It turned out I was just as unprepared as most everyone else for the Swedish Academy’s selection of Doris Lessing to receive the 2007 Nobel Prize for Literature. But the award has, as always, turned the just-turned-88 British/Rhodesian authoress into a hot property: her books are now in greater demand, and so are her opinions. And the Spanish newspaper El País has turned up as the big winner in the latter sphere, scoring the exclusive, (somewhat) extensive interview “War and Memory Never Stop” that the world’s other papers can only quote snippets from. (Yes, I don’t usually track the content on El País; I was alerted to the article by Le Nouvel Observateur’s treatment of such interview snippets.) Why El País? It’s nowhere totally clear, although it seems that Lessing has been thinking back quite a lot these days to the Spanish Civil War, something that is of course discussed in the interview. (more…)
For whatever reason, Michael Moore’s blockbuster documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 was first exposed outside the US to French-speaking audiences, opening on 7 July in France, Belgium, and Switzerland. And, as you’d probably expect, it had a Smashing Début, as stated in the title of an article in the Nouvel Observateur. It was seen by 100,000 in France on its first day of showing alone (of which 30,000 in Paris), the best opening of all time for a documentary. Still, the (unnamed) writer does give Moore’s previous work, Bowling for Columbine, greater credit for being fully researched and documented. (more…)
Failure in December – but success in June! At their just-concluded Brussels summit the European Union’s now twenty-five members finally accepted a draft to put forward to their constituent parliaments and/or voters as the new European Constitution. Perhaps this summit’s productive result can be ascribed to the rotating EU presidency being held now by Bertie Ahern and the diplomatically-astute Irish, whereas Italy and Silvio Berlusconi were in charge last December – the Council presidency will cease to rotate this way once the new Constitution is enacted, by the way – or maybe it was all due to the new governments in place in Spain and Poland, the two “medium-sized” EU states that were the principle obstacles to progress at the last summit in December. One thing is sure, though: France and Jacques Chirac were once again in the middle of the goings-on, and so a review of French reporting and comment is appropriate. (Tony Blair was also a leading protagonist – or at least according to the French press, as we shall see – but I’ll let you read the on-line British papers about that yourself – and pay for it, in the case of The Times.) (more…)
You’re probably aware that British Prime Minister Tony Blair was hurried from Chequers to the hospital last Sunday suffering from chest pains and an irregular heartbeat. (You may or may not know that, at roughly the same time, his colleague, finance minister, and possible rival, Gordon Brown, was at a hospital in Scotland doting over his newly-born son.) Now, where did that come from? Tony Blair is renowned, among other things, for his rude health – a fact that was confirmed on a BBC World Service broadcast from earlier this week, in which one of his close acquaintances spoke of his diet of fruit, the Downing Street treadmill that he uses regularly, and his low weight for his height.
Maybe it was the coffee, that strong stuff that Blair’s Belgian hosts served at the end of last week at the European Council. At least that’s what Blair himself thinks, according to this article (“Bitter Blend” from The Independent, and therefore in English), which I was alerted to by this article in the Danish newspaper Politiken. Turns out he simply drank too much of it. And doctors quoted in that Independent article confirm that too much caffeine can indeed trigger the heart complaint that Blair was discovered to be suffering from – but that it can also “come out of the blue.”
Today’s topic for a press review is of course the summit held yesterday in Berlin between the leaders of the EU’s “Big Three” – Germany’s Schröder, France’s Chirac, and Britain’s Blair. The subject on the table (but, as it turned out, not the only subject) was Iraq – where to go with regard to that country’s rebuilding process, what posture to take going into the crucial meetings around the opening of the UN General Assembly to occur this following week, and how to respond generally to the Americans’ patent need for a bit of assistance there.
