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Lal Krishnan Advani: We have succeeded in building up India as a single-nation state—viable, multilingual, multireligious, multiethnic—and still a democracy.
KRISTIN MCHUGH: This week on Common Ground, the man to watch in the world’s largest democracy.
KEITH PORTER: And celebrating the centennial of a little known health organization.
DR. DAVID BRANDLING BENNET: The highlights would be the eradication of smallpox from this region; the last case in 1971. We were the first region to eradicate smallpox.
PORTER: Sample Russia’s favorite new beverage—beer.
ANYA ARDAYEVA: The Russian beer market has doubled in the past four years and is now the fifth largest in the world.
MCHUGH: 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. It is the world’s largest democracy, and with a billion people India is rapidly emerging as one of the world’s economic powerhouses. It’s only been 55 years since the British pulled out of India, but in that time the country has undergone a transformation, ending its Cold War friendship with the Soviet Union and attracting $12 billion in US investment in the last decade alone.
MCHUGH: Indian politicians aren’t especially well known in the United States, but as Common Ground‘s Simon Marks reports from Delhi, there is at least one name that you’re likely to hear a great deal more of in the future.
[The sound of Indian music.]
SIMON MARKS: This is India today and you cannot help notice the astounding contrasts that dominate the capital, Delhi. Just beneath India Gate, a towering colonial arch constructed by the British to mark another outpost of their empire, a young boy charms a snake in a bid to secure fistfuls of change from passing tourists.
[The sound of Indian music.]
MARKS: He can’t be more than 10 years old, yet he seems to control every move made by the python in his basket with a practiced skill and ease. It’s a scene starkly at odds with the modern India that is growing up all around him—an India dominated by high tech industries and the quest to become a regional power broker in Asia. Indians are proud of the achievements they have made but cognizant of the distance they still have to travel. In a country where the average annual income is still less than $500 US, there’s a long way to go. And Lal Krishnan Advani knows it.
Lal Krishnan Advani: For us, it is important that India is a democracy. It should function as a democracy and therefore what is needed here in India is not merely the satisfaction of those who are in office, but even the satisfaction of the people.
MARKS: L.K. Advani is India’s Deputy Prime Minister—but don’t let the word “Deputy” fool you. The country’s Prime Minster, Atal Behari Vajpayee, at 77 years old is said by many analysts to be less influential in government than his number two. And while Mr. Advani publicly denies that he occupies the driver’s seat in India’s Hindu nationalist government, the vast majority of political observers in Delhi believe he’s the man to watch as a political transition here approaches.
[The sound of Mr. Advani showing Mr. Marks his office.]
ADVANI: This office used to be the office of the Lord Member in the Viceroy’s Executive Council. The British….
MARKS: The Deputy Prime Minister invited me to his office in India’s Home Affairs Ministry—a ministry he also heads, giving him sweeping powers over the country’s domestic policies. And he began a wide-ranging interview by being surprisingly outspoken about the state of India’s current relationship with the USA.
ADVANI: I would like to tell you, Simon, that after all these months there is intense skepticism in India as to whether this global coalition against terrorism, in which we have acted promptly, in so far, as September 11th incidents are concerned, against Taliban. Is it really intended to function against terrorism elsewhere also in the world? Stamp out terrorism from all parts of the globe? Or what was it essentially a natural reaction of the country which is angry with the kind of massacre they had to undergo on the 11th of September.
MARKS: What irks the Deputy Prime Minister is America’s new-found relationship with India’s neighbor, and nemesis, Pakistan. The US has found Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf a pivotal ally in its war on terror. But in India, it’s President Musharraf who is accused of sponsoring terrorism in the disputed territory of Kashmir. The Indian government maintains that Pakistan is responsible for a string of attacks by Islamic extremists on civilians in Indian-occupied Kashmir, and the Deputy Prime Minister says he doesn’t understand why the USA has cozied up to a Pakistani military leader who overthrew an elected government in a bloodless coup.
ADVANI: Today, I feel surprised sometimes that a country like America, it doesn’t lay stress on the need to make Pakistan a democratic country. In fact, on the very day my Prime Minister Vajpayee took oath here, on about the same day, the elected Prime Minister of Pakistan was shunted out, dislodged, and a coup took place there. And the present military ruler took over. And yet all these things seem to be brushed aside.
MARKS: The US insists it’s brushed nothing aside, and is encouraging General Musharraf to restore democracy in Pakistan. But if L.K. Advani is angry about America’s relationship with Islamabad, it is perhaps understandable.
[The sound of gunfire as terrorists attack the Indian Parliament.]
MARKS: On December 13th last year, shots rang out just yards from his office as militants the Indians say were supported by Pakistan attacked the Parliament building in Delhi. Fourteen people were killed, including five suspected militants. And though the Indian army successfully maintained control of the building and repulsed the attack, it was a seminal event for many Indian politicians that only served to reinforce their hostility toward Pakistan.
