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LADAN BOROUMAND: The United States engaging or investing something in pro-democracy movement after all these years of betrayal could have a symbolic and psychological positive effect for Iranian prodemocracy movement.
PORTER: This week on Common Ground, Iran’s future.
MCHUGH: And the changing role of Iranian women.
BEHNAZ ASHTERI: Women are largely interested in going to university because they can increase their social position. And they can earn money, and they want to improve their situation.
MCHUGH: Plus, Russia’s newest plan for peace in Chechnya.
ANATOL LIEVEN: The constitution brings Chechnya back. But it establishes Chechnya’s position as an autonomous republic of the Russian Federation. Basically it gives Chechnya full autonomy under the Russian Constitution.
PORTER: These stories—coming up next.
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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. Iran plays a large role in the interlocking pieces of the Middle East peace puzzle. Iran has also maintained its status as one of the two remaining members of President Bush’s so-called “axis of evil,” both for its human rights record and for its support of terrorism, especially against Israel. But there are increasing signs Iran may not always remain an Islamic republic. Priscilla Huff has more.
BERNARD LEWIS: The regime is cordially detested by the overwhelming majority of its people. It was established with high hopes and with massive support. It has turned out to be a tragic disappointment.
HUFF: Princeton historian Bernard Lewis is convinced, nearly a quarter century after the rise of the Islamic Republic, Iran is at a crossroads.
LEWIS: Now comes a real threat to the regime. They face a danger of contamination of democratic ideals and democratic examples from a new Iraq, [that] might spread across the border. And there are many ways in which they can spread across the border. Through, as I said, through the religious connections, the pilgrimage connections, to the holy places, the family connections, between Muslim Shi’ite divines on both sides. They feel, they have to do something about it. They feel they have to do something to counter this American sponsored democratic threat.
HUFF: Iran’s religious leaders are worried about democracy insinuating itself from Iraq to the west and Afghanistan to the east. Nearly 25 years ago the ayatollahs were in a different position. Cliff May was a reporter for the Hearst newspapers and CBS radio in 1979.
CLIFF MAY: I very particularly remember visiting the holy city of Qom, and standing in a huge crowd in the broiling sun, waiting for the Ayatollah Khomeni. to appear. When he stepped out onto the roof of his small house, he looked exactly like an old testament prophet. The crowd went wild with cheering. Mothers were holding up their babies with one hand as high as they could so that he could bless them. One man told me, “There was Moses, and there was Jesus and there was Mohammed and now there is Khomeni.” That was a fairly widespread view at that time in that place. A generation later, not many people view it quite that way.
HUFF: Today, the majority of the population does not remember the time that brought about the revolution, as more than 60 percent of Iranians are under the age of 30. Along with the differences in demographics, there are also signs of change. Guy Dinmore traveled to the town of Hamadan for the Financial Times. There, Dinmore talked to teachers about their meeting with a leading intellectual, who was jailed for the speech he made to the students in Hamadan.
GUY DINMORE: These meetings were always broken up, but these people keep doing it, these university teachers, these university students, and the high school teachers, keep organizing these meetings and they keep getting beaten up. And I think it’s testimony to an amazing process that’s going on in Iran, that people around the country are persevering with this and not giving up.
HUFF: Iran does have a democratically elected parliament and president, Mohammed Khatami, but in the Islamic Republic, the real power lies with Ayatollah Ali Khameni and his fellow clerics on the Council of Guardians. Despite wielding absolute power, which has allowed religious leaders to assassinate dozens of democratic activists in Iran since 1990, the former Israeli Ambassador to Iran observes the ayatollahs are careful to conserve their power. Uri Lubrani.
URI LUBRANI: They know that bloodshed is the trigger for a much bigger convulsion. And therefore they are very careful. But what has happened is that the majority of the Irani public, the majority has come to the sad conclusion that there is no hope for them within the rule of the ayatollahs, that not only are they not able to make ends meet economically, but their souls are incarcerated.
HUFF: Uri Lubrani knows this, as he’s stayed in touch with some of the people he met since his time as Israel’s ambassador to Iran in the days leading up to the revolution. Iran also remains one of the top threats to Israel’s national security, through its sponsorship of Hamas, Hezbollah, and other terrorist groups. Lubrani wants the US to take action, both for Israel’s security and because the ayatollahs threaten America.
LUBRANI: I was very, very gratified and surprised, I have to say, having Iran included in your President’s axis of evil. That was, I think, a dramatic development and a very welcome and an extremely powerful one. But this spirit has to be continued. It has to be continued at an accelerated pace because time is now of essence. As long as these ayatollahs will be in power, they will not want you either in Iraq or succeeding in Afghanistan, because your culture—American culture, Western culture—is anathema and has to be kept out.
