The crisis over Austria continued to top the news in Europe Thursday, even as the Northern Ireland peace process tottered toward collapse. In the Far East, it was the mounting tension between the military and the new democratic government in Indonesia that made the main headlines, and papers everywhere began to show new excitement about the U.S. presidential primaries following the Republican upset in New Hampshire.
“Europe in turmoil over far right pact in Austria” was the Guardian of London’s six-column front-page headline. This was no exaggeration. The decision by 14 European Union countries to isolate Austria in the event of Jörg Haider’s xenophobic Freedom Party joining the country’s government exposed a conflict between two fundamental EU commitments—to human rights and to democracy. President Thomas Klestil of Austria, whose role on Thursday was to swear in a new conservative coalition including the Freedom Party, earlier told the Austrian magazine News, “If I were to swear in this government, I would not do it out of personal conviction, because I fear that Austria would be damaged internationally.” But he added, “In a democracy, a parliamentary majority must be respected. Personal preferences do not count.”
With conservative papers around Europe tending to criticize the EU’s threat to ostracize Austria, the Daily Telegraph of London took the strongest line. It accused European leaders of promoting the rise of the far right. “Their intervention is fanning the very resentments on which Haiderism feeds: fear of foreigners and loathing of corrupt politicians,” it said in an editorial. “Mr Haider’s mesmeric hold over a disillusioned younger generation of Austrians is what makes him so dangerous. Europe must beware of driving them into his clutches.”
In an interview with the German weekly Die Zeit, widely quoted across Europe Thursday, Haider himself played on doubts abroad about the wisdom of threatening to boycott a government before it has even taken office. “There is agitation in the European chicken shed, even though the fox hasn’t yet got in it,” he said. Asked why Austria didn’t ask for forgiveness for its active participation in the Holocaust, Haider replied, “I give more importance to building friendly relations with Israel. I also wonder if we, who weren’t there at the time, would sound credible if we asked for forgiveness.”
As Gen. Wiranto, the former Indonesian military chief accused of crimes against humanity in East Timor, continues to refuse to resign from his ministerial job in the government despite repeated requests for him to do so by Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid, the Jakarta Post said Thursday that he has to go. In other countries, Cabinet ministers resigned for merely being implicated in financial, sexual, or other personal scandals, whereas the charges against Wiranto are far more serious, it said in an editorial. It said Wiranto’s refusal to resign presents the nation with “a number of awkward complications. For one thing, the judicial authorities will have difficulty bringing such a highly placed government official to court. For another, it raises the menacing possibility of discontent spreading among the military. A failure to try Gen. Wiranto and others implicated in the East Timor violence can only raise the pressure abroad for a trial in an international court, with all the undesirable implications of such a trial for the Indonesian military and the nation.”
There was much comment throughout the world on Sen. John McCain’s grand victory over Gov. George W. Bush of Texas in the New Hampshire primary. European papers agreed that Bush had suffered a serious setback, and most thought this was no bad thing. “We would not be unhappy to see the crumpling of that cardboard figure,” said the Independent of London an editorial Thursday. Of McCain, the Times of London wrote, “His main election theme, the restoration of ‘character’ and ‘integrity’ to national life, might appear vague, but it is still one more cause than the Governor of Texas is articulating.” Of Bush, the Financial Times said he seemed to duck the issues when he was without a set policy speech, which “leaves open the question [of] whether he is really up to the job.” The Guardian said that Bush’s defeat was less “a bump in the road” than “a head-on collision with electoral reality.” It concluded, “King George’s coronation is far from assured.”
Following the formal announcement that President Bill Clinton will pay a five-day visit to India in March, the Times of India urged him Wednesday not to “blot his copy book” by also visiting Pakistan. In an editorial, the paper professed surprise at the United States’ tolerance of military dictators in Pakistan. “The close links between the military establishments of the two countries may partly explain it,” it said. In its front-page lead report, the Times of India said Indian officials have no great expectations for the visit but hope “it will clear some cobwebs.” On the nuclear weapons issue dividing the two countries, the paper said, “Considering this is Clinton’s last year in office, many in the government feel India should keep its options open to negotiate with the new incumbent who will take office in 2001.” The Hindu said that it wasn’t yet clear whether Hillary Clinton would accompany her husband to India but that Chelsea “is certainly expected to come and lend some youthful charm to the visit.”
The Pakistani daily Dawn listed points it said the Indian lobby in Washington is pressing on Clinton—among them: don’t visit Pakistan, declare Pakistan a terrorist state, and support India for a seat on the U.N. Security Council. India’s position on America’s demand that it sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty was as follows, Dawn said: “You want India to sign the CTBT? Fine, just bring your copy of the ratification by the U.S. Senate, and we will consider it.” In an editorial, the paper called on India to accept Pakistan’s offer of talks on the disputed territory of Kashmir. “The danger to the security of the region is something to be taken seriously, especially when the two sides are in possession of nuclear weapons and a war between them would have far-reaching strategic implications,” it said.
While Bill Gates was pictured Wednesday in several British newspapers advocating a laptop computer for every child in Britain within five years, the China Daily reported that authorities in Shanghai have closed down 127 “improperly licensed” Internet cafes, after parents complained about children’s uncontrolled access to the Web. A local official said there is “no real relationship” between the cafe closures and China’s new national policy of tightly controlling the Internet. China Daily led Wednesday on Beijing’s bid to host the 2008 Olympic Games. The bid’s slogan is “New Beijing, Great Olympics,” and its emblem “resembles a person doing Chinese taji, or shadow boxing,” the paper said. “The emblem has the gracefulness of Chinese calligraphy and is also modelled after the nation’s traditional handicraft of knotting.” Let’s hope that does the trick.