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Week of February 18, 2003

Program 0307


War Tales Theatre | Transcript | MP3

US-South Korea Relations | Transcript | MP3

US-Russia Relations | Transcript | MP3

Chechen in Britain | Transcript | MP3

Russia’s Space Program | Transcript | MP3

Russian Electric Orchestra | Transcript | MP3

This text has been professionally transcribed. However, for timely distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.

YARVIN CUCHILLA: What goes through my mind as I’m talking, I’m basically seeing everything all over again. It’s like I have this screen in front of me that is showing me everything again.

KEITH PORTER: This week on Common Ground, children from several of the world’s conflict zones share their experiences.

KRISTIN MCHUGH: Plus, South Korea’s new president.

JOEL WIT: South Korea is a much different country than it was five years ago or ten years ago.

MCHUGH: And an update on US-Russian relations.

TOBY GATI: After 9/11 we found out that we had a common enemy. And nothing makes you friends more quickly than to find out you have something in common, even if it’s to be against something, which was terrorism. So I think terrorism has really brought us closer together.

PORTER: These stories—coming up next.

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War Tales Theatre

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MCHUGH: Common Ground is radio’s weekly program on world affairs. I’m Kristin McHugh.

PORTER: And I’m Keith Porter. Displaced people fleeing wars and violence have long sought refuge in the United States, finding it a peaceful and affluent haven. Their stories and those of their children are often tragic, and according to one American playwright, very rarely heard.

MCHUGH: Ping Chong, who has been producing plays about displaced people for 10 years, brought the stories of five young people and an adult to audiences in the greater Washington, DC area. Some saw it was a timely venture in a city that is currently preoccupied with the subject of war. Catherine Drew caught up with the production in rehearsals and has this report.

[The sound of the cast and director discussing the play.]

CATHERINE DREW: Production Stage Manager Courtney Golden prepares the cast of Children of War before one of their last rehearsals. The five children, ranging in age from 13 to 18, come from Sierra Leone, Somalia, El Salvador, Afghanistan, and Iraq. The one adult, from Iran, is a trauma therapist. The group recount horrific and tragic experiences in their home countries: many have lost close family members.

[The sound of actors rehearsing the play.]

DREW: The play was instigated by the Center for Multicultural Human services, a nonprofit organization in the greater Washington, DC area, which offers counseling for those who have suffered torture and trauma. After six hours of interviews, Ping Chong produced a play which weaves the stories of the group’s lives with relevant historical information, year by year until the present. In English and in their native languages, the six tell their stories and become second voices in each other’s tales.

FARINAZ AMIRSEHI: For four days and nights I am interrogated and tortured. “If you tell us the names of the people in the movement we will let you go.”

DREW: Forty-two-year-old Farinaz Amirsehi stands out in this group, not only because she is the only adult, but because her suffering was particularly lengthy. She endured seven and a half years in an Iranian jail in the 1980s, often subjected to psychological and physical torture. Her crime had been spreading anti-government propaganda. She now works as a therapist for the counseling center and says the play shows one of the central tenets of therapy in action—that people must learn to tell and feel their stories, in order to recover.

FARINAZ AMIRSEHI: This play has elements of narrative therapy which you do tell your story, but you know that there is a time frame with it. You say it, but again you are able to separate from it and be grounded in the present and in the here and now.

DREW: Eighteen-year-old Yarvin Cuchilla from El Salvador concurs with the therapeutic value of being involved in the production. Her family was torn apart by El Salvador’s civil war at the same time as she and her siblings were cruelly abused by their mother and other relatives, who were charged with looking after them. On reaching the US she ran away from her family, lied about her age and began working full time. Now Yarvin, with a two-year-old daughter, has a foster family helping her complete her studies. Yarvin describes how she copes with retelling her story.

YARVIN CUCHILLA: What goes through my mind as I’m talking, I’m basically seeing everything all over again. And I see it. And that—I get—it’s like I have this screen in front of me that is showing me everything again. And I’m—at the same time, I’m looking at the audience but the audience is like my screen there. Many times I have cried during the play. We’re just trying to help people and tell them that there is a way that you can feel much better. You can feel much—you know, you can feel free by telling your story. You don’t have to carry that inside of you your whole time.

DREW: And Yarvin says she thinks the play will help the audience better understand the immigrant experience.

CUCHILLA: People in America, most of the times they don’t know the things that go on in foreign countries, you know, they just think everything is cool, everything is fine. But we are basically telling them what goes on in other countries. That we suffer, we struggle and the reason we come here is because we want to have a better life. A better future. Because I have a daughter and I want her to have the best. I don’t want her to suffer like I have.

DREW: Children of Waris the latest production in a series called “Undesirable Elements” by Chinese-American playwright and director Ping Chong. In 10 years and through 20 productions, the New York based Chong says he’s always strived to give immigrants a voice.

PING CHONG: The American media in general, the American television and Hollywood films do not represent a great majority of the people that live in this country, nor do they, are their voices heard. So for me it’s also an opportunity for people to hear the voices of those who’s voices are not often heard. In a very, obviously a very grass roots kind of way.