HUFF: And yet, Lubrani also says, there is a mania for all things American these days in Iran, especially among the huge population of young people. Ladan Boroumand, an Iranian, insists, most of her countrymen and women continue to demand intangible things, many of which are distinctively American.
LADAN BOROUMAND: Freedom of speech, assembly, and association; freedom of conscience and worship; the separation of religious authority from political power; and freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention. These demands correspond to the model of a secular democracy.
HUFF: That prompts the question, if Iranians want democracy, how should it be brought about? While Iran’s religious cadre maintains much of the effective power, public support for President Khatami has grown, as seen in the number of reform-minded candidates winning seats in Parliament in recent elections. Iran’s huge population of young voters appears to be putting their hopes in President Khatami’s slow push for change. And Guy Dinmore of the Financial Times, is not convinced Iranians want a revolution.
DINMORE: The general view, I think, which is widely held in Iran is that Khatami is hugely respected. I would say he is even worshipped by quite a lot of Iranians. He’s certainly a very charismatic man. But he is sort of constrained by his lack of authority and more powerful people around him. And either the process is going to take an extremely long time to come to fruition or indeed at some point everything will snap and there will be the upheaval that many people are expecting.
HUFF: While Iranians themselves may prefer change from within over bloodshed, Princeton’s Bernard Lewis thinks he knows what the ayatollahs want in the face of a germinating seed of democracy.
LEWIS: What is necessary from the point of view of the Iranian theocracy is that the democratic experiment in Iraq should fail.
HUFF: President Bush has promised the next government of Iraq will be by, for, and of the Iraqi people, which echoes the beginnings of American democracy. That confirms Iranian leaders’ fears of democracy crossing the borders, fertilized by the US. Ladan Boroumand wants America to do more for her people, such as sponsor radio and television broadcasts.
BOROUMAND: Creating a strong public space, safe for the people to talk and interact could help the pro-democracy movement. Not only could it help, but also the United States engaging or, you know, investing something in pro-democracy movement after all these years of betrayal could have a symbolic and psychological positive effect for Iranian pro-democracy movement.
HUFF: But reporter Guy Dinmore isn’t convinced the US should up its role in Iran.
DINMORE: I would like to remind the American government that I think it has to be shown that US intervention in Iran for the last 50 years or so has generally been fairly disastrous.
HUFF: The Bush administration has made it clear, it wants to see democracy and equal rights spread everywhere. Iran’s ayatollahs want to remain in power. And that desire, to maintain power, is what experts identify as the underlying crisis of government in Iran. In their analysis, if the revolution of 1979 was to overthrow the absolute power of the Shah, it was not to bring about a theocracy. They point to the fact, the ayatollahs had to work with the socialists to bring about the revolution, the same people they marginalized, imprisoned, and even killed once the religious leaders gained power. Bernard Lewis of Princeton University.
LEWIS: In a sense, what we have seen under the ayatollahs is the Christianization of Islam, using that word not in any moral or doctrinal sense, but in a functional and institutional sense. They have created something which never existed before in Islam, the functional equivalence of a papacy, a college of cardinals, a bench of bishops, and above all, an Inquisition. and in shallah they will soon have a reformation.
HUFF: For Common Ground, I’m Priscilla Huff.
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MCHUGH: The role of women has been one of the most vexing issues in the Islamic Republic of Iran. The importance of the recent changes that have taken place for them varies depending on whom you ask. But one of the transformations is hard to ignore. It’s the rising number of women in higher education. They now make up 65 percent of university entrants. Roxana Saberi has more from Tehran.
[The sound of students walking and talking on campus.]
ROXANA SABERI: The goals and dreams of many students at the University of Tehran’s Karaj campus are timeless and universal. The young men and women come to learn, grow, and hopefully someday, get good jobs. But over the past few decades, the look and substance of this campus have drastically changed.
ADINA MOHAMMADPOUR: [via a translator] I think a lot of families create an atmosphere where education is important. It’s not in all of the families, but a lot of them.
SABERI: Three decades ago, Adina Mohammadpour would have been an exception here. Professors say at the time, less than 10 percent of the entrants in her field of forestry were women. Then, soon after the Islamic Revolution in 1979, the government shut down all universities for three years. The aim was to purify them of elements of the previous regime and to Islamicize certain courses. The universities reopened in 1983, with new rules limiting or banning women from certain fields, like technical and engineering fields, and subjects like forestry. But gradually in the late 1980’s and early ’90s, almost all the restrictions were lifted. This cleared the way for women like Adina.
MOHAMMADPOUR: [via a translator] People who study get a higher level of thinking. If we don’t go to college and stay at home, our relationships will be a lot more limited.
