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People Making Headlines in...







Articles in English

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

New York Stories:
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


The World Press on...


Czech Republic











People Making Headlines in 2000


Home Page > Articles in English > People 2000


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Iran: Faezeh Hashemi

Bangladesh: Angela Gomes

British Columbia: Ujjal Dosanjh

Denmark: Sonja Vesterholt

Haiti: Jean Dominique

Norway: Gro Harlem Brundtland

Italy: L'Unità

Somalia: Abdikassim Salad Hassan

India: Rajarshri Mukhopadyay

Russia: Tatiana Dyachenko





From the April 2000 issue of World Press Review

Faezeh Hashemi:
Daughter of Reform

By Tekla Szymanski

Faezeh HashemiFaezeh Hashemi is the daughter of Iran's former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, and at 37 is a top contender for reelection to parliament.

She is the mother of two and among the most popular pioneers of Iran's reformist movement. She has called for women to unveil, ride bicycles, and run for president.

Hashemi is controversial and brave. She launched Iran's only women's daily, Zan (Woman), which was banned in April 1999 after it featured an interview with Farah Diba, the widow of the late Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

Although Hashemi favors change, she does not call for abandoning the values of the Islamic Republic altogether. These last few years show that there is no end to autocratic attitudes, she told Azra Dezham of Tehran's monthly Payame Emruz. Nevertheless, those attitudes are starting to change.

Relentless in her pursuit of women's rights and of reformist ideas in general, Hashemi predicted victory for the reformists in February's elections. "The [right is] keeping quiet because they see no reason to enter the fray," she was quoted in London's Mideast Mirror, "so long as they believe they will get what they want—and that is for the reformists to shoot themselves in the foot."

For further reading:

Women and the Elections in Iran




From the May 2000 issue of World Press Review

Angela Gomes:
Agent of Change

By Tekla Szymanski

Dedicated to helping women in Bangladesh, she is the founder and executive director of a Jessore-based nongovernmental organization.

Angela Gomes has learned to be resourceful. A Christian among Hindus and Muslims, she has at times used assumed names to gain acceptance in these communities. Gomes, 48, single and childless in patriarchal Bangladesh, has used her independence to help ease the plight of poor rural women trapped by the rigid social strictures of obedience and submission.

She launched Banchte Shekha [Bangla for "learning to survive"] 20 years ago. In 1999, her work earned her the prestigious Magsaysay Award for community development and development leadership (given by the Philippines-based Ramón Magsaysay Foundation).

"The mission of [Banchte Shekha] is to empower women through social development work," writes Kavita Charanji in New Delhi's Indian Express. The group grants loans, as well as providing legal assistance, education, mediation, family aid services, and income-generating activities. "Banchte Shekha has given women a greater voice and enabled them to speak out against injustices such as torture, abuse, and humiliation," writes Charanji.

Gomes was born in Malla, Gazipur, in Bangladesh, the seventh of nine children. Determined to get an education, she took it upon herself to contact numerous boarding schools. "At the age of 13, I clearly saw the inequality between the sexes, especially among the poor," she tells Charanji.

She eventually earned a bachelor's degree in economics, history, and geography and set out on her path to help the powerless. It's been a difficult journey. Her detractors have accused her of being anti-Islam, a missionary spinster who strives to overthrow old values and customs.

But now that the value of her work has gained national and international recognition.

She can turn all her energies to the work at hand—like planting mulberry trees in rural areas to enable poor women to earn their livelihood.



From the May 2000 issue of World Press Review

Ujjal Dosanjh:
Victorious in Vancouver

By Tekla Szymanski

He was once the only person of color to hold higher office in British Columbia.

Although Ujjal Dosanjh, who was elected premier of British Columbia in March, is the only person of color to hold higher office in Canada, he does not consider his Sikh heritage to be a defining factor in his political career. [Note: Dosanjh was defeated in 2001].

Nevertheless, his public stance against ethnic violence almost cost the life of the 52-year-old human rights lawyer and former provincial attorney general. Dosanjh was left "bloody but unbowed," writes Alexander Norris for London's Gemini News Service, in 1985, when he was attacked and beaten unconscious after speaking out against the use of violence as a means of achieving an independent Sikh homeland in India.

Dosanjh left India at 17, spent a few years in England, and went to Canada's west coast in 1968. There, he found himself among the country's 3 million "visible minorities," as they are called by the national census agency.