[The sound of the actors rehearsing the play, “Welcome to America!”]

UNIDENTIFIED CAST MEMBER: Everybody on the American TV show, we watched and they were blond-haired and blue-eyed. But when we arrived in America they are not.

[The sound of the actors rehearsing the play, “Welcome to the REAL America!”]

DREW: Heart wrenching as the play is, there are some lighter moments, as the group describe adjusting to their new lives in America. The children are fascinated that a pizza can be delivered to their house with one phone call. “It’s magic,” they agree. Ping Chong says he did not set out to deliver an anti-war message—indeed the play was in the works before Iraq came to preoccupy Washington. But he says the stories of children caught up in war zones cannot help but deliver a message that he says, America needs to hear.

CHONG: Our first experience of war, if you could say that, is September 11th, obviously, you know, but on the whole we’ve been insulated from the kind of experiences that occur every day all over the world. We tend to be insular in a way that’s not very helpful for an understanding of the world.

UNIDENTIFIED CAST MEMBER: My school is very close to the Pentagon. The memory of my refugee camp on fire comes rushing back to me.

DREW: Farinaz Amirsehi, the therapist from Iran, agrees the play is a stark and timely reminder of the consequences of war.

FARINAZ: I hope that people will take it that war is not an answer to anything. And the point is that we are all ordinary people and we do not ask for it but it happens to us.

DREW: Currently there are four separate plays from the “Undesirable Elements” series in the works, in Germany, France, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania. Ping Chong says he would like to re-stage the play in the future, although some of the young people may need to be replaced, as they or their families leave the Washington, DC area. After all, he reasons, there are plenty of stories to be told and ears to listen.

[The sound the cast rehearsing the play.]

DREW: For Common Ground, I’m Catherine Drew in Washington.

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US-South Korea Relations

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PORTER: Later this month South Korea will inaugurate a new president, who has the potential to significantly change his country’s relationship with the United States. Roh Moo Hyun campaigned on a platform that seemed to put him on a collision course with Washington. But the crisis with North Korea that began just after his election victory in December may force him to mitigate some of his campaign rhetoric. Judith Smelser reports.

[The sound of a boisterous, happy, post-election celebration.]

JUDITH SMELSER: Cheering supporters of Roh Moo Hyun celebrate his victory on election night. The liberal candidate won by a hair—just over two percent of the vote separated him from his challenger, the more traditional Lee Hoi Chang.

[The sound of fireworks.]

SMELSER: This jubilant crowd was made up mostly of younger voters—people who weren’t alive during the Korean War, and who now question South Korea’s blind adherence to American prerogatives when it comes to relations with their northern neighbor. It’s that sentiment that Roh was able to exploit.

[The sounds of a large anti-American street protest in Seoul.]

SMELSER: Thousands gather in downtown Seoul for a candlelight vigil to commemorate the lives of two South Korean girls accidentally crushed by a US military vehicle last summer. The two soldiers inside the vehicle were acquitted by a US military court in November, enraging the South Korean public.

[The sounds of riot police fighting with demonstrators.]

SMELSER: The incident raised serious questions about the agreement allowing some 37,000 US troops to be stationed in South Korea, and analyst Joel Wit says those questions played right into Roh’s hands.

JOEL WIT: I think the timing of all these events right before the election basically propelled him into office.

SMELSER: He says the girls’ deaths brought to light a deep-running stream of dissent in South Korea that won’t be easily silenced.

WIT: South Korea is a much different country than it was five years ago or ten years ago. And this is not a problem that’s just gonna go away if this particular issue of the two teenagers being killed is handled well. It’s not gonna go away, and the US really needs to understand that and act accordingly.

SMELSER: In other words, South Koreans don’t want the US to take their country for granted anymore. And neither does President-elect Roh. In fact, he went so far as to say at a campaign rally that in a conflict between the US and North Korea, Seoul should not automatically side with Washington. That remark prompted one of Roh’s key allies to withdraw his support on the night before the vote—a development many thought would loose him the election. Roh prevailed nonetheless, but had some conciliatory words for his opponents on election night.

SOUTH KOREAN PRESIDENT-ELECT ROH MOO HYUN: [via a translator] I hope I can work with those politicians and lawmakers who have fought against me based on different parties’ positions, to move toward a new era filled with dialogue and compromise. I will always ask for dialogue and help from them when I’m in a difficult situation.

SMELSER: Roh found himself in just such a difficult situation not even a week after his election victory. Pyongyang announced it was evicting inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency and decided to reactivate a nuclear power plant, which the US believes could be used to help manufacture nuclear weapons. Washington demanded the reversal of these decisions and called for United Nations sanctions against North Korea if that reversal was not forthcoming. With the looming crisis, Roh’s rhetoric about independence from US influence suddenly became less realistic. Again, Korea analyst Joel Wit.

