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Week of January 7, 2003

Program 0301


Iraq Water | Transcript | MP3

Arab Development | Transcript | MP3

Muslim Ads | Transcript | MP3

World AIDS Crisis | Transcript | MP3

Greek Americans | Transcript | MP3

Right to Tell | Transcript | MP3

Berlin Philharmonic | Transcript | MP3

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

JAMES RUBIN: The Iraqi regime could be spending far, far more money and effort on the welfare of its people. Instead, they spend the scarce resources they have on trying to obtain illegal equipment for weapons of mass destruction.

KRISTIN MCHUGH: This week on Common Ground, Iraq’s dirty drinking water.

KEITH PORTER: Plus, assessing Islamic and Arab culture.

DR. CLOVIS MAKSOUD: In the final analysis, we are a rich nation of poor people.

PORTER: And why HIV-AIDS is about to become the world’s worst pandemic ever.

GAIL GOODRIDGE: Roughly 8,000 people die each day from AIDS, and if you compare that to the number of people who perished in 9/11, that’s almost three times that number die every day.

MCHUGH: These stories—coming up next.

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Iraq Water

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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. For almost 12 years, Iraqis have had problems getting clean drinking water. Critics blame the UN-imposed sanctions for causing a slow decline in the quality of water treatment plants.

MCHUGH: Officials in the US say Saddam Hussein’s government is to blame. While that debate continues, the UN and some nongovernmental organizations are trying to improve the situation. Reese Erlich files this report from Basra, in the far south of Iraq near the Iranian border.

[The sound of kids talking in a classroom room and a ringing bell.]

REESE ERLICH: Here at a day care center run by the Chaldean Catholic Church, children scamper over swings and playfully insist on clanging a bell. But some are malnourished. Many complain of frequent illness.

BAKAL: [paraphrased by Erlich via a translator] Five-year-old Bakal says he often feels sick to his stomach and gets diarrhea.

ERLICH: Monica Toma, a nun and teacher, says children suffer from air pollution, but most especially from the lack of clean water.

MONICA TOMA: [via a translator] The main diseases which I notice here is the asthma and problems with their stomach, diarrhea.

ERLICH: Gastro-intestinal problems?

MONICA TOMA: [via a translator] Yes, like that. For sure, the water is the main reason.

ERLICH: Iraq once had a sophisticated, European-built water treatment system in urban areas. After almost 12 years of sanctions, however, the system is badly deteriorated. A UN report indicates that one-fifth of Iraq’s population is at risk of disease because of lack of access to clean water and sanitation. Both the UN and nongovernmental organizations are trying to help.

[The sound of water flowing into a filtration system.]

ERLICH: The Shatt Al Arab Water Treatment plant serves 70,000 people in one part of Basra. Fabio Alberti’s group, an Italian NGO called Bridges to Baghdad, renovated the plant. He remembers that when he came here 6 years ago, the place was a mess.

FABIO ALBERTI: This is a settling tank. When we begin the work, this was full of sand.

ERLICH: Under the Oil for Food Program that began in 1996, Iraq was allowed to sell oil abroad and import goods approved by the UN sanctions committee. So the Basra water treatment plant was able to buy certain spare parts and chemicals about a year after applying. After a total of three years, however, the committee continues to embargo other critical parts.

ALBERTI: We applied for the importation of ball bearings, and chlorinators, and pumps and other stuff needed to maintain of this plant. But the mission of the United States asked to refused because they said it could be double use. So there has been a long debate about this.

ERLICH: Both the Clinton and Bush administrations have argued that some parts and chemicals needed for water treatment facilities can be diverted for military use. Ball bearings can be used in military equipment. Chlorine, vital for water purification, can also be used to make chlorine gas. According to Defense Intelligence Agency documents written at the time of the Gulf War, US officials knew that denying critical spare parts would seriously degrade Iraq’s water system. One document, dated January 22, 1991, notes “Incidences of disease, including possible epidemics, will become probable.” Fabio Alberti charges that the US is deliberately holding up vital parts, knowing it harms civilians.

ALBERTI: I know that they are now stopping a lot of contracts about water treatment plants. It seems a sadistic way of angering Iraqi people.

ERLICH: Current and former American officials strongly reject such accusations. Defense Intelligence Agency spokesperson Lieutenant Commander James Brooks wouldn’t comment on tape. But he says his agency’s documents didn’t advocate causing harm to civilians, but only described what would happen if sanctions were applied in certain ways. James Rubin, State Department spokesman under Bill Clinton, says Saddam Hussein causes the problems at Iraqi water treatment plants.

