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SOK SAM OEUN: I won’t get benefit from this, to put those old men in jail, it is not important for me. But I want it for the future of Cambodia.
KRISTIN MCHUGH: This week on Common Ground, seeking justice for the victims of Cambodia’s genocide.
KEITH PORTER: Plus, positive steps in the global fight against land mines.
DR. JAMES CARAFANO: We need to focus on the practical effects we’re trying to achieve, which is, get a lot of this stuff off the street, minimize the danger to civilians, aggressively de-mine where we can, keep people out of the mine business when we can.
PORTER: And the Dalai Lama’s mission to preserve Tibetan culture.
BHUCHUNG K. TSERING: We Tibetans have been taught to live with hope and optimism given the international political situation. Even as we speak China’s changing
MCHUGH: These stories — coming up next.
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PORTER: Common Ground is radio’s weekly program on world affairs. I’m Keith Porter.
MCHUGH: And I’m Kristin McHugh. In 1975, a group of ultra Maoist rebels, the Khmer Rouge, seized power in Cambodia. The reign of leader Pol Pot and his followers brought chaos, brutality, and starvation to Cambodia, as they tried to transform the country into an agricultural society. They killed an estimated 1.7 million people in the ensuing four years of terror.
PORTER: Earlier this year an agreement between Cambodia and the United Nations was signed after six years of negotiations, to try the aging Khmer Rouge leaders for the genocide. While the US supports this process, many Cambodian nongovernmental organizations do not. The groups doubt that justice will be served by the creation of the so-called Extraordinary Chambers within Cambodia’s existing legal system. Recently a few NGO officials traveled to Washington to make their case, from where Catherine Drew reports.
CATHERINE DREW: In June of this year, the United Nations and the Cambodian government topped five years of negotiations to sign an agreement creating the Extraordinary Chambers, a court within Cambodia’s existing judicial system, to try the leaders of the Khmer Rouge. Pol Pot died in 1998, without ever answering for his crimes. However many of his senior colleagues remain free men and women after they surrendered to Cambodian authorities. The tribunal will involve a combination of Cambodian and UN appointed judges and prosecutors, But the number of Cambodians will always outweigh the number of foreign judges. It’s a concession won by Phnom Penh to ensure Cambodian sovereignty. However this formula doesn’t sit well with many Cambodians who do not trust their country’s judiciary. The courts are routinely thought to be prone to corruption and political influence. Kek Galabru, from the Cambodian League for the Promotion of Defense and Human Rights says 17 NGO’s surveyed 84,000 people before it was shut down by the government, and could not find anyone in favor of a Cambodian run process.
KEK GALABRU: So we ask the question, “Do you want a national court, a national tribunal or international tribunal?” And all the response was international tribunal. So it showed you that Cambodian people didn’t trust our national court.
DREW: The NGO’s are pushing for the UN to appoint a strong prosecutor to lead the process, as they fear the special court could be easily manipulated by senior government figures. The current Cambodian government contains several former Khmer soldiers. Prime Minister Hun Sen is a former Khmer commander who changed sides. NGO groups says it’s important to investigate Khmer leaders fully, no matter what status they’ve achieved today. Kek Galabru says Cambodia’s current weak system of policing and prosecution must come to an end, if the country is to deal with the other weighty issues it faces.
KEK GALABRU: Because of our judiciary system, we cannot fight against impunity, we cannot fix against tracking, we cannot fight against, corruption, we cannot fight against the land grabbing. And then the investor, foreign investor, will not come to Cambodia.
DREW: Ms. Galabru says she’s also unhappy that only a few Khmer Rouge leaders will be investigated, when the crimes were carried out by thousands of members. However other civic groups agree that only the leaders should face trials, as a long and protracted process would not be helpful to a country slowly trying to rebuild after three decades of violent conflict. On a practical note, many of the leaders are elderly, and could die without ever facing trial if the tribunal does not begin soon. While the NGO’s may have reservations about the tribunal, the US supports the hybrid court, and has pledged both practical assistance and funds. David Scheffer who now teaches at Washington’s Georgetown Law Center, was the Ambassador at Large for War Crimes in the Clinton Administration. While he sympathizes with the concerns of the Cambodian NGO groups, he says none of the tribunals set up in the past for crimes committed in Rwanda, Sierra Leone, the former Yugoslavia, and East Timor, were perfect. Ambassador Scheffer says political compromises had to be made to get each and every one of these courts established. However, he says, the US and the international community must press for the tribunal to begin its work and continue to support it as it moves forward.