SABERI: Today around 75 to 80 percent of the entrants in Adina’s Faculty of Natural Resources are women. The statistic reflects a growing trend across Iran. A recent UN report says 65 percent of university entrants in the country are now women. It’s a trend that both reflects and affects Iran’s society, economy, and politics.
BEHNAZ ASHTERI: [via a translator] Women are largely interested in going to university because they can increase their social position. And they can earn money, and they want to improve their situation.
SABERI: Behnaz Ashteri, an Iranian researcher of women’s studies, says the number of women entrants first began to surpass men in 1998. The increase coincided with the rise of the Reformists to the Presidency and Parliament.
ASHTERI: [via a translator] With a university diploma, they can work for themselves, and they can work independently, like in medicine or as lawyers.
SABERI: Other reasons help explain the influx of women in colleges. Men are required to complete 18 to 21 months of military service, and more universities have been opening. Analysts also say many religious families who had seen universities as potentially corrupting their daughters, changed their minds after the Revolution. Today, parents know the Islamic government oversees universities and that women there are required to wear the Islamic dress. Another strong impetus for more women in colleges has to do with the sluggish economy. Iran’s official unemployment rate is nearly 13 percent, or about two-and-a-half million people. But some analysts say the number could be almost double that.
[The sound of a taxis in busy street traffic.]
SABERI: The bleak job prospects are convincing young men like Ahmad that higher education doesn’t necessarily mean better jobs.
AHMAD: [via a translator] I didn’t want to go to college. I couldn’t go. I was working.
SABERI: Ahmad started to drive taxis in Tehran after high school. He believes even if he were to attend college, he would not find a better job. The 27-year-old says maybe one day he’ll change his mind. But for now, he prefers to earn money.
AHMAD: [via a translator] I don’t have time. Going to college requires time. If there’s money, I’ll go. I’m working as a driver now.
SABERI: While the harsh job outlook is discouraging many men from going to college, it’s affecting many women in a different way. Students like Shiva Satabar, a junior studying forestry at the University of Tehran, say they just want to improve their education and their chances of any kind of employment.
SHIVA SATABAR: [via a translator] The boys prefer to go to work after high school, and the girls, because there are not many jobs for them, they prefer to go to university. I don’t think I can find a job in my subject, but I’ll try to find one in another area.
SABERI: Yahya Shamekhi believes if he studies hard enough at Sharif Technical University in Tehran, he can someday find work as an industrial engineer. He believes women should have the same opportunities. But he says, when they don’t work in the fields they study, it causes problems for the country.
YAHYA SHAMEKHI: [via a translator] A lot of them who come to these fields only come here to get a certificate, to get a bachelor’s degree, or to become an engineer not because they like their subject.
[The sound of a professor lecturing in class.]
SABERI: Nehmat Khorasani, a professor of environmental sciences in Karaj, says this occurrence has become a concern to some in Iran’s government as the number of women students has risen. He says last year the Ministry of Science asked all government universities for feedback on a proposed rule to limit the number of women entrants.
NEHMAT KHORASANI: [via a translator] They asked our opinion, should we make limitations in some subjects? They wanted to see if it’s better to have a limitation. If the majority agreed, then we’d implement it.
SABERI: The professors in his department formed a committee to discuss the proposal.
KHORASANI: [via a translator] The group decided it should be as it is now—anyone can take the exam, and anyone who passed it can continue studying, and we maintain the right of the women as such.
SABERI: So for now, Iran’s universities accept students based mostly on their test scores, instead of on their gender, although men are prohibited from entering certain fields, like gynecology. Women’s rights to this education have brought new ways of thinking and higher demands on society. Hale Sahabi, an editor of Cheshmandaz, a magazine on politics and society of Iran, says one reason is that many educated women raise their standards when choosing husbands.
HALE SAHABI: These women will not be ready to marry a man of lower education, so the age of marriage goes higher, even up to 30 or 33, the age may go up.
SABERI: At the same time, Sahabi supports the calls many educated women are making for more equal rights with men—at work, in public, and at home.
SAHABI: [via a translator] Before these women said, “This is my destiny, I have no rights. All the rights I have are whatever my husband has given me.” But today these women have gotten to know their rights so they can’t tolerate it any longer. They can’t accept living with a man who does not observe their rights.
[Sounds from a busy college cafeteria.]
SABERI: These calls for change are growing stronger among women like these students in the Karaj cafeteria.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE IRANIAN STUDENT #1: [via a translator] For example, about the rules in Iranian courts, the rules and regulations don’t show that women and men are equal, and some parts important in the lives in people, they are not equal.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE IRANIAN STUDENT #1: [via a translator] I have grown so much in the four years I have been here. It’s as if I’ve grown by eight years. I have learned so many things.