JAMES RUBIN: If there is a chemical that really is needed for water treatment plant capabilities, I would suspect the United Nations Security Council would want to find a way to allow that to be imported, provided there were inspectors in Iraq to ensure that dual use equipment and materials were in fact only used for civilian purposes. Because Iraq has not allowed the UN inspectors to operate in Iraq for four years, these kind of creative solutions aren’t possible.

ERLICH: Rubin, echoing stands taken by the Bush Administration, argues that Saddam Hussein fails to repair the infrastructure and instead diverts the country’s oil income to illegal purposes.

RUBIN: The Iraqi regime could be spending far, far more money and effort on the welfare of its people. Instead, year after year, month after month, they spend the scarce resources they have on trying to obtain illegal equipment for weapons of mass destruction, rebuilding their military, building palaces for the leaders and his cronies, and spending the scarce resources on, to the benefit of the few at the expense of the many.

[The sound of water treatment plant machinery.]

ERLICH: While the debate continues about why the water in Iraq is so bad, Iraq has received help from the UN and Bridges to Baghdad to refurbish water treatment facilities. Engineers at the Shatt Al Arab water plant managed to find local substitutes for the European machinery. A factory in Basra provides half the plant’s chlorine. Spare parts come from other Iraqi factories, although engineers complain of inferior quality. The facility now runs at 70% of capacity. Engineer Mehmood Wahad was asked if the water is now safe for children to drink.

MEHMOOD WAHAD: [via a translator] According to laboratory standards, it is sterilized and it is drinkable. You can drink it. It has a specific taste due to the salts in it.

ERLICH: [Questioning Mr. Wahad via a translator] Does he personally drink the water?

WAHAD: [paraphrased by a translator] No. He, we are drinking water of tanks or from other projects which are, has been established in Basra. It is better.

[The sound of children playing in a daycare center.]

ERLICH: So the drinking water has improved in Basra. But the children aren’t getting the same quality water that their parents drank before the Gulf War. For Common Ground, I’m Reese Erlich, Basra, Iraq.

[The sound of children saying “bye-bye.”]

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Arab Development

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PORTER: Whether Saddam Hussein or the sanctions are to blame for Iraq’s water quality, the lack of development extends beyond Iraq’s borders. Despite billions of dollars in oil revenue, a United Nations Development Program study says much of the Islamic world is taking a step back in time. Nathan King has more.

[Background sounds from New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.]

NATHAN KING: Islamic art, culture, and society have had a tremendous impact on the history of the world. To get a feel of just how much you can come here—to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and take a tour of their unparalleled Islamic art section.

[The sound of curator giving a tour of the gallery, explaining Islamic art.]

KING: Tiles from mosques in Iran, ancient doors from Mesopotamia, ornate calligraphy, and beautifully woven rugs—over a millennia of artifacts that influenced everything from Western thought to the written word. But in the last 40 years culture from the Islamic and Arab worlds has been on the decline. A recent report by the United Nations Development Program paints a bleak picture. It’s the first study of its kind of the whole Arab world. It’s written by Arab intellectuals and concludes that the region is being crippled.

DR. CLOVIS MAKSOUD: And we are, in the final analysis, as we tried to conclude, is that we are a rich nation of poor people.

KING: Dr. Clovis Maksoud, one of the authors of the study, used to represent the Arab League at the United Nations, and he highlights an apparent contradiction—billions of dollars in oil revenues has meant declining poverty, higher life expectancy, and more education spending than elsewhere in the developing world—but many Arab societies are stagnating. Gross Domestic Product in many countries is now declining, income growth is sinking to African levels, unemployment is on the rise, and intellectually the region is stifled.

DR. MAKSOUD: Newspapers and magazines in the Arab world that have, are now emigrant magazines and newspapers in London and Paris and otherwise, and that is why the lack of a climate of freedom makes it difficult for creative undertakings.

KING: In short, the report finds that the lack of religious and political freedom in Arab societies has taken a heavy toll on the cultural life of the Middle East. Cairo, once the cultural capital of writers in the region, now struggles to publish more than a handful of new works a year. And says the report, interest in what the outside world writes is also waning. The whole Arab world now translates just over 300 books a year. Nearby Greece translates over 1,200. Although the report does stress that the region has vast differences—with Kuwait, Qatar, and Bahrain making strides towards more openness and inclusion—as a whole the region’s development is backsliding. And though the report was compiled before the September 11th terror attacks, its publication has created intense interest not least from American commentators, who have seized on the reports findings. Many see the lack of freedom, increase in poverty, and the lure of Islamic fundamentalism as underlying reasons as to why the US was attacked. Dr. Maksoud says this has been unhelpful.