PROFESSOR SCHEFFER: As the court begins to operate, even with its initial staffing in Phnom Penh, it’s extremely important for there to be a monitoring process in the international community, including NGO’s, journalists, and others, who are constantly keeping their eye on the ball of what is progressing. Because that kind of scrutiny and monitoring will have its own momentum to move the process forward.
DREW: Ambassador Scheffer notes that while the NGO’s may be unhappy with the Cambodian run tribunal system, it is important that the legal process move forward for the sake of the country’s future.
PROFESSOR SCHEFFER: Future generations of Cambodians must look back at this era as one that faced down impunity. Otherwise the school textbooks will have one simple sentence that will mold the thinking of millions of Cambodian students: “No leader of the Pol Pot regime was ever brought to justice for his atrocities.”
DREW: That is a sentiment that finds much sympathy within NGO groups. Sok Sam Oeun is from the Cambodia’s Defenders Project
SOK SAM OEUN: I won’t get benefit from this, to put those old men in jail, it is not important for me. But I want for the future of Cambodia.
DREW: The Cambodian government says it hopes the tribunal, will be up and running by the end of this year. However there are still a few obstacles to overcome before the Extraordinary Chambers can begin it’s work, 24 years after the genocide ended. Cambodia’s National Assembly must ratify the country’s agreement with the UN. And money remains a problem. The special court for three years is $19 million. Impoverished Cambodia is appealing to the international community for donations. For Common Ground, I’m Catherine Drew.
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MCHUGH: Cambodia is still struggling to cope with the fallout from three decades of civil war. Determining how to punish those responsible for these crimes is an important key to the country’s recovery. Keith and I visited Cambodia earlier this year and found one organization posed to play a vital role if and when war crimes trials get underway.
[The sounds from a busy Phnom Penh street]
PORTER: Just off a busy street in downtown Phnom Penh is the Documentation Center of Cambodia. The center was created by the United States Cambodian Genocide Justice Act of 1994 and much of their small budget still comes from the US Agency for International Development. The center meticulously gathers and archives any information related to the extraordinary killings which left over 20 percent of the population dead. I sat down with the director, Youk Chang.
YOUK CHANG: The Center have two main objective—to preserve memories and to seek justice for the survivor of the Khmer Rouge regime—by collecting information from the Khmer Rouge period, including documents, photograph, identifying mass grave, prison, memoir from the survivors, tape video cassettes—anything. Catalogue it, put it on the Internet so that other can learn from the Khmer Rouge period.
PORTER: Why is it important that this material be collected and preserved?
YOUK CHANG: It is very important because the younger generation will have to learn from this history. It is because that it is, it happened. It’s part of us. Genocide is about crime against humanity and one way to combat genocide is to know, to learn what happened. Knowing what happened is the best weapon of all, is a peaceful way to prevent genocide from happening.
PORTER: We’re sitting here in the middle of your office. Tell me what, what’s going on around us here and what these people are all doing at all these various computer terminals. There are a lot of ’em here.
YOUK CHANG: Well, actually 24 staff are now in the provinces. Those staff are locating from the Khmer Rouge, collecting the story from the perpetrators, using the documents from the Khmer Rouge period. And every three weeks of the month they come back to the office and we transcribe the interviews and we input in a database called “Promoting Accountability.” And also, we have team upstairs; it’s training Cambodian, local Cambodian, to writer their own history. As you have a sense of only foreigner write about Cambodian history. So upstairs we train younger generation. Day by day that you can see that, the younger generation is taking over the history. They are becoming the guardian of the history.
PORTER: Part of the reason, I think, that you have so much documentation is because the Khmer Rouge was so meticulous about keeping records, about taking photographs. Why do you think that was? Why were they so intent on recording and documenting everything?
YOUK CHANG: I think in the eye it was glory, it was a victory. That they felt that they able to destroy enemies piece by piece and every day. But to us it’s horror. It’s a crime against humanity. So a different eye see different thing from the same document. My job is cataloging Khmer Rouge material. Reorganizing, so that people can find it much more easier. For example, the Khmer Rouge documents contain such as telegram, report, minutes of the standing committees, confessions, personal letters, torture manual, daily activities—different kind. So we basically bring the whole thing and catalog and categorize each of the material and that so you can go directly to which one you like.
PORTER: There is a debate in the international community and in Cambodia about a war crimes tribunal for Cambodia, like the one for Yugoslavia and Rwanda; like the tribunals that followed World War II. If there were such a tribunal I would imagine that the material you have collected would be the centerpiece of the evidence.