ADVANI: We have succeeded in building up India as a single-nation state—viable, multilingual, multireligious, multiethnic—and still a democracy, a vibrant democracy. It’s not like Pakistan, where out of 55 years, more than half they have been under military rule. No democracy has survived there. It survives for a couple of years, and then there is a coup, and there is a military dictatorship back again. We don’t want anything of that kind to happen.
MARKS: The Deputy Prime Minister’s talk of his pride at India’s success building a multiethnic society is treated with suspicion by some of his critics. His political party, the BJP, is a Hindu nationalist party, and Mr. Advani has unimpeachable Hindu nationalist credentials. A decade ago he led a movement that demolished an ancient mosque at a disputed religious site in the city of Ayodhya. The Economist magazine has described his as India’s leading demagogue, and The Wall Street Journal recently accused him of supporting a Hindu cultural group which espouses an ideology the newspaper termed “fascist.” He’s accused of openly siding with his fellow Hindus wherever possible and making life difficult for the country’s Muslims and Buddhists. So, I asked him, are some of the dreadful things that are said about him true?
ADVANI: I wouldn’t be able to answer that, really. It’s an image some, some people, some of my adversaries and opponents have built upon me. I have lived with it. Those who know me know how wide the gulf is between the reality and the image. But it’s not for me to say.
[The sounds of chanting from a Hindu temple.]
MARKS: In a Hindu temple in Delhi the faithful gather on a daily basis in time-honored tradition. Earlier this year L.K. Advani threatened Muslim Pakistan with dismemberment for its role in the violence in Kashmir. But following his elevation to the post of Deputy Prime Minister, he’s more diplomatic.
ADVANI: Whatever the dispute between us, whether it’s about Jammu and Kashmir or about anything else, we will not—we will talk about them. We will talk and talk and talk. Peace shall not be held hostage to the resolution of those differences.
[Sounds from a busy Delhi street.]
MARKS: Just outside L.K. Advani’s office in Delhi, the city’s commuters were making their way home by the time we completed our interview, their cars snaking around British-designed government buildings that resemble those near the Houses of Parliament in London. Indian politics is notoriously unpredictable. Elections are often inconclusive here as the party currently ruling the country, the BJP, toughs it out against the opposition Congress Party, once led by the late and legendary Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi. But if the BJP can maintain its current electoral advantage, it is likely that L. K. Advani will officially become the country’s top politician. The destiny of one billion people and India’s place in the world would then lie in his hands. For Common Ground, I’m Simon Marks in Delhi.
PORTER: Eliminating disease in the Western Hemisphere, next on Common Ground.
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PORTER: In 1902, a yellow fever epidemic spread through Latin America and into the United States. Late that year, health officials from across the Western Hemisphere gathered in Washington, DC, to discuss ways to stop the disease. That meeting led to the creation of the Pan American Health Organization. The group, known informally as PAHO, is now the oldest international public health agency in the world. As their centennial celebration began, I spoke with Deputy Director Dr. David Brandling-Bennet about the role PAHO has played in building healthy lives.
DR. DAVID BRANDLING BENNET: PAHO is an intergovernmental organization that is the specialized health organization for the Inter-American system. We’re part of the Organization of American States. And we’re also the regional office for the World Health Organization. So we’re part of the United Nations system here in the Americas.
PORTER: All 35 countries in the Western Hemisphere are part of this?
BRANDLING BENNET: Right. Actually, we have a total of 39 member states. Thirty-five independent countries in the Americas are members. Puerto Rico is an associate member. And then we have three participating members that are actually European countries because they have territories or departments—that’s the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and France are those three participating members.
PORTER: The Pan American Health Organization was founded in 1902, so you’re celebrating your 100th year this year. Tell us some of the major accomplishments that you can point to over that 100 year history.
BRANDLING BENNET: Many of those, of course, have been the control of infectious diseases. I suppose the highlights would be the eradication of smallpox from this region; the last case in 1971. We were the first region to eradicate smallpox. This, I think people will know that was accomplished globally in 1977. But actually one of our directors, our fourth director, Fred Soper, in the 1950s, predicted or said that smallpox eradication should be targeted. So that was one of the first thoughts of eradicating diseases.
The next disease that we eradicated was polio. The last case of that in the Western Hemisphere, of wild polio virus, was in 1991. In 1994, as a result of our success with polio, our governments asked the Organization to help them eradicate measles from this region. And we’re very close to that as well. We only have had one focus of transmission and that’s been in Venezuela this year. And that is under control. So we’re very much looking forward in this centennial year of ours to having eradicated measles.
PORTER: In the Western Hemisphere this year there’s only been one case of measles?
BRANDLING BENNET: There—oh, no, no, no. I’m sorry. No. There have been plenty more than one case. One major epidemic.
