Protests? What protests?
The German press remained completely unfazed by the demonstrations against the Prague meetings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB) this week. Front pages were not plastered with pictures of stone-throwing protesters. While the Czech media had their own countrymen convinced that Armageddon had come early, the German press reported these riots as the back page news that they, in actual fact, were. More pressing issues took precedence this week: the elections in Yugoslavia, the anniversary of German unification and the usual articles on developments in the European Union.
This is not to say that the IMF-WB meetings were entirely ignored. To the contrary: headlines such as "A Meeting At the Edge of the Oil Crisis" (Tageszeitung, 26 September) said it all. The author of this article, Maike Rademaker, points out that while huge protests were expected at the meeting of the finance ministers of the G-7 countries on Saturday 23 September, in the end, not a single demonstrator came.
Another article, "Now It All Begins" (Tageszeitung, 26 September) played the numbers game, publishing the varying estimates of expected arrivals to the city: INPEG (Initiative Against Economic Globalisation), the Czech umbrella group that organised the protests, expected 20,000, while the Czech Interior Ministry estimated just half that. The "tent city" outfitted for 15,000 protesters sheltered, on Monday 25 September, only 1000 people.
Tucked away on page 2, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung chose a picture of the Italian protest group Ya Basta! throwing balloons at riot police to illustrate its story on the protests. The article estimated an accurate approximation of 7000 demonstrators and avoided entirely the citing of over-blown propaganda statistics. The story is short and well-balanced. Other papers chose to give equal space to both the meetings themselves and the action on the streets. ("IMF Chief Köhler Addresses the Third World," Berliner Zeitung, 27 September and "Köhler Defends the IMF and the World Bank," Die Welt, 27 September)
The end result is clear. The German newspapers collectively sent a signal that Prague never came even close to Seattle. One opinion piece in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, "Protest As an End in Itself," does not beat around the bush in making a significant point. "The fight against globalisation is full of contradictions," the subtitle reads. An organiser of the protests is quoted as saying that the organisers wanted the event to run peacefully but that they had understanding for demonstrators who "fight back."
All in all, sympathy in the German press for the so-called protests against globalisation was hard to find. In the end, it was a piece in the Frankfurter Rundschau that pointed out that if 100,000 could converge in Wenceslas Square in 1989 to demand the fall of Communism without violence, why should a comparably small demonstration be "forced" to use any other means?
The elections in Yugoslavia were by all accounts an event with great implications for the future of not just the Balkans but all of Europe. Newspapers closely followed the election results and the various reactions to the forced second-round run-off. On 26 September the Süddeutsche Zeitung asked, "What Will Slobodan Milošević do?" while wondering if this was the end of the untouchable one.
Although the "untouchable Milošević" seems finally to have fallen, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung pointed out in an article on 29 September that there is little the West can do to influence the events in Yugoslavia. ("What Should Be Done if Blood Flows in Belgrade?"). Alongside articles about the elections ran a series of pieces about the sanctions against Serbia, with most authors implying that they should be dropped.
While Milošević mobilised special police forces, neighbouring countries acknowledged Vojislav Koštunica as the new president. Chairman of the European Commission Roman Prodi, among others, called for official recognition of Koštunica's victory, while the Romanian foreign minister, Petre Roman, warned Milošević not to shoot against his own people, saying that democracy would eventually win anyway. ("Foreign Countries Call for a Peaceful Changing of Power," Die Welt, 27 September)
Voting for being against
This maxim that democracy will win in the end anyway proves true in other unrelated situations. The Danes voted against the euro this week in a vote which was arguably not even that close. While European Parliament representatives debated whether God should be mentioned in the upcoming European Charter of Rights, ("Business Cards for Europe," Süddeutsche Zeitung, 26 September), the Danes were in the midst of a tense referendum campaign: for or against the euro.
The coverage up until Thursday 28 September, the day ballots were cast, pointed out the obvious tensions in a country that, like many others, is highly sceptical of the European Union, while at the same time profiting from inclusion in it. "Denmark Wavers between 'Reason' and Euro-scepticism" in Die Welt on 26 September reported that the result was completely up in the air.
By 29 September, although newspapers had gone to print before the final results were in, articles such as "A Long Road to Europe," (Berliner Zeitung) had appeared. It will, indeed, be a long road to Europe for countries such as Denmark. There is a certain irony in that while the Union's eastern neighbours press to be speedily admitted, those countries already comfortably placed on the inside are voting against further unification.
However, in the end, while riots raged in Prague, election tensions mounted in Serbia and Danes proceeded to vote themselves out of the Union, the German press also remained largely focused on internal issues such as the ongoing struggle regarding fuel prices and the upcoming tenth anniversary of German unification.
Andrea Mrozek, 29 September 2000
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