YOUK CHANG: We, we will provide the information to both the defense and the prosecutors. Because we catalog only raw data. And, however, I must say this—that we are not the only one who hold everything. But we hold most of the things. So altogether I hope that when the tribunal, if ever established, I can assure you that there’s sufficient information, that the court will not start with a single page. The court would not start with a single witness; they would start with thousands and thousands of witness, and hundred thousand documents, and thousands of photographs, and couple of thousand mass graves. So it would be overwhelming information to support the process. And I think that both should access to the same material.
PORTER: You mentioned that you collect data on the perpetrators, trying to find the perpetrators of these crimes. Isn’t that dangerous work?
YOUK CHANG: It’s not difficult. Each of the Khmer Rouge cadres, officials, they have their own résumé. And they were required to, to write, to update their résumé every six month. And we have like, about 30,000 Khmer Rouge résumé. And each of the résumé containing home address, family, cousin, grandparents, nephew—25 page. The same address they put down 25 years ago, they’re still live in the same place. They not going anywhere. They are there. You go in there with all this background, with a proper training staff, understanding how to proceed. And all the staff are Cambodian-born person so they understand the culture. They can detect the local situation. And with the proper questionnaire and with all other, we have known to the villager that we do this for history. So they all know—so we have a best access to all of them. It’s not difficult. We talk to them all the time. Every day in fact. And every day the staff report back to the office and we collect, we store data.
PORTER: So you have new data every day?
YOUK CHANG: Every day. Every single day.
PORTER: Youk Chang is director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia.
MCHUGH: An update on the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, next on Common Ground.
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MCHUGH: There’s good news in the global fight against landmines. The use of anti-personnel mines are down, and funding for mine clearance and assistance to survivors of mine blasts is up. That’s according to the latest report by the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. Judith Smelser reports.
[The sound of an land mine explosion]
SMELSER: Each year, anywhere between 15,000 and 26,000 people fall victim to anti-personnel landmines, like this one set off at a demonstration at a US Army base. A global campaign is now underway to stop the production and deployment of these weapons and to clear minefields all over the world. For the past five years, a core group of organizations involved in the fight have put out a report on the status of their efforts. This year, the news was encouraging.
MARY WAREHAM: We recorded a decrease in use by governments and non-state actors over the past year. This was really good news.
SMELSER: Mary Wareham is a senior advocate in the arms division of Human Rights Watch. She was the global coordinator for the report.
WAREHAM: At the moment we believe there’s only two governments using anti-personnel mines—that is Russia and Myanmar/Burma.
SMELSER: In addition to those two countries that are believed to be actively planting landmines, Wareham says just four other governments used mines in the past year. The total of six governments using anti-personnel mines is down from nine listed in the 2002 report and 13 the year before. In addition, four million landmines have been removed from national stockpiles and destroyed in the past year, and funding for mine clearance efforts has increased. Mary Wareham says the US is doing its part.
WAREHAM: In terms of mine clearance, the United States is leading the world. It’s still giving the most money to humanitarian mine action around the world. In 2002 it provided approximately $77 million for mine clearance in 37 countries around the world, and that’s more than any of the other donors managed to give. But it still represents a slight decrease on previous years’ funding.
SMELSER: The anti-mine movement is also frustrated by Washington’s continued refusal to sign onto the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, despite the fact that the US is in compliance with most of its provisions. Dr. James Carafano of the conservative Heritage Foundation says that should be enough.
DR. JAMES CARAFANO: We need to focus on the practical effects we’re trying to achieve, which is, get a lot of this stuff off the street, minimize the danger to civilians, aggressively de-mine where we can, you know, keep people out of the mine business when we can. I mean, so we need to focus on the real measures of effectiveness. Whether somebody signs that piece of paper or not, in the long term of history it’s really not going to be the value of our success or not.
SMELSER: But Mary Wareham says the US should sign that piece of paper as a means of pressuring other countries to do the same.
WAREHAM: Some of these governments do not listen to civil society, they do not listen to the small and medium sized governments that have already joined the treaty. They only listen to the United States. And these governments are countries like India and Pakistan, China and Russia. Unfortunately, it’s some of the big guys, the big players, the big producers, stockpilers, users of the weapon.
SMELSER: Washington’s reluctance appears to be due mainly to the fact that the Pentagon considers landmines to be a key method of defense along the border between North and South Korea. Again, James Carafano.
