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Foreign correspondents discuss U.S. election



From left, moderator Jaciel Cordoba from WFMZ; Hannes Stein, George Baumgarten, Vladimir Kikilo, Erol Avdovic, and Jeongmyeong Lee.

One week before Americans select their next leader, five foreign correspondents on assignment to the United States and the United Nations discussed how their countries view the U.S. presidential race.

The correspondents—Hannes Stein from Die Welt newspaper in Germany, Erol Avdovic from the Jutarnji List newspaper in Croatia, Vladimir Kikilo from ITAR-TASS in Russia, George Baumgarten, a Jewish news correspondent, and Jeongmyeong Lee from Newsweek Korea—began the forum at Whitaker Auditorium Tuesday by sketching their countries’ perspective on the American election.

Moderator Jaciel Cordoba, co-anchor at WFMZ-TV 69News, asked that they refrain from revealing their countries’ preference until the end of the event.

“I can’t,” replied Stein, the German author and journalist. “I can’t not say that Germans are madly in love with Barack Obama.”

The other correspondents, who represented Russia, Croatia, Korea and Jewish communities, also reported that their readers root for an Obama victory on Nov. 4.

Approximately 70 people, including a group of Nazareth Area High School students, attended the panel discussion. Prior to the public event, the correspondents spoke to several of Lehigh’s journalism majors at Coppee Hall.

The Global Union and the Lehigh University-United Nations Partnership sponsored the discussion, inspired by a poll in The Economist magazine.

Stein predicted that most Germans will be sorely disappointed if Republican U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona were elected and elated if Democratic U.S. Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois wins. However, Stein believes that the German people’s enthusiasm for Obama may be short-lived.

“The German infatuation with Obama is deeply ironic. Obama will be a deeply uncomfortable president for Germany,” he said.

Obama supports sending more troops to fight in Afghanistan, which would require more German troops to fight in an already unpopular war. Obama may also pressure Germany to reconsider its close ties to Iran.

“Germans are madly in love with Obama, but as is usual with being madly in love, they don’t know why,” he said. Stein did not reveal which candidate he supports.

All Europeans are watching this American election very closely, said Avdovic, the U.N. and U.S. bureau chief for one of Croatia’s leading newspapers, Jutarnji List. They believe that this may be the most important election in our lifetime, he explained.

“The choosing of an American president really matters. Every single corner of the planet will be affected,” he said.

Avdovic later expanded on Stein’s statement. “Europeans—not only Germany—are all in love with Obama,” he said.

Obama’s running mate, U.S. Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, has the favor of countries once belonging to Yugoslavia, including Croatia, Avdovic said. They remember him urging the U.S. to intervene in the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia. In addition, he actively supported the successful “lift and strike” policy during the 1999 U.S.-NATO war against Yugoslavia.

Obama would carry Russia’s average Joe (or “Ivan”) and its government, said Kikilo, from ITAR-TASS, the official news agency of Russia. The government hopes Obama will be more conciliatory than his opponent, but Kikilo sees no fundamental difference between the candidates’ philosophies on Russian-U.S. relations.

Jewish communities tend to vote Democratic, said Baumgarten, a correspondent at the U.N. for several Jewish newspapers. Despite a vocal Republican minority, he predicts that the Democratic candidate will carry the traditional 70 to 80 percent of Jewish voters.

Lee from Newsweek Korea rooted for Obama, but said her country is divided. Korea’s younger generation hopes the Democratic candidate will be sworn in next January, but those who remember the Korean War are more likely to support McCain, she said.

At the end of the discussion, the 40 remaining audience members declared their choice through a show of hands. According to one count, five selected McCain and three abstained, while the rest voted for Obama.

Another party also abstained.

“Lehigh University does not take sides in the debate, and the views expressed here are the panelists’,” Cordoba stated.

--Becky Straw


Posted on Wednesday, October 29, 2008

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