PORTER: I see. In Venezuela.
BRANDLING BENNET: Right.
PORTER: All right.
BRANDLING BENNET: And that is under control. Actually, the lowest number of cases we had last year, with only 538. We’ve had close to 2,000 cases this year, unfortunately. But essentially all of those have been in Venezuela as a result, again, of the importation of a measles from Germany into Venezuela that occurred at the end of 2001.
PORTER: Despite this 100-year history I would say that the Organization has a relatively low profile inside the United States. Why do you think that is?
BRANDLING BENNET: I think for two reasons. One is that we don’t do a great deal of work within the United States because the US is a highly developed country healthwise. We do have some programs, especially along the US-Mexico border. I think the other thing is we, since we’re part of the World Health Organization people are much more aware of WHO than they are aware of PAHO. But it’s an interesting question because the United States was actually very strongly involved in establishing this organization as a regional organization 100 years ago. Our first three directors were surgeon generals of the United States and the fourth director was an American, Dr. Fred Soper. And the US actually contributes the largest proportion of our budget. So the US is a very strong backer and we have very strong support from the administration and from Congress for the work that we do. But unfortunately we are not that well known.
PORTER: You mentioned the US contribution. How is PAHO funded overall?
BRANDLING BENNET: We have actually three sources of funding. One is the contributions that all of our member states make directly to us. That’s assessed on a scale that’s established by the Organization of American States on a budget which is approved by all the member states every two years. In addition we receive a sum of money from the World Health Organization since we are also the regional office for WHO. And then finally about 40 percent of our total overall working funds is additional voluntary funding that comes from various sources, primarily from the, what we call bilateral development agencies such as the United States Agency for International Development, and similar agencies in Canada, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and other European countries.
PORTER: You mentioned earlier that you had some European governments who are participating members of the organization. What’s their role in this essentially American organization?
BRANDLING BENNET: In the case of the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, they are responsible for the foreign affairs of certain territories in this region—actually in the Caribbean. But they, those countries actually rely upon people from those countries—the various British dependent territories, or in the case of the Netherlands, Aruba and Curacao, the Netherlands Antilles—to actually participate and to speak of their own needs and how we will work jointly with those countries. Of course, in the case of France, Martinique, Guadeloupe, and French Guyana are actually departments—they are actually parts of France. But otherwise one really doesn’t see a difference. Those countries pay a quota and they have voting rights in our governing body meetings.
PORTER: As you look out over the next 100 years of the Pan American Health Organization, what are the major health challenges you see today in this hemisphere?
BRANDLING BENNET: Without a doubt the overall major challenge is one that we have become increasingly aware of during the last decade or more, and that is what we have identified as inequities, or disparities—gaps in health. That is true both between countries and within countries. The gaps between the haves and the have-nots has widened and quite frankly the challenge is to avoid having those gaps widen even further as newer technologies come on board, and actually, hopefully to reduce the gaps.
And as I indicated there are big differences between our countries. For example, a mother, who, a pregnant woman in Haiti is 150-fold higher risk of dying as a result of her pregnancy there in Haiti than a woman say here in the United States or a woman in Canada. The type of huge difference that, that is really unacceptable. And also then if one looks within countries, including here in the United States—in fact, I was just using an example of the differences in life expectancy here, where in the southeastern part of the United States one finds in many counties low levels of life expectancy on the order of 10 or even 20 years lower than in counties in the Northeast or Northern, Midwestern parts of the United States. So these types of differences are things we have to look to overcome.
PORTER: In addition to those sort of structural problems, are there major diseases that you are particularly concerned about?
BRANDLING BENNET: We continue to have the challenge of infectious diseases in spite of our optimism 20, 30 years ago that infectious diseases were on an inevitable decline and would, would essentially disappear. That has not happened, as I think everyone knows. Of course we have HIV-AIDS which is the big global threat now and we’re hearing a great deal about that as a result of the Barcelona conference. In addition to the infectious diseases, which our countries face, all our populations are aging so we’re seeing much more and will see more heart disease, stroke, and cancer as those populations age. We’ll see more mental illness as a result of that aging as well. As well as also a result of changes in social structures, organization, and the increasing stress that people are under—much more likely to see depression, schizophrenia. Suicide is a very serious problem in many countries. So those, those are our new challenges which we, which we must face and must address along with this issue of reducing the differences in health status between our populations.
PORTER: Is there any major difference between what your organization does or the health challenges in this hemisphere to those faced by other regional organizations? Say the African Health Organization?