DR. CARAFANO: The size of the North Korean army, which, the really constricted terrain, those kinds of things really lend themselves to the use of mines. And the fact that there’s no civilians there. I mean, the odds of somebody, you know, straying over there and getting hurt in these mines is, is really not very good. And so basically what it does is that it allows you to compensate for the numerical advantages on the other side.
SMELSER: Dr. Carafano served in Korea during part of his 25 years in the US Army. But he believes ultimately the eradication of landmines around the world will be in the United States’ interest, since so many actors use the weapons irresponsibly. He also says that because of America’s overwhelming military power, the US will not put itself at a disadvantage by giving up what is essentially a defensive weapon. The Pentagon initiated a review of US landmine policy in 2001. That review is still underway. Mary Wareham with Human Rights Watch hopes the delay means serious debate is going on about how to proceed and about the possible negative consequences of disregarding the Mine Ban Treaty. Meanwhile, she and her fellow campaigners are happy with the encouraging trends uncovered in the latest report. But she notes that landmine casualties continue to rise, even in places most people don’t realize are affected by the weapon.
WAREHAM: Everybody’s heard about the problem in Cambodia and Afghanistan and Angola, traditionally the big countries affected by mines. They do not know, however, as much about the impact that this weapon is causing on civilian populations in Chechnya, in Colombia, in Burma.
SMELSER: Wareham says her group will continue its efforts to highlight places where the battle against landmines has yet to be won and will urge continued action, to ensure that today’s positive trends continue into the future. For Common Ground, I’m Judith Smelser in Washington.
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PORTER: Despite recent contact between the Dalai Lama’s envoys and Chinese government officials, prospects for Tibetan culture and religion do not look good, according to a report by a US congressional body monitoring human rights and the development of the rule of law in China. The Bush administration has its hopes pinned on the new Chinese leadership, but as Malcolm Brown reports, the Chinese position on Tibet so far appears to be hardening.
[The sound of the Dalai Lama leading Buddhist prayers]
MALCOLM BROWN: Tibet’s spiritual leader: the Dalai Lama, leading a packed congregation in prayer at Washington’s National Cathedral. The Chinese government considers him to be a dangerous political activist and a threat to Chinese authority in Tibet. It’s been 14 years since the Dalai Lama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and 42 years since the Chinese invasion of Tibet. From his position in exile, the Dalai Lama continues to lobby hard for Tibetan self-rule. He acknowledges Tibetan independence is no longer a practical political possibility. Instead he devotes his energies to the current state of Tibetan religion and culture, which he says are gradually being eroded by Chinese government policies past and present. Meanwhile, the Bush administration seems to be taking the Tibetan issue seriously. A meeting this fall between the Dalai Lama and US President George Bush at the White House, was billed as a chance to review recent developments. The Dalai Lama’s envoys met earlier this year with Chinese government leaders after a decade of no direct contact. In Washington, President Bush expressed strong support for the Dalai Lama’s efforts to reach a negotiated settlement on Tibet with the Chinese government, and renewed his personal commitment to a solution based on Tibetan autonomy. John Tkacik is Research Fellow in China Policy at the Heritage Foundation. He says the US government’s commitment to Tibet may in part be due to President Bush’s deep religious convictions. But he also says there is a real difference in this administration’s handling of the Tibetan issue.
JOHN J. TKACIK: This is the first administration to actually have a special envoy to Tibet, or at least a high-ranking special envoy. And she’s been given special responsibilities for overseeing Tibet policy, and especially monitoring human rights abuses. And I think one of the big things that the administration is concerned about, is the concerted policy of the Chinese government to supplant Tibetan culture in Tibet with a Sinidic culture, or a Han culture, which is the majority Chinese.
BROWN: Tibetans in exile and the international community were hopeful that China’s new leader, Hu Jing Tao, a former Party Chief of Tibet, was sensitive to and understanding of the Tibetan issue, even though his record during his time in Lhasa is mixed. But despite hopes for a new period of reform, the Chinese government has so far delivered very little. Again John Tkacik.
TKACIK: Unfortunately, I think that what we’ve actually seen take place in Tibet this year, even since Hu Jing Tao has taken, taken charge, is a series of things that don’t indicate to me that the Chinese are interested in compromise or cooperation.
