Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi took on a second job this weekend as his foreign minister resigned over what he felt was insufficient Cabinet enthusiasm about the euro. Papers that had spent the previous week crowing about European integration after the smooth introduction of the new currency suddenly spotted trouble on the horizon, and Britain’s Euro-skeptic Daily Telegraph presented the situation in the most pessimistic light possible: “The signs of restlessness in Italy are a warning to the EU’s Left-wing elite not to push its federalist agenda too far. If Mr Berlusconi’s government, now locked into the euro zone, were to react to undue pressure from France and Germany by abandoning its disciplines, the whole system would be undermined.”
Who will take over the foreign ministry? Berlusconi said that he would cover for up to six months, but it was obvious from Day 1 that it would be difficult to handle both positions. The Financial Times noted that he is currently “preoccupied with domestic issues, in particular judicial reforms that would end the continuing investigations into his business affairs and those of associates.” On Monday he canceled dinner with the Spanish foreign minister, a particularly poignant diss since Spain currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Union. However, a two-hatted Berlusconi might be preferable to a controversial nominee—one of the early bidders for the job is Gianfranco Fini of the far-right National Alliance. As the Guardian pointed out, “Questions remain about how sincere the repudiation of fascism is among the alliance’s rank and file as nostalgia for the fascist era rises.” According to El País, Spanish Prime Minister Jose María Aznar, whose own party has historical roots in fascism, expressed concern about Italy’s commitment to European integration but pledged not to get involved in internal Italian affairs nor to “make the same mistake” the EU made when it placed sanctions on Austria to protest the presence of Jörg Haider’s far-right Freedom Party in the ruling coalition. (For more on the Haider flap, see this “Foreigners” column from July 2000.)
The general’s revenge: For El País, the most surprising aspect in the selection of Chile’s new defense minister isn’t that she’s a civilian, a woman, or a socialist, but that she’s the daughter of an air force general who was killed under torture by Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s henchmen shortly after the 1973 coup. A pediatrician who undertook postgraduate work in military studies, Michelle Bachelet was health minister until Tuesday’s Cabinet reshuffle. She was 21 when her father, an officer loyal to deposed President Salvador Allende, was killed. According to La Terceraof Santiago, Chile’s secretary of state said the nomination “must be seen as a gesture of reconciliation between civil society and the armed forces.”
Adieu, YSL: Perhaps because online newspapers are sparing in their use of photographs, there’s little correlation between the amount of space devoted to fashion and clothes in print and on the Web. This may explain why the extensive coverage of Yves Saint Laurent’s retirement announcement earlier this week was so striking to those of us who read the international papers online. The French papers reviewed the “master’s” press conference as if it were a poetry reading or a fashion show—while Clarínof Argentina described Saint Laurent morosely reading his statement “without raising his head,” Libération painted a more vivid portrait: “[He] sat behind a small table and read his written statement, which wasn’t so much a testament as a manifesto, a lesson in style and class, mezza voce, without his voice breaking, though his hands trembled.” Le Figarowas even more florid and mysterious: “A beautiful writerly text, a testament to a love of fashion. An intimate log book, whose truth hurts. Respect, silence, ovation, and then he goes.” Le Monde described Saint Laurent as “the sum of all the couturiers of his century.” After his final show at the Pompidou Center Jan. 23, his couture house will close, leaving just 11 couture houses in Paris, down from 24 in 1987. As Clarín observed, “Big corporations have taken over the luxury brands.” The British papers made much more of Saint Laurent’s struggle with what the Guardian called his “bouts of self-doubt, depression and addiction appropriate to a man obsessed with Proust.” One of the paper’s fashion editors concluded:
After his retirement, it is this independent spirit in fashion that will never be replaced. Designers today are too concerned with commerce to let their personal demons affect their work. Yet if Yves Saint Laurent had not struggled and survived through his particularly eventful career, the ready-to-wear industry, on which they so rely, would never have existed.
Groundhog Day: In the 2000 federal elections, Stockwell Day led the Canadian Alliance party to an increased popular vote and more seats in the House of Commons, yet within months, according to Toronto’s Globe and Mail, he was forced to resign after “his bungles, bizarre photo ops, horrendous press coverage, grating internal party management and shakiness on policy had produced a caucus rebellion, a grassroots revolt and general public dismay.” Day’s spectacular meltdown led the Canadian Press to name him the newsmaker of 2001—a year in which there was stiff opposition. On Monday, Day announced “a campaign to replace himself as Alliance leader,” instantly providing fodder for snarky political columnists throughout the Great White North. An op-ed in the Toronto Star declared that a party that could choose Day as its leader wasn’t worth voting for:
Remarkably, [Day’s] astonishing record of failure may not be enough to persuade the grassroots of a grassroots party to make a wiser choice, a choice that gives the Alliance a future and Liberals something to worry about. But it would certainly be enough to convince Canadians to dismiss the party as hopelessly insular and irrelevant.
Extracting a rotten tooth: The 22-story Intourist hotel known in Moscow as the “Rotten Tooth” said goodbye to its last guest this week, destined for destruction and eventual replacement by a modern hotel whose architectural style is more in keeping with the rest of the neighborhood. The Moscow Timesseemed almost nostalgic when it recollected:
In Soviet times, most Russians were not allowed inside the Intourist, which was a favorite haunt for foreigners living in Moscow. Despite a KGB presence in the often poorly lit lobby, it was a warm and comfortable place to rest. Many foreign students whiled away the hours in the smorgasbord restaurant on the second floor.