International Papers

The French Connection 

The German political corruption scandal is spreading across Europe, and on Monday it led not only the German papers but several French and Italian ones as well. Le Figaro of Paris splashed across five columns an allegation aired on French and German television that one of ex-Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s secret financial benefactors was late French President François Mitterrand. Mitterrand was said to have used France’s state-owned Elf energy group in 1992 to channel millions of dollars to Kohl’s Christian Democratic Union in order to get him re-elected—an odd idea because Mitterrand was a socialist and Kohl the leader of Europe’s most powerful conservative party. But several European papers noted that their personal friendship and shared commitment to the European ideal overrode ideological considerations. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reminded readers of the leaders’ intimacy by republishing a famous 1984 photograph of Kohl and Mitterrand standing hand in hand at the site of the bloody battle of Verdun during a Franco-German reconciliation ceremony to commemorate World War I.

Die Welt led on growing fears within the CDU that the scandal could split the party and even destroy it. This, as Le Figaro noted, was what Italy’s corruption scandal did to the Italian Christian Democrat Party after it had been in power 40 years and, like the CDU, seemed unassailable as a major political force. The Sunday Times of London exposed a British dimension to the German crisis when it fronted allegations that Stuart Iddles, a British former vice president of Airbus Industrie, had arranged kickbacks worth millions of dollars to Karlheinz Schreiber, the German businessman at the heart of the scandal, who then passed at least some of the money on to Kohl. Schreiber allegedly got the kickbacks for helping sell Airbus planes to Canadian and Thai airlines. Everyone named in the scandal has denied allegations of this kind.

Ezer Weizman’s TV address to the nation announcing his refusal to resign as president of Israel, despite the launch of a criminal investigation into his admitted receipt of cash gifts from a French former business associate, was badly received by the Israeli press. Writing Monday in Maariv, commentator Amnon Dankner attacked Weizman for revealing nothing except his determination to stay in office. “The presidency is mainly a symbol,” he wrote. “A presidency under criminal investigation that keeps its mouth shut in the face of serious public accusations tramples the symbol into the mud and has no more value. … To use a metaphor from the world of flying, of which Weizman is so fond, he should have operated his ejection seat three weeks ago. He didn’t do so, and now he hovers over us with two burnt-out engines and a broken wing, shortly to crash on the heads of us all.”

Yediot Aharonot was more indulgent. It described Weizman as “a courageous fighter and a courageous statesman … a warm man among cold people, a sensitive man among the insensitive, a brave man among cowards.” But it said his TV appearance “did not bear witness to public courage or sensitivity to public discomfort.” It went on, “Weizman seemed to sense this. That may be why, when he said ‘I look you in the eye,’ his eyes were searching the paper in front of him.” Yediot Aharonot said that, after 50 years of public service, it was implausible for Weizman to claim that he acted innocently on the advice of his lawyer. “The correct conclusion from Weizman’s appearance last night may be that he is too naive to be president.”

In Ha’aretz, military editor Ze’ev Schiff reported that “various circles in the United States” had been “stunned” by the huge sums requested by Israel in security aid to follow its eventual withdrawal from the Golan Heights. After American protests, the demand was trimmed from $17.4 billion to $16.9 billion, partly through cuts in requested intelligence funding. Then Israel surprised the United States again by almost doubling the number of Tomahawk cruise missiles it said it needed.

As the government stood accused by a Russian TV network of claiming less than a tenth of the real number of Russian troops killed in Chechnya, the latest issue of the weekly military newspaper Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozreniye said the official “numbers game” about casualties is losing any relation to reality. Both the Russians and the Chechens are wildly exaggerating each other’s losses. If Russian figures of Chechen losses were to be believed, there would be almost no resistance to the Russian attempts to take Grozny.

In an op-ed article Monday in the London Evening Standard, Vanity Fair columnist Christopher Hitchens said that the U.S. presidential election campaign owed its dreariness in part to manipulation by the professionals. “The voters of Iowa and New Hampshire are microscopic populations on the margin of American society as it actually is,” he wrote. “Nobody can remember how they got to take the first whack at weeding the field of candidates, and no sane system would ever have granted them the permission. But this time not even their rural cussedness can impart any drama to a race in which dollars and polls have done their work before any ‘real’ vote is counted.”