Le Monde of Paris led its Sunday-Monday edition with a lament about “European impotence” in relation to the Russian onslaught on Chechnya. It said that the 15 leaders of the European Union, meeting in Helsinki this weekend, managed to achieve nothing more than “timid warnings” to Moscow that they would suspend certain cooperation agreements if it didn’t stop bombing the Chechens. In response, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said he understood the concerns about the humanitarian situation in the north Caucasus but rejected any change of “tactics” in achieving “the destruction of terrorism.” Libération of Paris led Monday with a report that 40,000 people are trapped in Grozny, unable to escape the Russian noose.
The paper also ran an interview with the powerful Russian media mogul Boris Berezovsky, in which he called the Chechnya conflict “a just war,” claimed Chechen military leaders “have received funds from radical foreign extremist circles that I will not name,” and said there should be no more talk of Chechen independence. “In that, the United States and Europe support us,” he said. “The Russian Constitution must prevail in Chechnya.” But Berezovsky also criticized the Russian government for failing to seize opportunities for negotiation. Even so, he said he would vote for the “politically inexperienced” Putin in the next Russian presidential election because he has two qualities that no other candidate offers: “He is a reformer and he is extremely determined.”
Le Monde’s editorial was devoted to the Helsinki agreement to establish a joint European rapid-deployment force to intervene in trouble spots such as the former Yugoslavia. It called this a “spectacular” affirmation of Europe’s desire “to exist by itself, without the help of the United States,” going far beyond present forms of military cooperation among European countries.
The death of Franjo Tudjman, the first president of independent Croatia, was also a big story in Europe, with some commentators seeing it as a positive development for peace in the Balkans. The Daily Telegraph of London reported that, according to the Dutch news agency ANP, the War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague had been planning to indict Tudjman for atrocities in Bosnia. In its obituary of Tudjman, the Times of London said he had had a “shadowy relationship” with the United States. “In 1994 and 1995 it was American military backing and training that helped Tudjman and his new army to expel around 300,000 Serbs from areas they had seized at the start of the Yugoslav disintegration in 1991,” it said. (For Slate’s take on Tudjman, see this “Assessment.”)
The Guardian of London fronted a report Monday that British Prime Minister Tony Blair has “categorically ruled” that the 2,500-year-old sculptures from the frieze of the Parthenon in Athens–known in Britain as the “Elgin Marbles”–should not be returned to Greece. The Greek government recently stepped up its long-running campaign to get them back and got the British Museum to admit that it bungled their restoration in 1938. Greece is poised to make a new request for the sculptures’ return as part of a deal to coincide with the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. Greece wants to house the marbles in a new museum to be built under the Acropolis. The sculptures were bought in 1803 from the then-Turkish authorities in Athens by the British aristocrat Lord Elgin, who subsequently donated them to the British Museum. The Guardian said Blair intends to proceed sensitively in order to avoid further antagonizing the Greeks. “The last thing Mr Blair wants is another row with a fellow European Union member when he is already at loggerheads with the French about beef and the Germans over the withholding tax,” the paper said. But a row seems to be inevitable. The report surprised some observers who thought that the British government would agree to the return of the sculptures. A recent editorial in the National Post of Canada, a conservative daily, assumed that this was the case and said it “would elevate historic sentiment over legality, creating in the process a chaotic precedent for dispersing the world’s great archaeological collections.” The Post also accused British Hellenophiles of double standards by not supporting the return of stolen treasures to the “non-European” Turks. “To do so would be to admit that Turkey, like Greece, is legitimately part of Europe,” it said.
But at the Helsinki summit, the European Union finally agreed to accept Turkey as a candidate for EU membership. Turkey’s desire to join the European club has hitherto been thwarted by its historic enemy Greece (already a member) and by European concerns about its human rights record. La Repubblica of Rome led its front page Sunday with a report that, as part of its concessions to Europe, Turkey has agreed to abolish the death penalty, offering hope for the rebel Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan who has been sentenced to death for terrorism. The Turkish parliament must approve his execution before it can be carried out. According to the Turkish Daily News Sunday, President Bill Clinton was among world leaders who telephoned Ankara to urge acceptance of the EU’s conditions. Turkish papers generally rejoiced at the agreement. They carried headlines such as “Turkey is in the EU family” (Turkish Daily News) and “The first Muslim candidate” (Hurriyet). Writing Monday in Hurriyet, columnist Tufan Terenc said, “This has sealed Turkey’s future and led it to the point of no return.”
As Israel prepares for peace talks with Syria in Washington this week, the Jerusalem Post gave an upbeat assessment of the prospects, leading its front page with a forecast by Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk Shara that a peace deal could be reached within “a few months.” It also offered a foretaste of what was billed as an optimistic speech to the Knesset Monday by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. According to the Post, he will say that peace is “within our reach” and anticipate an agreement that will “burst apart the sense of threat on both sides, do away with fear and suspicion, and burn out terror.”
Nearly all British newspapers carried front-page photographs Monday of Muhammad Ali receiving the BBC’s “Sports Personality of the Century” award at a ceremony in London. “So Sad” was the tabloid Daily Mirror’s headline, referring to Ali’s physical condition, but most papers ran eulogies of the former boxing hero. The Times’ sports commentator Simon Barnes called Ali “the most reckless spendthrift of himself that the world of sport has ever seen.” Barnes wrote: “These days he comes to audiences not to milk their applause but to give audiences something worth applauding. It is he that is doing the giving, the audience that does the receiving.” In an interview with the Daily Mail, Ali’s fourth wife, Lonnie, said: “I believe Muhammad’s role is to unite people throughout the world in peace. He is one of those rare individuals like the late Princess Diana who can walk anywhere and be well received by millions, regardless of age, race or social background.” All papers quoted Ali’s remark on accepting the award, “I had a great time boxing. I enjoyed it and I may come back.”