DR. MAKSOUD: Many people in the aftermath of September 11th in the Western world, and especially in the United States, thought that this goes to prove a point where they wanted to dub Islam or Islamic fundamentalism, as if it is the carrier of violent activities. And that was not, neither the intention, nor the purpose, nor the conclusion to be drawn.

KING: Some Arab commentators say the United States has helped stifle Arab intellectual development by supporting authoritarian regimes in the region who lack popular support. Khalil Matar is a correspondent with Middle East Broadcasting.

KHALIL MATAR: Up until a few years ago it was only one reason and that was the Arab regimes did not want the Arab intellectual to grow and speak his mind. Today it’s two reasons—the United States does not want the Arab intellectual grow up and speak his mind because they know very well that the Arab intellectual is against their policies. So they don’t want to show that the Arab street is against their policies. They want to claim that the Arab regimes are against it, the tyrants are against their policies.

KING: The reports’ authors say the Arab world feels stifled and monitored whether by governments, foreign powers, or Islamic fundamentalists. The rhetoric generated by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict also stifles creativity. Increased democracy would do much to unleash that creativity across the region says the report, and it applauds recent moves by Bahrain and Kuwait. But while many in the Arab world want American-style freedoms, Khalil Matar says many don’t want the consumerism that goes with it.

KHALIL MATAR: Yes, there is a yearning throughout the Arab world for democracy, but not the American style of the democracy, because they consider it either too open that allows too many interferences. On the other hand, they want the freedom of speech, they want the freedom of action, which they are getting some of late, although it’s not as much as they wish, but it is there. Yes, there is a yearning for democracy, but not the American way of democracy.

KING: As serious as the democratic deficit across the region, the UN says is the almost total exclusion of women. Half of all Arab women cannot read or write. Mortality rates among Arab women are four times that of Asian women and the report concludes that the region is depriving itself of the creativity and productivity of half its citizens. The reports also say there is a growing wave of nostalgia across the region—a harking back to the past when the Arab world and its culture were forces in the world. This report by Arabs for Arabs urges an age of reform so that Arab culture doesn’t just mean visiting a museum to marvel at antiques from an Arab golden age—a long time ago.

[The sound of curator giving a tour of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, explaining Islamic art.]

KING: Nathan King, Common Ground Radio, New York.

PORTER: Promoting America in Muslim countries, next on Common Ground.

[Musical interlude]

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Muslim Ads

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MCHUGH: Since September 11th, there’s been a lot of talk in Washington about the perception of America overseas, particularly in Muslim countries. Soon after the attacks, US newspapers and magazines were filled with questions of “Why do they hate us?” In an effort to respond to that question, the State Department launched an aggressive public diplomacy campaign, even hiring a former Madison Avenue advertising executive to head it up. Now, the department has launched an actual ad campaign, explaining Muslim-American life to Muslims overseas. Judith Smelser has more.

[The sound track from an American ad promoting Muslim life in America.]

AN AMERICAN-MUSLIM: Hello, my name is Abdul Hammaduh (?). I’m the owner of Tiger Lebanese Bakery, located here in Toledo, Ohio.

AN AMERICAN-MUSLIM: My name is Dr. Elie Serhuna (?). I’m the Director of the National Institute of Health in America.

SMELSER: The advertisement, which has run in Muslim countries, including Malaysia and Indonesia, is nearly three minutes long. There’s no narration—just Muslim-Americans talking about their daily lives in America. Like this woman, dressed in a head scarf, or hajab.

[The sound track from an American ad promoting Muslim life in America.]

AN AMERICAN-MUSLIM: My name is Ravi Ismal (?). I’m a school teacher in a public school in the United States of America. I wear a hajab in the classroom where I teach. I have never had any child that thought it was weird or anything like that.

[The sound of the Muslim call to prayer.]

SMELSER: The ad also shows Muslim Americans actively practicing their religion.

[The sound track from an American ad promoting Muslim life in America.]

AN AMERICAN-MUSLIM: Islam in the United States could be followed just as well as I can follow it in my village where I was, you know, raised.

SMELSER: It’s all part of an effort to explain what the State Department believes is a widely misunderstood part of American life.

RICHARD BOUCHER: This part of America, this aspect of American society, the status of Muslims in America, is one that we find very often is maybe one of the most misunderstood aspects of our society and one of the things that we think it’s important for us to tell America’s story on this.

SMELSER: That’s State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher. But not so, says James Zogby, who heads up the Arab American Institute in Washington, DC.

