International Papers

The Welcome Crash

Three stories dominated the international papers Monday: the stock market declines around the world in the wake of last week’s Wall Street tumble; the protests in Washington, D.C., against the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund; and the intensifying crisis in Zimbabwe. The Italian papers led, however, on the victory of right-wing parties in Italy’s regional elections, and the papers in the Iberian peninsula on the deaths of seven people in a toxic gas attack on a nightclub in Lisbon’s African quarter. (There was speculation that inter-club rivalry or racial tension could have been behind the attack, in which 65 others were injured.) The British press also devoted much space to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s arrival in London for his first visit to the West since winning the Russian presidential election last month.

Despite big slides on stock exchanges around the world Monday, editorial comment was generally rather positive. The Financial Times of London described the crash as “welcome.” It said, “It is important to rid people of the illusion that stocks are a riskless path to wealth.” In the same editorial, the FT praised the Group of Seven finance ministers and central bank chiefs for the “canny circumspection” of their Washington communiqué. The correct response would have been “to ignore the protests and welcome the crash,” it said. “The G7 did neither overtly. Yet what it said and did not say amounted to much the same thing.” The paper, noting that only some 0.04 percent of the U.S. population took part in the demonstrations in the capital, said “serious governments and significant institutions cannot be guided by the passions of so tiny a crowd.”

Le Figaro of Paris noted Monday that, while there would be short-term “violent shocks … the vigor of world growth is not in doubt and the new economy is not dead.” In Australia Tuesday, the Sydney Morning Herald agreed with Australian Prime Minister John Howard’s relatively relaxed view of the downturn in the Australian stock market: “Mr. Howard is right to stand aloof. Anyone who buys shares must know the risks and the need for prudence and the penalty, sooner or later, for careless greed.” The predominant view in a sampling of papers around the world is that dot-com speculators deserve to be burned and that the world is returning to normal. The headline over an op-ed column Monday in the Times of London by former editor William Rees-Mogg was: “The world is a saner place this morning.”

The Times ran a seven-column front-page headline saying that Zimbabwe is “close to civil war” following President Robert Mugabe’s refusal to rein in his vigilantes despite the weekend murders of a white farmer and two opposition activists. The Guardian’s eight-column headline was “Zimbabwe slides into anarchy”; and the conservative Daily Telegraph, which opposed majority rule in Zimbabwe when the country gained independence from Britain 20 years ago, said bitterly in an editorial Monday, “There is now every likelihood that Robert Mugabe will succeed in driving away his country’s most efficient producers, dividing their farms into units that are too small to be economically viable and giving the spoils to men who have never grown anything in their lives. And when the ensuing famine occurs, we shall no doubt be told that Britain, as the former colonial power, has a duty to pay for the relief.”

There is almost no support for Mugabe in Britain, even among the liberal press. The South China Morning Post of Hong Kong sympathized Monday with the veterans of the war against white rule in Zimbabwe who have been occupying white-owned farms with Mugabe’s approval. “They were promised a stake in the large tracts of fertile land taken from their ancestors by colonial rulers,” the paper said in an editorial. “Yet, 20 years after the birth of Zimbabwe, many of the veterans, now middle-aged men, are still landless and leading an impoverished life.” But even the SCMP did not support Mugabe, “Zimbabwe’s sorry history over the past 20 years shows that good government is the key to prosperity and stability, and that chaos can descend on a richly endowed country which lacks credible and effective leadership.”

The government-owned Zimbabwe Herald attacked the white farmers Sunday for throwing in their lot with the political opposition to Mugabe. “The white community would be best advised to work with the government for a permanent distribution that will bring prosperity through the land to the greater majority, and not just the few as at present,” it said. “It is foolish for any ethnic minority to throw all its eggs into one leaky basket by taking the extremist position of supporting to the hilt the opposition against a government in a manner that has absolutely nothing to do with democracy. What will the minority do when the opposition loses [the forthcoming election]?”

There was controversy Monday in the British press over Prime Minister Tony Blair’s decision to welcome Putin to Britain despite his controversial behavior toward the Chechens. In an editorial, the Guardian called Blair’s “infatuation” with Putin “shameful” and “unseemly.” But the Times said that the potential rewards of making him welcome so early justified the political risks. Meanwhile, the Russian paper Kommersant called Putin’s trip a breach of an unwritten rule that requires the president and prime minister of Russia not to travel abroad at the same time, except in cases of absolute necessity. Since Putin is currently both president-elect and acting prime minister, there is apparently no one left in Russia to run the show.