New York Times
Few Iranians have been celebrating the 24th anniversary of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s Islamic revolution this month. It is easy to understand why. A movement that once brought millions into the streets demanding freedom from the shah’s dictatorship has gone on to oppress its young, disillusion its middle-aged veterans and silence even grand ayatollahs who question its course.
Two recent events illustrate the growing isolation of the clerical conservatives who retain real power in Iran. Earlier this month Tehran newspapers reported that a leading reform strategist had been sentenced to seven years in prison for publishing a poll showing three of four Iranians favor talks with Washington. That same reformer, Abbas Abdi, was one of the students who led the takeover of the American Embassy in Tehran in 1979. Last month, Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri was freed after five years of house arrest for questioning the course taken by Iran since the revolution. Ayatollah Montazeri, 80, was once Ayatollah Khomeini’s closest associate.
Mr. Abdi and Ayatollah Montazeri are personally responsible for some of the harsh cruelty of the Islamic Republic’s early years. Since then, each has come to recognize the damage clerical dictatorship has done to Iran. Mr. Abdi has courageously fought for reform for more than a decade. Ayatollah Montazeri has been speaking out fearlessly since the late 1980’s.
Mr. Abdi and Ayatollah Montazeri have substantial followings. But the biggest threat to continued clerical dictatorship comes from young Iranians. Most of Iran’s 65 million people were born after the revolution. For them the rule of the mullahs has meant stunted job and housing prospects and furtive social lives. For now, they have lodged their hopes in the presidency of Mohammad Khatami and its long-thwarted promises of reform. The mullahs believe that by jailing people like Abbas Abdi they can delay needed changes indefinitely. They are wrong.
Christian Science Monitor
In case anyone hasn’t caught up with the crisis over North Korea’s nuclear scare, that’s probably because the Bush administration still prefers not to call it a crisis.
But given the rising level of threats and counterthreats in recent days, a crisis by any other name would set off a five-alarm warning. …
To help the US to enter bilateral talks with North Korea and defuse this crisis, Bush and the incoming South Korean president, Roh Moo-hyun, must reach a common negotiating stance. The two have more overlapping interests than differences. If the US can then talk to Pyongyang solo while also representing the interests of South Korea (and Japan), then North Korea may come into line.
There is a scandal of international proportions brewing in South Korea. This past week it was revealed that 71 checks, comprising nearly $190 million, passed from the coffers of the South Korean government to a Hyundai subsidiary and at least three different banks in at least three different countries before finally arriving in Pyongyang. The transfer was completed just one day before the leaders of the North and South met in June 2000, and there are credible questions whether the historic summit — and by extension, the South’s contentious policy that kindness brings peace — was merely a bought-and-paid-for event.
Hyundai Merchant Marine has claimed the money was for a new investment project in the North. But that deal wasn’t signed until two months later, in August, and the stealth with which the money was funneled is highly irregular. Meanwhile, the administration of Kim Dae Jung is sending mixed signals, claiming on the one hand that no such transfers occurred, and on the other, that, if true, such payments would be justified as an “act of governing.” In other words: We didn’t do it; but if we did, so what? …
If South Korea’s sunshine policy has achieved anything, it is to shine a light on the failed policy of buying peace and security from North Korea. South Koreans opposed to those who would get tough on Pyongyang may want to ponder whether they wish to be bullied in this way for much longer.
Poetry is dangerous. At least, despots, tyrants and commissariats have always thought so. Despots tend to jail and kill wielders of words if the words they use seem dangerous.
On Feb. 2, Vclav Havel, poet, playwright, fan of American rock, and former flower child, ended his 13-year career as the president of first Czechoslovakia and then the Czech Republic. He was Europe’s longest currently-serving president — a surprise, in view of the fractious politics and pervasive dissatisfactions in his country. Yet Havel — frail after 1996 surgery for lung cancer, increasingly remote from commoners’ concerns — deserves to be remembered as one of the great men of the 20th century, and, in spite of everything, a successful president. …
Against totalitarianism, Havel posed free thought, and — like another poet-playwright, Pope John Paul II — he showed that the danger of poetry sometimes can win out over the predictability of oppression.
(Compiled by United Press International)