Flat Earth

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The Independent Online
Heads we lose

SOME bemusement in Brussels at the British furore over the European Central Bank's decision to outlaw the use of national symbols - including (shock horror) the Queen's head - if Britain were to sign up for the euro. The removal of national symbols, a non-event throughout Europe, was front- page news in the UK. As the tabloids seethed, the government's spin doctors came up with a bright new line. It was reported that Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, would make a last-ditch plea to save the Queen's head at this weekend's meeting of finance ministers in Vienna.

In reality, Mr Brown, not being entirely stupid (though not averse to a good headline), had no such plans. He clocked the fact that the UK, after opting out of EMU, would be laughed out of court if it sought both to be a bystander and to dictate the euro design.

The Labour government, which was full of almost Thatcheresque "we'll teach the Johnny foreigners" self-confidence during its presidency of the European Union earlier this year, appears to have learned at least one Euro-lesson. Forget the macho posturing if you are in any case likely to lose. Late, but never mind.

Monica who?

PRESIDENT CLINTON looks as though he may be out of the woods, even on Capitol Hill. Elsewhere in the world, meanwhile, people are wondering why on earth there had ever been such a fuss about stained dresses, corridor intimacies, and tasty cigars.

Britain has been following all the dramas, blow by blow, full page by full page. In Russia, however, the whole saga has scarcely appeared on the front pages, and has been reported only with some astonishment. One editor commented: "What a lucky country, that has such crises."

In Greece, the feelings are stronger still. A government spokesman talked of "immoral moralisers". The justice minister, Evangelos Yiannopoulos, complained of "a setup", and described Monica Lewinsky as a "tramp". His succinct judgement: "If this happened in Greece, the women themselves would lynch her."

Part of the reason for the jaded Greek response is that they feel they have seen it all before, with the elderly philandering of the late prime minister, Andreas Papandreou. As one newspaper coolly asked: "Seem Familiar?"

Crisis comedy

THE ECONOMIC crisis has had disastrous effects in Russia. But in one respect at least, there has been a boom. Jokes, which had seen a sharp decline in productivity in recent years, have started multiplying like the proverbial mushrooms after rain. Cynicism is alive and well and living in Moscow.

The Russian parliament receives a draft of a new constitution consisting of two items: thou shalt not kill, and thou shalt not steal. The parliamentary speaker urgently calls a press conference. "We have begun work drafting amendments."

As for the economy: the finance minister rings the economics minister. "Do you happen to know what's going on in the Russian economy?" "Sure, I'll quickly explain." "Explain? I can explain it to myself already. I was just curious: what's really going on?"

And some old Soviet-era jokes have been warmed up, too. Yeltsin addresses the nation: "For years, we have stood on the threshold of the abyss. Now, fellow countrymen, we have taken a great step forward." With optimism like that, who needs economic stability?

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