You remember from our past discussion, here, that two of those three (Schröder and Chirac) already met last week, also in Berlin. Now, that occasion was supposedly not for the express purpose of meeting one-on-one per se, but rather to mark the first-ever joint session of the combined German and French cabinets in the German capital. That event had been planned in advance, but nonetheless it gave the two heads-of-cabinet a convenient opportunity to confer in advance of their meeting yesterday with Tony Blair, and confer they did.
What’s going on when there’s to be a three-way meeting, but two of the three have their own little meeting ahead of time? In such a case the suspicion has to arise that the thing has really metamorphosed into, in effect, a two-way meeting, between the already-met (in a posture of solidarity forged during their previous get-together) and the third, late arrival. And don’t forget yet another meeting still, that huge meeting later this week at the UN General Assembly, which will be attended by most of the involved heads of state, and which will be marked by meetings between Chirac and Schröder on the one hand and President Bush on the other – separate meetings with each. This three-way meeting in Berlin looks an awful lot like a training-session for those all-the-marbles meetings in New York. A by-now-common preparatory technique among politicians preparing for a big debate is to find a preliminary sparring partner who can best imitate the opponent that politician will face when he is later debating for real – could Tony Blair have unwittingly been fooled into assuming this role for Messrs. Schröder and Chirac, ahead of their one-on-one conversations with George W. Bush in New York?
Among the many English-language dispatches covering the summit, the Washington Post’s report ends by recounting the “embarrassing question” the three leaders encountered at their joint news conference: Was Blair seen by the other two as simply “Bush’s envoy to the talks.” Oh no, no, they hastened to answer – Chirac even magnanimously said “I want to pay tribute to the vivid imagination of the last journalist,” i.e. the poser of the question. The other common elements you’ll be able to read about in most all the coverage were that all three agreed that the UN must be given a “key role” in Iraq, but disagreed on how long it should take to do that, Chirac demanding that this take place “within a few months”; and they all at least agreed that “we all want to see a stable Iraq,” in Blair’s words. Nothing very radical there.
But the English-language press – usually – is not EuroSavant’s happy hunting-ground, nor are the common elements that everybody is reporting the usual grist for its mill. Let’s take a look at reporting and commentary from the host nation – Germany – to see what wrinkles and unique aspects of the summit are presented there. (more…)
The big story over on this side of the Atlantic these days is the Dr. David Kelly affair blazing now in the UK. British Prime Minister Tony Blair has been under pressure for weeks for supposedly misleading Parliament into approving Britain’s joining the Americans in war on Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, raising scary prospects of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction which could strike Britain within 45 minutes. In particular, at the beginning of this month the BBC had issud a damning report, based on anonymous, inside information from a source within the government, that Blair’s administration had “sexed up” a “dodgy dossier” sent to Parliament to substantiate Iraq’s alleged WMD capabilities. (In other words, civil servants and/or politicians in Blair’s government had inserted language into that dossier that was much more alarmist than was justified, in order to bring Parliament around to Blair’s case for going to war – much in the same way that there has also been recent furore surrounding George W. Bush’s assertion in his State of the Union speech of last January that Iraq had tried to buy uranium from Niger, an assertion which it now turns out was not even accepted as true by most of the Bush administration at the time.) Blair was certainly looking forward to a recent trip to the US (among other things, to address a joint session of the Houses of Congress) as a respite, a stay in a land where he is much more popular than in the country where he is actually Prime Minister. But no sooner had he left the US (to continue on to the West on an Asian trip) than the official who had been recently picked out as the likely “mole” who enabled the BBC to make its report – British biological expert Dr. David Kelly – was found dead near his home in Oxfordshire.
For the longest time – for far too long – the authorities who should have known better held off in identifying this death as the suicide that it was, and so kept alive the horrible prospect that someone had done away with the doctor out of concern for what more he could say to the press. But now we know that’s what it is, and the most recent news as of this writing has been the naming of Lord Hutton, a distinguished attorney and magistrate from Northern Ireland, to head the independent government inquiry into this affair. Crucially, the inquiry will have the narrow focus of the circumstances surrounding Dr. Kelly’s death – not the broader one of the completeness and truthfulness of the reporting to Parliament in the weeks leading up to the War in Iraq of Blair’s administration.
