John D. Panitza

DimiWe are sad to announce that John D. Panitza, former Managing Editor of

Reader’s Digest and a long-time member of AAPA, died in Paris on July 28 at the

age of 80 after a long struggle with cancer.

 

“Dimi,” as he was known to all, worked for the Digest for 42 years, most of them

as head of its European Editorial Office in Paris, which produced articles for the

magazine’s numerous editions around the world. He also helped create several

Digest-sponsored books, including The Bridge at Spandau (about the Hungarian

revolution in 1956), The Longest Day (about D-Day), Is Paris Burning? (about

the liberation of Paris), and The Last Battle (about the fall of Berlin in 1945).

 

Born in Sofia, he left Bulgaria at 18 but remained passionately devoted to his

native land. In 1991 he and his wife, Yvonne, also a Digest editor, established

the Free and Democratic Bulgaria Foundation, devoted to fostering the post-

communist democratization of the country. For the next 18 years the foundation

played a major role in Bulgarian civil society, sponsoring the successful programs

for street children, drug use prevention and treatment, university scholarships for

Bulgarian students and the Pantiza Excellence in Journalism Prize.

 

Dimi was also a founder and board member of the American University in

Bulgaria, the first American institution of higher education established in a former

Iron Curtain country. He helped create its library, which now bears his name.

 

The funeral was held on August 2 at 2:30 pm at the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral on

the rue Daru.


AAPA meets Palestine's Envoy

The stalled Middle East peace process and its implications for the Palestinian people were the main topics discussed when Palestinian ambassador to France, Hael Al-Fahoum, met with the AAPA on June 23 at the Palestinian mission. Over a lengthy breakfast, Al-Fahoum, a veteran diplomat and PLO insider since the late 1970s, explained his concerns for the region and discussed potential strategies for the Palestinians, faced with lack of progress in negotiations. He also spoke at length about internal, Palestinian divisions between Fatah and Hamas.

Al-Fahoum, who was elevated to the rank of ambassador by the French government in 2010 – the first head of mission to be given that diplomatic rank – indicated that the Palestinians had nothing to lose by presenting a recognition request to the United Nations, but pointed out that this did not preclude a resumption of direct talks with Israel if the terms for talks can be agreed.

The ambassador stressed that he was not convinced about the usefulness of holding a much-touted, international conference on the Palestinian question this summer, as he does not believe Israel will attend and because the United States is not fully behind this French proposal. "I myself have doubts this conference will take place because I doubt that the Israelis will accept the French offer," Al-Fahoum said, adding: "I don't think the Americans will come without the Israelis, and it will be useless to hold a conference."

-John Keating


Sun Shines For AAPA's Annual Gala

gala 2011 5Our annual spring gala held at the British Embassy residence this year on June 1 had all the necessary ingredients for a successful event: a wonderful setting, a brace of top-level diplomats, fantastic weather, high-caliber guests and great catering. Nearly 100 members and their guests listened as our host and honorary co-president, British Ambassador Peter Westmacott made us feel at home with his warm welcome peppered with entertaining anecdotes, followed, likewise, by his U.S. counterpart, Ambassador Charles H. Rifkin. Our president, Virginia Power, in her comments, then noted we were winding up one of the most successful seasons since our founding in 1907 and that we remain one of the most influential and dynamic journalists' associations in France.


Kouchner Opens Up to the AAPA

Relaxed and extraordinarily frank, former foreign minister Bernard Kouchner willingly answered the central question put to him at a meeting with the AAPA on May 9: What's it like being a leftist minister in a Sarkozy government?

"He decides - everything. Delegates all" to those responsible for domestic and particularly foreign policy, he said, noting the four "regal" ministries that count most for Sarkozy are the one he occupied nearly four years until last November, plus the defense, finance and interior ministries.

The meeting with the former Quai d’Orsay official lasted well over an hour and once again we were generously hosted by member John Morris in his spacious, cozy apartment.

 

Kouchner’s greatest achievement? Remaining at the Quai d'Orsay as long as he did, a record for longevity, he said. His biggest disappointment? Not being able to realize certain goals, such as convincing Sarkozy to drop his firm, continuing opposition to Turkey's membership in the European Union. "I am not a politician," said the medical doctor, former humanitarian leader, writer and consultant.

