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The New York Times
Shinzo Abe’s Asian Challenge
Published: September 27, 2006
If Japan’s new prime minister, Shinzo Abe, hopes to be as popular and successful as his departing predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi, he needs to be equally daring in breaking with failed policies of the past. The obvious place to start is by rebuilding Japan’s badly damaged relations with China.
Nothing is more important to Japan’s prosperity and security than normal relations with its giant neighbor. An ugly, but increasingly distant, history of Japanese aggression and war crimes stands in the way. Mr. Koizumi, in one of the greatest errors of his administration, deliberately glorified this history, playing into the hands of Chinese leaders who often use nationalism to distract their people from official corruption and political repression.
Mr. Abe needs to extricate Japan from this destructive dynamic. The first step should be declaring that he will not continue Mr. Koizumi’s provocative practice of visiting the Yasukuni Shrine, where the spirits of convicted war criminals are honored. The shrine controversy, and the failure of Japanese textbooks to deal honestly with the wartime behavior of Japanese troops, complicate the nation’s ability to handle contemporary military issues, like the emerging debate over amending the pacifist constitution that America imposed on it after World War II. There is no reason Japan should not be able to make that change. But unless it first comes to terms with its history and its neighbors, such a step would be poorly received by other Asian nations.
Japan has a great deal to be proud of, including an increasingly vital democracy, a revived economy and the difficult but necessary economic reforms that Mr. Koizumi began to push through and that Mr. Abe will now need to take further. It does not need to glorify the darkest period of its recent history and the war criminals most responsible for that terrible aberration.
Congress to Study Bill on Homosexual Civil Unions
SAN JOSÉ, Sep 19 (IPS) - The Diversity Movement in Costa Rica is sponsoring a draft law on civil unions for same-sex couples which will be presented formally to the legislature this week.
The civil unions initiative is aimed at ensuring equal rights for Costa Rican homosexuals, granting each partner in stable same-sex couples the right to social security (if they are not economically self-sufficient), and the right to inherit, among others..
More controversial issues, such as full marriage and adoption, have been left out of the bill. Abelardo Araya, president of the Diversity Movement which represents the homosexual and lesbian communities in the country, said that "these are issues that would create difficulties, rather than bring benefits."
In any case, the possibility of homosexual couples adopting children "isn't completely out of reach," since Costa Rican law allows adoption by single people, he said.
Araya explained that "we have asked our lawmakers, 'How is it possible that we should have all the obligations and none of the rights? What's the matter? Are there two kinds of citizenship?'"
The draft law is "a first step" towards equality, towards "exercising full citizenship," he said.
Ana Elena Chacón, a deputy for the Social Christian Unity Party, one of the congresswomen who will present the draft law in the legislature, said that "Costa Rican law says that individual and collective rights shall be respected, but that has not happened in reality. This initiative will try to fill in some of the gaps left by our laws."
The document will go to committee, and will there be placed, as Chacón told IPS, on the chopping block, in the sense that "it will be torn to pieces by legislators until a final text is agreed, which I hope will respect the spirit and ideas of those who have drawn it up."
According to Chacón, Costa Rica "is a very 'machista' (sexist) society, where people look askance at anyone who is different for any reason. They have been forgotten for many years, and we have to offer them a solution."
She pointed out that "gays and lesbians are no less Costa Rican than the rest of us. We're not talking about marriage or adoption, but about basic civil rights."
"This is about respecting the rights of 10 percent of the Costa Rican population (of 4.2 million)," she said. "People have been afraid of facing up to homosexuality, there has been mockery...a number of actions that have not been at all pleasant or conducive to social harmony in this country," she declared.
The draft law rests on a May 23 ruling by the Supreme Court in a case brought in a personal capacity by Yashin Castrillo three years ago, arguing that Article 14 of the Family Code was unconstitutional, in order to win legal backing for same-sex marriages..
Although the Supreme Court judges rejected the petition by five votes to two, the verdict opened the door for legislation on the matter.