WIT: There’s gonna have to be some sort of process here where Roh finds a place that’s comfortable for him in terms of his past policies but also comfortable for him in terms of maintaining a close relationship with the United States, which after all, is South Korea’s major security ally. And I don’t think he can afford to alienate the United States in the current situation.

SMELSER: Roh may find that comfortable place in the role of mediator. He favors the so-called “sunshine policy” of engagement with the North, which clashes with Washington’s flat refusal to negotiate until Pyongyang stops its nuclear program. But the US does say it wants to keep the channels of communication open and Roh would like South Korea to be one such channel. The US highly values its relationship with South Korea. In the weeks following his election victory, Roh spoke out against Washington’s heavy-handed approach to the North Korean crisis. But US officials, including President Bush, took pains to demonstrate that the US-South Korean relationship was on track.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: We’ve got good progress in talking to our friends, and I look forward to the fact that President-elect Roh is sending some people over here, and he himself will come after he’s been inaugurated.

SMELSER: That will be a key visit, which could set the tone for the relationship between Washington and the new administration in Seoul—a relationship which may be more positive than it might have been if the North Korean situation had not flared up when it did. But despite that crisis, anti-US sentiment is alive and well in South Korea.

[The sounds of a large anti-American street protest in Seoul.]

SMELSER: At this protest, some demonstrators carried signs directly opposing Washington’s policy towards the North. One read, “Oppose US pressure on North Korea—no more war on the Korean peninsula.” For Common Ground, I’m Judith Smelser.

MCHUGH: The state of US-Russian relations, next on Common Ground.

[Musical interlude]

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US-Russia Relations

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PORTER: The relationship between the United States and Russia is evolving in surprising ways as the American military presence grows in central Asia and the fight against terrorism becomes more important in US foreign policy. I recently spoke with two experts about this relationship. Rouben Azizian is an associate professor at the Asia Pacific Center for Security Studies. And Toby Gati served in the Clinton Administration as Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research and as Special Assistant to the President for Russia.

TOBY GATI: During the 1990s relations got better but they got better based on some changes that were being made in Russia which turned out not always to be secure and stable. So we had a crisis in August 1998 when the Russians economy basically tanked. And there were a lot of problems. The expectations of Bush, of course, were very low when the President came in. There was an assumption, I think the National Security Advisor, Condoleza Rice even said we were going to quarantine Russia. So the fact is that after 9/11 we found out that we had a common enemy. And nothing makes you friends more quickly than to find out you have something in common, even if it’s to be against something, which was terrorism. So I think terrorism has really brought us closer together.

We’ve had a lot of instances where people were afraid there’d be a crisis in US-Russia relations—over the expansion of NATO or the abrogation of the ABM Treaty—Anti-Ballistic Missile Treat. And those crises didn’t happen. So everyone sighed a sigh of relief. I think in the last couple of months we’ve found that we might have common interests in Russia and in another area, and that’s energy cooperation. Russia has huge, huge gas and oil reserves and supplies and, of course we have the huge needs for energy in the United States. So there has been talk that energy can become the new basis for a strategic relationship. That hasn’t yet, of course, happened because investing in energy resources takes a long time. But that’s another positive element.

The—it doesn’t mean that Russia and America don’t have differences. We do. We have differences over how we see the evolving situation in Iraq. We have differences over Iran. We still have differences over how we see the Chechen problem. Obviously with all the activity in Moscow, the seizing of the theater, it’s hard to argue rationally with the Russians that Chechens basically don’t engage in terrorist activity. But the US policy has been much more nuanced than that.

PORTER: Rouben Azizian, what is your snapshot assessment of where we are with US-Russian relations right now.

ROUBEN AZIZIAN: I am optimistic generally. But I think we have to be practical, pragmatic, and sometimes cynical about the national interests and how they complement or coincide with each other. It’s not the first time that US and Russia are enjoying this honeymoon. In fact, it wasn’t only the Second World War, but in early ’90s there was a euphoria in both US and Russia about new relationship, as Toby mentioned. I think what is different today is that the previous attempt was based on idealist liberal paradigm in both countries. In US we had Clinton administration which had it’s ideas of the world and US-Russian relations and what was going to happen in Russia—democratization, market reform and so on. And the same was true of Russia. If we look back the first Russian government was quite liberal, idealistic. Mr. Kozorev, the foreign minister, was talking about strategic alliance with the United States at that time.

The idealist paradigm, liberal paradigm, has one big advantage. It’s about values, it’s about democratization, whatever. But it ignores the realities of the world, the geopolitics, the realpolitik. And subsequently both countries later realized that in certain areas they still have misunderstanding, they still have competition—whether it’s Central Asia, whether it’s Caucasus and so on.