BRANDLING BENNET: Well, certainly if one considers Africa, we are, I suppose, fortunate in various respects. One is very obviously that we don’t face at this time the enormous burden that HIV-AIDS is placing on Africa. The situation in Africa where there has been almost a halving of life expectancy, which is unprecedented really in certainly modern human history. I suppose only comparable to the Great Plagues that struck Europe in the Dark Ages. And perhaps even worse than that. We don’t have that situation, although we certainly need to be aware of that possibility years ahead if we don’t aggressively control HIV-AIDS. We have probably better levels of development and better levels of health development and economic development in this region than in others. And we benefit from that. But at the same time if you look at other regions, other parts of the world you see that they face challenges that are similar in terms of aging populations, improving health status, changes in health situation. So they also will be confronting these issues and also confront the challenge of these disparities in health status, which have—are becoming more pronounced.
PORTER: Dr. David Brandling Bennet is deputy director of the Pan American Health Organization. The group will mark its 100th anniversary this fall in Washington, DC.
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MCHUGH: Russians are widely known for their love for vodka, but this stereotype might soon become just a thing of the past. As Anya Ardayeva reports from Moscow, a much softer drink—beer—is winning them over in Russia.
[The sound of Russians singing a rock-style beer song.]
ANYA ARDAYEVA: This is a popular Russian song about beer—one of many in this country these days. But people haven’t always been singing praises for beer. In 1975, when the first song encouraging beer-drinking surfaced, many felt beer wasn’t Russian enough. Back then, consumption was limited mostly to men in their 50s and 60s who drank a bottle or two on hot summer evenings. And summers are very short in Russia.
[The sound of Russians singing a rock-style beer song.]
ARDAYEVA: But today, beer is slowly stealing the crown from the all-time Russian queen of drinks—vodka.
[The sounds from a large beer brewery.]
ARDAYEVA: The Russian beer market has doubled in the past four years and is now the fifth largest in the world and analysts say it shows no signs of slowing down. Sixty percent of the market is controlled by foreign brewers, such as Karlsberg, Sun Interbrew, South African Breweries, and Turkish Efes.
[The sound of a beer advertisement on Russian television.]
ARDAYEVA: The majority of beer drinkers in Russia are young, largely thanks to numerous beer commercials, which, unlike vodka ads, are allowed on TV and are mostly targeted at the younger generation. By law, beer is not considered as an alcoholic drink in Russia, so almost anyone can buy it. Repeated attempts by some Russian lawmakers to limit beer sales and advertising have been unsuccessful. And unlike his predecessor, Russian President Vladimir Putin also prefers beer over vodka. Teenagers, too, say that beer has already become an essential part of their lives.
Russian teenager Olga: [via a translator] It’s impossible to hang out with friends without beer. It’s just impossible.
Russian teenager Marina: [via a translator] Beer is not that bad. It’s better to drink beer than vodka. It’s better for you. Vodka relaxes you and you can’t do anything.
Russian teenager Tatyana: [via a translator] Vodka with friends means no fun. Beer is much better. Vodka is considered as a traditional Russian drink. Now beer will be considered as a traditional youth drink.
ARDAYEVA: Those attitudes are causing concern among Russian health officials, who are discovering, that say beer, may result in alcoholism, just like any other alcohol drink.
ALEXANDER NEMTSOV: [via a translator] Both mine and international experience says that beer alcoholism is not different from any other alcoholism. Either beer or vodka causes it. I’ve seen alcoholics who got addicted on champagne.
ARDAYEVA: Alexander Nemtsov at the Moscow Psychiatry Institute has been studying alcohol and its effects on people since 1985. He says youth drinking is at an all-time high.
Nemtsov: [via a translator] All this youth drinking started only three to four years ago and it’s difficult to predict what the results will be. What we know now is that young people drink more beer. It’s not only because more beer is produced, but also because strong alcohol is less affordable for them. Beer is easier to get, which is dangerous, because that means they will drink more of it.
ARDAYEVA: But beer producers argue it’s not the drink that is dangerous, it’s how you drink it.
VYACHESLAV MAMONTOV: [via a translator] We think that all these efforts to ban beer ads and speculation about whether it is an alcoholic drink or not come from those who produce vodka and other strong spirits. Beer is good for you. It’s a historic fact—in the Tsar’s army, doctors prescribed beer to soldiers who were recovering in hospital.
ARDAYEVA: Vyacheslav Mamontov is the Executive Secretary of the Russian Beer Brewers Union. He says that even if some regulations on beer sales are imposed in Russia, it’s unlikely anything is going to change.
MAMONTOV: [via a translator] The state can establish some sort of age limit on selling alcohol. But nobody would follow these limitations. You can make 10 laws, which prohibit the sales of alcohol, but there have to be mechanisms to fulfill those prohibitions. Until there is some sort of drinking culture developed in Russia, these violations will take place.
ARDAYEVA: However, some experts and doctors say that beer might actually serve as a savior for Russia, where 42,000 people each year die from home-brewed and bootleg vodka. But Vladimir Savov at the Brunnsiwick Warburg Investment and Banking Corporation says that at the moment, Russians are simply drinking more alcohol than they used to.
