TED KOPPEL: Talkin’ About a Revolution

ABC’s Ted Koppel takes a break from ABC’s “Nightline” to host PBS’ three-part “World Without Walls,” premiering Sunday at 9 p.m. on KOCE and 10:40 p.m. on KCET. The series continues through Tuesday. The special, taped last month at the University of Pennsylvania, examines the dramatic changes in Eastern Europe and the political, economic and cultural impact they are to have on the United States and the world. Koppel discussed “World Without Walls” with Susan King.

How did you get involved in the project?

The University of Pennsylvania came to us (Koppel Productions) and said they wanted to do something on the 21st century. What they hired us for was to refine the thinking on how that could be produced as three separate programs and also how to produce it in such a way as to make for an interesting production.

Had communism collapsed when you began planning the series?


Yes, I think we first began talking about this months ago; it was in the middle of it happening. By the time we started talking seriously it had happened.

The first installment is entitled “After the Cold War” and features Henry Kissinger, Fyodor Burlatsky of the Supreme Soviet and chairman of the Public Commission for International Cooperation on Humanitarian Problems and Human Rights and Lord Roy Jenkins, former president of the Common Market. What did they think would happen in Eastern Europe during the next decade?

I would say that probably the end line was that Burlatsky said that within the next 10 years or so the Soviet Union probably will be a commonwealth.

Did they fear the rise of nationalism in Eastern Europe?


Actually, the funny thing is the key of the discussion was the fear of many Soviets and Westerners and Americans that they are going to have to deal with the rise of Islamic fundamentalism.

If you take a look at the Soviet Union, there are 50 or 60 million Muslims living there. One of the key questions that has to be decided by the United States as it creates its foreign policy is on which side (the Soviets or the Islams) does the United States want to be?

How does Dr. Kissinger feel on that issue?

I think Dr. Kissinger feels the Soviet Union carries the greatest potential of danger for the United States, and it’s premature to think that communism is dead.


The topic of the second show is “Winners and Losers in the Global Marketplace.”

That ended up being in many ways the most fascinating. We spent a lot of time talking about the East Germans and whether the East Germans are Germans in everything that implies: the work ethic, the fine attention to detail in the work that they do, or are they Marxists who have grown up with this iron rice bowl mentality of the state owes me a living, free education, employment, no inflation and an apartment for $8 a month?

Are these people going to be able to adjust and, if so, how quickly, to a free enterprise system?

With the reunification of Germany, for the first time in their lives East Germans are going to be competing and some of them are going to fail, some of them are going to be unemployed. They have never known that.


You also have a group of Western industries who are sort of licking their chops at the notion of all of this cheap labor in Eastern Europe. It’s like finding another Singapore, or Hong Kong, or Taiwan, or South Korea.

Are the Japanese going to invest in Eastern Europe?

They are going to try to invest in Eastern Europe. The Japanese representative made the point they are offering their support to Eastern Europe with no strings attached. The Japanese clearly look at Eastern Europe as another opportunity for themselves.

Lee Kuan Yew, the prime minister of Singapore, who was just brilliant, was telling us about the regional corporation in which one product may be produced in eight different countries and assembled in a ninth country. The extraordinary thing is that they are now far ahead of the Europeans in terms of regional corporation. I think the Japanese see that pattern being duplicated in Eastern Europe. The bad news is the Third World is going to be left even farther behind.


The third installment, “Can Culture Survive the Communications Revolution?,” sounds fun.

Yeah. We had Tom Wolfe; John Sculley, CEO of Apple Computer; Esther Shaprio, the producer of “Dynasty”; Daniel Boorstin, librarian emeritus of the Library of Congress, and Paul Fussell, a University of Pennsylvania professor who is a very funny guy, very bright. It was a wonderfully provocative panel. I don’t think they understood each other, and I don’t think they made any progress with each other, but it was a fun program.

Do you have any more specials coming up for ABC?

Yes, by the end of June, I will have one on the New York legal system and then one on sex in the Soviet Union for the fall. Most Soviet women by the time they are 40 have had eight to 10 abortions without the benefit of anesthetic. The only reason they have them is because birth control devices are not available or don’t work. So aren’t you glad you were born in America?