SABERI: This type of growth is adding to the dynamism of Iran as women flow in and out of the country’s universities. Regardless of what they do after graduation, what they learn here is transforming their lives, the society, and their country. For Common Ground, I’m Roxana Saberi in Tehran.
MCHUGH: Chechnya’s future, next on Common Ground.
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PORTER: When world leaders gathered in St. Petersburg, Russia, earlier this month to mark the 300th anniversary of the country’s second city, human rights groups were hoping high level meetings would focus less on pomp and circumstance and more on Chechnya. Two separate wars have ravaged the breakaway Russian republic for much of the past decade. The Kremlin says it’s waging a war against terrorism. A wave of suicide bombings last month that killed scores, underscores Chechnya’s instability.
MCHUGH: But Russian President Vladimir Putin insists Chechnya is on the road to peace. He points to a March constitutional referendum that Russian officials claim was approved by well over 90 percent of Chechen voters. I recently spoke with Anatol Lieven, a Senior Associate with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace about the Chechnya conflict. I started by asking him to explain what the March constitutional referendum really means.
ANATOL LIEVEN: The constitution brings Chechnya back. Well, of course, as far as the Russians are concerned they never left. But it establishes Chechnya’s position as an autonomous republic of the Russian Federation, with certain special characteristics which strengthen that autonomy to some extent, compared to other autonomous republics. But basically it gives Chechnya full autonomy under the Russian Constitution.
MCHUGH: Now, the referendum itself or the Constitution itself was actually written by the Kremlin. There was not a lot of Chechen input into that Constitution. Yes?
LIEVEN: More or less. There was a good deal of input actually from Russia’s Chechen allies, if you like—Akhmad Kadyrov, and so forth.
MCHUGH: And you mentioned Akhmad Kadyrov. He is the pro-Moscow leader of Chechnya. He is Chechen. Is his job now to serve basically as the President of that region, from Moscow’s standpoint?
LIEVEN: Yes. I mean, according to Moscow he is the legitimate elected President of Chechnya, just as, you know, other elected presidents of other autonomous republics—Tartarstan, Bashukistan, wherever.
MCHUGH: And what does this mean for Aslan Maskhadov, who was legally elected and actually supported by Moscow initially in 1997 in an election that even the OSC said is absolutely legitimate. Does this basically negate all the previous election results?
LIEVEN: From Russia’s point of view, yes. Their view is that Maskhadov basically negated himself by failing to establish a, an effective government in Chechnya. And that he in essence lost control of Chechen territory and therefore lost the right to be regarded as legitimate president. Of course, this is not the view of a great many Chechens or many people in the international community.
MCHUGH: The international community has said for the past several years that the Russians should really negotiate with Maskhadov, but yet the Kremlin really says, “No. We don’t want to have anything to do with negotiations.” What needs to happen?
LIEVEN: Well, the Kremlin has actually negotiated with Maskhadov’s representatives. And as far as I’m aware there are still open lines of communication between the Kremlin and Maskhadov. And it’s rather striking, for example, that Maskhadov’s family can travel freely in Russia. My view is that the Kremlin actually could arrest or indeed kill Maskhadov whenever they like. They know where he is. But they are, in fact, keeping him on ice because they haven’t decided to jettison him altogether. The people who they will not talk to—under any circumstances—are the radical Chechens and their international allies.
MCHUGH: What makes this war very, very—or the entire issue—very, very confusing, is the fact that the first war really was by most experts a nationalistic independence movement. But the second conflict, which started in the Fall of 1999, is not necessarily viewed that way, even in the West. Is this really a religious-ethnic struggle now, versus an independence movement?
LIEVEN: The present war is a mixed kind of struggle I think. Of the kind which for example we see in Kashmir or even to an extent in Palestine. Which is to say that it’s basic roots remain national but that it’s, this has now become mixed with strong elements of Islamic extremism essentially brought in from outside.
MCHUGH: Now, before September 11th, there really was a question as to whether or not Al-Qaeda had any ties to the Chechen conflict. But it sounds to me as if you’re convinced that there are ties now?
LIEVEN: If you’ll forgive me, there was never a question. It was announced by Al-Qaeda, for example in an interview with Associated Press. If you read the English language Web site of the International Mujahadeen in Chechnya, khokaz??dot-net, they made their at least affinities with Al-Qaeda immensely clear. The presence of Chechens in Afghanistan under the Taliban was also known to journalists there. And finally, frankly, it’s pretty obvious that people like Al Qaeda who fought the Soviets, or Russians as they see it, in Afghanistan—Osama bin Laden, and Khattab??, the leader of the International Mujahadeen in Chechnya, fought together against the Russians in Afghanistan. Of course they would continue to cooperate in continuing the fight against the Russians in Chechnya. The reason why this was not recognized—and it was known by US intelligence—was the fact that the agendas of the United States—and if I may say so, of most American and Western journalists—were fundamentally anti-Russian. And inconvenient facts about Chechnya were simply swept under the table. This was admitted by a senior American official tome, who said, “Yes, we knew that there was an international extremist presence in Chechnya with links to Al-Qaeda.” “But,” as he said diplomatically, “for a variety of reasons we chose not to advertise the fact.”