So what we are seeing today is again some rapprochement based on a realist paradigm. Which is we have a different administration in US, we have a different administration in Russia. And they are thinking more in terms of national interest. And when it comes to national interest, terrorism of course brings them together. In short term we can expect more practical solutions, more practical understandings based on particular threat, particular concern. What will be lost, I think, as the result—and that’s where I think the limitations of this partnership are—that the values, some of the aspects of those, are kind of neglected to some extent. What I mean is, does it really matter so much for the United States what happens inside Russia? As it mattered in the early ’90s what is going on with human rights, democratization? It’s kind of sidelined. What is important is Russia supports us in the struggle, the campaign. That’s it. So anyway, You are losing touch with realities of domestic politics in Russia and you kind of sending wrong messages. And there are voices inside Russia who are really concerned about all this rapprochement, and Russia will be strong only when it’s strong internally.

On the Russian side, in early ’90s Russians talked about democratizing the international system, about multipolarity and so on. This is I think more democratic than unipolarity. We don’t hear that any much. Putin has kind of succumbed to this unilateralist domination of the United States, accepts it, at least in the short term. So I think the loss on the Russian side is that we don’t hear that voice about still trying to democratize the international relations.

PORTER: Some people say that Russians are taking advantage of the war on terrorism to crack down on Chechens and anyone else that they chose to. What do you think about that?

AZIZIAN: Well, I think Russians are not unique. Everybody is taking advantage of the war on terrorism. And that’s precisely because no one really understands what terrorism is and what we are fighting with. In a way I think the whole thing is misnamed. I mean, it’s more about the war against Al Qaeda or war against Taliban. But if, what is terrorism? Does terrorism include the Chechen terrorism? Does it include Kashmiri terrorism? Or is the Chechen problem entirely about terrorism? So I think the Russians are very practically and pragmatically taking advantage of this, but this is where the limitations of the coalition are, I think. Because when it comes to Chechnya or it comes to Iraq, we see different interests, national interests do not necessarily coincide. So when we talk about war on terrorism I think it’s—terrorism is kind of a euphemism or a kind of a term which I don’t think really explains why these countries are engaged and involved. They are all pursuing particular interests.

GATI: I think we have to keep clear that it’s, if America is being taken advantage of it’s only because we let ourselves be taken advantage. We are the senior partner in any partnership. We are the country that can determine priorities. It’s we who launched a war on terrorism. It’s we who defined what terrorism is by saying it’s groups that have a global reach that we’re opposed to. It was after that, that other countries said, “Aha! Terrorism! Hmm. Well, global reach may not be the criteria. It may be a group right across the border or it may be a group in my country. But if, if the US can define it, so can we.” So, you know, we don’t have to support another country. So the idea that we’re being taken advantage of, I think, is a concept that’s a little hard when our military budget is larger than the next 14 countries and we basically can go to war or not go to war at any point.

I think the interesting thing about US-Russian relations is that Putin made a calculation that he needed a certain kind of international system to achieve his goals. And his goals are domestic development and integration in the world economy and a stable political system at home. And the kind of world he wanted was the kind of world that he felt he could get by partnership or allying more closely with the United States and the developed world. A country where trade is encouraged, where globalization is a positive trend. And what’s happened is that the payoff from that hasn’t been as great as he expected. We don’t have—we haven’t given Russia Jackson-Vanik, which would put them on a normal trading relationship; entry into the World Trade Organization will take a long time; and it’s, it’s much more difficult to become a normal country, I think, than Russia ever imagined. So Russia’s national interest has a lot to do with how it defines its domestic economic interest.

I think Rouben is right when he talks about the nature of internal society. I would remind everybody that we are not worried about French nuclear weapons or British nuclear weapons. We’re not worried about the conventional armies of Germany any more or what capabilities Japan might have, because we feel their internal systems are such that they’re not going to turn on us. And that’s why you worry about a country’s internal system. Because communism was scary not only because it was international but because of what it said about the Soviet Union’s ability to or willingness to pick a fight to establish its ideas. So it really does matter what kind of internal system a country has. And the basic point to remember is that there’s nothing automatic about good relations with a country. It’s like a good marriage—you have to work on it. The Russians are going to have problems with what we do and we’ve got to explain things to them. We might even have to—god forbid—compromise. You know, a word that the United States has not pronounced too often in the last couple of months. We may only get 80 percent of what we want in a UN resolution but we have to decide, is that good enough, if it means the Russians will be on our side.

PORTER: Toby, we’re just about out of time but I have one last question. That is about the growing US military presence in Central Asia. This is an area that’s traditionally been part of the Russian sphere of influence. What does Russia really think about this? And how long can this continue?

GATI: Well, it’s hard to convince a power that’s had to withdraw and seen its influence decrease that you’re in there for their good. And so I think it would be disingenuous if we tried to persuade Russia that we’re there because we’re doing what Russia would want. I think on the other hand we can become a force for stability if we’re very aware that we’re entering a region that is very volatile, where countries can use you, use your troops, use your aid, for their own benefit. And that we have to say to ourselves, “How long do we want to be there and how many countries in the world do we, can we really understand and influence in a good way?”