Naturally, this affair has generated reams and reams of reporting and commentary, especially within the UK but also elsewhere. Indeed, the concern that the populations of the countries of the Coalition might have been misled by the leaders about the urgency of going to war against Saddam Hussein is by no means confined to the UK or the US or exclusively to the other countries of the coalition. (In fact, in some of those countries – e.g. Poland – people are not much worried about the prospect at all.)
The Guardian offers a good selection of what various English-language newspapers – in the UK and abroad – are saying. As is the EuroSavant way, we’ll leave readers with that for English coverage, and instead examine the French press. (more…)
Meanwhile, back in Afghanistan . . . yes, you remember that we also fought a war there, in late 2001 against the Taliban, mainly because they were sheltering Osama bin-Laden and his Al-Qaida organization and refused to give him up. To keep order in that war-torn and fragmented country, and to give its central adminstration headed by “Transitional Chairman” Hamid Karzai a chance to get started with rebuilding, since December, 2001, there has been a so-called International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) there, mainly in the capital city Kabul and surroundings. (more…)
Remember that “genocide law” in Belgium (formally known in English as the “law of universal competence,” and which EuroSavant first commented upon a few weeks ago here)? The one that allows anyone, from anywhere, to take to court in Belgium anyone, from anywhere, whom they wish to accuse of committing violations of human rights and/or of the laws of war? It has by no means gone away; indeed, lately Belgian-American tensions have risen to new highs. (more…)
The referendum on Poland’s accession to the European Union is very close now – it starts tomorrow, Saturday, and carries on through Sunday. As in most of the candidate states which have already held the referendum – particularly in Hungary and Slovakia – and as will most likely be the case in the one remaining significant state to do so after Poland, namely the Czech Republic next weekend, the crucial issue is not so much the referendum’s result, but rather the rate of voter turn-out. (more…)
Time now to switch from overtly political subjects – the lifting of Iraqi sanctions at the UN Security Council – to a phenomenon which may seem apolitical (in fact, it’s downright shmaltzy) but which contains within itself potentially very serious political implications. I refer here to the Eurovision Song Contest, which came to its conclusion on Saturday night by declaring the Turkish entry, “Everyway [sic] That I Can,” sung by Ms. Sertab Erener, the winner of the 26-nation competition. (Those of you from outside of the European continent who don’t know what I’m talking about – or, bless you, even those of you who actually live in Europe but still haven’t a clue – click here for an explanation.) That Turkey would win – and for the very first time in the contest’s 48-year existence – is serious enough. Really: serious. I’m working on an essay on the subject, to tell you what I mean. When I post its link to the left side of this website under “My Articles,” I’ll re-edit this entry to announce this and give you the link directly.
But right here I’d rather like to call your attention to the other end of the scale, namely the very bottom, occupied for the year 2003 by Great Britain whose entry, the song “Cry Baby” by the boy-girl duo JEMINI, came in dead last with zero points. (more…)
The heads of state of France, Germany, Belgium, and Luxembourg met yesterday in Brussels to launch a new European defense initiative for a multinational force to flesh out the European Union’s foreign and security policies. Presidents Chirac and Schröder and Prime Ministers Verhofstadt and Juncker took pains to emphasize that they were not acting against NATO nor against that alliance’s senior partner, the United States.
Of course, besides Luxembourg, it is true that these were the European countries in the forefront of opposition to America and its “coalition of the willing” as they undertook their assault on Iraq. And many do intrepret this as an anti-NATO gesture – the Times of London‘s foreign editor Bronwen Maddox speaks of a “direct hit on Nato” and “payback time” for these four countries. What do the countries involved have to say for themselves? (more…)