During his run for office, according to Kim Lunman in Toronto's Globe and Mail, Dosanjh "campaigned on a platform of integrity and a pledge to civilize politics, and he will polish the government's scandal-stained image."

As the province's highest elected official, Dosanjh has vowed to fight for measures to combat child pornography and violence against women and has supported human-rights causes such as gay rights.

Finally, he has promised to cool down the province's heated politics and introduce "a friendly government"—a kinder, gentler Vancouver courtesy of a tough leader, described by his son as a person without "one iota of cowardice."



From the May 2000 issue of World Press Review

Sonja Vesterholt:
Mirroring Danish Life

By Tekla Szymanski

Sonja Vesterholt, 55-a Russian-born filmmaker who lives in Denmark has won the first prize at the prestigious Festival International de Programmes Audiovisuels in Biarritz, France.

"Documentary films should strive to give a clear view of what the world looks like," she says. Vesterholt is a storyteller: "My theme is human life," she tells Lotte Thorsen of Copenhagen's Politiken.

Vesterholt was born in what was then Leningrad and lived for her first 18 years in a collective apartment shared with seven other families, dreaming about space. "I read a lot of science fiction," she recalls. "There was a novel about a girl who lived on Mars. And what made the greatest impression on me was that she had her own bedroom."

When she was 15, her mother was paralyzed by a cerebral hemorrhage. Her father abandoned the family. Sonja left school and went to work. She later returned to school, eventually studying music and the Russian language and literature. In 1971, she and her husband immigrated to Finland, then to Denmark. In 1988, she opened Scandinavia's first poster gallery in Copenhagen.

hen she saw an ad for a program for artists at the Danske Filmskole. She decided to become a film producer, focusing on stories of life in Russia and the Baltic nations. "The picture is never monochromatic. And that is what I want to tell."

Pursuing the polychromatic in her work in Denmark, however, has forced Vesterholt to rein in her intensity. In Russia, she says, "there is room for big emotions." But in a small country like Denmark, the scale of feelings is rather more limited.

"Danes love to know how they look," Vesterholt observes. "It is a heavy burden to be their mirror."



From the June 2000 issue of World Press Review

Jean Dominique:
A Crusader Cut Down

By Tekla Szymanski

Jean Dominique, 69, was Haiti's most revered journalist—until he was murdered.

Dominique was assassinated; his death triggered a week of rampage and political turmoil in Haiti. He was gunned down in early April in Port-au-Prince just outside the radio station he had founded, and his mourners demanded answers.

Dominique, an outspoken democracy advocate, had twice been forced into exile because of his democratic views and his friendship with Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the ousted and than reinstalled [and then, in 2004, exiled] former president of this impoverished, unstable nation. His killing is believed to have been politically motivated.

"The only weapon I have is my microphone and my unshakable faith as a militant for change, veritable change," Dominique once said. As a political adviser to Haiti's President René Préval, he advocated holding elections this year but was criticized for his call to postpone them in order to ensure their fairness.

Dominique was born in Port-au-Prince to a well-to-do family and attended private school in Haiti and France, studying agronomy. In the early 1960s, he founded Haiti's first independent radio station, Radio Haïti Inter—the first broadcast outlet in Creole, the language of 70 percent of Haitians.

As a vocal opponent of Haiti's infamous dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier, Dominique was forced into exile in New York in 1980. Six years later, after Duvalier's ouster, Dominique returned, only to leave again in 1991, this time together with ousted President Aristide, during Raoul Cédras's military regime. Dominique went back to Haiti in 1994. He married Michele Montas, a fellow journalist, and they had three daughters.

"It is only when the bodies start piling up that the world takes notice of Haiti," writes Andrew Marshall in London's Independent. "So, Dominique may have performed one last service to his country when he died in a hail of bullets: putting Haiti back into the headlines at a time when the country is lurching again into anarchy."

The country has lacked an effective government since President Préval dissolved parliament in January 1999, and now faces international sanctions—called for by the United Nations, the European Union, and the Organization of American States—if Haiti fails to hold democratic elections soon. The United States has threatened to stop issuing entry visas for Haitians.

"For Haitians to vote," Dominique once said, "means more than in [Western countries]. It's the way for the millions, who live in dirt and poverty, to prove to themselves that they are human. It is the difference between eternal darkness and light." His vigorous advocacy of social and economic justice was what gave Dominique his unique stance among Haiti's journalists.