BROWN: John Tkacik cites several examples of Chinese efforts to crush indigenous Tibetan culture, like the building of a $315 million dam on one of Tibet’s holy lakes and last remaining wildernesses. The dam is being built by the son of China’s former Prime Minister, Li Peng, and is strongly opposed by environmentalists and Tibetans. Secondly, the construction of a costly Chinese railroad. Tkacik says the project brings few advantages to Tibetans, and he suspects China actually plans to use it to bring more troops into Tibet. Despite the Bush administration’s concerns over Tibet, many China watchers wonder just how far Washington is really prepared to push Beijing over issues of human rights and religious freedom. In the cold, hard world of strategic policies, China is currently playing a hugely important role between the US and North Korea in discussions over Pyongyang’s nuclear threat. Again John Tkacik.
TKACIK: Right now, the Chinese are playing very hardball with the Tibetans. Do a little mental exercise here. Imagine if the United States told China, “Okay that’s it, we don’t care about North Korea’s nuclear weapons any more. We’re going to go off and figure out what to do with it by ourselves.” The Chinese would be perfectly happy. They’d say, “Hmm, okay that’s over.” There is no urgency in Beijing to get North Korea to denuclearize.
BROWN: But Bhuchung Tsering, the Tibetan director of the International Campaign for Tibet, does not believe that North Korea is China’s prize bargaining chip.
BHUCHUNG TSERING: There are other issues, the Middle East, or the situation in Iraq, which are of interest to the United States in terms of what the Chinese position would be. But I think overall that what we have seen from the administration is that they try to differentiate the different issues and they don’t want to relegate one issue to the background in leave of another issue. So therefore we do not see any reason why the US administration should, for example, soften its approach on Tibet because it needs China’s assistance on North Korea.
BROWN: Bhuchung Tsering also says it’s too early to know what Chinese leader Hu Jing Tao will mean for the Tibetan issue. Although Hu was Party Chief of Tibet during the 1989 crackdown and was responsible for imposing martial law, Tsering says at least Hu Jing Tao knows Tibet.
BHUCHUNG TSERING: Because President Hu Jing Tao is the first Chinese president and party head who has had some direct experience of the issue, situation in Tibet, he is in a position, if he wants to, to resolve the issue of Tibet, because he doesn’t have to depend on reports submitted by local officials, which we think in the past were responsible for giving, for misrepresenting the Tibetan issue.
BROWN: Bhuchung Tsering, in exile in the United States for the last eight years. He remains hopeful that China’s opening up is good news for Tibet, but he says there’s is still a long road ahead.
BHUCHUNG TSERING: We Tibetans have been taught to live with hope and optimism given the international political situation. Even as we speak China’s changing. I’ve been to China twice now, first time since last year. And I’ve seen how changed situation in China is in terms of people’s—I’m talking about China proper—ability to sort of criticize the Chinese leadership’s policies. We wouldn’t have imagined such a thing happening in China 10, 15 years back. But the sad truth is that the such a freedom that’s existing in China proper is not available to the Tibetan people in Tibetan areas, where they still feel coming out with their views, even on non-political issues. So as long as the Tibetan people remain discriminated, even within the Chinese framework, we need to live on with our optimism. Because if we lose hope outside, then the Tibetan people inside Tibet, given their situation, they may feel that now the issue of Tibet is something just with the Chinese authorities can decide, without the international community’s support.
BROWN: For Common Ground, I’m Malcolm Brown.
MCHUGH: This is Common Ground, radio’s weekly program on world affairs.
KRISTIN MCHUGH: I’m Kristin McHugh.
KEITH PORTER: And I’m Keith Porter. Coming up this half hour on Common Ground, Iranian carpet weavers struggle to make ends meet.
DR. MEHDI TAGH?VI: Now we lost our market to Chinese, to Turks, to Pakistanis, and to Afghanistan. Now they are producing more cheaper, better quality.
PORTER: Plus, Spain’s flamenco fusion. And, marking the anniversary of the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia.
PAUL SVAB: After about five minutes we were told by the superiors to shut down and that the Russians are taking over. And we were like “Who? The Russians? Why are they coming?” Because we were always used to watch the Americans and the enemies were supposed to come from the, from the West. And suddenly we had this enemy coming from the East, so it was a total shock.
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MCHUGH: Handmade Persian carpets have been known throughout the world for their designs, rich colors, and high quality. Carpet-making likely began around 2,500 years ago in Persia and has been a way of life for many Iranian families who have passed the tradition down from one generation to the next. But these carpets are now facing growing problems. In recent years, Iran’s share of the world’s carpet exports has dropped from 50 percent to around 30 percent. As Roxana Saberi reports from Tehran, this competition is coming from home and abroad.