Now the point is, however, does this mean that Al-Qaeda as such is present in Chechnya? No. But it’s a grave mistake to see international Islamic extremism as one organization. It’s not. It’s a web. It’s a network with different nodes, of which Al-Qaeda is one but there are numerous others.
MCHUGH: You mentioned Khattab, who was really the financier of the conflict in Chechnya. He was murdered, supposedly by Russian intelligence, almost a year ago. And yet you mentioned earlier that Maskhadov’s family can roam freely in Russia and that he really is alive and you believe that the Russians know where he’s at. There is a theory among the Chechens, especially the ones that I talk to, that the Russians are just perpetuating this war because it’s profitable for the army. Is this an indication of that?
LIEVEN: No. This is fantasy. Certainly bits of the Russian Army have an interest in perpetuating this war. But the Russian high command and the Russian government clearly do not. I mean, that’s been brought home, if any proof were needed, by the terrorist attack and siege in Moscow. Which was, of course, a, I mean it strengthened Russia’s hand internationally in Chechnya. But it was nonetheless an intelligence and security failure which was deeply humiliating for the Russian government.
MCHUGH: One final question, and that is what is the talk coming out of Washington now in terms of Chechnya and its position?
LIEVEN: Basically there is no talk. There’s talk by human rights groups; there’s talk by particular anti-Russian forces. But from the administration itself there is the same formal expressions of complaint, regret about human rights that its used about so many other countries around the world. But since 9/11 it is no longer backed by any real will to do something. Most of the conflicts around the world are not amenable to solution from outside by America, at least not without an application of American force, which in most cases is out of the question. You know, when the present president came in he talked about a certain modesty in American attitudes to the world. Unfortunately he’s forgotten it subsequently. But just because he’s forgotten it there’s no reason why the rest of us should do so.
MCHUGH: Anatol Lieven is a Senior Associate with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, DC. He is also author of the book, Chechnya: Tombstone of Russian Power. In the days after I conducted this interview, Chechnya’s separatist leader, Aslan Maskhadov announced a new summer campaign against Russian troops. Meanwhile, Chechnya’s pro-Moscow leader Akhmad Kadyrov announced a huge reward is available for anyone with information leading to the arrest of Aslan Maskhadov.
PORTER: This is Common Ground, radio’s weekly program on world affairs.
PORTER: I’m Keith Porter.
MCHUGH: And I’m Kristin McHugh. Coming up this half hour on Common Ground, North Korean defectors.
MICHAEL HOROWITZ: If the United States does it right, and has the kind of refugee policy that the United States under law is supposed to have, within a short time there won’t be anybody left to press the missile button.
MCHUGH: Plus, the global campaign to eradicate measles. And the destruction of Iraq’s culture.
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PORTER: In recent weeks President George Bush held meetings with two world leaders, where the subject of North Korea and it’s nuclear ambitions dominated discussions. In separate appearances with both the South Korean President and Japan’s Prime Minister, just two weeks apart, the US leader stood with his Asian counterparts and stated firmly nuclear weapons on the Korean peninsula would not be tolerated. Away from the international spotlight, a group of human rights activists say they’re disappointed world leaders are not addressing the dire humanitarian situation facing North Koreans. This group is pursuing a more radical approach, working to bring down the regime of Kim Jong Il, by encouraging North Koreans to defect. From Washington, Catherine Drew reports.
DREW: In May, two men walked into a hearing before lawmakers on Capital hill wearing black cloaks around their heads. They removed these cloaks only when they sat behind high screens to shield their identities. The two men were allegedly defectors from North Korea. Through a translator they told a Senate governmental affairs subcommittee about their work on North Korea’s program to produce weapons of mass destruction. A man identified only as Mr. Lee told lawmakers that he had worked on the guidance system of North Korean missiles for nine years before defecting to China in 1997. A few days earlier, Mr. Lee, again wearing a veil to hide his identity, told journalists that he had defected after becoming demoralized by North Korea’s harsh way of life.
MR. LEE: [via a translator] These scientists and workers in the weapons industry, are not treated as they used to be by the state and they’re defecting in droves. And their hope for the future under Kim Jong Il regime has been dashed by now and that has created a terrible negative impact on the munitions industry in general.
