By Jeremy Bransten/Dora Slaba/Annie Hillar
Prague, 7 August 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Monica Lewinsky and Todor Zhivkov share unlikely company in today's Western press commentaries, as does Europe's continuing preoccupation with refugees and the Asian financial crisis.
TRIBUNE DE GENEVE: The United States occupies itself with the Clinton scandal, the rest of the world with more important matters
Lewinsky's secret testimony before a U.S. grand jury yesterday, on her alleged relations with President Bill Clinton, prompts several European newspapers to wonder at the implications of America's preoccupation with the case. Switzerland's Tribune de Geneve wonders about the wisdom of spending $40 million to investigate whether Lewinsky's dress was stained with ketchup, or ice cream, or something else. The paper asks in its editorial: "What is the point in the end? To prove a sexual relation between consenting adults, and at worst, an attempt to hide it? - not a very moral reaction, but after all, very human." On a more important point, the editorial notes that "while the world's superpower, temporarily lacking in leadership, preoccupies itself with these stories of alcoves (it was in an alcove of the White House's Oval Office, that Lewinsky alleges her affair with Clinton took place), Kosovo burns, the Congo falls apart, the Middle East peace process is at a dead-end, the Asian crisis threatens to provoke a major stock market crash."
STUTTGARTER ZEITUNG: The United States is busy looking at a dress
Germany's Stuttgarter Zeitung concurs, calling the Lewinsky-Clinton matter "a grotesque and absurd situation." The paper notes: "It is difficult to grasp really. People are dying of hunger in Sudan, wars are being waged in Central Africa, over 100,000 people have taken flight in Kosovo. In Asia, the atomic powers of India and Pakistan are poisoning each other. Russia is approaching bankruptcy, the economic crisis in Asia is not only a threat to the boom in America, but threatens to spread...And," asks the paper, "what does the only great power, the United States, do? Is it ruling, is it steering, is it acting, is it negotiating? No, it is looking at a dress."
EL MUNDO: Clinton is a victim of the ruling class
Spain's El Mundo, in its commentary today, sees a more sinister agenda. The paper writes that "Clinton is the victim not only of his own errors, but also, more importantly, of the Puritanism and the intransigence of a sector of the ruling class running the country, that is using the affair to destroy the charisma of the president."
NEW YORK TIMES: In the end, no one will emerge victorious
In the U.S. itself, New York Times columnist Russell Baker strikes an anguished and sad tone. He writes that when this case is finally over, "none but saints and fools will want to be president again." And he also notes that few will want to be journalists. Baker says that while "the Watergate journalists Woodward and Bernstein inspired a whole generation of young people to think of journalism as an honorable way to spend a life (the current) daily bulletins on ladies' dirty linen" will have the opposite effect. In the end, writes Baker, no one will come out a winner from this sordid affair - not special prosecutor Kenneth Starr, not Clinton, not Lewinsky: "Sensitive people will be content to loathe them all quietly for what they have done to the country, for how they have debased our culture," he concludes.
NEW YORK TIMES: Former leader Zhivkov got away with murder
Moving on to former Bulgarian Communist leader Todor Zhivkov, who died in Sofia yesterday at the age of 86, the New York Times' David Binder writes that the Sofia government's failure to try Zhivkov for his political crimes means that "in effect, Mr. Zhivkov got away with murder." He says that Zhivkov, a slavish ally of Moscow, was responsible for economic ruin, for building concentration camps, for repressing Bulgaria's Turkish minority and, probably, for ordering the death of exiled writer Georgii Markov. Yet, Binder notes, he was only tried on charges of embezzlement and spent his final years under comfortable house arrest.
FINANCIAL TIMES: Some Bulgarians will remember Zhivkov with affection
Britain's Financial Times writes that ironically: "Those confused by the bickering of multi-party politics, remember the days when politics was in the hands of a bald old man in glasses who seemed to have been there forever and had powerful friends in Moscow. Now he has gone, some Bulgarians will remember him with something like affection."
IRISH TIMES: There is little difference between todays Romanian refugees and earlier generation Irish migrants
Two dailies on Europe's geographic periphery focus today on a problem very much at the heart of European concerns: the rise in illegal migration. The Irish Times, in a searing and impassioned editorial entitled "Refugees Are Reminding Us Too Eerily of Ourselves," recalls the hostile reception accorded to recent asylum-seekers from Romania. The paper notes that until very recently, the Irish themselves were a nation of migrants: "We've moved quite suddenly from the sullen, unsettled edge of Europe to a place near the center," it notes, adding that yesterday we were beggars watching out for every stray euro, panhandling for... payments, cadging money for sewers and interpretive centers."
But the Irish Times reflects that, "today, we've got cafes that sell 50 kinds of coffee, pubs that sell 15 kinds of porter. Million-pound houses don't amaze us anymore." And, it adds, the Irish have too quickly forgotten their history and compassion, especially when they speak with disdain of the Romanians as "economic refugees.....Could it be," the paper wonders, "that the hysteria about Romanian migrants comes, not from a sense of their exotic strangeness, but from a recognition of their terrible familiarity?" The Irish Times concludes that little separates the latter-day Romanian refugees from earlier generations of Irish migrants. "The only difference is that our timing was better," the paper concludes. "We were able to smuggle our way into fortress Europe without having to bribe shady operators or endure the journey in the dark."
EL MUNDO: Economic cooperation is the only solution to illegal immigration
In a similar vein, Madrid's El Mundo recalls the deaths of would-be North African immigrants, who recently drowned at sea while attempting to cross over from neighboring Morocco. The paper notes that putting up physical barriers will not solve the problem of unwanted immigration. "There is no barrier or fence...that can stop the advance towards dignity of the multitudes who are starving or who suffer violence....Economic cooperation, and not frontier guards, is the only possible tool," its editorial concludes.
ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG: The European Union must support its neighbors in taking on more global responsibility
Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung agrees, noting in an analysis today that "it is self-evident that a meaningful immigration policy can only function if it is embedded in a foreign policy which tries to mitigate the causes for emigration. As a power to be, the European Union must support actively its neighboring regions in their efforts to stabilize and take on more global responsibility," the paper advises.
LIBERATION: The West should not ignore stock market tremors
Lastly, assessing the recent tremors on Western stock markets, France's Liberation daily cautions that these should not be ignored. The paper notes that there are some who believe that when stock markets dip, only the rich suffer. But, it stresses, "one must not forget the non-players, who suffer even more." Liberation writes that, time and time again, stock markets have proven to be accurate barometers of the true state of a country's economy. The paper concludes that it is time for the West to sit up and take notice, lest it too fall prey to an Asian-style economic recession.