JAMES ZOGBY: Do they think that Muslims can pray in America? Of course they do. Do they think that Muslims are tolerated in America? Of course they do. That’s why people come here. But what they’re concerned about is our policy. They’re concerned about what John Ashcroft is doing at the Department of Justice. They’re concerned with people being held on secret evidence and stories that they’re hearing about those issues.

SMELSER: Dr. Zogby recently completed a poll of public opinion in the Arab world, which concluded that most Arabs embrace western ideals of freedom and openness but dislike the United States for its policies towards, for example, Iraq and the Palestinians, and new immigration restrictions that are seen as discriminating against Arabs.

[The sound track from an American ad promoting Muslim life in America.]

AN AMERICAN-MUSLIM: My name is Faruq Muhammad (?). I’m a paramedic from the Fire Department of New York. I have co-workers who are Jewish, who are Christian, Catholic, Hindu even—all different faiths. They’ve all been very supportive of me since the 9/11 attack, and I’ve been very, you know, grateful for that.

SMELSER: Dr. Zogby says while these kinds of sentiments are valid, the ad campaign essentially closes its eyes to the discrimination that did take place after 9/11.

ZOGBY: The good news that we ought to be telling them is how we responded to those things, not pretending that they never happened. They did happen. How we responded to bad things is a better story than to simply deny point blank—”After September 11th nothing bad happened to me. I didn’t see any discrimination.” That makes that person look as if he were living on another planet!

SMELSER: State Department Richard Boucher does not dispute the fact that this ad campaign does not address those types of issues.

BOUCHER: The fact is we make policy because it is good policy. We make policy because we need to keep America safe, and we make our visa policy because we have to have more stringent scrutiny of people who come into this country and what they might be intending to do. At the same time, as we try to explain that, you have to have a certain fertile ground on which to put out your policy, to try to explain things.

SMELSER: The State Department maintains that the ad campaign, which cost some $15 million dollars, is only one part of the US government’s effort to get its message out there. It points out that US officials did hundreds of interviews with Arab news outlets after September 11th, trying to explain American policy. But Dr. Zogby argues that effort didn’t do enough and that it failed to reach all the right Arab news outlets. And he says now the State Department is missing the point again.

ZOGBY: We would’ve done better to have had a working relationship with LBC, MBC, Abu-Dabi, Al Jazeera and others, getting their reporters here, getting them the real stories in those communities, and letting them do the guy from Toledo, letting them do the woman from New York or the fireman from New York. They would’ve told their story, and it would’ve been believed.

SMELSER: As it is, Dr. Zogby says, people in Muslim countries will see the ads for what they are—paid advertisements sponsored by the US government.

[The sound track from an American ad promoting Muslim life in America.]

AN AMERICAN-MUSLIM: Religious freedom is something very important here, and no one ever bothered us.

SMELSER: But the State Department hopes these images of Arab Americans studying, praying, and even playing baseball will help dispel some of the negative perceptions of the US in the Arab world—and maybe go some way toward preventing another September 11th.

[The sound track from an American ad promoting Muslim life in America.]

AN AMERICAN-MUSLIM: We are happy to live here as Muslims and preserve our faith.

SMELSER: For Common Ground, I’m Judith in Washington.

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World AIDS Crisis

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MCHUGH: HIV/AIDS will soon surpass the bubonic plague as the world’s worst pandemic ever. Despite medical advances, infection rates in the United States and other Western countries have not decreased. And HIV/AIDS is devastating developing countries. Common Ground‘s Cliff Brockman recently talked with Family Health International’s Gail Goodridge and Dr. Eric van Pragg. They say the global pandemic is reversing the health care gains of the past 50 years.

GAIL GOODRIDGE: I think since HIV/AIDS has been around for so long it’s easy for people to lose the context. And comparing it to the bubonic plague is a way of helping people to understand just the magnitude of this disease. Another way of looking at that would be to understand that roughly 8,000 people die each day from AIDS, and if you compare that to the number of people who perished in 9/11, that’s almost three times that number die every day.

BROCKMAN: Eric, in the United States we don’t think of HIV/AIDS as being the death sentence that it once was because of all the new drugs that are available. Certainly it’s a serious problem. But these drugs just have not become available in some of the developing countries. Why is that?

ERIC VAN PRAGG: That is indeed a very big issue. And there are a variety of reasons for it. The principal reason is primarily the price. These drugs are just unaffordable for families with a household income of between $30 or $100 a month, while the drugs alone, without all the care around it, cost a similar amount of money in most of these countries. So there is no way, as insurance systems do not exist like here in the States, for people in those countries. All this has to be paid out of pocket and that is just impossible. We are making some progress but definitely not enough progress. We are having now generic drugs. We have the big companies having reduced their prices to an extent. But we still need much more support in order to make those drugs easily available to people who are generally not insured, as in most of the African countries.