DREW: Mr. Lee says around 100,000 North Koreans are employed making weapons of mass destruction. While not ruling out military action, President Bush and his top aides consistently stress that a diplomatic solution is preferable and possible in this confrontation with Pyongyang. At a news conference with Japan’s Prime Minister Junichico Koizumi in May, President Bush hinted that economic assistance could be forthcoming, if North Korea backs away from it’s nuclear ambitions.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Acceptance by the international community and potential help will come when they change their behavior and their attitude toward nuclear weapons.
DREW: But to some activists, this potential to help North Korea economically is simply appeasement of a brutal dictator. Campaigners helping Mr. Lee and other alleged defectors are outraged that neither the US, Japan, or South Korea are talking about the human rights situation which is the driving force behind the defections, according to Mr. Lee.
MR. LEE: The scientists themselves may get enough portion for three meals a day, but that doesn’t extend to the dependent. So they have to share and it’s never enough. So there are scientists, even the Ph.D. holders, who are roaming around to get some food—you know—like extra grain, etcetera, etcetera.
[The sound of infants and young children making noise.]
DREW: Doctor Norbert Vollertsen, a German physician, worked with relief agencies in North Korea and filmed visits to orphanages and healthcare facilities there. He is now a full-time activist trying to help North Koreans defect. He has angered the authorities in China by helping orchestrate defectors so called “invasions” of foreign embassies in Beijing by defectors seeking asylum. As a result, China is cracking down on North Korean immigrants and sending many back to their home country. Speaking after the Washington visit of South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun, Dr. Vollertsen angrily held up photographs of emaciated North Korean children he had visited in an orphanage.
DR. NORBERT VOLLERTSEN: Mr. Roh Moon Hyun, during his visit as President of South Korea, and as a former human rights lawyer, was not talking about those children in North Korea. These are human rights violations. It’s genocide what’s going on in North Korea. And as a former human rights lawyer, I should expect even one comment about the situation in North Korea. There was nothing.
DREW: Neither were there any public comments from the Bush administration about humanitarian issues. While the White House does not want to antagonize Pyongyang, the US Congress is less reticent to discuss its human rights record. Several congressional hearings involving defectors and activists in the past have discussed allegations that the regime of Kim Jong Il uses starvation and brutal repression as tools to ensure its citizens’ compliancy. These activists have gained the sympathy of Republican Sam Brownback of Kansas, who plans to introduce a bill that would allow the US to grant North Korea refugees political asylum. As the law currently stands, refugees are not entitled to asylum in the US, because they are automatically given citizenship by South Korea. Senator Brownback is sympathetic to the arguments of activists like Dr. Vollertsen who claim that South Korea is hostile to the refugees. Dr. Vollertsen claims Seoul does not want to be seen as encouraging defectors, for fear that this would lead to the collapse of the North and an economic catastrophe on its doorstep. Human rights activists, like Michael Horowitz of the Hudson Institute, says if both South Korea and the US welcomed North Korean defectors, like Mr. Lee, then that would be the surest path to regime change in Pyongyang.
MICHAEL HOROWITZ: Mr. Lee said to me yesterday, that if the United States does it right, and has the kind of refugee policy that the United States under law is supposed to have, within a short time there won’t be anybody left to press the missile button, if the lunatic dear leader orders them to do so.
DREW: While the fall of the Kim Jong Il regime would be highly desirable to the Bush Administration, it’s well aware of the dangers of mass defections, in an unstable country with an unknown number of nuclear weapons. But this is far from a deterrent for the small number of activists working to help the defectors. One defector, they say, is one less person who must endure the torture of living under Kim Jong Il. For Common Ground, I’m Catherine Drew in Washington.
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MCHUGH: The doctor who runs the United Nations measles program says it’s a disgrace the childhood disease still exists. These days, measles isn’t much of a problem in the United States. But globally measles kills 800,000 children each year. Common Ground‘s Cliff Brockman recently talked with UNICEF’s Edward Hoekstra about the organization’s new measles eradication plans.
EDWARD HOEKSTRA: What we see with measles is that a complication can occur and usually kids get pneumonia, with long problems, or they get diarrhea. In the US you can just go to your local GP and get treatment for both those circumstances. That is a totally different situation if you go to the bush—bush in Asia or in Africa. There kids have no access to healthcare and this simple pneumonia as a complication of measles or the diarrhea will actually be the death of the child. We see those children dying totally unnecessary of this disease, because by just making sure that every kid has had one shot of measles vaccine, it’s sufficient to give them a lifetime guarantee against this deadly disease.
CLIFF BROCKMAN: What are the countries that are hardest hit by measles?
HOEKSTRA: Fifty-eight percent of the deaths occur in Africa. And the remainder is mainly in South Asia.
BROCKMAN: You mentioned that it just takes one shot. This is a very preventable disease then?