The majority opinion included a statement to the effect that there was a vacuum of appropriate legal regulation for stable same-sex unions, and that legal security, if not the need for justice itself, made such regulation imperative. The ruling stated that legislators at other levels should make it their concern to regulate, as they saw fit, the obligations or rights deriving from unions of this kind.
Araya was optimistic as he told IPS that "so far we have presented it (the draft law) to three members of Congress belonging to different parties who have given us their support, but we also hope that the Access Without Exclusion Party, the (governing) National Liberation Party, and the Libertarian Party will add their support."
"There's a positive atmosphere in the legislature. We have been creating a social support network. It's not a solitary struggle, there are many social and political organisations in favour of our rights," Araya said.
But the gay and lesbian communities realise that "building awareness in society was neglected until just two years ago. Attitudes can't be changed from one day to the next, although it's true that there's a difference in the way middle-aged people and young people see the issue. Even so, there's a lot of work to be done," the activist acknowledged.
The Diversity Movement will not venture to guess when the draft law might be approved, although they believe the law will be ready during the life of the current legislature. "It will take some time, because right now we're in the middle of debating the free trade agreement with the United States. However, we're not going to hold back on our project, because we're tired of being told that our rights are not a priority," Araya said.
The greatest opposition to the initiative comes from the Roman Catholic Church. Costa Rican bishops discussed the issue last week, but they sent IPS a document issued in 2003 by the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, "Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons", which condemned legal unions between persons of the same sex.
According to the document, "legal recognition of homosexual unions or placing them on the same level as marriage would mean not only the approval of deviant behaviour, with the consequence of making it a model in present-day society, but would also obscure basic values which belong to the common inheritance of humanity."
The same text states that "men and women with homosexual tendencies must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity."
If this law is speedily approved, Costa Rica will become the most advanced country in Latin America in terms of recognising the rights of same-sex couples, but it may be pipped at the post by Uruguay, where a draft law on homosexual and heterosexual civil unions was recently approved by the Senate. It now requires passage by the Chamber of Deputies.
In Argentina, a bill on civil unions which includes adoption rights for homosexual couples is being drafted. A similar law has been in effect in the city of Buenos Aires since 2003. Chilean President Michelle Bachelet's programme of government also includes enacting a law of civil unions.
Same sex marriage is legal, with variations, in the northeastern U.S. state of Massachusetts and in Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands and Canada.
Meanwhile "in our region, countries like Nicaragua punish sodomy between consenting adults. The countries around us are lagging behind in this area," Araya said.
To put pressure on politicians, the Diversity Movement will urge people not to vote for candidates "who discriminate" in the municipal elections to be held on Dec. 3. (END/2006)
Web posted at: 21:30 JST
Guardian Leader: In praise of ... Idomeneo
In praise of ... Idomeneo
Thursday September 28, 2006
Hard on the heels of the row over the Pope's comments about Islam, a Berlin opera house has triggered another debate about where the boundaries between free speech and multicultural sensitivities should lie. The Deutsche Oper's decision to cancel its production of Mozart's Idomeneo for fear of causing offence to Muslims is simultaneously understandable and reprehensible. The immediate issue, the brandishing of the severed head of Muhammad, is obviously a provocative act - as are the simultaneous brandishings of the heads of Jesus, Buddha and Poseidon.
But the cancellation is also a dangerous act of self-censorship at odds with the principles of liberal democracy and artistic expression, as chancellor Angela Merkel said yesterday. Amid the turmoil, it is worth stressing that none of this is the responsibility of Idomeneo's composer. Mozart never wrote any such scene as the one that has caused the current furore. The line "The gods are dead" that apparently accompanies it is not in the Abbé Varesco's libretto either.
These things are anachronisms from the mind of the show's director, Hans Neuenfels, and are arguably at odds with the reconciliation between heaven and earth that marks the opera's final scene. There are bigger issues at stake in this row than fidelity to Mozart, but it would be a shame if the blameless composer's first indisputable theatrical masterpiece was to acquire a controversial reputation merely because of the misdirected ego of a 21st-century director.
