One of the world’s major stories Monday was the crisis in the Northern Ireland peace process over the apparent failure of the Irish Republican Army to surrender any of its weapons in time to prevent the collapse of the new multiparty government in Belfast. It was widely predicted in the British press Monday that Nobel Peace Prize laureate David Trimble, the head of the Northern Ireland coalition, would fulfill a promise to his Ulster Unionist Party to resign from his post if the IRA has not started to get rid of its weapons by the beginning of February.
If he does so, it is thought to be inevitable that the province will once again be subjected to direct rule from London, with potentially disastrous consequences for peace. But the Irish Independent of Dublin reported that efforts to persuade the IRA to move on arms decomissioning were continuing, and the Catholic Irish News of Belfast said the crisis looks set to go “right down to the wire.” The Irish News said British and Irish officials are still involved in “frantic talks” to try to save the situation.
Controversy continues to rage in Europe over the prospect of Jörg Haider, the right-wing leader of the Austrian Freedom Party, joining his country’s ruling coalition, as Germany’s Die Welt ran a front-page story Monday under the headline “Haider not welcome in Germany” and the Italian press played up criticisms of him by Austrian President Thomas Klerstil. Klerstil accused Haider of lacking elementary diplomatic know-how after he described French President Jacques Chirac as a “megalomaniac” and “one of those European politicians who have got everything wrong.” But the conservative Daily Telegraph of London defended Haider against accusations that he is “fascist” or even “far right.” It said in an editorial that while Haider is “no saint” but rather “a mercurial rabble-rouser ready to back any populist cause,” his bad press has a lot to do with his hostility to European integration since “[f]or many Austrians, nationalism is synonymous with racism and xenophobia.” The paper said, to “label him a fascist insults the many decent Austrians who support him, as well as the true victims of 20th-century fascism.”
Meanwhile, the Guardian of London ran a colorful account of an extravagant celebration held Saturday high in the Austrian Alps to celebrate Haider’s 50th birthday. The keen outdoorsman spent the day attempting to woo journalists by skiing with them from one mountain hut to another amid an orgy of Austrian folklore. He was “serenaded by a choir dressed in hunting uniforms as children ran around clad in fir tree branches in celebration of the region’s bear-hunting past,” he joined in the singing of traditional folk songs, and after skiing through a specially constructed “victory gate,” he was presented with, among many other gifts, mountaineering equipment and “numerous portraits and figurines of himself and paintings of Austrian mountain scenes.” The Freedom Party’s official color, blue, dominated the day to the extent that a barbecue mix of scrambled eggs and pork was served from blue frying pans. The party-goers drank miniatures of blue schnapps and a specially brewed blue beer called “Jörg Bear Beer.”
The Guardian splashed across its front page Monday the first fruits of a new international investigative journalism project. The story revealed that British American Tobacco, the world’s second-largest international tobacco company, with sales of 900 billion cigarettes a year, has condoned tax evasion and exploited cigarette smuggling to boost sales around the world. The claim that BAT, which is based in London, “has benefited from black marketeering on a massive scale” emerged from analysis of 11,000 pages of company documents at Guildford, England. The company agreed to make its files available to researchers for a period of 10 years as part of a settlement of a lawsuit brought against it by the state of Minnesota two years ago. The documents were studied by journalists in several countries belonging to the new International Consortium of Investigative Journalists founded by Charles Lewis, a former producer on CBS’s 60 Minutes, under the aegis of the Center for Public Integrity in Washington, D.C. Its first scoop was thin on detailed evidence, but drew two conclusions: 1) BAT “arranged to supply” huge numbers of cigarettes to wholesalers and distributors “expecting that they would find their way into crooked hands and on to black markets after being smuggled across national borders, without duty being paid”; 2) that “in some countries the company also knowingly advertised and promoted smuggled cigarettes to improve its market share.” The story was also published simultaneously on the ICIJ’s Web site (www.icij.org) and in a Colombian magazine, La Nota.
The study of Latin, which has been in steady decline in British schools for many years, is making a comeback on the Internet, the Times of London reported Monday. Students are now being taught Latin online by teachers at Cambridge University. Meanwhile, the ancient language is being adapted to the world of cyberspace with the invention of new words and phrases. E-mail is “emissio electronica,” online is “connexus,” Web site is “situs electronicus,” and so on. “Where inky little fingers once crawled down declension lists, pupils are scrolling down syntax on screen,” the Times said in an editorial. “They can log on to The Eclogues, call up Quintilian, chase through Catullus with a mouse.”