Vladimir Savov: I wish I could say that consumption of vodka fell, but it didn’t. It is more or less stable over the last couple of years. And on top of, on tope of the vodka and spirits, Russians drink more and more beer.
[The sound of Russians singing a rock-style beer song.]
ARDAYEVA: A Russian proverb says, “Beer is liquid bread.” But although vodka producers have given up some of their massive revenues to beer brewers, it’s unlikely Russians will completely ditch their national drink for the time being. As another proverb says, “Beer without vodka is money wasted.” For Common Ground, I’m Anya Ardayeva in Moscow.
MCHUGH: 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, dissident Chinese artists make it big.
KAREN SMITH: I think some artists have made fortunes on the back of not terribly original ideas.
MCHUGH: Plus, Africa rejects US food aid. And international affairs and political advertising. And international affairs influences political advertising.
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PORTER: A number of southern African nations wracked by drought are reluctant to accept the one kind of assistance they need most—food.
JUDITH SMELSER: Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and most recently Zambia are concerned food aid from the United States is likely to include genetically modified corn. Judith Smelser reports on the concerns and the controversy.
[The sound of a jeering crowd.]
JUDITH SMELSER: This was the reception US Secretary of State Colin Powell got when he addressed the World Summit on Sustainable Development in South Africa last month.
[The sound of more jeering at a large meeting, followed by a meeting chair asking for order.]
SMELSER: Part of what the crowd didn’t like was his statement on the growing controversy surrounding genetically modified corn handed out as food aid.
SECRETARY OF STATE COLIN POWELL: In the face of famine, several governments in Southern Africa have prevented critical US food assistance from being distributed to the hungry by rejecting biotech corn, which has been eaten safely around the world since 1995.
[The sound of more jeering at a large meeting.]
SMELSER: But that’s not the view of countries like Zambia, which fears the corn could be a health risk. That concern is backed up by a broad coalition of environmental groups. Larry Bohlen with Friends of the Earth in Washington complains that the US government has not done enough to ensure the safety of genetically modified foods.
LARRY BOHLEN: It’d be nice if the FDA actually ran some tests to figure out what the possible health impacts are of genetically engineered crops. Fact is, the government’s done no testing. They rely on industry-presented data and that means the fox is guarding the hen house when it comes to looking at the safety of these crops.
[The sounds of crops being harvested by a large combine.]
SMELSER: American officials say some 30 percent of corn harvested in the United States is genetically modified, and they contend that Americans have been eating the grain with no problems for six or seven years now. But health is not the only concern. Again, Larry Bohlen with Friends of the Earth.
BOHLEN: Perhaps the concern that looms larger for some of the African nations is the prospect of their crops being contaminated with genetically engineered corn and then that would prevent them from exporting once the drought ends. Now, this is very serious because while, say, the people of Zambia might eat today, they could lose export income that’s helpful to feed their families in the future.
SMELSER: That’s because many countries, especially in Europe, have strict regulations when it comes to importing genetically engineered foods. And if people receiving aid in Africa decided to plant the corn rather than eat it, they could render next year’s crop unacceptable to those markets. That was the major concern in Zimbabwe, before a complex deal was reached allowing the corn to be milled before it was distributed to make sure it could not be planted. But the US is suggesting that the danger of not accepting the aid outweighs any possible risk the grain may cause. Andrew Natsios heads up the US Agency for International Development.
ANDREW NATSIOS: In a famine, people die if they don’t have food. And that’s what we’re facing right now. So it seems to me the principle should be, how can we save the most number of lives with the resources we have?
SMELSER: The United Nations says 13 million people in southern Africa face starvation because of the current drought—and that some 300,000 could die in the next several months. But Larry Bohlen with Friends of the Earth says these countries should be offered aid in the form of food that they’re comfortable eating.
BOHLEN: There’s truly a generous supply of non-engineered corn available around the world. And it’s available both in the US and on global markets. So, the Bush administration has presented a set of false choices to Zambia and other countries, saying “Eat genetically engineered crops or starve.”
[The sound of a booing crowd.]
SMELSER: That was certainly the view at the World Summit on Sustainable Development, as delegates made it clear that they don’t want to be forced to eat what they don’t think is safe. For Common Ground, I’m Judith Smelser.
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MCHUGH: The western hunger for modern Chinese art grows year after year, with a premium placed on so-called “dissident” work which challenges the stilted images of Communist propaganda.
PORTER: But, just outside Beijing, small villages have become wealthy artists’ colonies, where some artists live remarkably comfortable lives. Now, critics are asking, when you’re making this much money, just how dissident can you be? Nina-Maria Potts reports.
[The sound of chirping cicadas.]
