The German media could hardly get enough of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's visit with President Vladimir Putin in Russia over Christmas. Each of three articles—"Schröder's Christmas," on 8 January in Die Tageszeitung, "Schröder and Putin Take a Sleigh-Ride" on the same day in Die Frankfurter Allgemeine and "Friendship in a Horse-drawn Sleigh" on 8 January in Die Süddeutsche Zeitung—spent copious time describing the social calendar of the two heads of state.
Have a holly jolly Orthodox Christmas
In case you did not catch the program, there was a visit to the ballet, a stroll around Red Square, a trip to Orthodox mass and, of course, a ride in a horse-drawn sleigh. With the way the German press described the trip, Putin and Schröder may well have been holding hands throughout.
Die Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung made no bones about the wider implications. "The joyful sleigh-ride shows that the family friendship of the Putins with the Schröders corresponds to more meaningful German-Russian relations." The article describes how apple-polishing was the order of the day on both sides—the Russian people on behalf of Putin and his guest as well as Chancellor Schröder for Putin.
After all the descriptions of back-scratching, hand-clapping and brown-nosing, the end of the article cut to the chase. The trip should have been enlightening for the Chancellor, Die Frankfurter Allgemeine writes, "who barely knows the European east." It continues, "If [this trip] had meant that Schröder could speak openly with the Russian president, it would have made political sense. But what would truly suit such an open relationship is to be able to say to the partner that German credit is threatening to come to an end."
The article in Die Süddeutsche Zeitung takes much the same tone: the meeting here is described in saccharine tones as a meeting between family. "The hypothermic Putin did not sit like Father Frost in the sleigh but rather gave a more relaxed impression," the article claims. And Schröder smiled even more widely than usual.
The Süddeutsche Zeitung found it hard to believe that the discussion of Russian debt supposedly never even made it to the table. The paper hazards that it did, indeed, and that the plan of stocks instead of cash must have been further developed. Under this scheme, the Russians could pay off their debt by giving Germany shares not cash and, the paper points out, they better be shares in Gazprom not some tractor company in Siberia.
Die Tageszeitung refrained from the dripping sarcasm of the previous two articles, stating more simply that Schröder and Putin want to get to know each other better. However, this article, like that in Die Frankfurter Allgemeine, does not fail to mention that the Putins learned fluent German while the President was employed as a spy for the KGB in East Berlin.
It appears that this was truly a social visit between Schröder and Putin, and thus Germans are tangibly irritated by the whole thing. Die Süddeutsche calls Schröder on the political mistake he would have made if the sole purpose of the one-and-a-half-day visit in Russia was to go for a sleigh-ride.
Russia is in debt to Germany to the tune of USD 21.1 billion and recently claimed that it could not pay. It seems most Germans would have preferred if Schröder directly addressed this issue rather than flaunting a personal friendship.
Freedom and democracy in Czech TV
The crisis at Czech Television continues and so, too, does the irresponsible reporting on the event. The rebel broadcasters, it would seem, are fast becoming freedom fighters of the calibre of Ghandi, Nelson Mandela, and, yes, the champion of the cause—Václav Havel.
President Václav Havel is widely respected internationally. Therefore, his words in support of the rebels, after Parliament voted that newly appointed General Director George Hodač be dismissed, hold great weight. These words were quoted by Die TAZ on 8 January: "I am happy that healthy human understanding has prevailed," Havel said. Havel is probably also pretty happy that people are showing anger against politicians whom he holds in disdain.
Die Süddeutsche seems happy to use the logic that "if Havel thinks it, then so do we," when it writes: "Even the Czech President Václav Havel is against the choice of Hodač."
Heroes are born
"The Birth of Heroes on the Moldau," read the headline in Der Spiegel on 8 January. The article starts by introducing Adam Komers, the speaker and chief negotiator for the rebel employees at Czech Television. He and the other "rebel broadcasters" are fighting against the imposition of the new director and fighting for "freedom of the press, freedom of opinion and for freedom in general," Der Spiegel reads.
Der Spiegel got certain key facts right—it writes that the striking journalists were only fired after they went on strike, not before, it clarifies that Václav Havel is no fan of Civic Democratic leader Václav Klaus. The magazine asks whether this struggle is, after all, for freedom of the press. It seems that in being a weekly journal Der Spiegel had time to get certain things right instead of producing another gut reaction that for many papers read something like this: 100,000 people in Wenceslas Square equals another fight for democracy.
In the end, Spiegel concludes that "this crisis reveals more about the people than it reveals about television." It continues: "There were as many people on Wenceslas Square as there were at the time of the revolution, but this time, they were against technocrats, not old Communists." In the end, Adam Komers is described as a "small commander." But rather than making him into a real hero he comes out as some Mickey Mouse imitation.
What is this "Internet"?
Die Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, long one of the last bastions of print-only journalism, has joined the ranks of those newspapers (practically all of them) which are also published on the Internet. As of 8 January some articles can be read at www.faz.de, and subscribers have access to all articles. This week, the new site featured an article with a Central European focus: "EU Expansion to the East" ran on 11 January. New web site; old issue. But, then again, a topic worth discussing nonetheless.
Andrea Mrozek, 12 January 2001
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