International Papers

Stormy Weather

Several European papers led Wednesday with the stock market declines in the United States and Europe that were partially based on expectations of interest-rate hikes. In an editorial Wednesday on the reappointment of Alan Greenspan as chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank, the Financial Times of London said that the move will reassure investors but questioned whether it is also “the best news for the long-term management of the US economy.” The FT said, [T]o appoint any individual for a fourth term risks over-personalising the institution of the Federal Reserve Bank, and could discourage a more open debate about policy.” La Repubblica of Rome ran a front-page comment Wednesday comparing the reappointment of Greenspan to the Italian peasant tradition of carrying in procession a statue of the Holy Protector to placate the weather. “Yesterday Bill Clinton raised the blessed icon of Alan Greenspan in the world’s central square against the sudden and furious storm that is sweeping through the stock markets,” it said.

The French papers were more concerned with the real storm that caused huge damage in France in the past week. Le Figaro of Paris led its front page Wednesday with an estimate that the storm will cost the French economy between 60 billion and 70 billion French francs, about 3 percent of the state budget. However, the paper said it could also have positive effects on France’s economic growth. According to a report in the Times of London, the storm brought down 270 million trees in France, ranging from 18th-century oaks in Paris gardens to entire plantations in the Vosges Mountains. The French historian Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie was reported as saying that France’s vast woodlands had suffered nothing comparable since detailed records began in the reign of Louis XIV–“Since 1660 at least, there has been no phenomenon on such a vast scale.”

In an editorial Wednesday, Le Monde celebrated the first anniversary of the euro, the single European currency. “The event was historic,” the paper said. “For the first time, 11 nations agreed to renounce their monetary sovereignty and to share it. Anti-European militants, American experts, and speculators of all kinds had explained for years that the project was impossible. One year later, they must admit they were wrong: the euro exists, it has established itself as one of the world’s great currencies and, better still, it has kept most of its promises.”

In a gloomy editorial Wednesday, the Moscow Times attacked the legacy of former President Boris Yeltsin and questioned the merits of his successor, Vladimir Putin. “Everyone talks about the Yeltsin years as the reform years,” the paper said. “But the fact is, there is not a single major reform that was not begun by [former Soviet leader Mikhail] Gorbachev and at least slightly tarnished or rolled back under Yeltsin. And now, with this less-than-heroic departure–immunity from prosecution tightly in hand–Yeltsin has sealed it that way. Yeltsin’s legacy will be like Yeltsin himself, particularly during his second term: inarticulate, confused, self-absorbed, weak.”

On Putin, the Moscow Times said there is “a shocking amount of wishful thinking masquerading as analysis.” It said his record so far is “dispiriting.” He did nothing about scandals at the FSB (the successor agency to the KGB) when he was its director, and “[a]s prime minister, his only claim to fame has been to seize upon a truly bad situation in Chechnya as an excuse to wage an imperial war, one that punishes civilians in the name of protecting them.” In an interview Monday with La Stampa of Turin, Mikhail Gorbachev said Putin would do anything for victory in Chechnya, whatever the cost in human lives. “Putin knows better than anybody that in the event of defeat–or simply of no victory–his position could rapidly deteriorate,” Gorbachev said. “So he will do everything to win, at any cost, and whatever the number of deaths.” Gorbachev added that Putin is part of the Yeltsin “oligarchy” and will not carry out the reforms that the West hoped for. “The regime will not change, there will be no fight against corruption,” he said. “Above all, the interests and privileges of the oligarchy will be protected.”

During World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed to Winston Churchill that Gen. Charles de Gaulle be ousted as leader of the Free French movement and fobbed off with the governorship of Madagascar, according to a report in the Times of London Wednesday. The paper was reporting on secret wartime documents just released by the British Public Record Office. They show that neither Roosevelt nor Churchill could stand de Gaulle. In a May 1943 “personal and most secret” memo to Churchill, Roosevelt called de Gaulle’s attitude “well-nigh intolerable” and accused him of stirring up vicious propaganda in North Africa and attempting to cause strife between the Arabs and the Jews in Algiers. When visiting Washington, Churchill fired off a series of telegrams to his government colleagues in London, proposing in one of them that de Gaulle be “eliminated” as a political force. He called the general a “vain and even malignant man,” and added, “He hates England and has left a trail of Anglophobia behind everywhere.” Roosevelt was a little kinder. “De Gaulle may be an honest man, but he has the messianic complex,” he wrote.