Asked about a widespread perception that in the latter  years of his tenure he had been sidelined by Sarkozy and others at the Elysée Palace from key areas - trans-Atlantic, EU relations; the Middle East and defense - and was unable, even indirectly, to influence presidential policies, Kouchner explained how the deep, conservatism of the Quai, with its 12,000 offficials, did not help. However, he noted he was able to create departments of "mondializaton" and religious affairs, despite initial opposition or indifference in France's foreign policy establishment.

He firmly credited Sarkozy for initiating the "simplified" version of the EU Lisbon Tready, ensuring its approval by France, and applauded the president's single-handed success in managing and leading the EU response to global financial issues, such as stronger, united economic regulation. Kouchner observed that international conferences have only limited value, turning the Quai and other, foreign ministries around the world, including in Britain and the U.S., into "travel agencies." He noted that his successor, former prime minister Alain Juppé, spends several days a week in Bordeaux, where he remains mayor.

At 71, sidelined also by the Socialists in France for what he admitted was considered "treason" in entering the Sarkozy goverrnment, and having ended his controversial role as a consultant to the Total oil group, among others, Kouchner remained vague about his future. But he made it clear that among the Socialists being mentioned for presidential nomination in next year's elections, Dominique Strauss-Kahn was the most highly-qualified in foreign policy, and by far.

-Axel Krause


BHL meets the AAPA

French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy met with the AAPA on April 6th. Levy, better known by his initials, BHL, strode casually into the Bloomberg conference room… dressed in his usual attire – a black suit and collarless white shirt. He was very relaxed throughout the meeting, or perhaps it was jetlag. He had just returned from New York that morning. Levy is quite the statesman these days. He recounted how he had introduced President Nicolas Sarkozy to the Libyan rebels based in Benghazi. Levy has played a key role in France’s support of the Libyan opposition. There were many questions about the nature of the opposition and whether it had links to Al Qaeda – Levy staunchly defended them and welcomed anyone to go to Benghazi to meet the rebel leadership.

He also spoke about the National Front under the new leadership of Marine Le Pen. BHL said nothing had changed with the national front and that people should not be duped.

Portraits of BHL in the French and American media often paint him as vain and self-interested. But we came away impressed. BHL came across as sincere, down to earth and very committed to his causes, like helping Libyans throw off Qaddafi. He was also forthcoming and answered all of our questions. And afterwards he stayed around to talk with people personally. It was a great opportunity to meet one of France’s most notable celebrities and public figures in a relaxed and personal setting.

-Eleanor BeardsleyBernard Henri Levy 019


The Association's Author's Night

The Association's Author's Night on March 28 filled John Morris' loft with people eager to learn what inspires authors and how they get their books published. The speakers were a brochette of AAPA member-authors, including Christopher Dickey, Peter Gumbel, David Pike, John Morris, Don Morrison, Anne-Elisabeth Moutet, Alan Riding, Harriet Welty Rochefort and Gerry Dryansky, with a collective oeuvre ranging from fiction to food to history.

Publishing, having evolved from a calling among people devotedly beneficent toward literary discoveries, has gone on from being a profit center for conglomerates and blockbusting chains, to enter the era of electronic publishing, which might make the bound book as antique as the typewriter.

However, the consequences of digital publishing for writers aspiring to publish books can be dire, for example reduced royalties and copyright infringements. But as Chris Dickey pointed out, the change also opens the way to a vast new reading public.

David Pike made the case for what in the end drives writers to get their work published. I do it, he said, because that's what I live to do.

Otherwise, advice is hard to give. Get a good agent, as without one you're in trouble in the U.S. On the other hand, French publishing houses detest dealing with agents.  And get involved in your own publicity.

