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November 12 & 15: from Prague - Milan - Washington D.C.

Recalling The Velvet Revolution: sounds from the day twenty years ago when the streets of Prague rang with dissent.

And a look at Communism`s lingering legacy in the Czech Republic with one who helped bring down that system.

Reforming American health care: it'll cost billions but the U.S. can't afford not to do it, according to a new book that argues it's not an option but a right.

And, an Italian court humiliates the U.S. policy of rendition, convicting 23 Americans. We look back at the daylight kidnapping that started it all.

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Individual items from this week's show are not available. But you can listen to them in Part 1 and Part 2 of the programme (above).

See more of CBC's coverage of the 20th anniversary of the Fall of Communism

The velvet hammer falls

Nancy Durham circa Prague 1989, wearingthe winter boots she borrowed from manager of her guest house.
Twenty years ago, this was a month of revolutions.

The Berlin Wall had just fallen. The collapse of Communism in the rest of eastern Europe was inevitable. A week later it was Czechoslovakia's turn.

The Velvet Revolution.

November 17th, 1989. Riot police quash a student protest. But Czechs and Slovaks are no longer intimidated.

Hundreds of thousands pour into the streets of Prague. They're ringing bells and jingling keys, symbols of their quest to open new doors, led by the rebel/rocker playwright, Vaclav Havel.

Within 12 days, the Communist regime expires. Forty years of authoritarian rule are over. The CBC's Nancy Durham was in the middle of it back then, and looked to her personal archives to capture the spirit of those dramatic days.

Communism's hangover

Back in 1989, with Czechoslovakia in the throes of revolution, Simon Panek was a 22-year-old student activist, who'd been fanning the flames.

He helped organize the demonstration that triggered the events that dispatched the Communist regime.

These days he heads one of the Czech Republic's best-known charities, "People in Need". And much else has changed as a consequence of the Velvet Revolution.

Not all of it for the better, he says. Simon Panek joined Rick from Prague to explain.

Health care headache

With Barack Obama seeking a costly health care plan that may finally cover most Americans.

He's making this pledge..

Author T.R.Reid argues that it`s a moral issue the U.S. can`t afford to blow. Reid's take on the problem...

Barack Obama has pushed the Affordable Health Care Act for America through the House of Representatives.

But good luck getting it through the Senate, where critics don't want government competing with private health care insurers.

Cuz that's just flat-out socialism, isn't it? Isn't it?

T.R. Reid doesn`t think so.

He says the U.S. is ignoring its moral responsibility and foreign alternatives -- like Canada's -- because it isn't...it's not...it...just wouldn't be AMERICAN! Meantime, when you lose your job in the U.S., you lose your health insurance. And lot of Americans have lost their their jobs lately.

So Reid and his bum shoulder went to investigate the world of health care systems beyond the U.S. border.

He's returned home convinced the answers are out there, and addresses them in his new book, "The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care", published by The Penguin Press.

Verdict on rendition rendered

The only country in the world to put the U.S. policy of rendition on trial has won its case.

And the Obama adminstration says it is "disappointed" to hear an Italian court this month convicted twenty-three Americans of kidnapping an Islamic cleric, and transporting him to Egypt for an interrogation that allegedly included torture.

Twenty-two of them were CIA employees.

They were given sentences ranging from three to eight years. But it's unlikely they'll serve a day, providing they stay out of Europe. They were found guilty in absentia.

Assisted by two Italians also found guilty, the Americans lay in wait on a Milan street in 2002, then snatched Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, also known as "Abu Omar," suspected of moving suicide bombers to the Middle East.

Three years ago, Rick retraced the route of the kidnapping as chief prosecutor Armando Spatero was preparing his case in Milan.


In the end, the Italian government refused to request the extradition of the twenty-three American suspects.

Now they've been convicted, prosecutor Armando Spatero says he may ask Italy to issue international arrest warrants, making it easier to detain them.

But the tenacious, greying lawyer hasn't had a lot of help from his own government on this case, since it reflects poorly on Italy's American ally.

Rick interviewed the co-ordinator of the Anti-terrorism Department of the Milan Prosecution Service in his spacious Milan office in 2006.

Prints on the wall reveal his weakness for Warhol. A jarful of pens topped with cartoon animal heads hint at a sense of whimsy.

But on counter-terrorism, he has credentials of steel. He learned his craft pursuing the Red Brigades and other outlaws starting in the '70s.

It's still a dangerous job. As I sit down with Spatero, the city's top anti-terrorist cop is hovering protectively nearby.


Meanwhile, Abu Omar, kidnapped and spirited off to Egypt, is no longer in custody but is unable to leave that country.

As for the twenty-three convicted Americans, they're still at large. One of them is suing the U.S. government.

The CIA has made no comment about the convictions. But during his confirmation hearing last spring, CIA Director Leon Panetta said a modified version of the rendition program would continue.

Dispatches listeners write

After last week's interview with author Christopher Andrew on the counter-terrorism activities of MI-5, we heard from John Doucette of Manotick, Ontario who says we've lost the plot.

As a former diplomat with a little knowledge of the subject, I loved the piece.So much dis-information and propaganda in so little time. Amazing! Christopher is doing exactly what he is paid to do ---10% truth, 90% something else.

MI-5 and MI-6 saving the world, defeating the IRA! Codswallop of the highest order. Come on guys, get some real stories.

And on our story about the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, we heard from Marilynn Vanderstaay of Westmount, Quebec.

I was particularly touched by today's broadcast that I heard in the car coming home...so much so I had to find it on the Net and listen again. I am an inspirational speaker and writer/journalist, partly as a result of being a big-time, cancer-five-time overcomer...and would like to use the idea of how a few people who ...are unwavering....can make such a monumental ...thing happen...this is the best time in the history of the world to be alive.


But listener David Parnas in Ottawa says our story is at odds with his experience in the East Germany he visited over the years.

In your report it was observed that in much of the former (German Democratic Republic) the story of East Germany is not known or taught. I think that this is not the case.

The story that we Westerners want to hear, is a black-and-white story. We want to hear about the shootings on the border, the Stasi spies, etc.

They won't teach the story we expect to hear. In today's Germany, those who dare to talk about the other side...are accused of the crime of (n)ostalgia...They are branded as "losers" and "Communists" although often, they are neither. Rather than face that kind of abuse, they stay silent.

And from Paul Weijers of Lachine, Quebec:

I happened to be in Berlin the day before the Wall came down. I went through Checkpoint Charlie, bought the required visa and wandered around with my wife. Going back to the West, I asked if I could keep the visa, as it was the last day anyway. It was flatly refused by the (policeman) on duty. How's that for bureaucracy!

Your letters. Our thanks.

This program is the work of producers Dawna Dingwall and Alison Masemann, Steve McNally, and intern Filipe Leite. Technical production by Tim Lorimer and Victor Johnston. Our senior producer is Alan Guettel.
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