And his assassination has provoked a worldwide wave of outrage. "Attack on Freedom of the Press," read the headline on a recent editorial in Berlin's taz; "for four decades, Dominique's name stood for the freedom of the spoken word."

Dominique was "a fighter for human rights and an advocate of democracy," writes Zurich's Neue Zürcher Zeitung.

"Dominique championed free speech against civilian and military dictatorships and was Haiti's most influential figure," states Montreal's The Gazette, "and he passionately followed the government's attempt at land reform to settle disputes between peasants and landowners." He was the "sword of free expression," writes Paris's Le Nouvel Observateur, and Le Monde adds that Dominique "was a genuine symbol....He was Haiti's most feared and most celebrated journalist."

The U.S.-based expatriate Haiti en Marche refers to Dominique as a "grand journalist and a courageous man." And journalists who had worked with Dominique praised his professional rigor and discipline. "[He] was always demanding with regard to objectivity, the verification of information, precautions to avoid defamation, and respecting the right of the grass-roots sector and the democratic movement to make itself heard in their fight against the oppressive dictatorship. His voice, it was his voice...it will continue to speak to us."



From the June 2000 issue of World Press Review

Gro Harlem Brundtland:
No Smoke Screen

By Tekla Szymanski

As head of the World Health Organization (WHO), Gro Harlem Brundtland has chosen to take up yet another battle: the fight against smoking.

Brundtland, 61, was born in Oslo, Norway; she received her medical degree in 1963 and a Master of Public Health degree from Harvard University. In 1974, she was appointed Norway's minister of Environment and later became prime minister, a post she held for three terms until 1996. She was tapped to head WHO in 1998.

Now, Brundtland is determined to make the Tobacco-Free Initiative and the drafting of a Framework Convention on Tobacco Control WHO's main target for the next few years, writes Synnøve Skjelten in Oslo's Aftenposten.

But Skjelten accuses Brundtland of "Western meddling in Africa's affairs, [because] the tobacco-growing industries are significant employers and hard-currency earners in a number of southern African countries."

Given her reputation as a tough champion of the environment, Brundtland's latest initiative is unlikely to go up in smoke.



From the October 2000 issue of World Press Review

L'Unità's Demise

By Tekla Szymanski

Rome's L'Unità, the newspaper that served as the bible of the Italian left and the official mouthpiece of the largest Communist Party in the West, announced its closure in early August.

It felt to many as if an old friend had died. Italians were shedding "crocodile tears," according to Germany's conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (July 29), "over this important, journalistically excellent, often brazen voice in the Italian press."

L'Unità, which was founded in 1924, survived fascism, but not the Cold War or its aftermath. Its circulation dropped from 400,000 in the 1970s to 50,000, with an annual deficit of US$33 million.

Italian journalists mourned a great loss. "We are all poorer," stated Umberto Folena in Milan's Catholic L'Avvenire (July 29). "Those who read it, sometimes with pleasure, sometimes cursing it. And those who ignored it. Like it or not, the amount of freedom a democracy enjoys can be measured by the quantity, quality, and variety of its press."

Readership may have plummeted, but interest in L'Unità's ideas is alive and well, claimed the former head of L'Unità in the pages of Milan's weekly Diario della Settimana (Aug. 8). "There are still 80,000 communists in Italy...who are very connected to L'Unità. They...witnessed fascism and war. Seventy percent will live at least another 10 years. They are retired and they read a lot. In general, they are in good health, and they refuse to die."

Liberazione, published by the Partito della Rifondazione Comunista [the Communist Refoundation Party]—apparently seeing an opportunity in L'Unità's demise—rejected the notion that communism might be a thing of a bygone era (July 29): "Curious boys and girls, who bought Liberazione for the first time after having seen your parents or grandparents
crying while looking at L'Unità's blank pages, their voices choked with emotion while reading its final words: To all of you we offer our own honest little newspaper."



From the November 2000 issue of World Press Review

Abdikassim Salad Hassan:
Polity After Anarchy

By Tekla Szymanski

He is Somalia's first president in nearly a decade.

The position seems to be merely a vague idea. Abdikassim Salad Hassan does not have an office, much less an organized army to command or government ministers to manage. To top it all off, his transitional government still must deal with the leaders of two autonomous regions in the northern part of the country, which have refused to recognize his authority.