-Gerry Dryansky


World Could Dodge Oil Shock - IEA Chief

The global economy would suffer from sustained oil prices of $100 a barrel, but the current output of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries members is reducing the risk of a real oil shock like the one in 2008 when the price of oil spiked to nearly $150, the head of the International Energy Agency told a group of AAPA members on Feb. 18. If today's oil prices endure, then "the economic burden will be continued," Nobuo Tanaka said. On the positive side for consumers, OPEC has recently ramped up output and is now pumping at close to the level sought by the IEA, Tanaka said. Oil inventories are also fairly high, he said. If OPEC continues to pump aggressively, "we don't have to worry too much." Tanaka said. "Don't be panicked." The newsmaking event with Tanaka and other officials of the IEA, the energy watchdog for developed countries, was hosted by the agency at its Paris headquarters. IEA Deputy Executive Richard Jones told the group that there's little risk for global oil markets from a major political disruption in Libya, which has seen recent protests after dramatic political changes in Egypt and Tunisia. The reason is that Libya's oil production is "relatively small these days," Jones said.

--John Biers


Rohatyn Speaks Out

Felix Rohatyn touched only briefly on his recently-published memoirs. When we met with him on Feb. 8 in an informal meeting at Member John Morris' apartment. Rohatyn, a longtime investment banker and former AAPA honorary co-president from the time when he was U.S. Ambassador to France, spent most of the evening airing his views on a wide range of issues in the news, ranging from the need to regulate financial markets to how the Obama administration should stimulate the U.S. economy. The world needs "a global market...and there should be rules," Royatyn said, while proposing the creation of a capital investment bank to undertake major infrastructure investment projects in the U.S. He observed that the Obama administration's decision to make health-care reform its priority "was a mistake." While conceding the administration had gone as far as it could with a conservative Congress to regulate financial markets, Royatyn said President Obama should not relent in pursuing government-led investments to "rebuild the country" and must make that a priority in his bid for re-election in 2012.

Rohatyn, who was in Paris promoting his latest book, "Dealings - a Political and Financial Life," said that he had met France's President Nicolas Sarkozy several times and found him both pro-American with "a quick temper." The brightest French leader in his view? Former President Valery Giscard d'Estaing. He praised fellow-Democrat Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who, he indicated, would make a credible presidential candidate if Obama does not run for re-election. "I like her."

--Axel Krause

Rohatyn 046


Supercop Grilled by AAPA

Ronald Noble, the head of international crime-busting organization Interpol, gave a rare insight into the group's workings when he was grilled by more than 30 AAPA members on Feb. 3. Noble has headed the Lyon-based organization since 2000 and was recently re-elected to a third five-year term. He told us how Interpol is grappling with the ever-increasing workload of international cooperation among the police forces of its 188 member countries and is trying to stay abreast of shifting trends in cross-border criminality. The event was timely, with Interpol in the news over the hunt for former Tunisian president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, and attempts by Sweden to bring WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange into custody. Noble explained the subtleties between international wanted notices and Interpol "Red Notices" that are more constraining, though neither actually constitutes an arrest warrant. He talked about Interpol's increasingly important role in helping to combat terrorism, and how it has become a vast clearing house for information exchange, and talked about maritime piracy, people trafficking and the carbon trading scam, new forms of international crime that didn't exist or were much less prevalent 10 years ago. This high-profile AAPA meeting was held on the premises of Bloomberg, and a hearty thanks to Greg Viscusi for helping to make it a success.

-- By David Pearson.

Noble of Interpol 007


A Preview of My Fair Lady

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Days before it opened to raving critics and enthusiastic audiences, more than  30 AAPA members and guests enjoyed a sneak preview of the popular musical "My Fair Lady" at the Chatelet Theater on Dec. 3.

 

 The show's lively, creative director, Jean-Luc Choplin  spent nearly an hour with us, answering questions about challenges of

presenting  a musical in English with  French  subtitles . He explained his strategy  for bringing such shows to the centuries-old Chatelet, including past hits "The Sound of Music" and "Le Chanteur de Mexico", which he described  as "populaire sophistique," an approach he intends to pursue.  Our invitation included drinks and snakcs offered by the house.

 

Choplin, who previously worked as an artistic director for Disneyland, also noted how laughter was good for the health, and suggested to us, and the French media, that an idea worth pursuing is subsidizing theater tickets by the nation's social security system.

 

Then, for about an hour, we sat back and enjoyed the scores of the celebrated musical played and acted, in a non-stop, working rehersal, which for some of us recalled similar events we organized at the Bastille Opera, going back to 1997.

 

- Axel Krause