GOODRIDGE: I would just say that we really need to maintain our focus on prevention. That prevention is what’s going to help us arrest this disease in the developing world.

BROCKMAN: Common Ground and other media have reported on the success that Brazil has had in treating HIV/AIDS. That country provides those infected with HIV free access to AIDS drugs. They have a controversial law which allows them to make generics of the drugs. And they’ve been discussed as a model for other countries. Do you think this model will work elsewhere, Eric?

VAN PRAGG: There are good points and there are some challenges. I think the law was very important. The law to allow generic drugs and at the same time having a strong government control on the quality will, does ensure that people have easier access in Brazil. But we should not forget that Brazil is not in that sense a poor country. Brazil is a middle income country. So many more people have insurances. The facilities in general provides good quality of care. There is good laboratory support. There is good follow-up for people living with HIV/AIDS—social and psychological support is there. And then the people infected with HIV are usually in small proportion of the total population. So it is, it is easily to manage. If you translate that straight to Africa we have many more additional issues to overcome. So I think there are lessons to be learned, in particular to have a strong government commitment, a strong leadership and a forceful way to make generic drugs available to the population. At the other end we need much more if we are to transplant this to Africa in order to make drugs and HIV care available and at the same time, as we just mentioned, also to ensure that our prevention efforts are integrated within this care. As we learn more and more, prevention and care are inseparable. They, they need to be dealt with within health institutions and within communities at the same time. They are not two separate interventions, so to say.

BROCKMAN: Eric, how do you see things going from here in terms of HIV/AIDS? Are you hopeful for the future?

VAN PRAGG: I am always hopeful, but I see a tremendous amount of challenges. For example, those in prevention and care, one issue we really cannot really grapple with, and that is the tremendous strong amount of stigma surrounding this disease. And that stigma within the family, within a small community—but also within our health institutions—really reduces our capacity to quickly diagnose, to give, discuss openly what the best options are for therapy, to focus on condom promotion and prevention, to focus on different ways of living in order to, to prevent transmission, etcetera. So, we have still to overcome a lot of stigma.

We have to overcome secondly a lot of costing issues. Because these countries have not only an AIDS epidemic, they also have a very, very important and difficult tuberculosis epidemic. There is a lot of malaria. Small children die every day of measles. Things we cannot imagine here in this country are still happening there. And you cannot focus every single one disease and forgetting about the other diseases. You have to see that in context. So, we do have a lot of work to be done and we need really the, the efforts of all of us, of all rich people in all countries of the world to help the people who do not have these resources. So it needs a very joint effort.


GOODRIDGE: I remain hopeful. I’ve been working in this field for a long time. I do have to say, though, that, you know, it goes even beyond health issues. We know that any kind of upheaval in a country, that the economic situations in these countries have a major impact on the effectiveness of HIV/AIDS programs and whether people are even thinking about HIV/AIDS as an issue. But to say that it’s poor people in these countries, it’s disenfranchised people, it’s marginalized people that are at greatest risk. And so we need to look at how we can improve their economic well being, how we can reduce war and conflict in these regions, because those really impact our ability to work in HIV/AIDS.

BROCKMAN: Gail Goodridge and Dr. Eric van Pragg are both with the Family Health International’s Institute for HIV/AIDS in Washington. For Common Ground, I’m Cliff Brockman.

[Musical interlude]

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

[Musical interlude]

MCHUGH: I’m Kristin McHugh.

PORTER: And I’m Keith Porter. Coming up this half hour on Common Ground, life as a Greek-American.

EUGENE ROSSIDES: Greek-Americans are 110 percent patriots—there is never that issue of divided loyalty—some of them will be more loyal to Greece? Forget it! That’s not the issue. Americans do not consider themselves Greeks abroad—they are Americans, period.

MCHUGH: Plus, free speech gets a surprising ally in the form of the World Bank. And Berlin’s Philharmonic has a new director—and he’s not German.

SIR SIMON RATTLE: I had a very musical family—my father had a professional jazz band for a while. But these were people who loved music of all types. These first weeks have been the most astonishing musical experience of my life. I had no idea that it could work at such a level and work with so much joy.

PORTER: These stories—coming up next.

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Greek Americans

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MCHUGH: America’s Greek community has never been so visible as it is today, thanks to a certain film about a big fat wedding. After years in the shadow of such communities as the Italian-Americans or Irish-Americans, the one and a half million Americans of Greek descent have shown they are confident enough to laugh at themselves. The irony is that just as it basks in the limelight, the community is facing some tough questions about what it means to be both Greek and American. From Washington, Nina-Maria Potts has this report.