ROXANA SABERI: Many Iranians would tell you a home is soulless without a Persian carpet.
[Sounds from a busy Persian carpet fair]
SABERI: At Iran’s 12th Annual Carpet Fair in Tehran, a little soul is what these vendors are trying to sell.
DARIUS: [via a translator] We have both old and new carpets and we produce carpets in Tabriz. We renovate and repair old carpets and produce new ones based on traditional designs.
SABERI: Darius has been selling handmade Persian carpets for 13 years—mostly to the US and Europe. He admits his carpets are expensive, often going for many thousands of dollars. But he says anyone who buys one will not be sorry.
DARIUS: [via a translator] Of course hand made carpets are more expensive than machine-made ones, because they require a lot of time and expense, while the others are mass produced in large factories. In my opinion, handmade carpets are like an artistic painting because they are created by man and are based on an idea or story.
SABERI: Persian carpets are a major export for Iran. They make up around 12 percent of the country’s non-oil exports. But now the Persian carpet industry is facing problems—growing competition at home and abroad. Within the country, modern factories are displacing expensive hand-woven rugs with low cost machine-made carpets. And outside Iran, foreigners are buying more and more hand-made carpets from other countries. Dr. Mehdi Taghavi, an economics professor at Allame Tabatabaie University in Tehran, says one reason Iran is facing foreign competition is that Persian handmade carpets are losing their quality.
DR. MEHDI TAGHAVI: We exported carpets, too much carpet, cheaply, with low prices. You see when these producers found out that they buy the carpet like everything else, instead of using the natural material, they use the synthetic material, so the quality went down. Now we lost our market to Chinese, to Turks, to Pakistanis, and to Afghanistan. Now they are producing more cheaper, better quality, so they have lost our market abroad to other countries.
SABERI: The effects of this competition are being felt by the makers of handmade carpets across Iran—especially by families whose livelihood depends on the carpet business.
[The sound of weavers making carpet by hand]
SABERI: Here in Esfenjan village in northwestern Iran, handmade-carpet making is a main industry. Mohammad Bairamzadeh sits diligently at his loom, propped up in his small, bare home. Helping him weave are his wife and his 13-year-old son—one of five he has taught to make carpets.
MOHAMMAD BAIRAMZADEH: [via a translator] I am 45 years old. I’ve been doing this work for about 35 years, since I was 10. In our village, we make many large carpets. All of them are handmade, no machine-mades at all.
SABERI: Eight hours a day for the past four months, Mohammad has been working on his current project. He skillfully ties knots of colorful thread into the columns of his loom, occasionally looking up at a template to make sure the emerging pattern is correct. When he and his family are finished with this six and a half by ten foot carpet, a scene of hunters and animals will appear. This could take another five months of hard work and concentration. Mohammad says the carpet will then likely sell for up to 3 million tomans, or about $3,600. But his wife Afruze, says this price will be well below what she thinks it’s worth.
AFRUZE: [via a translator] In the old days, we used to export our carpets and foreigners used to come here to buy them, but it’s no longer like that. The bazaar grew weak. Our work has hit a dead-end.
SABERI: Mohammad says another factor is the growing competition from the machine-mades in the domestic market. But he stresses that hand-made carpets are well worth the cost.
MOHAMMAD BAIRAMZADEH: [via a translator] We have confidence in our carpets because we made them ourselves. The life and durability of handmade carpets is longer. Machine-made carpets wear out sooner. If this one has a life of 20 years, that one has a life of 5 years. So our carpets are better. Our industry is this; machine-made carpets are hurting us.
SABERI: It’s not hard to see the effects of this growing competition. Many young Iranians are not interested in continuing their family tradition. Instead, they leave to find work in larger cities. This, economists say, is hurting some smaller towns and villages. Optimists hope the situation will improve. They believe the export of Persian carpets will exceed $17 billion a year by 2020. But other authorities disagree. They say the market for these carpets won’t improve as long as consumers are happier admiring them in museums instead of spending money for a little hand-made Persian spirit at home. For Common Ground, I’m Roxana Saberi, in Tehran.
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PORTER: Barcelona has long inspired musical innovation. Some 40 years ago, musicians there developed rumba Catalana, a style of flamenco popularized by the Gypsy Kings. Today Barcelona is home to numerous flamenco fusion bands. Common Ground‘s Reese Erlich reports from that city in northeastern Spain.