AZIZIAN: Of course, Russians still, are still concerned about the nature and the reasoning for the presence of US, military presence in Central Asia. But I think what is more important is to perhaps assure and reassure the Russians that the presence there is really directed against the extremist threat and not to contain or diminish Russia’s importance. I think that’s their main concern. And even the possibility that the US military presence in Central Asia is to do with China can be disturbing for Russia, although you can say in the long term Russia might consider China as a threat or as a challenge. But in short term, I don’t think Russians would want to be involved in any kind of US-China confrontation and if that will extend to Central Asia. And what we are seeing is that we have US military presence in Central Asia, we have Russian presence in Central Asia, and soon we will have China’s military presence in some way—I’m talking about military exercises with some of the republics. So what we have is three parallel military presences. And if there is no complementary or interaction between the three, some kind of dialogue, or what are they for, it can potentially lead to some new instability and create new problems in Central Asia. So I think it’s not the presence of US, of US military presence as such is a problem. It’s, it’s the purpose, the political purpose, and the ability to interact and dialogue with the other major powers in Central Asia. If US is ready to dialogue it’s one thing. If it is not I think the Russian concerns and the Chinese concerns will grow.

PORTER: Toby Gati was an assistant secretary of state in the Clinton Administration. Rouben Azizian is at the Asia Pacific Center for Security Studies.

MCHUGH: This is Common Ground, radio’s weekly program on world affairs.

[Musical interlude]

KEITH PORTER: I’m Keith Porter.

KRISTIN MCHUGH: And I’m Kristin McHugh. Coming up this half hour on Common Ground, a Chechen separatist speaks out.

AHMED ZAKAYEV: [via a translator] If there was ever a war against Martians, Russia would just link Chechens with Martians and carry on murdering an entire people. I tell you, Chechen fighters have as many ties to Al Qaeda as they do to Martians.

MCHUGH: Plus, Russia’s lagging space program. And a strange musical relic from the Soviet Union’s history.

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Chechen in Britain

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PORTER: The war Russia is waging against separatists in the southern province of Chechnya has received little international attention in recent months. Russia tightly restricts press access, and lack of cooperation has forced the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which watches conflicts of this kind in Europe, to close its office in Chechnya.

MCHUGH: But one Chechen is determined to shed light on the situation. Ahmed Zakayev, a senior representative for the once elected and now separatist Chechen administration has applied for asylum in Britain. He says he’ll use his presence there to tell the truth about what’s happening in Chechnya. But, there’s a catch: Russia considers Zakayev a war criminal and wants him extradited from the UK. From the British capital, Alastair Wanklyn reports.

ALASTAIR WANKLYN: He’s in London awaiting possible extradition to Russia, but is Ahmed Zakayev a terrorist or the voice of a brutally suppressed movement? Zakayev himself has no doubt.

AHMED ZAKAYEV: [via a translator] Chechens are simply struggling to establish the independent state they chose legally in 1991.

WANKLYN: Speaking by phone from London—Ahmed Zakayev turned down a face-to-face interview—he said he’s no terrorist. He said Chechen separatist militias only attack the Russians in retaliation for the slaughter and pillage carried out in Chechnya by Russian troops. Zakayev made his way to London after being detained for nearly a month in Denmark under pressure from the Russian government. If there’s one thing Zakayev’s presence in Britain has done it is to stimulate new discussion of the violent Russian campaign in Chechnya.

TOM DE WAAL: I do believe that international ignorance and ignoring of the Chechen conflict is one of the reasons that perpetuates it.

WANKLYN: Journalist and author Tom De Waal follows the Chechen conflict closely.

DE WAAL:There’s no basically international involvement there at all and when most Western leaders meet with the Russians they prefer to talk about other issues. Chechnya is way down the agenda. That basically gives a green light to the Russian security establishment to continue its campaign in Chechnya.

WANKLYN: But if the task is to put Chechnya on the international agenda, is a 43-year-old representative of a hounded administration the right man for the job? Ahmed Zakayev commanded a brigade of Chechen fighters during the first Chechen war, which ended in peace with Moscow in 1996. Back then his star was rising and as a minister in the newly elected Chechen administration he was well received in Russian diplomatic circles. Then last year the Kremlin changed its mind about him and in the wake of the theater hostage standoff in Moscow it has charged Zakayev—though he wasn’t in the city at the time—with murder, kidnapping, and banditry. The Kremlin suggests he’s also a friend of international outcasts Al Qaeda. It notes that among the separatists are some foreign-born fighters, including Arabs. Like the other charges against him, Zakayev insists the Al Qaeda link is invention.

ZAKAYEV: [via a translator] If there was ever a war against Martians, Russia would just link Chechens with Martians and carry on murdering an entire people. I tell you, Chechen fighters have as many ties to Al Qaeda as they do to Martians.

WANKLYN: Zakayev also disputes that the conflict in Chechnya is pretty much over, as Moscow repeatedly claims. Though the separatists are indeed confined to tiny strips of mountainous territory, he says across the province every day about 50 people are killed, mainly civilians, and this human cost is misreported by Moscow.