NINA-MARIA-POTTS: The last year has been the best and the worst of times for Greek-Americans. The box office success of My Big Fat Greek Wedding has cast a spotlight on a community that has moved far beyond the clichés of the corner kebab house. But it has also been a time of tension. In the aftermath of the September 11th attacks, Greece’s small but vocal anti-American minority staged gloating demonstrations. In their anger and distress, many Greek-Americans discovered that they are American first and foremost. The question that many are now trying to answer is, to what extent are they still Greek? Eugene Rossides, founder of the American Hellenic Institute, which works to improve relations between the US, Greece, and Cyprus, says the answer is clear-cut.

EUGENE ROSSIDES: Well, it was very difficult for us and we did oppose and we spoke out against the anti-American demonstrations, and we responded as best we could. Greek-Americans are 110 percent patriots. There is never that issue of divided loyalty—some of them will be more loyal to Greece? Forget it! That’s not the issue. Americans do not consider themselves Greeks abroad—they are Americans, period.

[The sound of Greek music.]

POTTS: The notion of “Greekness” means different things to different people in the Greek-American community. For some, it’s the simple act of speaking Greek; for others it’s in Zorba’s dance, or in their mother’s cooking, or in the smell of incense at their local Orthodox church. In one way or another, every generation of Greek-American holds on to a sense of Greekness, however diluted that feeling may become. But that shared sense of Greek culture does not determine how Greek-Americans vote. And this is proving a problem for the Greek lobby on Capitol Hill. Again, Eugene Rossides.

ROSSIDES: What happens with the youth, and what happens when we have 70 percent intermarriages—it’s an enormous cultural change. There is a real problem regarding the next generation, of getting them to understand their heritage and its importance to the US.

POTTS: The Greek-American lobby is as diverse as it is small. It’s made up of several organizations, which were formed in 1974, after Turkey invaded Cyprus. The main foreign policy issue currently preoccupying the Greek lobby is Cyprus’ accession to the European Union. In the past, the Greek government has relied heavily on unpaid Greek-American supporters to further its cause in Washington. The broad perception is that Greek-Americans are rich, and especially talented fund-raisers. But Eugene Rossides says the Greek government should not take for granted that Greek-Americans will always be on the side of Athens.

ROSSIDES: Greek-Americans should care because it’s important to the US. Forget about Greece, and I think the Greek government is wrong. I think they should do that. They may feel that, “Well, we have Greek-Americans there, they can handle it,” but that’s not our job. Our job is what’s in the best interests of the US, and I would say to them that they should do more to counter the Turkish paid lobby here. It’s like playing a football game, American football game, and Turkey is fielding 11 people, and Greece is fielding eight because she doesn’t have a paid lobbies.

POTTS: Professor Charles Moskos, a sociologist at Northwestern University, cautions that the lobby is small and must learn to reach out to friends from outside the community.

PROFESSOR CHARLES MOSKOS: Blacks tend to vote for black candidates, Italians for Italian candidates; it’s just there aren’t enough Greeks to really be a major voting block. That’s why it sits incumbent on us to support non-Greeks who are, you know, supportive of the Hellenic causes.

POTTS: He suggests lovers of Greeks, so-called philhellenes, can be even more persuasive.

PROFESSOR MOSKOS: It’s more important to get what I’d call philhellenes of non-Greek background to support the cause. I don’t want their name to end in “Papadopoulos” or something of that sort. You want American political figures taking the key role.

POTTS: For Eugene Rossides, it’s simply a question of ethnic pride.

ROSSIDES: You do take pride in the fact that there’s someone from your own background is running for public office. If you do that to an excess, and that you’re going to be supporting them or a particular person regardless of the merits—a rock-rib Republican in Louisiana said to me, “Gene, I’ve got to support Dukakis—the idea that a Greek-American would be president, I’ve gotta support him.” Now, there’s pride in some of that.

POTTS: With immigration from Greece more or less a thing of the past, the community can only shrink. A high rate of intermarriage offers further challenges for community leaders trying to maintain pride among future generations, but Eugene Rossides argues that the very success of America’s civilization should make young Greeks proud.

ROSSIDES: Americans of Greek descent are lucky. You know, the basis of western civilization came from ancient Greece. My mother told me once, when I was a kid, you know, “You’re very lucky, Eugene, you know, you’re an American of Greek descent.” And I said, “Oh yes, mother, yes, mother.” So now I’m 17, and I’m going up to Columbia University for an admissions interview. I see this big library, and at the top of the library are eight names, in big carved and three-foot letters—Demosthenes, Aristotle, Plato, Socrates. And then there were two Latin names, Virgil and Cicero. I says, “Gee,” I said. “You know, Mother was right. How lucky can I be, I’m an American of Greek descent.”