NINA MARIA-POTTS: An hour to the northeast of Beijing, there is a small village filled with very rich men and women. Crickets sing in the sweltering heat, large dogs guard high-walled villas, and four-wheel drive cars gleam in the sun. This is not the summer resort of Communist cadres. This is Shang Yuan, in Changping county, an unofficial artists’ colony of roughly 80 avant-garde painters, sculptors, and writers. They are not here hiding from the Communist thought police. It’s just that once you can sell your work for thousands of US dollars a time to wealthy foreign collectors, a cramped apartment in the city center does not have quite the same appeal.
[The sound of people chatting at an art gallery opening or similar event.]
POTTS: On the weekends, the artists and hangers-on in this colony, and a handful of others like it, hold court to a select group of well-connected Chinese professionals, and foreigners in the know. Karen Smith, a British writer and sometime dealer in modern Chinese art, has been at the heart of this world for eight years.
KAREN SMITH: The artists here, some of them are making extraordinary living. Ultimately it relies on two things—either you’re an excellent artist and you’re recognized for your talent, or you’re an incredible entrepreneur, who happens to have a good hand and a good feeling for things.
POTTS: There are foreign buyers who have a very fixed idea of what modern Chinese art should look like. There are already many established clichés—old men in Mao suits holding cans of Coca Cola, or Chinese peasants with Big Macs, among other examples of supposedly political art. Cynics would charge that painters willing to play up to some idea of dissident Chinese art can make money faster than someone more original but harder to gauge. Karen Smith partly agrees with the cynical view.
SMITH: I think with China opening up, the late ’80s, early ’90s, it was very easy to sell this kind of art on the back of that idea, because it was what everybody expected. Because of the notions of repression created from the period of the Cultural Revolution, people couldn’t imagine that there would be the freedom to create in China. So to see works that were coming out, if they had any kind of image of Mao, or anything that looked vaguely ideological, then people assumed that, of course, it had to be this way.
POTTS: Karen Smith sums up the critical backlash that currently clouds the Chinese art market this way.
SMITH: I think some artists have made fortunes on the back of not terribly original ideas, and the hype that has gone with the certain styles of art in the West. I think that there are many more artists whose work is of a higher quality who are more dedicated and more committed to what they’re doing but because their art to date has not necessarily fulfilled a dream of China or is not immediately recognizable as being Chinese, they’ve had a harder time establishing themselves and gaining a certain financial success.
POTTS: The main reason is that to date, the people buying the art are overwhelmingly foreigners.
SMITH: There has been very little market in China and it largely comes from abroad.
POTTS: As China gets richer, and its largest cities more international, the art market is becoming more sophisticated and rich Chinese and foreign collectors are meeting on more equal terms. Among a small elite, art is increasingly fashionable in Shanghai and Beijing right now and ambitious young artists from around China are flocking to join this lucrative scene.
[The sounds of a cocktail party at a gallery opening.]
POTTS: Few galleries are more fashionable than the Courtyard Gallery. In the shadow of Beijing’s old imperial Forbidden City, this expensively modernized slice of Qing dynasty China is part modern art gallery, and fashionable restaurant. The food and its location even landed a spot in Conde Nast’s Traveller magazine’s top 50 restaurants of the world. Today is Sunday and the opening of one of the Courtyard’s regular group exhibitions. The guests are film producers, diplomats, magazine editors, and journalists. Meg Maggio, is the Courtyard Gallery’s director and today she is selling some of China’s most successful artists.
Meg Maggio: Yes, Zhang Huei, was in the Venice Biennale, he was in the Lyons Biennale, he’s an extremely well established artist. Zhang Dali also. Zhang Dali lived for six years in Italy. He’s very well established in Europe especially.
POTTS: The art on show today is not about overthrowing the system.
Maggio: I think politics are very boring, and I think it’s a very boring subject. I think you don’t need to pollute visual arts with politics. I think it’s actually very boring. I get very frustrated when people come here and they’re sort of disappointed because they don’t think there’s enough of a political content in the works we represent. We’re not here to allow people to use their art as some sort of tool for political messages. I mean, we’re interested in their art, we’re really not interested in their politics.
POTTS: Among the established names, two newcomers, the Gao brothers, fresh from the inland province of Sichuan, are attracting attention with their challenging photographs which feature male nudes wearing nothing but a pair of rubber gloves, selected children’s toys, and television sets. The Gao brothers are not shy about revealing their asking price.
THE GAO BROTHERS: [via a translator] $1,600 US dollars—the more expensive the better.
POTTS: Their only customers are foreigners, the brothers admit, the reason has nothing to do with Communist ideology. It seems the Gao brothers are doomed to the same fate as all avant guarde artists. Their neighbors and contemporaries back home in Sichuan, just didn’t quite understand them:
THE GAO BROTHERS: [via a translator] Chinese people don’t buy contemporary art, mainly because they don’t think it’s art.
POTTS: While some Chinese artists blame their fellow countrymen for being unappreciative, critics worry a Chinese bubble is being created, which could burst at any moment. Karen Smith is among those concerned about the future of the Chinese art market.