[The sound of flamenco fusion]
REESE ERLICH: In the late 1980s Spanish youth tired of the traditional singing and dancing of flamenco. Innovative musicians such as Chano Dominguez experimented by combining flamenco with elements of jazz.
[The sound of flamenco-like clapping, followed by a jazzy sound]
ERLICH: Other groups added elements of rock and blues. By the ’90s, flamenco fusion took off. Soon it attracted bigger audiences than the old style, says Xavi Turull, percussionist with the flamenco fusion group Eyes of the Wizard.
XAVI TURULL: Flamenco fusion is more popular than traditional. There’s more people listening to it, you know, because it’s more easy to understand. Well, the real traditional, it’s more old people, you know. All the young people they’re looking for all these bands, you know, like us.
[The sound of flamenco fusion]
ERLICH: Turull says Eyes of the Wizard often improvises songs during impromptu jam sessions. As in this song, Tahita, they start with the basic flamenco rhythms.
[The sound of flamenco fusion]
TURULL: The first part is one, two, three, one two three. And the second part is one two, one two, one two. You know, so then you go one two three, one two three, one two, one two, one two, one two three, one two three, one two, one two, one two. And that keeps the main beat all the time. And we start improvising, but then we find the, the structure.
[The sound of flamenco fusion, but this time with a hip hop sound]
ERLICH: Turull says fusion bands have also incorporated hip hop into their music.
TURULL: We’ve like kind of mixed even more elements into it, you know. And it’s something more sophisticated. That’s what they say. Also we’re surprised that there’s a lot of people that can understand this, you know, that they really, they are liking it.
[The sound of flamenco fusion, this time combined with a hip hop sound]
ERLICH: Hugo, who only uses his first name, is a singer with the flamenco fusion band Elefantes. He says the city of Barcelona has a long history of traditional flamenco, and these days it also provides inspiration for the younger, fusion bands.
[The sound of Hugo speaking in Spanish]
ERLICH: Hugo says above all else this movement has attitude, a lifestyle that’s seen specifically in the city of Barcelona. It’s wonderful that there are lots of young people like ourselves and bands like Eyes of the Wizard and Monkey. We all are getting close to the roots of flamenco in a very spontaneous way.
[The sound of a flamenco ballad, accompanied by a solo guitar]
ERLICH: Hugo’s group, Elefantes, has written upbeat fusion numbers as well as quiet love songs that subtly incorporate flamenco rhythms, like this one called The Brunette.
[The sound of a flamenco ballad, accompanied by a solo guitar]
ERLICH: Other flamenco fusion bands write songs that expose society’s injustices. In its very popular song, Nothing in the Fridge, Eyes of the Wizard raps about the poverty facing Spanish workers.
[The sound of flamenco fusion with a hip hop sound]
TURULL: It talks about when you don’t have anything in the fridge to eat, you know. But it doesn’t matter. You just have to keep going and feel happy. And it’s all this rap in the first part and then on the second part it goes with this more four-beat rumba style that keeps going faster and faster. And it’s our big hit to finish the live concerts.
[The sound of flamenco fusion with the four-beat rumba sound]
ERLICH: Like jazz and blues, flamenco continues to evolve in ever new directions. It keeps the music alive—and popular. For Common Ground, I’m Reese Erlich, Barcelona.
[The sound of flamenco fusion]
PORTER: Coming up next, remembering the Soviet invasion of the former Czechoslovakia. You’re listening to Common Ground, radio’s weekly program on world affairs.
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MCHUGH: This year marks the 35th anniversary of the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia, one of the darkest days in that country’s history. The invasion brought a bitter end to socialism with a human face, the Czechoslovak experiment in liberal communism. A period of so-called “normalization” followed under the Soviets. Nina-Maria Potts spoke with two Czechs living in Washington, DC about their memories of the brutal 1968 crushing of the Prague Spring.
[The sound of gunfire]
NINA-MARIA POTTS: The sound of gun shots as Soviet soldiers stormed the Czech Radio building in Prague, the last outlet to broadcast uncensored news of the Soviet invasion of August 20th and 21st in 1968. Paul Svab, a Czech-American businessman who escaped in 1981, was serving in the Czech military at the time, near the West Bohemian town of Pilsen. His usual job was to monitor American fighter jets cutting in along the Czech border with Germany. He was on duty on the night of August 20th.