Somalia was ravaged by fighting for the past decade and left without a government after the long-time dictator Muhammad Siyad Barre fell from power in 1991. And with him fell Abdikassim Salad Hassan—who served the Siyad Barre regime for 20 years in top posts, including minister of the interior.

Now, Hassan, 58, a father of seven who is known for his toughness, vision, and oratory skills as well as his uncompromising and hardheaded character, has been appointed by Somalia's new interim parliament to return to power for a three-year term to aid this impoverished nation onto a path of normality-after 12 previous attempts to restore a lawful government failed. After his election, Somalis greeted the new leader with tremendous euphoria in anticipation of better days to come.

"[Hassan's] election has given rise to both hope and fear in the Horn of Africa," writes the German news agency Deutsche Presse-Agentur. Uganda's government-owned New Vision hails the installation of Hassan as "a significant development toward peace in a country where warlords have reigned since 1991."

But Hassan's victory is seen as much more than that. It is a crucial test of Somalia's ability to overcome its past. "I am the president of Somalia," Hassan has said. "There is a law, there is a charter. The law of the charter will apply to everybody. I have every confidence in our people. The days of lawlessness and anarchy are over."



From the November 2000 issue of World Press Review

Rajarshri Mukhopadyay:
Words Out of Silence

By Tekla Szymanski

A young autistic boy from India has found a voice as a writer.

"Wish my legs were the wings of a bird and would fly me afar," writes Rajarshri Mukhopadyay, nicknamed Tito, in his book Beyond the Silence. Words are his security blanket, helping him to conquer the silence that surrounds him. Without his poetry, Tito would not be able to communicate with the world in which he so desperately wants to fly. [Note: His latest book, The Mind Tree, was released in October 2003].

Tito is 11 years old, a classically autistic child with profound neurological disability who lives in Bangalore, India. He started writing the book when he was eight years old, shortly after he was able to utter his first word. The book is about his life, his disability, the world around him that he grasps with unique tools, and the many burdens he has to overcome.

At the age of two and a half, his autism was first diagnosed. But the little boy was fascinated with the shape of letters and numbers, and he began to recognize them easily. Soma, his mother, found that her son had a prodigious memory. She started to tutor him with painstaking patience.

In less than three weeks, the little boy could count, add, read, and spell, by pointing to the board where Soma had drawn the letters of the English alphabet; if he wanted to say something, he pointed to the letters and spelled out the words. By age six, he could write by himself. By age eight, the little boy talked about death and spirits. He was torn "between two selves," writes Sabita Radhakrishna in The Hindu of Madras.

"The two selves were isolated and two separate entities—but on the odd occasion they communicated." And so the boy wrote his inner feelings: stories and poems, full of sadness and hope. The world saw him as a handicapped child; he saw the world as a challenge.

The BBC is airing Tito's Story, a film about him, now that his book has been published by the British National Autistic Society and has received considerable attention. He found self-assurance and respect in his writing, which comes across with astonishing clarity.

Nevertheless, he lives in a "fragmented world, perceived through isolated sense organs," writes Radhakrishna. But "when one considers the enormous pressure of his handicap and the intellectual battling with a disabled self, one grants anything to this child-man," she adds. "And to his mother, who has dedicated her life to develop her son's potential. It's a miracle."


For further reading:






From the November 2000 issue of World Press Review

Tatiana Dyachenko:
Like Father, Like Daughter

By Tekla Szymanski

Has Tatiana Dyachenko, 40, the daughter of Russia's former President Boris Yeltsin, really left the Kremlin?

She is said to have departed politics "like a sphinx in a skirt." President Vladimir Putin dismissed her shortly after his election. But Dyachenko stayed. She still has an office in the Kremlin and holds the job of part-time adviser. "For some reason," speculates Anna Zebrowska in Warsaw's Gazeta Wyborcza Magazine, "Putin doesn't publicize this."

Dyachenko has always been a riddle. During her father's administration, she surrounded herself with a wall of silence, granted few interviews, and shunned publicity and photographers "like the Queen of England," mocks Zebrowska.

Her role as the daughter of a former president had so far ensured her firm position in Russian politics, but those days are numbered, judging by Putin's proven determination to topple the "old guard."

"Most of the people around Tatiana I tried to interview," writes Zebrowska, "have developed amnesia. 'Are you afraid of her?' I asked. 'The walls have ears,' one man replied, adding: 'But when economic problems arise, Putin will begin throwing members of the family to the wolves. Then woe to poor Tatiana.'


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