HOEKSTRA: It is the most cost effective intervention we have. We have a safe and reliable vaccine. We know what to do. We know how to reach every kid in every village. We have all the means there, the technical knowledge to get to every child. And it’s actually a disgrace that we still have kids dying of this disease. The total cost is only approximately 75¢ to make sure that one child is vaccinated.
BROCKMAN: So why hasn’t measles been wiped out around the world before this?
HOEKSTRA: I think it has been an awareness issue. During the ’90s we’ve been very busy trying to eradicate polio, which is a very important achievement. Polio accounts also for a lot of disability. I think the more progress we make in polio we’re getting more people who are able to spend more time on measles. Measles is funded in general by the Western countries. Like you said earlier, the people who make the decisions in the Western countries don’t consider it as a very deadly disease because they had it when they were young.
BROCKMAN: The WHO and UNICEF have a strategy for dealing with measles. What is that?
HOEKSTRA: First of all, we try to vaccinate as many kids as we can with the routine immunization at nine months of age. In most countries we have coverage about 70 percent. However, there’s about 45 countries where we have coverage that is less than 70 percent. And a lot of those countries are just out of war. In those countries we need to give a special attention and we give a second dose of measles as a campaign, where we target a large age group, between, all the kids between nine months and 15 years of age. By giving the second opportunity, as we call it, to get measles we basically bring mortality to zero. The third strategy we use is that we set up good surveillance in those countries to monitor and to identify anything that’s going wrong in programmatic issues so that if we have an outbreak that we identify it immediately so that we can respond and make sure that no kids unnecessarily die. I’m quite convinced that by 2005 all countries will have included a campaign to make sure that most of their kids are not vulnerable anymore for the disease.
BROCKMAN: Dr. Edward Hoekstra is a senior health advisor at UNICEF. He runs the agency’s global measles program. For Common Ground, this is Cliff Brockman.
PORTER: Coming up next, Iraq’s lost treasures.
MCHUGH: You’re listening to Common Ground, radio’s weekly program on world affairs.
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PORTER: In the chaos that ensued after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s government in Iraq, looters swarmed the streets, taking what they could from wherever they could. Some of the hardest-hit establishments were museums and libraries that contained priceless works of art from civilizations stretching back thousands of years. Some of the art that disappeared in those first chaotic days has now been accounted for, but other pieces are still missing. And many critics are pointing the finger at the US military for failing to protect the country’s museums. Donny George is the Director of Research at the National Museum of Iraq.
DONNY GEORGE: On the day where the looting started, Thursday, we had one of our employees who lives in the premises of the museum, went to one of the tanks that were very close to the museum and begged them to come and stand in front of the museum, while the looters were outside, just to protect the museum. They told him that they don’t have orders for that.
MCHUGH: The US countered by saying the military had deliberately and successfully avoided cultural sites in bombing raids, but admitted that when ground troops went in, those sites could not be given priority. State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher.
STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN RICHARD BOUCHER: We went to great pains to avoid any damage to those sites, but it’s, I think if you ask the military, they will tell you it’s militarily quite another thing to say that when we get near a town, those should be the first places we go to. Those can’t necessarily be the first places we go to.
PORTER: But the chair of President Bush’s Advisory Committee on Cultural Property, Martin Sullivan, resigned over the apparent neglect of the museum. And critics were quick to point out the US military did manage to protect Iraq’s oil ministry from looters.
MCHUGH: The looting of art during times of war is hardly a new phenomenon. It stretches back centuries, to a time when conquering armies were expected to return home with pieces of art as war trophies. And it even happened on a large scale as recently as World War II, when the Nazis systematically plundered museums and individual collections as they marched across Europe. Art historian Ori Soltes heads up an organization called the Holocaust Art Restitution Project, which is aimed at returning art stolen by the Nazis to its rightful owners. He also teaches Ancient Near Eastern history and art at Georgetown University in Washington, DC. He spoke with Common Ground‘s Judith Smelser, first about the looting in the Iraqi museums.
ORI SOLTES: I can be a little more emotional and less intellective about that point because it seems to me from what I’ve seen and read—and I emphasize seems to me from what I’ve seen and read—that the disparity between the extreme care that we took to protect the oil fields and the kind of interests that that represents for us, and the complete lack of care that we took to protect the national library, the museum, and the like reflects so terribly on us. It reflects on us as barbarians, not as a civilization, that it makes me sick to my stomach.
SMELSER: With all the trade in antiquities that’s gone on throughout the centuries, how is it that so much of it was concentrated there in Iraq?
SOLTES: It just seems that there was such a large volume of work there and so much of it underground, that even with the fierce archeological competitions of the 19th century that involved the British, the French, and the Germans primarily, and even with so much of that material ending up in Paris, Berlin, New York, London, and the like, there’s still loads back there. It’s just sheer volume.