ZAKAYEV: [via a translator] Don’t believe what the Russians say. They’ve drawn up a constitution for Chechnya and they’ve chosen a head of state, but they won’t end the war until they sit the warring sides around a table. The one time we tried negotiations, in 2001, it was clear from the outset that the Russians had no political intention to resolve the situation. The talks were simply held so as to placate the West and Europe.

WANKLYN: Speaking in London, Zakayev says he’s a political refugee, like so many others in recent history that have come to the British capital because of the freedoms in the UK. Russia wants him to face trial in Moscow, but first the English courts must decide whether Zakayev is indeed a terrorist, or a mere political dissident. We approached the Russian ambassador to Britain for an interview, but he declined, saying through a spokesman that he refuses to share air time with a wanted terrorist. A similar written request to the Russian foreign ministry in Moscow went unanswered. But on the British side, too, officials are tightlipped, saying only that there’s a legal process to be followed and that nobody should speculate on what’s currently a matter for the English courts.

[The sound of Zakayev’s voice.]

WANKLYN: As he whiles away the days between court appearances in his extradition case, Ahmed Zakayev says he’ll try to use his time in London to improve Western understanding of the facts on the ground in Chechnya. He has an apocalyptic vision of how, if Russia continues to reject negotiation, the turmoil could spread to neighboring provinces.

ZAKAYEV: [via a translator] Only through negotiations can we achieve peace and accord in Chechnya. And not only in Chechnya but in the whole Northern Caucasus, because we’re interdependent in the region. If there’s no stability in Chechnya, there’ll be none in the area as a whole.

WANKLYN: And the best way to press the two sides into negotiations? Zakayev calls for intervention by outsiders.

ZAKAYEV: [via a translator] Nobody needs to reinvent the bicycle. We all know about Kosovo and East Timor, where the problem was resolved in a civilized way. We want first of all peacekeeping troops, then under international supervision the creation of a government and economic reconstruction.

WANKLYN: As he awaits his next court appearance in London, Ahmed Zakayev says his fate is inseparable from that of his homeland. He says a positive legal outcome and an offer of asylum in Britain would benefit his cause and add a new dimension to the hunt for an end to the bloodshed. For Common Ground, I’m Alastair Wanklyn in London.

PORTER: In late January a judge in London ruled extradition proceedings against Zakayev could continue. It could take months to determine Zakayev’s final fate.

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Russia’s Space Program

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PORTER: NASA’s funding is one of the many items under scrutiny in the wake of the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster. The space agency’s funding grew very little in the past decade and while NASA was trying to stretch its dollars, Russia’s space agency was faced with budget shortfalls of its own. Now, more than a decade after the Soviet Union collapsed, Russia, which was once the first nation to send a man into space, is only capable of providing services to other, richer countries—services that are not always reliable because of poor financing. Anya Ardayeva reports on the current state of Russian space exploration and what the future may hold.

[The sound of nationalistic Soviet music.]

ANYA ARDAYEVA: In April 1961, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man to go into space. It was the triumph of the Russian space industry and was considered as a major victory in the Soviet Union’s space race with the United States.

[The sound of a Russian pop song lauding Yuri Gagarin.]

ARDAYEVA: Forty two years later, Gagarin still remains one of the most prominent figures in Russia’s modern history. But the state of the Russian space industry is far from what it used to be. After years of economic turmoil, the country is no longer able to perform manned flights on its own, and is often late on its obligations to the 16-nation International Space Station project, led by the United States. In recent months, Russian space officials have repeatedly said that they’re getting less than half of the funding they need to meet their commitments to the ISS project for this year and that Moscow may have to scale back its activities on supporting the station. The construction of the Russian segment of the ISS has been nearly frozen.

IVAN SAFRONOV: [via a translator] Space industry in Russia, however strange that may seem, has received more than $8 billion both from the state and in foreign aid in the past 10 years. That’s quite a lot of money in Russia; none of the other Russian military and defense industries have received so much money. So the question is: why is there no effect from this?

ARDAYEVA: Igor Safronov is a space observer for the Russian daily newspaper Kommersant. He says that the main problem for the Russian space industry is not only the lack of financing, but the problem of poor, often corrupt Soviet-era management.

SAFRONOV: [via a translator] The space industry still hasn’t been restructured. No rebuilding took place. Of course, if they restructure it, there will be a lot of unemployment. That’s one of the reasons why they haven’t done anything.

ARDAYEVA: Most of the $38 million the space industry is to receive this year will be spent on paying the $25 million debt it’s accumulated in previous years.

[The sound of cosmonauts communicating from Earth orbit.]

ARDAYEVA: Lack of money was the main reason why Russia had to scrap its 15-year-old Mir space station in 2001—a major blow to Russian space workers, most of whom are over 60 years old and still the remember the glorious days of the Russian space program. It was also a disappointment for many cosmonauts, who had to seek new jobs. Cosmonaut Alexander Lazutkin explains why Mir was so important to Russians.

ALEXANDER LAZUTKIN: [via a translator] Before Mir, we had seven space stations. And we had to say goodbye to every one of them. Everybody had warm feelings about those space stations, but nobody was sad because we knew that after Salyut 4, there would be Salyut 5. And now, we have nothing.

