One month ago, a Czech politician, Ivan Pilip, and a former student dissident, Jan Bubeník, traveled to Cuba through the United States. After speaking to Cuban human rights activists, they were imprisoned on charges of spying and endangering the economic interests of the state. Twenty five days in jail, a trip to Cuba by Czech Chairman of the Senate Petr Pithart and, finally, an apology by Pilip and Bubeník to the Cuban people culminated in their release on 6 February.
It is a fairly dramatic story—one that conjures associations of a recent Cold War past. Yet for the German press this week, the release of the two Czechs was nothing more than dry fodder; lackluster articles covered the news details of the story and little more.
A short sidebar in the Süddeutsche Zeitung on 6 February reported that Prague would not apologise on a diplomatic level to Castro. Instead, the Czech Foreign Ministry would take the road of "quiet diplomacy."
The Tageszeitung of 7 February wrote another short news item, reporting that "Cuba Lets the Czechs Go Free." Three newspapers, the Tagesspiegel, the Süddeutsche Zeitung and the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung all wrote slightly longer, albeit fairly nondescript, items on 7 February with variations on the same title: "Cuba Releases the Czechs."
The newspapers might have saved money by writing just one story and sharing it—the entries were that similar.
Pithart for president?
The Süddeutsche Zeitung offered some slight analysis of Pithart's mission to Cuba, during which he spoke with Castro personally for six hours. The paper pointed out that Pithart is considered a rival to Chairman of Parliament Václav Klaus for the presidency after Václav Havel leaves office. Apparently, Klaus criticised Pithart's trip to Cuba as useless while, in the end, it was only after Pithart spoke to Castro that the Czechs were released so quickly. The paper writes that Pithart can chalk one up for himself, counting the release of the two Czechs at least partially as his victory.
The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung added that the release came as a result of the negotiations of the Interparliamentary Union (a global organization of the parliaments of sovereign states), which sent its general secretary, the Swede Anders B Johnsson, and the chair of the Human Rights Commission, Chilean Socialist Juan Pablo Letelier, to Cuba. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes that the Interparliamentary Union had a vested interest in the release of the Czechs on account of its 105th annual conference being held in Havana.
The Union could hardly afford to hold the meeting while the parliamentarians of two NATO members were being held in jail. It is interesting, however, that Cubans being unjustly held do not offer any impetus to hold the conference elsewhere. Castro, we can assume, is, in the eyes of many, simply not as bad as dictators of the right-wing variety.
The mysteries of the Czech chata
Indeed, the bland manner in which this item was reported could lead one to the conclusion that the German press did not deem the unjust imprisonment of the two Czechs in Castro's Cuba as all that important. Indeed, instead of any substantial analysis of this fiasco, the Tageszeitung offered a fluffy piece by Ulrike Braun on 5 February called "The Czechs Prefer to Demonstrate in Winter." Why do they prefer to demonstrate in winter? Answer: in summer, all Czechs go to their cottages, or chatas—and here Braun launches into a description of the various kinds of Czech cottages. This is certainly insightful analysis, especially at a time of international diplomatic maneuvering for the release of two Czech political prisoners.
New Polish attitudes to the EU
Poland received some attention in the German press this week, for at least three different reasons. One article on 6 February in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, "A More Accommodating Attitude from Poland toward EU Entry talks?", discusses the possibility of a new Polish attitude toward enlargement as reported by the Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza. Gazeta Wyborcza revealed that its journalists had seen a new report written by specialists working on the Polish bid for enlargement, which suggests that Poland should give up on some of its EU demands, while retaining its position on agriculture. The Polish government, however, denied that it will do anything other than take stringent measures to meet the entry date of 1 January 2003.
Harkening back to the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth
Although one could not say that Poland is regaining her former grandeur of the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth of the 16th century, on 7 February the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung ran a headline which read "Poland and Lithuania Unify on Military Co-operation." In the first treaty between a NATO member-state and a Baltic Republic, the two countries have agreed to co-operate on UN peacekeeping missions, among other things.
Meanwhile, Russia continues to warn against the further expansion of NATO, the article reports, even as independent Lithuania seeks entry into this international body. The new Polish-Lithuanian treaty has been given the blessing of NATO's leadership. Finally, for Poland's third appearance in the German press, the Tageszeitung reported on 8 February that Poles can now, for the first time, apply to see their old Stasi (former East German secret police) files. "The Archive Opens Its Doors" is an article on the nature of the application and the largely positive reaction of Poles to this turn of events.
Odds and ends…
Romania was in the German press in the Tageszeitung on 8 February on account of another environmental disaster, this time connected to the mining company Exploatarea Miniera Abrud, located west of the town of Turda. Ukraine also made news with an article on 6 February in the Tageszeitung and the headline "No Veto from Moscow In Response To Maneuvers in Ukraine." There were other headlines from Moscow, by and large reporting on the complete rejection by President Vladimir Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov of American plans for the National Missile Defence program.
Belarus was also in the German press, as the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung wrote on 5 February about "Europe's Last Dictator" (Belarusian President Aliaksandar Lukašenka), who is supposedly getting nervous about losing his grip on power.
Andrea Mrozek, 9 February 2001
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Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
Die Süddeutsche Zeitung