Heads Roll

Heads Roll

Heads Roll

What the foreign papers are saying.
Feb. 27 2001 9:00 PM

Heads Roll

"What should a government do when some of the people under its rule are cutting off the heads of others?" asked an editorial in the Times of London, referring to Indonesia's problem in Borneo, where indigenous Dayaks have killed at least 250 and perhaps as many as 1,000 Madurese immigrants over the last eight days. Hong Kong's South China Morning Post reported that there are currently up to 25,000 Madurese refugees in Sampit, the flashpoint of the violence, while 10,000 more have already been evacuated. The Sydney Morning Herald provided a summary of the background to the carnage: As long as 50 years ago, the Indonesian government began resettling the inhabitants of Madura, an island northwest of Java, to the sparsely populated jungles of Indonesian Borneo. According to the Herald, tensions between the Dayaks and the Madurese, who soon dominated the indigenous people, "were exacerbated by the [former Indonesian President Suharto] regime's encouragement of vast logging operations. These activities devastated the rainforest environment on which the Dayaks' subsistence system of shifting cultivation depended."

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Several papers criticized the Indonesian government's passivity. An editorial in the Straits Times of Singapore declared, "The army should be disarming the roaming gangs, or shoring up the local civilian administration by enforcing a province-wide curfew. Ceding ground to lawless gangs only seeds future upheavals." The London Times was similarly contemptuous of the official response:

June Thomas June Thomas

June Thomas is managing producer of Slate podcasts.

Police on the ethnically mixed island are mostly Javanese … yet they stood by, playing chess, while many Dayaks, the headhunters of history, ran riot. … Although Indonesia's Javanese leaders might find it tempting to write this outbreak of ethnic strife off to the incorrigible savagery of the people on the perimeter of their rule, it is time they took responsibility both for sorting out the economic mess that triggered the trouble and for the citizens whose fate they control.

The Jakarta Post laid out what needed to be done, without providing concrete suggestions for how peace and harmony could be achieved:

The next and much more difficult step to take is to try to bring the diverse ethnic groups of Indonesia closer together—especially in the so-called resettlement areas—by eliminating economic disparities between groups and by a more cultural approach in order to sow the seeds of mutual appreciation among Indonesia's hugely diverse population.

The Don is dead: Anyone doubting cricket's role as a world sport need only examine the tributes to Sir Don Bradman, the sport's greatest batsman, who died Sunday at the age of 92, in papers from South Africa, India, Britain, and his native Australia. The Sydney Morning Herald and the Times of India each offered 19 stories about "The Don" in their Tuesday online editions. Bradman's statistical achievements overshadow those of all other cricketing greats—his average of 99.94 runs per game in international play is 39 runs per game higher than that of his nearest rival—but his role in what the SMH called "Australia's development of an independent way of thinking" is even more significant. The paper dubbed him "the most famous Australian of Australia's first century and the man who carried the hopes, dreams and aspirations of a nation on his shoulder" and reported that "when Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990, one of the first things he wanted to know was whether Bradman was still alive." The Financial Times said that Bradman represented "the professional approach" to sports, and that he was responsible for loosening the grip of the "gentlemanly amateurs" on cricket. According to the Times of India, Bradman, who shunned publicity and celebrity, spent his final years protecting his name. When the city of Adelaide decided to rename a street for Sir Don, several businesses on the strip tried to cash in on the cricketer's reputation—for example, the Ultimate Risk Sex Shop intended to rename itself "Erotica on Bradman" but changed its mind after a wave of negative publicity. Eventually, the Australian government changed the law to prevent businesses from using Bradman's name to suggest a commercial connection.

Caught black-and-white-and-red-all-over-handed: Thirteen Russian newspapers were caught in a sting operation when a public relations company revealed that the papers had demanded money to run advertising copy for a fictitious store as news. The Moscow Times reported that the PR firm initiated the project after several clients told them other agencies could guarantee media placement for press releases in exchange for payment—of the 21 papers approached, 13 negotiated fees ranging from $135 to more than $2,000. Journalists and PR professionals were outraged by the sting, seen by some as an attempt to smear the competition—one press conference attendee is said to have yelled: "Like a lousy A-student, you tattle-tale to the teacher: They are the ones who broke the window!" The Daily Telegraph of London concluded: "It was the clearest illustration in years of the venal ways of the Russian press, which is willing to promote or libel anyone or anything if the price is right. The system is exploited by politicians, Russian and foreign companies and businessmen with criminal pasts trying to rehabilitate themselves or blacken their rivals." Meanwhile, South Africa's Independent carried a Reuters story about the diplomatic repercussions of a gag in the Süddeutsche Zeitung. It seems the paper's weekend supplement included a photograph of Japanese Crown Prince Naruhito and his wife with the caption, "Tote Hose"—"literally ‘dead trousers' and slang for ‘nothing happened'—printed over the prince's groin." The failure of Naruhito and Princess Masako to provide an heir to the throne has been the topic of endless speculation in Japan. The magazine's editors apologized for the article, which ran under the headline, "The World's Oldest Monarchy Is on the Brink of Extinction."