ARDAYEVA: In an effort to raise some finances for Russian space research, Russians also have sent two space tourists into orbit—American businessman Dennis Tito and South African entrepreneur Mark Shuttleworth. Each paid some $20 million. However, analysts here say hopes that space tourism will become popular in the near future are unlikely to come true, mainly because the week-long space journey is too expensive, and the required space training can take up to nine months.

[The sound of Russian Mission Control.]

ARDAYEVA: And as Russia continues to experience problems with meeting its commitments in the ISS project, more and more experts here wonder whether Russia really needs to participate in it. Ivan Safronov.

SAFRONOV: [via a translator] I still haven’t received any clear answer from anybody about the purpose of Russia’s participation in the International Space Station. Why is Russia doing it? Just for the sake of participation? What’s the point?

ARDAYEVA: For many here, the fact that Russia has some activity in space today is a sign that it’s not all over for the country’s space industry yet. Space officials insist that if Russia stops launching manned spacecraft, the country’s space program will be thrown back decades. However, as Ivan Safronov says, more and more space officials are coming to a painful realization that the times of the Russian leadership in space exploration are over and that the country can no longer fly to space on its own.

SAFRONOV: [via a translator] I don’t see any future for Russian space industry without its full integration with space centers in Europe and the United States. But at the same time, Russia has to realize that not every Western partner is ready to cooperate with us simply because there are too many problems here. Russia needs to learn how to work openly, to have clear financing, clear projects, and clear deeds that follow up.

ARDAYEVA: For Common Ground Radio, I am Anya Ardayeva in Moscow.

MCHUGH: Coming up next, the Soviet Electro Music Orchestra.

PORTER: You’re listening to Common Ground, radio’s weekly program on world affairs.

[Musical interlude]

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Russian Electric Orchestra

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MCHUGH: For our final story, we pull one from a folder marked “Soviet bizarre.” Vachaslav Mescherin—and are you ready for this?—his Orchestra of Electro-Musical Instruments were the closest thing the Soviet Union ever had to a house band. The group was a staple of the Soviet 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s, dominating television and radio airwaves, and movie and cartoon soundtracks with a quirky pop sound performed on primitive electronic instruments. Mescherin died in 1995, but a CD series of his work is reintroducing the world to his band’s music. From Moscow, Charles Maynes has this profile.

[The sound of Mescherin’s Orchestra of Electro-Musical Instruments.]

CHARLES MAYNES: Starting in the late 1950s, Vachaslav Mescherin and his Orchestra of Electro-Musical Instruments brought new sounds to Soviet music. A worker at State Radio, Mescherin was intrigued by the musical applications of advances in electrical science. So he and his cohorts slapped pickups and microphones on traditional accordions, violins, and Russian balalaikas, and pioneered new instruments such as the early Soviet synthesizer, the Ekvodin I.

[The sound of Mescherin’s Orchestra of Electro-Musical Instruments.]

MAYNES: Borrowing from ethnic folk melodies, Communist propaganda, and orchestral kitsch, the group, says Russian pop music historian Arteom Troitsky, created the sound track for a generation of Soviet swingers. Music that was both quirky and inescapable.

[The sound of Mescherin’s Orchestra of Electro-Musical Instruments.]

ARTEOM TROITSKY: Each person who was privileged to live in the Soviet Union in the ’60s and the ’70s, they got Mescherin’s music like soaked by their skin. Because it was everywhere. It was all the jingles on the radio. It was all the, kind of, the musical ambiance, music on TV. It was all the Muzak at convention halls, and so on. I mean it was everywhere.

[The sound of Mescherin’s Orchestra of Electro-Musical Instruments.]

MAYNES: But not always. Mescherin’s orchestra began unknown and underground, practicing late at night or before work in the mornings. And things might have continued that way had it not been for something called the Soviet Sputnik.

[The sound of Mescherin’s Orchestra of Electro-Musical Instruments.]

MAYNES: The year was 1959. The Kremlin wanted their satellite to broadcast into the cosmos a stirring rendition of the socialist hymn, The Internationale. So they approached Mescherin. And to make their point persuasive, Mescherin’s widow Lyuba says the authorities sent the KGB to convey the request and take her husband to headquarters.

[The sound of Mescherin’s Orchestra of Electro-Musical Instruments.]

LYUBA MESCHERIN: [via a translator] One day they stopped by work and said, “You’re coming with us to Lubuyanka.” And he thought, “Why?” And he wasn’t too happy about it because there’s only one reason you go to Lubuyanka. But when he got there they just wanted him to play The Internationale to be broadcast from the Sputnik. So he did.

[The sound of Mescherin’s Orchestra of Electro-Musical Instruments.]

MAYNES: The reward? Official permission to perform. The band was off and running.

[The sound of Mescherin’s Orchestra of Electro-Musical Instruments.]

