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Israel: No Peace, No Process?

The Israeli Press Reacts to the Road Map: Bumpy Road Ahead

The Israeli Press Reacts to the Prisoner Exchange with Hizbollah

Israel’s Security Fence—Back To The Wall

A Woman President in the White House?

New York Stories:
Freedom of Speech

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9/11—Tilting at Windmills

German Press on Iraq:
Front Line Berlin

Bush Takes On Europe—Again

A European in New York

Jewish Lawyers Defending Anti-Semites?

Cooperation and Competition — American Jewry and Israel's Development

In Memoriam Yehuda Amichai

In Memoriam Hildegard Knef

2000... And the Emperor Still Has No Clothes

 

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People Making Headlines in 2001

 

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Russia: Gennadi Rozhdestvensky

Taiwan: Annette Lu

Egypt: Nawal el-Sa'dawi

Italy: Indro Montanelli

Mexico: Jorge Castañeda

Indonesia: Dita Indah Sari

 

 

 

 

 

From the September 2001 issue of World Press Review

Gennadi Rozhdestvensky:
The Bolshoi Buster

By Tekla Szymanski

Gennadi Rozhdestvensky, 70, Russia's most celebrated conductor, who was long considered an icon of the Bolshoi Theater's golden days, has resigned.

A year after President Vladimir Putin appointed him to lead the famous cultural institution out of its post-Soviet decay, the silver-haired and, as London's The Times says, "notoriously impatient" Rozhdestvensky has thrown in the baton, prompting Moscow's Izvestiya to speak of a "scandalous dismissal."

"It is alarming, that drive to entertain at any cost, to stupefy, to conceal real music," Rozhdestvensky was quoted as saying in The Moscow Times, hinting at open sabotage directed at him by the Bolshoi's artists. This, he is certain, caused his latest production of Prokofiev's opera, The Gambler, to be mocked by Russian critics for its squeaking scenery and hoarse soloists.

The maestro is furious: "I have been subjected to the most vicious, wild, horrendous, and impertinent criticism for everything, for my very existence."

 

 

From the September 2001 issue of World Press Review

Annette Lu:
Outspoken Outsider

By Tekla Szymanski

A controversial vice president, Annette Lu, 57, is a member of Taiwan's embattled Democratic Progressive Party (DPP),

The authorities in Beijing have called her the "scum of the earth." And many Taiwanese refer to her as an "IBM"-"international bigmouth."

Her rough working relationship with President Chen Shui-bian has always been food for the media, which eagerly recount each time it hits another low. While Lu, candid and outspoken ("I talk straight and always tell the truth"), is cold-shouldered by people close to the president, she continues to do things her way. She has been treated as an extraterrestrial, complains Lu.

And more so now, since she has been accused of leaking Shui-bian's rumored affair with his translator to the press.

For the first time ever, a Taiwanese vice president is filing a defamation and libel suit, which will force her to appear in court. According to the Taipei Times, Lu is claiming that someone close to the president instructed a magazine to publish stories to discredit her.

That, in turn, provoked several legislators to draw parallels between Lu and the plight of the protagonist (played by Joan Allen) in the movie The Contender.

Lu was elected last year as the first female vice president in Taiwanese history after a long career of fighting for women's rights. Determined and "a hopeless optimist," according to Taipei's magazine Sinorama—a KMT (Nationalist Party) magazine of the former ruling party and foe to the DPP—she studied law in Taipei and at Harvard, finishing at the top of her class.

In the 1970s, Lu opened a coffee shop for women in Taipei, a gathering place for advocates of the Taiwanese feminist movement that she founded.

In 1979, she gave a provocative speech demanding democracy in Taiwan. She was charged with sedition, a capital crime, and was sentenced to 12 years in prison.

She wrote two novels on toilet paper before she was paroled five years later for health reasons. In 1992, when the DPP became a legitimate political party, she won a seat in Taiwan's legislature.

"I was born to fight injustice," she told Paris' L'Express. "I am very ambitious because I like to make 'missions impossible' possible!"

[Note: It March 2004, just hours before Taiwan's general elections, Lu and Shui-bian survived an assassination attempt. Both were only slightly injured. Shui-bian was re-elected with a slim margin; the results, however, have been disputed.]

 

 

From the September 2001 issue of World Press Review

Nawal el-Sa'dawi:
Battling Bigotry

By Tekla Szymanski

Nawal el-Sa'dawi, 70, an Egyptian feminist, physician, and sociologist, has been accused of apostasy. Again.