POTTS: For Common Ground, I’m Nina-Maria Potts in Washington.

[Musical interlude]

MCHUGH: Coming up next on Common Ground, free speech and the world economy. And later, a foreign conductor leads a famous German orchestra.

[Musical interlude]

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Right to Tell

Listen to This Segment: MP3

MCHUGH: In the United States, the First Amendment to the Constitution guarantees the right to free speech. In the rest of the world, the media is often heavily restricted—by licensing rules, strict slander and libel laws, or even a lack of investment. As Priscilla Huff reports, the World Bank has concluded, a free media is not just an issue of free expression, it’s a matter of economic survival.

SOUND BITES FROM VARIOUS AMERICAN MEDIA: “All new Dateline, tonight, 9/8 central, on NBC.” “Tonight on CNN Prime Time.” “All day today, only on CNBC.”

PRISCILLA HUFF: Three 24-hour cable news channels, 3 or 4 local news broadcasts, three major news weeklies, and piles and piles of magazines—and don’t forget the countless news Web sites. Most Americans would complain that they are drowning in a sea of information.


HUFF: The deluge of data is a side effect of one of America’s most treasured freedoms. The American media has used the right to speak freely to expose everything from Watergate to the love lives of Hollywood celebrities The World Bank has now identified a global need for a free media as a key ingredient to economic development. Their focus is on the right to tell, also the title of the organization’s new book. Roumeen Islam is a manager with the World Bank’s Poverty Reduction division.

ROUMEEN ISLAM: The key message is that an independent media can boost economic development by promoting good governance and empowering citizens. It can make economies function better.

HUFF: Sonal Shah with the Center for Global Development says trust—often in the form of stable institutions—is a critical ingredient for economies.

SONAL SHAH: People are looking for constants. Money is obviously very important, but they want to know that they can get things done. Like, if I wanted to set up a business, I can get it done in five days, I know which papers I need to fill out, I know where I need to go, and I know what I need to do.

HUFF: Shah identifies problems of corruption and bad governance as some of those hurdles. The World Bank argues that an unfettered media can disperse information and uncover those problems—problems which limit development. Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize-winning economist now at Columbia University, explains that avoiding embarrassment can motivate officials to take the higher road.

JOSEPH STIGLITZ: The international press has played an important role. There are examples where even countries are not as free as one would like, the international press has had access to the countries, has written stories that have been published, in, like for instance, the Asian Wall Street Journal, that have had impacts, on what goes on inside those countries. Governments read those international papers and feel pressure when those stories get discussed.

HUFF: The Nobel prize-winning economist Armartya Sen argued in 1980, countries with a free press do not experience famines, because the free press draws attention to the problem and people will view a government’s failure to act in such situations as intolerable. Today, 12 million people in Zimbabwe are facing a likely famine and at the same time, the government of Robert Mugabe has imposed some of the strictest press laws in the world. As an arbiter of economic development, the World Bank is convinced the cliché is true—sunshine is the best antiseptic. The World Bank has only recently begun addressing corruption, once considered a political and therefore off-limits issue. Now, World Bank Spokeswoman Caroline Anstey says the institution has also changed its attitude towards the role of journalism.

CAROLINE ANSTEY: Corruption is an economic issue, it is a very profound economic issue, and it is a legitimate area for the bank to be involved in. Of course, now it’s very central. What we’re saying here is we’re doing the same thing with a free press. We’re saying is a free press is not a political issue, it is an economic issue and a social issue and a development issue. And as such, it is a legitimate area for the bank to be looking at.

HUFF: While Sonal Shah with the Center for Global Development agrees corruption is an issue, she would advocate the World Bank look at its own financing policies before focusing on the media. Shah says developing countries need a reliable source of help to be able to plan ahead.

SHAH: I think the two most important things that we could do is to provide development assistance on a consistent basis that has some stream that countries can rely on. And secondly, offer trade opportunities, because countries need to grow out of their markets. And if they don’t have anywhere to grow, its hard for them to be creating exports when they can’t, they can’t send them out anywhere.

HUFF: Shah does see a role for more and more open reporting.

SHAH: What the free press does offer is an opportunity to keep the institutions honest. As they start reporting what’s happening, it begins to create a civic debate internally within a country about what’s happening within the government.