SMITH: I think pricing is a terrible problem with Chinese art right now. Very often the Chinese art for young unknown or emerging artists comes out way beyond the equivalent for artists in the US or the UK. Probably, you know, the top artists are selling their works at enormous prices, tens of thousands of US dollars. My worry is when you achieve such a high price so young, where do you go? You know, there’s a point beyond which it becomes silly.
POTTS: For now the bubble continues to swell. This is one group of rebels who are not suffering for their art. For Common Ground, I’m Nina-Maria Potts in Beijing.
MCHUGH: Coming up next on Common Ground, international affairs as a campaign issue.
PORTER: You’re listening to Common Ground, radio’s weekly program on world affairs.
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PORTER: Political commercials fill the airwaves in these final weeks before the congressional elections. And before long, candidates will be gearing up for the 2004 presidential campaign. International affairs could play an important role in upcoming election cycles. And, as Cliff Brockman reports, it would be a return to the past.
PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE RICHARD NIXON: [in a television ad, with the sound of dramatic drumbeats in the background] Never has so much military, economic, and diplomatic power been used so ineffectively as in Vietnam.
CLIFF BROCKMAN: Foreign affairs, like war, have often been the focus of presidential political campaign ads. Like this 1968 spot for Richard Nixon.
PRESIDENT NIXON: [with the sound of drumbeats in the background] If after all of this time and all of this sacrifice and all of this support there is still no end in sight, then I say the time is come for the American people to turn to new leadership not tied to the policies and mistakes of the past.
BROCKMAN: Four years later Democrat George McGovern had a war ad of his own.
[with the sound of a jet aircraft in the background]
BROCKMAN: His TV ad shows fighter jets roaring overhead, followed by an announcer’s voice with one simple line:
ANNOUNCER: [The announcer is a young girl] Does the President know that planes bomb children?
BROCKMAN: Even though the United States is at war again, this time with terrorism, President Bush may or may not be able to use it to his advantage in the next election.
EDWARD HOROWITZ: I could imagine George W. Bush in the future kind of showing, you know, “In World War II and Vietnam we had these issues; during the Cold War we had these issues; these enemies that we fight today, we have new enemies. And I’m the right man to do it.” That might happen in the future.
BROCKMAN: Dr. Edward Horowitz is a political scientist at the University of Oklahoma.
HOROWITZ: Even though right now we’re in the midst of a situation where we’re very focused on international affairs, if you think back to ’88 and the period after the Gulf—in ’92 after the Gulf War, that was not talked about again in the election. It was over. It was done with and our focus had really shifted. So, if things wrap themselves up in terms of the war on terrorism it’s possible that that could just not be an issue in future advertising spots.
BROCKMAN: Indeed, international affairs have not been much of an issue in recent presidential campaigns and political ads. But that wasn’t always the case.
LEWIS MIZZANI: [with the sound of an electric motor in the background] It’s a very specialized photo archive chamber where we….
BROCKMAN: The University of Oklahoma Political Communication Center has an archive of thousands of political TV and radio ads. The center’s former director, co-authored an extensive analysis of the ads. The study covered elections from 1952 to the end of the Cold War. Foreign issues ranked second only to economics as the most likely subject of presidential TV ads. The study also shows Republicans were more likely than Democrats to run ads about international affairs. And incumbents more often than challengers focused on foreign topics.
ANNOUNCER FROM A TELEVISION CAMPAIGN AD: [with the sounds of explosions in the background] Four years ago, many of our young men were on Heartbreak Ridge in Korea.
BROCKMAN: Dwight Eisenhower ran the first presidential TV ads 50 years ago. And many of them were about international affairs.
ANNOUNCER: Eisenhower answers America!
MAN IN COMMERCIAL: Mr. Eisenhower, are we going to have to fight another war?
PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE DWIGHT EISENHOWER: No. Not if we have a sound program for peace.
HOROWITZ: International affairs were, were an important aspect of the advertisements in 1952 when Eisenhower was running. Particularly the issue of Korea and what was going to happen there. There were some interesting ads, mostly focusing on the fact that he was the general and so that, that had a strong play that, you know, he had a good knowledge and was able to handle international affairs very well, compared to his opponent Adlai Stevenson, who was simply just the governor from, from Illinois. A lot of the ads had common folk coming in, looking up towards him in sort of a king-like figure, asking him questions like “General, what shall we do about the war?” “General, you know, what shall we do about the situation in Korea?” And always addressing him as “General.”
BROCKMAN: These were mostly talking ads without a lot of visuals. But that started to change in 1959. Then Vice President Richard Nixon was running against Senator John Kennedy for President.
PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE NIXON: [speaking in a television ad.] And so our next president must continue to show clearly that America is strong; that we will not tolerate being pushed around by anybody.