The New York Times
New Premier Seeks a Japan With Muscle and a Voice
By MARTIN FACKLER
Published: September 27, 2006
TOKYO, Sept. 26 — In his first act after being installed as prime minister, Shinzo Abe, a popular nationalist who has vowed to make Japan more assertive globally, appointed a cabinet on Tuesday packed with social conservatives and foreign-policy hawks.
Mr. Abe, 52, bowed deeply in front of lawmakers after winning 339 votes in the 476-member lower house, which selects the prime minister.
Earlier in the day, Mr. Abe’s predecessor and political mentor, Junichiro Koizumi, vacated the prime minister’s residence in central Tokyo after nearly five and a half years. Mr. Abe had been virtually guaranteed to succeed Mr. Koizumi, 64, since winning last week’s leadership election in the Liberal Democratic Party, which has governed Japan for most of the past half-century.
Mr. Abe is Japan’s youngest prime minister since World War II and the first to be born after the war. His ascension appears to be a changing of the guard in a country that has kept a low profile in international affairs since its defeat in 1945. He enters office riding a crest of popularity, as his message of renewed national pride has found followers amid the resurgence of Japan’s long dormant economy.
“Japan must be a country that shows leadership and that is respected and loved by the countries of the world,” Mr. Abe said Tuesday in his first news conference as prime minister. “I want to make Japan a country that shows its identity to the world.”
At the same time, Mr. Abe (pronounced AH-bay) said he wanted to improve relations with South Korea and China, which soured after Mr. Koizumi paid visits to a Shinto shrine honoring Japan’s war dead.
Mr. Abe called on the leaders of South Korea and China to meet with him, something both countries refused to do with Mr. Koizumi. So far, Mr. Abe has been vague about whether he will visit the shrine.
He told reporters that one goal of his administration was to revise Japan’s pacifist Constitution, written after World War II by American occupation forces, to permit a full-fledged military. He also indicated that he favored closer military cooperation with Washington. These goals have alarmed many here who worry that any upgrading of the status of the armed forces could damage ties with Asian neighbors, which fear a revival of Japanese militarism.
After winning leadership of the governing party last week, Mr. Abe reportedly spent several days holed up in his country retreat near Mount Fuji, drawing up his cabinet. His choices, said Tomoaki Iwai, a professor of politics at Nihon University, and others, gave a decidedly hawkish bent to the new administration.
Mr. Abe increased the number of advisers to the prime minister, adding new posts for national security, education and the issue of Japanese citizens kidnapped by North Korea. Many of his appointees are in their 50’s, a decade younger than most cabinet ministers in the past.
One of the most watched appointments was to the new job of national security adviser, which went to Yuriko Koike, 54, a former television reporter. Ms. Koike has been a vocal supporter of the economic sanctions on North Korea linked to its refusal to provide more information on the fate of Japanese citizens kidnapped two decades ago.
Another was the education adviser, Eriko Yamatani, 56, a critic of sex education and the teaching of “excessive” equality of the sexes in schools.
The new state minister in charge of sex equality, Sanae Takaichi, 45, has opposed allowing women to have different legal family names from their husbands, a freedom women sued to win in the late 1980’s.
The defense agency chief, Fumio Kyuma, a 65-year-old party veteran and a friend of Mr. Abe’s, and the foreign minister, Taro Aso, 66, who ran against Mr. Abe in last week’s leadership vote, retained their positions.
There are few political heavyweights in top economic posts, reflecting what some economists and political scientists said was a shift in priorities toward foreign policy and national security. Mr. Koizumi, in contrast, filled economic posts with prominent reformers like Heizo Takenaka, a former economics professor credited with fixing Japan’s debt-ridden banking system.
Mr. Abe said he wanted to continue Mr. Koizumi’s market-oriented reforms but also pledged to fight the growing discrepancies in incomes and opportunities that they have helped create. Mr. Koizumi’s critics blasted him for turning egalitarian Japan into an American-style society of winners and losers.
But Mr. Abe seemed to speak most forcefully on security issues, and on the need for Japan to have a larger voice in global affairs. One of his goals, he said, will be getting Japan a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.