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Tuesday, 19 November, 2002, 08:16 GMT
European Press Review

The German press focuses on the travails of the country's chancellor, Czech papers consider their government's decision to cancel an order for fighter aircraft, Russia honours Gulag-chronicler Alexander Solzhenitsyn, and Ukraine struggles to raise wages above the poverty line.

Winter of Discontent?

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder faces mounting problems on the home front. According to Financial Times Deutschland, Schroeder is now facing a Winter of Discontent of the British variety.

"The parallels between the British 'Winter of Discontent' and today's in Germany are obvious. Both countries were economic superpowers and then fell victim to a long economic decline," the paper says.

"Both splashed out on a bloated welfare state and a decrepit labour market, controlled by trade unions and militant works councils. In both cases the governments committed grave macroeconomic mistakes."

You have to dig deep to remember the cheerful communicator that the chancellor once was.

Der Tagesspiegel

The paper sees no end to Mr Schroeder's problems. "Anyone who believes it can't get even worse is making a big mistake," the paper concludes.

This may explain Mr Schroeder's careworn appearance at Monday's news conference at which new tax increases were presented to the public.

According to Berlin's Der Tagesspiegel, "you have to dig deep to remember the cheerful communicator that the chancellor once was".

Giving the news conference was "a new, a different Schroeder, who looked tired. His many wrinkles suddenly seem to be the expression of a heavy burden. The corners of his mouth droop downwards, the tight lips almost forming a curve."

The chancellor refused to accept most questions or else made it clear that he would not answer them, the paper says.

Floods not planes

The Czech newspaper Mlada Fronta Dnes is pleased at the government's decision to cancel a planned purchase of 24 Gripen fighter planes from the British-Swedish BAE Systems and Saab firms, even though the firms are among the sponsors of the forthcoming Nato summit in Prague.

The government has said it needs the $1.7bn to repair the damage caused by the summer floods.

"This is good news... the outgoing cabinet of Milos Zeman had continued to insist on the deal this spring, although many experts said the contract was extremely disadvantageous. They said the aircraft were too expensive and the offset programmes promises were nothing more than words," the paper says.

No one will forget that, although the Czechs prided themselves on hosting the Nato summit in 2002, the summit had to be protected by American aircraft.

Hospodarske Noviny

The new government elected in June has wrestled with the purchase, given the country's continuing budget deficits, but "the floods swept away 70 billion crowns along with the chance for the deal of the century," it says.

The Hospodarske Noviny newspaper says future historians will agree that the post-Communist leadership failed to secure a national air force and the protection of the country's airspace.

"No one will forget that, although the Czechs prided themselves on hosting the Nato summit in 2002, the summit had to be protected by American aircraft," it says.

Gulag chronicler venerated

Most Russian newspapers sing the praises of the Nobel Prize-winning writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn on the 40th anniversary of his book, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, which depicts the life of an innocent inmate in a Soviet labour camp, a subject forbidden at the time.

Surprisingly, the book was approved by Soviet censors and acclaimed by Soviet critics. A literary debut for the dissident author and a precursor of his famous Gulag Archipelago novel, the work was a "breakthrough" and "turnaround in public mind" in a totalitarian society, "the scope of which could only be fully comprehended in the years to come," Trud writes.

The government newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta believes that the book "ushered in the gradual demise of the Gulag archipelago" - a network of Soviet labour camps where thousands of political prisoners died during Stalin's rule.

Solzhenitsyn's book was a time-bomb

Izvestiya

The paper carries an interview with Mr Solzhenitsyn's wife Natalya, who says the book told the West "the horrible truth" about the Gulag, starting to dispel any remaining "sympathy for Communism in Europe and the rest of the world".

Izvestiya regards the book as a "time-bomb", which brought about the destruction of the Soviet totalitarian system from within and without which "no perestroika or the controversial but dynamic reforms of the 1990s would have been possible".

It is ironic, the paper notes, that the Soviet authorities were so "far-sighted" and "so obsessed with a bright Communist future", that they failed to grasp the powerful anti-Communist message the book carried thanks to Mr Solzhenitsyn's "cunning of a prisoner" and "tactical expertise".

Ukraine wages overcome poverty line

Ukraine's pro-presidential tabloid Fakty I Kommentarii reports a 22% increase in average wages since the beginning of the year, which "have at last risen above the poverty line". An average Ukrainian now earns nearly $74 a month.

"The lowest wages are still in Ukrainian agriculture" at $36, the paper says regretfully.

The average wage in the heath care and social protection sector, $42 a month, is also below the poverty line.

The European press review is compiled by BBC Monitoring from internet editions of the main European newspapers and some early printed editions.

Links to more Media reports stories are at the foot of the page.


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