HOROWITZ: Nixon tried to use a lot of clips. Mostly a lot of still photographs to show his great experience in international affairs. Remember, in, if you think back to 1960, Nixon had just come out of having a very successful, that famous Kitchen Debate with Khruschev in 1959. And he was really touting his international experience. Khruschev was seen, had been seen so widely over television in that time period—you know, slamming his shoe at the UN—all those, those famous things. And he used a lot of advertisements emphasizing his international—showing him meeting with world figures, showing him in other international places. Now Kennedy tried to counter those advertisements by showing video clips, motion clips, of people protesting when, at times, when Nixon came to all these different places.
BROCKMAN: Dr. Horowitz says this was an indication political ads were quickly becoming more sophisticated. In 1964 the Lyndon Johnson-Barry Goldwater presidential race focused on the Cold War.
A LITTLE GIRL COUNTING: One, two…
[The little girl continues her count in the background as Mr. Horowitz speaks.]
HOROWITZ: It’s called the “daisy ad.” It only ran one time on TV and what it shows is a little girl picking flowers, picking the petals off of a daisy and counting them, “One, two, three,” and then the ad switches to a countdown for a nuclear bomb going off and the camera going into her eyes very closely and the bomb kind of going off inside her eyes.
[The ad switches to the nuclear blast countdown: “Four, three, two, one”—The sound of a nuclear explosion.]
PRESIDENT LYNDON JOHNSON: These are the stakes: to make a world in which all of god’s children can live; or to go into the dark. We must either love each other or we must die.
ANNOUNCER: Vote for President Johnson on November 3. The stakes are too high for you to stay home.
HOROWITZ: It was a very strong ad. It was a very powerful ad. And, you know, showing that Goldwater was really not a man to be trusted with nuclear bombs. The ad never mentioned Goldwater’s name; it just said that, you know, the stakes are very high for us at this time. But what happened, as soon as that ad ran, the telephone started ringing off the hook at the White House. They pulled it off right away. Interestingly enough, it got so much coverage later in newspapers, TV news, etc., that many more people saw it probably from that news coverage than they would have seen it probably if it had just aired normally as a commercial.
That’s one of the things about political advertising that makes it so important. That it is appealing to our emotions, not so much to our knowledge. And we have here a basic debate over political advertising as such. Should voters decide about elections based on information? Here’s where our candidates stand; here’s the information. Should the candidate in a commercial spot give that information to the voters? Or, as campaign consultants like to tell it, you know, we should appeal to the emotions. Try to get a visceral reaction from a voter. And that’s what some of these ads, particularly the daisy ad and these other ones, are trying to do.
BROCKMAN: Moving forward to 1972, foreign affairs dominated political ads as the Vietnam War came to an end. This also coincided with President Nixon’s groundbreaking trip to China. It was the first visit by a sitting president to that Communist nation since the 1940s. And Nixon used it to his advantage.
[Chinese music plays in the background]
ANNOUNCER: China is one of the largest countries in the world. Yet no American president had ever been there. China is one of the most populous countries in the world. Yet no American leader had even talked with them in 23 years—until Richard Nixon.
[sound of a Western-style military band playing march]
BROCKMAN: But the Watergate scandal pushed international affairs aside. Dr. Horowitz says Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter paid only token attention to foreign topics. It didn’t take long, though, for foreign affairs to make a comeback. In 1980, during the Iran hostage crisis, Ronald Reagan was running for president.
HOROWITZ: Reagan was running a lot of ads touting the fact that Democrats were supporting Reagan. There were, there were, at the end of each ad it said, “Democrats for Reagan.” One of interesting ones came about when, after William Safire wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times saying that the Ayatollah Khomeni did not want Americans to vote for Reagan because they wanted a weak president in the United States. And showed a lot of scenes of the Ayatollah and Iran. And after the hostages being taken there, that was seen as a very important advertisement.
Presidential Candidate Ronald Reagan: [with the sound of a street protest in the background] It was a dark day for America. Held in contempt by foreign nations; ridiculed in Iran. So many countries thought America had seen its day. But we knew better. Together, we showed what Americans are made of.
BROCKMAN: The political landscape changed considerably with the end of the Cold War. Since then domestic affairs dominated presidential elections. In fact, Dr. Horowitz notes neither of the two major candidates in the most recent election had any ads about international affairs.
HOROWITZ: George W. Bush, because he had no international experience, you know, he didn’t really want to talk about that a lot. He wanted to focus on his domestic experience. Al Gore was interesting because he did, he talked about things like the environment and there was a sense that he had a good feel for international affairs. But he never really used that in any of his campaign spots.
BROCKMAN: Whether the focus on domestic ads will continue in the next presidential election or shift back to international affairs may well depend on how long the current war on terrorism lasts. For Common Ground, I’m Cliff Brockman.
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