese forebears if he can leave for posterity tips for the near-impossible task of reconciling market reforms with a one-party dictatorship.”

The silent Mars Polar Lander led to a rather arch leader in the Times of London Tuesday. Enumerating the long list of failed Mars missions–and a few “spectacular successes”–the Times concluded, “It now seems that not everything was fully tested before the mission started. But this is surely what comes of cutting costs. … The chances of failure are, alas, much greater, and two in a row look like carelessness.” By contrast, an editorial in the Age of Melbourne, Australia, said that the likelihood of disappointment with such ambitious efforts “is not sufficient reason not to take the risk. NASA’s scientists have a better understanding of what they are doing in exploring Mars than … Columbus had when he sailed westwards to find the East Indies and stumbled on to the Americas. There were contemporaries of Columbus who thought his voyages a waste of money. But, despite all the subsequent suffering of indigenous peoples, who now wishes he had not made them?”