International Papers

The Bombs in Spain Fall Mainly on the Tourists

Basque separatists ETA appear ready to make good on their threat to disrupt Spanish tourism this summer. Last Tuesday an ETA member blew herself up while handling explosives in the beach town of Torrevieja, and on Thursday the group planted a bomb at Málaga airport, the main gateway to the southern resorts. Spanish police deactivated the device, but air traffic was disrupted for seven hours. (Another device exploded in Barcelona Friday, but police IDed it as the work of Catalan radicals because of the type of explosives used.) According to the London Times, the current anti-tourism campaign is “a sign of frustration and isolation”: Euskal Herritarrok, ETA’s political wing, was the biggest loser in May’s Basque parliamentary elections, and “Eta’s response has been to step up the killings in the hope of provoking a police and military overreaction that would again win sympathy from ordinary Basques.” The Times counseled British travelers to “support the Madrid Government by ignoring Eta’s threats. … Madrid should be able to count not only on political support in fighting terrorism but on the confidence of ordinary visitors.”

The Observer profiled Olaia Castresana, the ETA activist whose bungled bomb-making sent “masonry and bits of her upper body flying on to bathers in a swimming pool” in Torrevieja. Twenty-two-year-old Castresana, a kindergarten teacher, represents “a new generation” of etarras, born after Franco’s death and after the Basque country was granted considerable autonomy. Involved with the separatists since her teens, she and her boyfriend “worked during the week and planted bombs at the weekends or in their holidays. Spanish police blamed the explosion on the fact that Eta, which used to have professional bombers, now recruits part-timers who support themselves and lead ordinary working lives. That meant that Olaia had been given just a single weekend of training by Eta bomb-making experts. It was not enough.” Spain’s El País concluded, “No matter how inexpert, ETA’s new militants exhibit homicidal determination and have ample stocks of explosives.”

Spanish papers lamented the decline of tourism. Among the factors putting a dent in Spanish tourism El Mundo cited: recent strikes by pilots and bus drivers, economic downturns in Britain and Germany, and the growing popularity of Bulgaria, Turkey, Croatia, and Malta as affordable destinations. An editorial bemoaned Spain’s failure, despite repeated attempts, to attract a better class of tourist—the current over-reliance on “promises of sun and sand is too vulnerable to the slightest price cut by competitors.”

Kim’s crossing: North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s fear of flying makes international statesmanship a slow process: His trans-Siberian train journey to Moscow, where he will meet with President Putin, will take about 10 days, according to Britain’s Independent. The arrival date is vague because of Kim’s habit of demanding impromptu stops in places he believes were visited by his father, Kim Il-Sung, who still technically rules North Korea though he died in 1994. A Russian spokesman told the Independent, “Sometime the train will arrive at a hut and Kim will give an order, saying, ‘Stop, Kim Il Sung spent the night there.’ And the train will back up.”

Harsh Tolks: The Independent reported that police in Kazakhstan are cracking down on “Tolkienists” who dress up and re-enact scenes from The Lord of the Rings. J.R.R. Tolkien’s works have been popular throughout the former Soviet Union since they were first translated into Russian in the late 1980s. Several hundred enthusiasts gather in Moscow every Thursday, but the Kazakh police accuse the Tolkienists of “being Satanists and conducting dark rituals.” Among the other “bohemian” groups targeted are street musicians, gays and lesbians, anarchists, hippies, punks, and “members of dissident religious sects, many of whom complain that they have been systematically tortured.”

Language mutiny: Britain’s Sunday Telegraph described attempts to preserve the language of Norfolk Island, a volcanic speck in the South Pacific inhabited by the descendants of Fletcher Christian and his fellow mutineers from the H.M.S. Bounty. A 70-year-old island resident has compiled a dictionary as well as an encyclopedia of grammar and pronunciation of “Norfolk,” described by the Telegraph as “a relic of 18th century English peppered with Polynesian.” Next year the island’s only school will add Norfolk to its curriculum. Many words refer to people and events from history: ” ‘Logan bin kik yu,’ for instance, means ugly, a reference to an islander once being kicked in the face by a horse named Logan.”

The death of the Bandit Queen: Phoolan Devi, the dalit (“untouchable”) turned outlaw made famous in books and movies as “The Bandit Queen,” was shot outside her home in New Delhi last Wednesday. The Times of India’s obituary said, “Kidnapped by dacoits and forced into becoming one herself, she lived a fugitive’s life for years in the treacherous ravines of [Uttar Pradesh], looting and killing.” In 1983, she surrendered to police and spent 11 years in jail without trial. Two years after her release she was elected to parliament. The Telegraph of Calcutta noted, “It is a comment on the state of Indian politics that a person with as many as 30 criminal cases against her became a legislator. … As a representative of the people, she spoke consistently for the poor and their uplift. She had courage and chutzpah but her presence in the Lok Sabha was an uncomfortable reminder of the incongruity of democracy in a caste-ridden society.” The obituary in the Times of London observed, “She was illiterate; a friend had to teach her how to use a telephone; she suffered from a range of health problems exacerbated by years of living on the run and in prison. She also had an explosive temper that she unleashed on everyone from journalists to family members. Her profanity was renowned for its range and coarseness.” Several papers bemoaned the poor security for a politician with many enemies. The Asian Age thundered: “[A]n MP has been killed bang in the middle of a session and right in front of her house on a typically humid Delhi monsoon afternoon. The culprits should not get away just because they killed Phoolan Devi.” A clue to the security lapse could be found in Devi’s Daily Telegraph obituary: A police officer interviewed at the time of her first election campaign said, “We spent years chasing Phoolan Devi through the ravines; now she’s a candidate and we’re supposed to be giving her protection.”