"I was brought up to believe in the basic principles of Islam. For me, Islam has always meant belief in God, the spirit of justice, freedom, and love. Wearing the veil is not necessarily an indication of high morals."

Egypt's most widely translated writer and former left-wing government minister, has always been attacked for her uncompromising views. She was imprisoned under the administration of President Anwar Sadat; her books have been censored and banished, leading to her self-imposed exile in the United States from 1993 to 1996.

Now, backed by an obscure tenet of Islamic doctrine, the hisba (which can be executed only by men), Egyptian lawyer Nabih el-Wahsh has filed a complaint against her in Cairo's Civil Affairs Court. On July 30, however, the court threw out all the charges against her.

El-Wahsh demanded that El-Sa'dawi be forced to divorce her husband of 37 years, Sherif Hetata, because her critical and immoral views of Islam and of Muslim society as a whole "have ousted her from the Muslim community," thus obliterating her right to remain married to a Muslim.

The cause for the outrage was an interview with El-Sa'dawi published in the independent weekly Al-Midan, in which she proclaimed that obeisance to the black stone—the goal of the pilgrimage to Mecca—was a "vestige of pagan practices."

El-Sa'dawi vowed to fight the accusations, arguing that her remarks were taken out of context. Nevertheless, she still adheres to her convictions. "Religious hierarchy has tended to transform Islam into a series of rituals and outdated sermons," she countered in a statement to Cairo's Al-Ahram. "[Those] take people away from the true spirit of religion."

No one can separate her from her husband, she says. Only death.

"One of Egypt's most outspoken women [and] the new Salman Rushdie," as Johannesburg's Mail & Guardian describes her, has withstood death threats by fundamentalist religious leaders and the scorn of fellow Egyptians. The white-haired writer pledges to stick to her beliefs: "I've acquired psychological immunity with time," she says.

Now her goal is to work on abolishing hisba, admitting that it "can be applied to others who are not in as strong a position as [my husband and I] are. We are living in a patriarchal system based on class and male domination. This system breeds religious fundamentalism, paradoxes, injustices, and violence."

[Note: In an interview that El-Sa'dawi gave to the liberal Arabic Web site elaph.com in 2003, she again called for amending the Egyptian constitution and eliminating the article that declares Islam to be the official state religion. "We are born, live our lives and die in fear," she said. "Therefore, we do not have rebellion and we do not have opposition....Our crisis is at the same time political and cultural. I do not differentiate between politics, economy, culture, feminism and sex. They are all interrelated and when one central pillar collapses, the whole building collapses....We should distance our God from politics."

The clerics reacted, as expected, with anger. Some believed that "the best way to silence this woman is not to respond to her, so that she does not get published." Others, however, were more militant.

Sheikh Mustafa Al-Azhari explained in the Egyptian weekly
Al-Haqiqa
, that "the punishment for anyone who fights Allah and His Prophet is execution, crucifixion, the amputation of opposite limbs or banishment from earth."]

 

For further reading:

http://www.nawalsaadawi.net/

 

 

From the October 2001 issue of World Press Review

Indro Montanelli:
Reporting the 20th Century

By Tekla Szymanski

Indro MontanelliTo admirers and foes alike, he was the "voice of a witness, a master of journalism, Italy's Grand Old Man."

Indro Montanelli died in July at the age of 92.

"A wonder of vitality, he is the most famous journalist of the 20th century," wrote Dietmar Polaczek in Frankfurt's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

Montanelli received WPR's International Editor of the Year Award for 1994. Never shy of words, he wrote in his acceptance letter, "I consider [this] award as something in between a Nobel and a Pulitzer."

In 2000, he was among the "50 press freedom heroes of the past 50 years," a list compiled by the International Press Institute.

Montanelli embraced many political leanings in his life: fascist and admirer of Mussolini (who later persecuted him because Montanelli wrote about the duce's lover). He was ousted from the Fascist Party after he criticized the conduct of Italian troops in the Spanish Civil War.

He was an anti-communist, conservative moralist, and icon of the political right who became a vigorous opponent of Silvio Berlusconi. And he was kneecapped by the Red Brigades in 1977 for his conservative views.