HUFF: And the World Bank is not ready to take a stand that everybody should have the right to know everything. Roumeena Islam authored a chapter in the World Bank’s book, Right to Tell.

ISLAM: It is up to the people to decide how much information do they want and if they want information, then it’s up to them to decide to fight for it. No one can say above, you know, we the World Bank or any other institution, it’s our job to let people know, how important information is to economic development, but how much information flow there actually is in a given country, cannot be taken in isolation of what the people want.

HUFF: That begs the question, if the people are unaware of information that could make a difference in their lives, what are they supposed to do? The greatest obstacle for broader knowledge in the developing world may not be the limits on the what the media can say, but rather the technology to report. Without electricity, people can’t watch television. Without roads, trucks can’t deliver batteries for radios. And most importantly, without literacy, people can’t read newspapers or magazines. For Common Ground, I’m Priscilla Huff.

[Musical interlude]

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

[Musical interlude]

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Berlin Philharmonic

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PORTER: Think of Germany and you might think of beer and bratwurst. But you should also think of classical music. The country of Johann Sebastian Bach and Felix Mendelsohn takes its music more seriously than most. So when the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra chose a foreigner—Sir Simon Rattle of Britain—to be its new musical director, there was an outcry. And then, there was celebration. From Berlin, Common Ground‘s Simon Marks reports.

[The sound of Herbert von Karajan directing Mozart’s Requiem for the Berlin Philharmonic.]

SIMON MARKS: When Berliners think of the Berlin Philharmonic, this is the sound that comes to mind. The city’s famous orchestra, under the direction of former conductor Herbert von Karajan, in this recording of Mozart’s Requiem offers a glimpse of the musical skill and artistry for which the 120-year-old group is known.

[The sound of Herbert von Karajan directing Mozart’s Requiem for the Berlin Philharmonic.]

MARKS: The Berlin Philharmonic was founded in 1882 by 54 musical rebels—artists who left another orchestra to protest the autocratic rule of its musical director, and who set up shop on their own. So the Berlin Philharmonic has always prided itself on its independence, and over the past century has become established as one of the world’s leading orchestras. Today, it suddenly has a new creative leader.

SIR SIMON RATTLE: I had a very musical family—my father had a professional jazz band for a while. But these were people who loved music of all types.

MARKS: His name is Sir Simon Rattle, and as the accent implies he is not German. The Berlin Philharmonic turned to the 47-year-old Brit earlier this year after the unprecedented decision by his predecessor to retire and pass on the baton. Something unheard of in the orchestra’s history—most conductors have viewed the post as a lifetime commitment. Sir Simon Rattle has become in the space of just four months, the city’s biggest star. Enormous advertisements shouting “Welcome Sir Simon” hang from hoardings all over the city, and German concertgoers have come to be enthralled by his style. He’s a lot more approachable, less formal, and less orthodox than many of his predecessors.

SIR SIMON RATTLE: These first weeks have been the most astonishing musical experience of my life. I had no idea that it could work at such a level and work with so much joy. We’re just all very happy people at the moment. I mean this was always at least a 10-year commitment, but all of us are thinking in the long term.

MARKS: And to German ears, that’s all new. Sir Simon Rattle has instituted changes that include turning the orchestra into an independent foundation that’s less reliant for funding on the city’s government. He’s given pay raises to the orchestra’s musicians. And, horrifying traditionalists, he’s ended a practice in which artists were banned from speaking during their auditions.

[Sounds of the Berlin Philharmonic playing the William Tell Overture.]

MARKS: He’s also vowing to play a little bit more German music, and a little bit less of Italian classics like the William Tell Overture by Rossini. He’s not the only foreigner making waves here. California’s Kent Nagano conducts Berlin’s less well-known Symphony Orchestra. Local journalist Gurtrud Hohler says the arrival of both musicians is immensely important for Berliners.

MARKS: [interviewing Hohler] A big deal for Berlin?

GURTRUD HOHLER: A big deal. For that Rattle, and before him Nagano, are prepared to come to us, that means they think it is good to be here like to be in New York or Paris, and therefore the Germans are very proud.

[The sound of Rossini’s William Tell Overture.]

MARKS: The Berlin Philharmonic plays an enormous social role here. It was the orchestra chosen to play at the Brandenberg Gate during the recent ceremonies marking the tenth anniversary of Germany’s post-Cold War reunification. In a city where people take their music seriously, they are now turning out in large numbers to welcome the orchestra’s new conductor, and to help write the next chapter in the history of one of the world’s great musical institutions. For Common Ground, I’m Simon Marks in Berlin.

[The sound of Rossini’s William Tell Overture.]

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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