MAYNES: Initial reviews weren’t kind, however. One critic famously lampooned the group’s irregular instrumentation, writing “Mescherin turn on an iron and out comes Tchaikovsky’s First Symphony.”

[The sound of Mescherin’s Orchestra of Electro-Musical Instruments.]

MAYNES: Undaunted, the group scored an early hit with an Estonian folk tune given the Marxist treatment. 1961’s irresistible On the Collective Poultry Farm.

[The sound of Mescherin’s Orchestra of Electro-Musical Instruments.]

MAYNES: The orchestra cultivated friends in high places and soon even top composers like Dmitri Shostokovich began offering material. But the band’s reputation was for playing a kind of interstellar music and the orchestra was a favorite among Soviet cosmonauts like Yuri Gagarin and Alexei Leoniv. According to Lyuba Mescherin these early space explorers returned from missions endorsing her husband’s music—the nearest thing to the real thing.

[The sound of Mescherin’s Orchestra of Electro-Musical Instruments.]

LYUBA MESCHERIN: [via a translator] The cosmonauts were all close to the band. I think because space produced in them a new set of emotions, a new set of colors, that they felt there, up in the sky.

[The sound of Mescherin’s Orchestra of Electro-Musical Instruments.]

LYUBA MESCHERIN: [via a translator] After that, maybe simple Earth-bound music just wasn’t enough for them.

[The sound of Mescherin’s Orchestra of Electro-Musical Instruments.]

MAYNES: The launch site Baikunur(?) at Kazakhstan had become a long-running gig in the ensuing decades. But the Mescherin Orchestra brought a stakhonovite(?)-like work ethic to touring in general, as they hit small towns and factories, farms and military outposts throughout the Soviet empire. They were the consummate professionals, with all 13 members forever dressed in trademark formal wear. But, says, Lyuba Mescherin, unlike traditional big orchestras her husband’s group carried the banner of culture beyond the cities to the farthest flung reaches of the proletariat.

[The sound of Mescherin’s Orchestra of Electro-Musical Instruments.]

LYUBA MESCHERIN: [via a translator] He tried to make instruments that were light, easy to carry, and that could work under any conditions. He always said, “We should be as strong as our instruments.”

[The sound of Mescherin’s Orchestra of Electro-Musical Instruments.]

MAYNES: And for some 30-plus years they were. Mescherin and his portable orchestra played the theater halls of Eastern Europe, nuclear submarines off of Vladivostok, even remote outposts in the arctic. They also entertained troops—Soviet troops that is—in the deserts of Afghanistan. With a seemingly endless repertoire this little state-sponsored orchestra had a tune for every occasion—with one exception—the end of the state.

[The sound of Mescherin’s Orchestra of Electro-Musical Instruments.]

MAYNES: When the Soviet Union opened up to the world in the late 1980s Mescherin’s brand of kitschy pop suddenly sounded anachronistic, too Soviet for ears perched now westward. Worse still, says Lyuba Mescherin, the band’s own musicians wanted a change.

[The sound of Mescherin’s Orchestra of Electro-Musical Instruments.]

LYUBA MESCHERIN: [via a translator] They started saying “Vachaslav, why don’t we play rock? Everyone’s playing rock.” And he’d say, “Well, I like rock too, but you need to know how to play it well and play it in your own style. And if we play just like all the other rock groups nobody’s going to need this orchestra.”

[The sound of Mescherin’s Orchestra of Electro-Musical Instruments.]

MAYNES: In 1990 Vachaslav Mescherin disbanded his orchestra. He died just five years history, a footnote of Soviet cultural history largely forgotten until now. For this CD called Easy USSR and released on the Russian Lite label the producers culled the stacks of the old Soviet Sound Recording Museum in Moscow, unearthing an archive of more than 1,000 tracks. With some 60 hours of material expected in forthcoming releases Russian pop music historian Arteom Troitsky says Mescherin’s music should dispel any lingering stereotypes of the Soviet Union as that cold, gray industrial country you maybe thought you knew.

[The sound of Mescherin’s Orchestra of Electro-Musical Instruments.]

ARTEOM TROITSKY: It probably was like this in the ’30s and the ’40s. But since the fall of Stalin’s regime the Soviet Union was a swinging country. And we did have a lot of fun. And we did dance the Twist in the beginning of the ’60s. And I think that the music of the Mescherin ensemble would make a perfect, perfect sound track for this long gone swinging USSR.

[The sound of Mescherin’s Orchestra of Electro-Musical Instruments.]

MAYNES: So check your Cold War ideologies at the door. Behind this curtain make salt margaritas, not treaties, hand out publanas(?) instead of missile crises, and here, forget Khruschev—the only one who really wants to bury you is the band.

[The sound of Mescherin’s Orchestra of Electro-Musical Instruments.]

MAYNES: For Common Ground, I’m Charles Maynes in Moscow.

[The sound of Mescherin’s Orchestra of Electro-Musical Instruments.]

Our theme music was created by B.J. Leiderman. Common Ground was produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.

Copyright © Stanley Center for Peace and Security

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