SMELSER: There is, of course, school of thought that believes that all artifacts should be left in the countries where they originated, but then others believes that actually they might be better protected if they were more spread out.
SOLTES: Yes, this has certainly been an ongoing debate, and honestly I see both sides of it. Having visited a number of museums in countries like Egypt and Mesopotamia—well, Iraq, Jordan, Syria, and the like—it’s true that by and large even in Athens, the antiquities to date are not as well kept for—cared for, excuse me—as they could be, should be. And it’s true that in that sense, they are better off in New York, London, or Paris. It is also probably true that if one thinks of them as part of the human patrimony, more of the millions and millions of people who should want to see these things will if they’re in New York or Paris than if they’re in Cairo or Baghdad. On the other hand, if I were an Egyptian or if I were an Iraqi or if I were a Greek, I can’t imagine that I wouldn’t feel that, no, as much as this is part of the human patrimony, it’s part of my national patrimony, and it’s not your right, who are non-whatever I am, to decide it’s better for me and my patrimony to take it away. To me, in a sense, the ideal situation might be if there were more of an international effort, as UNESCO has begun, to help fund better caretaking in such places. That still doesn’t solve the problem of zillions versus merely hundreds of thousands of visitors, but I think that’s less important than the ultimate preservation matter.
SMELSER: I want to talk about your other sort of main area, the Nazi looting that went on during World War II. First of all, I know this may be a hard parallel to draw, but do you see any parallels between what’s happened in Iraq and what happened during the World War II era?
SOLTES: I do and I don’t. In the generic sense, all plundering is like all plundering. Other than that, what distinguished the Nazi era from I think all and every other instance is the systematic manner in which, with complete government support, a cadre of individuals was designated to plunder, museum by museum, gallery by gallery, family by family, individual by individual, and nothing like that, as far as I know is taking place here.
SMELSER: Do you think that their motivation was purely to enrich their regime, or was there something beyond that?
SOLTES: I would say the Nazis had a three-fold plan of action, a three-fold goal. One certainly was to enrich the regime along the cultural lines approved by the Fuhrer. So they weren’t interested in Picassos or Brocks because they considered those degenerate art. They were interested in 19th century landscapes by Austrian artists because he did approve that. So in the sense of cultural enrichment, it was in the, according to the narrow lines that the Fuhrer approved. In terms, secondly, of enrichment in the broader sense, they were wise enough to recognize that if they thought Picasso was junk, there were a lot of people in the West who would pay big bucks for Picasso, and if they confiscated them, sold them, they could either get the kind of art they wanted, or as the war dragged in the last two years toward its conclusion, more importantly, buy armaments. And the third was purely to destroy what they felt was neither useful for any financial end or worthy of survival for any cultural or aesthetic reason.
SMELSER: Of course, the Allies weren’t blameless in this whole time. I know the Allies did some looting of their own, especially Russia has gotten a lot of attention for that. Why do you think it is, though, that they haven’t gotten quite as much criticism for what they did?
SOLTES: Well in the first place, the Allies generally, because the looting was more haphazard and more as it were, individualized and typical of what happens in war time, as opposed to part of a concerted systematic program. So in that sense, justifiably, we’re more let off the hook. Where the Red Army was concerned, there wasn’t much that anyone could do in the course of the Cold War, and initially with the breakdown of the Soviet Union, I think there was a desire to establish positive relations before trodding on anybody’s toes about anything. But in the last, say, four years, as more and more attention has been drawn to this subject, not only has more overt criticism been directed eastward, but the Soviet government, or the Soviet governments, I should say, in succession and their museums have become increasingly open about and interested in opening their archives, their museums, their storage facilities. And actually it is we, the United States and our museums, which have been the slowest of all in really, really dealing with what might be in our collections, not because we looted, but because when the Nazis looted they sold through Switzerland or through Spain or through Sweden to collectors here who turned a blind eye to what was going on there, and who somehow feel 50 years later that it should remain irrelevant.
SMELSER: That, I know, is what you’ve been involved in in your project, and it seems like there are a lot of arguments on that too, because obviously if a museum buys something in good faith, they believe it’s all on the up and up, and then suddenly, 50 years later, they find out it was looted, it does put them in a bit of a difficult situation, don’t you think?
SOLTES: Absolutely. But in my experience, I have more often than not difficulty using the phrase “good faith.” As art historians, we are trained to want to know everything about a work of art, not only in terms of who painted it and what influenced the painter, but who owned it.
SMELSER: Art historian Ori Soltes runs the Holocaust Art Restitution project. I spoke with him in Washington, DC. For Common Ground, I’m Judith Smelser.
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