Montanelli started his career in 1939 as war correspondent for Milan's Corriere della Sera, covering the Spanish Civil War. He reported from Nazi Germany (and was the first foreign journalist to interview Hitler), was detained in Milan, and was sentenced to death in 1943 for allegedly conspiring in Mussolini's arrest. He escaped and fled to Switzerland.

After the war he returned to Corriere and was the first foreign journalist in Budapest to cover the 1956 Hungarian uprising. He left Corriere when he thought it was moving too far to the left, and in 1974 he founded Milan's Il Giornale.

Montanelli was a friend of Italy's Prime Minister Berlusconi before the media mogul turned to politics. Berlusconi, the owner of Il Giornale, reportedly sobbed at Montanelli's hospital bedside after the Red Brigades' attack, but the relationship turned sour when Berlusconi entered politics and asked Montanelli, who was the editor of Il Giornale, to endorse Berlusconi's run for prime minister.

Montanelli refused to become a mouthpiece for Berlusconi's party and resigned from the editorship.

In 1994, Montanelli launched the daily La Voce, which folded after a year, not without shaping the political discourse in the country. Montanelli proved to be Berlusconi's most vociferous—and often lone—opponent.

Our lives as journalists are as transient as butterflies," Montanelli once said. "His," wrote Nello Ajello in Rome's La Repubblica, "was a lifelong fight of an Italian with his country."

 

For further reading:

http://www.indromontanelli.net/ (In Italian)

 

 

From the October 2001 issue of World Press Review

Jorge Castañeda:
Mexico Changing

By Tekla Szymanski

Mexico's newly-elected foreign minister wants change. Fast.

When he was elected president in July 2000, Vicente Fox promised voters el cambio—fundamental change. Among Fox's first appointments was his choice for foreign minister: Jorge Castañeda, 48, an internationally renowned scholar and progressive political analyst. Castañeda, who has taught political science at universities in Mexico and the United States, has written 12 books, including a biography of Ernesto "Che" Guevara.

Now Castañeda is leading high-level negotiations between Mexico and the United States to open the border and resolve the status of millions of undocumented Mexican immigrants. He exemplifies Mexico's new face: ambitious, pragmatic, and media savvy.

He once said, "Newspapers don't matter and speeches don't matter—nothing matters but TV." In his aggressive lobbying in the United States on the touchy issue of illegal immigration, he has replaced "victimization with activism," political analyst Denise Dresser wrote in the Mexican newsmagazine Proceso.

Castañeda pledges that the introduction of immigration reforms as well as an integrated Mexican-U.S. labor market will have to take into account the rights and living standards of all Mexicans. He favors a policy modeled on Europe's guest-worker arrangements, but only if it includes measures to "regularize" the status of the estimated 3-4 million Mexicans living illegally in the United States.

"It's the whole enchilada or nothing," Castañeda said, speaking in July at the National Association of Hispanic Journalists conference in Phoenix.

[Note: Castañeda resigned on Jan. 8, 2003. Critics blamed him for harming Mexico's traditionally close friendship with Cuba, incurring the wrath of both the Mexican Congress and the Mexican press.]

 

 

From the October 2001 issue of World Press Review

Dita Indah Sari:
Labor Leader

By Tekla Szymanski

As president of the National Front for Workers' Struggle Indonesia, she was among those who organized the grassroots movement that helped topple Indonesia's autocratic ruler Suharto in 1998.

Why would a middle-class Indonesian law student, who, in her own words, would have been happy to be a kindergarten teacher, feel compelled to become a radical trade union leader? Why would she risk being jailed, sexually abused, beaten, and harassed, all in the quest of fighting for democracy, against poverty and injustice in her country?

Dita Indah Sari, 28, has a simple answer: "If I stopped I would have no idea what my life would mean or who I would be."

Dita started her activism in 1992 at the University of Indonesia in Jakarta. She organized student demonstrations for human rights, led workers in an illegal trade union, debated women's rights within the unions, and in 1994 helped launch the Indonesian Center of Labor Struggle.

In 1997, she was sentenced to seven years in prison for leading a strike of 20,000 workers.

"As Indonesia charts a new course under President Megawati [Sukarnoputri], young leaders like [Dita] may have to mount the barricades again," predicted Satya Sivaraman in an article for London's Gemini News Service.

She was released in 1999. In Dita's view, an independent student movement is critical to building a broader struggle against dictatorship. The movement is still needed, with a new political era beginning in Indonesia: Vigilance is important in building a functioning democracy, she believes. "The key is patience."

 

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