PAUL SVAB: Suddenly the radar screens became all green, meaning there were a lot of targets, and points on the radar screen, but the funny part was that it appeared on the eastern border of Czechoslovakia. And everyone was looking at that, and nobody really understood what is happening. “What is that, who is coming?” And then finally we realized that there is a huge contingent of planes coming from the east. And we were monitoring all that and there was a certain degree of panic. And after about five minutes we were told by the superiors to shut down and that the Russians are taking over. And we were like “Who? The Russians? Why are they coming?” Because we were always used to watch the enemies, sort of, the Americans, and the enemies were supposed to come from the, from the West. And suddenly we had this enemy coming from the East, so it was a total shock.
POTTS: Martin Herman, an economist who escaped Czechoslovakia in 1976, says that sense of shock was similar to the September 11th terrorist attacks on the United States.
MARTIN HERMAN: The nation was in shock, nobody believed that, you know, that this could happen. And people were very opposed and believed that, well, non-violence. I mean, “Let the tank park here, let the Russian tanks park here, but we will just go about our business and nothing would happen. They can’t get at us.” And in fact, the Russians, the occupiers, and the Czech, the hard-core communists, you know, they were very smart in figuring a way of sort of shifting gradually. You know, they didn’t clamp down on, after, after August 21. They, they took their time.
POTTS: Martin Herman says the Czech people believed the Soviets would soon realize the terrible mistake they had made and go home. Instead, they began to purge the Communist Party of reformists and exert intense psychological pressure over the lives of ordinary Czechs.
HERMAN: The main reason why I left Czechoslovakia was because I realized that with the Russians there, there is no hope, you know. And I may live, you know, even if I live a hundred years things, you know, things wouldn’t change. So I thought rather than to live a life that, you know, I would hate, so I decided to leave. And I never imagined that I would be able to come back and see, you know, Czechoslovakia, now the Czech Republic, as a normal country again.
POTTS: Describing life under the Soviets, Martin Herman says it was the darkest time of his life and for his country.
HERMAN: It was called the period of “normalization.” [laughs] The word itself, I mean it’s so, it’s so disgusting. It’s like, you know, a clip from Orwell’s 1984. “Normalization.” We were, we were hoping to gain more freedom and instead we were “normalized” to become sort of oppressed slaves of the communist regime. And, you know, the oppression was sort of very subtle, you know. It was more sort of psychological pressure. If you don’t shape up, and you know, follow the line, then your kids won’t go to school, they won’t be able to go to university, you won’t get a good job, you know, you certainly won’t be able to travel, you will have all kinds of problems. And if you, and that also happened that if you start, you know, being sort of outspoken about what you don’t like, then we may not even arrest you, but we will find out about you, and we’ll beat you up on the street, you know, so that nobody would be able to tell. These things used to happen.
POTTS: He says that by contrast, the Czech people were non-violent, and there were a number of ways in which they dealt with the invasion with humor.
HERMAN: One classic that the Czechs did to confuse the Russian army, was to switch all the street signs and road signs and switch them in the opposite directions so that when the Russian commanders were trying to coordinate their maps, you know, there was no GPS then, so they got completely confused and many of the tank columns went just in opposite directions. And it caused a lot of problems to them.
POTTS: Yet some went to extraordinary measures to protest the Soviet invasion. At the beginning of 1969, Jan Palak, a student from Prague’s Charles University, committed suicide by burning himself alive in Wenceslaus Square. Again Martin Herman.
HERMAN: This was a shock to the nation. The press tried to somehow suppress that, but it was just too powerful to do it. So it, it became widely known. There was a huge demonstration and his funeral became a major protest event. After he burned himself, two other people did the same thing, and also died. Of course later the Communist government later wanted to suppress all information about this, denied it ever happened.
POTTS: Martin Herman says young Czechs today don’t appear interested in what happened in 1968, a fact that deeply saddens him. He blames the history books, but also political ideology.
HERMAN: In the history books, you know, the text books, there is only like one or two paragraphs that devoted to August 21. There is certainly much more time devoted to World War II and the German invasion of Czechoslovakia, much more, than to Russia and what happened after that. I think there is sort of this leftist tendency, sort of trying to excuse, you know, what happened.
POTTS: Paul Svab says although it will take a few generations to get over the psychological impact of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, young people must get on with their own lives.
SVAB: I think people who want to know, they know. But I guess young people today have their own challenges, their own problems, and their own worries, that for some people it could be just a historical event. And that’s good that they don’t have to go through that.
POTTS: For Common Ground, I’m Nina-Maria Potts in Washington, DC
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