Western European News Digest
Pope Benedict XVI Explains His Choice of Name
In his first general audience, Pope Benedict XVI on April 27 explained his choice of the name Benedict. Speaking in Italian, he said: "I wanted to be called Benedict XVI to connect ideally to the venerable Pontiff Benedict XV, who guided the Church through the turbulent times of the First World War. He was a bold and authentic prophet of peace, and worked with great courage, first to avoid the tragedy of the war, and afterwards, to limit its murderous consequences. In his footsteps, I desire to put my ministry in the service of reconciliation and harmony among men and peoples, deeply convinced that the great good of peace is first of all a gift of Godunfortunately a fragile and precious oneto invoke, safeguard, and build, day after day with the help of everybody." Furthermore, the Pope said he chose the name because of St. Benedict (480-547), who played a decisive role in the expansion of Christianity in Europe. He mentioned the first rule left by Benedict to his monastic order: "Put nothing before Christ."
Fifteen thousand people attended the audience in St. Peter's Square, including 1,000 people from St. Benedict's hometown of Nursia in the Umbria region of Italy.
German Trade Unions Rally Around the Constitution
Referring to key points made by the chairman of the German Social Democratic Party (SPD), Franz Muentefering, last week, Franz-Josef Moellenberg, national chairman of the German food industry workers (NGG), issued a statement on the German Constitution in an interview with the Sueddeutsche Zeitung April 25.
Asked whether the positions of the SPD imply a new "class struggle," Moellenberg said: "Not at all. What is at stake is the social element in the social market economy. That is not class struggle, but the mandate of our Constitution: The Federal Republic is a social state, property implies an obligation, and the dignity of man is untouchable. Whoever thinks that is too radical, has a problem."
A spokeswoman at NGG's headquarters in Hamburg confirmed that the defense of the German Constitution's Article 14 is what the NGG labor union's 270,000 members view as the most central aspect of the NGG's current mobilization.
SPD Chairman Muentefering on the Role of the State
In an April 27 interview with Bildzeitung, SPD chairman Franz Muentefering stated, "What I'm focussed on, is a fundamental question: Must the state really stand by idly, powerlessly watching sound firms being razed to the ground, workers being laid off because of illegal dealings, and profiteers stuffing their pockets?
"Seriously: The economy is there for the citizens, not the other way around! I have noticed, by the way, that the Union [the Christian Democratic party] stays amazingly silent in this debate. Mrs. [Angela] Merkel and Mr. [Edmund] Stoiber seem to sense what is rolling in their direction. They just do not know yet how to deal with it. Courage and responsibilitythat is not what they show.
"One thing is clear: With the slogan 'out with the state,' we cannot go on. Whoever believed the market could do everything better if it were allowed to, must now acknowledge: That is wrong! the state must set limits and it must be able to enforce their functioning. That is why I say: as little state as possible, but as much state as necessary!
"One example: It cannot be that cheap labor from Eastern Europe works for fraudulent entrepreneurs at starvation-level wages in German meat-cutting firms. The state must move against such excesses with all force, and must also apply the criminal code."
Former CDU Minister Attacks Neo-Con 'Anarcho-Capitalism'
In an interview with the April 26 issue of the Austrian magazine Trend, Heiner Geissler, a former family and health minister of Germany, said that there are many entrepreneurs of firms operating globally that "act as freely as the mafia, the dope dealers, the terrorists."
Geissler continued, "At this moment, this anarcho-capitalism, this resurrected early capitalism, is the dominant ideology. Since the abolition of the Bretton Woods agreements in the early 1970s, a giant financial industry has emerged."
In the final analysis, the only winning philosophy is one that holds that capital has to serve man, not vice versa, he emphasized. "Today, human lives are being sacrificed for revenue on capital. Modern capitalism is a modern form of totalitarianism. It benefits only a few, who earn more and more, but it is to the disadvantage of more and more human beings."
With the "Hartz IV" austerity reforms and similar policies, Germany's Social Democratic-Green ("red-green") coalition government has missed its opportunity. "You cannot pursue a policy that alienates millions of citizens.... [T]here are no useless citizens in a democracy. Citizens will either use their vote, or will abstain from the next elections, or even vote for a radical party."
Tony Blair Under Fire as Elections Approach
The issue of the Iraq war, and British Prime Minister Tony Blair's manifest lying to get Britain into it, is becoming red hot as the British elections approach. Important defections in the Labour Party are occurring.
The London Times reported April 26, that only one out of 12 new Labour candidates for the Parliament supports Blair on Iraq. Blair stated April 25 that, although he respects the critics of the war, he would not apologize, since he believes his decision was the right one.
A recent issue of the Independent has a front-page headline announcing that a leading Labour MP is leaving the party, and joining the Liberal Democrats. Brian Sedgemore, who has been a Labour MP for 27 years, said he will leave, and that there is a group of other MPs ready to bolt after the elections. For him it is not only Iraq, but also the issue of privatization of the health service that he opposes. "I'm renouncing Tony Blair, the Devil, new Labour, and all their works," he announced.
An op-ed in the Guardian April 26 by Richard Gott blasted Blair: "The PM is a war criminal," it said. "Like Chamberlain in the '30s, Blair is an appeaser of a dangerous global power"the United States under Bush-Cheney. "He should be in prison, not standing for election." Blair was accused of appeasing an "unbridled country that presents a global threat similar to Germany in the 1930s."
Italian Journalist Giuliana Sgrena Interviewed
In an April 27 interview, Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena, who was rescued from being held hostage in Iraq, and whose rescuer, an Italian intelligence agent shot dead by American troops, said there was no roadblock where U.S. troops opened fire on the vehicle in which she riding. Sgrena gave a phone interview to Democracy Now's Amy Goodman (National Public Radio). She complained bitterly that the leaked report that an American investigation had cleared U.S. troops of responsibility for the killing (the report has not been officially released) would mean that the U.S. is trying to cover up the truth. She insisted, as she has consistently, that the U.S. troops that killed Italian intelligence agent Nicolà Calipari, and seriously wounded Sgrena, had opened fire "without notice, without any attempt to stop us before," noting that her story and that of the other survivor were identical.
The two Italian members of the commission have refused to sign the report as it is, and are reported to have left Baghdad. The car in which Sgrena and the others rode is being delivered to Italy, and the Italians believe they can tell from forensics how fast the car was travelling. The U.S. claims they were speeding, which the Italians deny.
Europe Commemorates 90th Anniversary of Armenian Genocide
The Armenian community in France and elsewhere in Europe held solemn masses, marches, and memorials April 24, to commemorate the killings of up to 1.5 million Armenians, under the Young Turk government in Turkey in 1915, during World War I. A requiem mass was offered at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, and many other gatherings took place across the city, as well as in other French cities. There are 350,000 ethnic Armenians in France. The mass was followed by a meeting at an Armenian monument where on April 22, French President Jacques Chirac and Armenian President Robert Kocharian placed a wreath.
French Socialist Party leader Francois Hollande told a gathering of 3,000, mostly Armenians, that he would propose a law in parliament to penalize those who deny the genocide. "The Armenian genocide was the first of the 20th Century, but, alas, not the only one."
Many countries have recognized it as genocide, as well as the UN and the European Union. German politicians opposed to Turkey's entry into the EU have been raising the issue, demanding Turkey recognize the events. It was the subject of a debate in the Bundestag, and German media broadcast vast news coverage as well as documentaries.