Red Line: Ivory Coast, Yury Gagarin, and Atifete Jahjaga

Soldiers from the 'Invisible Commandos,' loyal to Ibrahim Coulibaly, are punished by having to hold themselves up on their fists, during training in the PK-18 area of the Abobo neighborhood, in Abidjan, Ivory Coast Tuesday, April 19, 2011. AP Photo/R

Soldiers from the 'Invisible Commandos,' loyal to Ibrahim Coulibaly, are punished by having to hold themselves up on their fists, during training in the PK-18 area of the Abobo neighborhood, in Abidjan, Ivory Coast Tuesday, April 19, 2011. AP Photo/R

Each week, Voice of Russia hosts Red Line, a discussion about the events of the week, as seen from Moscow. This week, events in Ivory Coast, the 50th anniversary of manned space flight, and a new president for Kosovo.

Participants: Ekaterina Kudashkina, Sergei Strokan, Mira Salganik, Rinaldo Depagne, Alexander Lazutkin, Borislav Korkodelovich  

 

Ekaterina Kudashkina: We start this program by looking at what’s going on in Ivory Coast, a West African cocoa-producing nation with a poetic name and a raging civil war; we will then move on to mark 50 years of the space age, which began on April 12, 1961; and finally, we will discuss the election of Kosovo's new president, Atifete Jahjaga, who replaced Behgjet Pacolli, who held the office only for six weeks before the Constitutional Court ruled that he had to step down.

Let us get straight to our first point, Beyond the Headlines. After four months of clashes and following a concerted effort from the UN and French forces, former President Laurent Gbagbo was ousted by his rival, President-elect Alassane Ouattara. Before we proceed, let me very briefly remind our listeners of what it’s all about.

Some 10 years ago, the Ivory Coast was generally described as a haven. It’s economy relied mainly on cocoa production, and its living standards were considerably higher than in neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso, which are some of the poorest in the world. Naturally Ivory Coast attracted immigrants from these countries, most of whom settled in the north of Ivory Coast. Native Ivorians, including Laurent Gbagbo, were rather unhappy about the large numbers of immigrants coming to their country.

Sergei Strokan: In 2000, a presidential election was held, and the winner was Mr. Gbagbo. Two years later, there was another military revolt, which was suppressed by French troops and some 9,000 UN peacekeepers were deployed in the Ivory Coast. However, a civil war broke out that lasted until 2007.

Ekaterina Kudashkina:  The country was then divided into north and south—a split the 2010 presidential election was supposed to end. But it wasn’t so easy. According to the Ivory Coast Election Commission, Mr. Gbagbo lost the election to Alassane Ouattara, who received 54.1 percent of the vote—not a large margin, but a clear victory. But Mr. Gbagbo said the results were rigged and refused to step down. Eventually, the UN peacekeepers together with the French military went as far as launching air strikes at Gbagbo’s residence, and eventually he was arrested. But, it is too early to say that the conflict is over.

Sergei Strokan: My first conclusion is that the conflict in Ivory Coast—the second since its independence—is another major test not only for Ivorians, but for the world community as well. While the situation in Ivory Coast has been largely overshadowed in the world news by Libya, the news coming from this war-torn African country is hair-raising. To give just one example: It was reported that in the first days of April that attackers armed with machetes killed more than 1,000 civilians in the town of Duekoue within hours.

When we speak about tribal warfare, we have to understand that things are not that simple and there is a lot of confusion over the issue. The initial investigation by the UN into the situation revealed that it was forces of both Ouattara and Gbagbo that were involved in massacres.

Ekaterina Kudashkina: Now we are joined by Rinaldo Depagne, West Africa Senior Analyst with the international Crisis Club. How do you see the present situation in the Ivory Coast? How is it developing?

Rinaldo Depagne: The present situation is still messy, there is no security in the commercial capital Abidjan; the west of the country, especially the two or three regions bordering Liberia are still very tense; and you still have people who want revenge. Now it is a few days after Mr. Gbagbo was arrested, and we can hope that in the following days and weeks Abidjan will be secured, the economy will restart, and people will do their best not to take revenge on their opponents.

Ekaterina Kudashkina: If you remember—I believe it was last week—there was some kind of international discussion about the role of the United Nations force and the French force. How has it been resolved?

Rinaldo Depagne: It has been solved. UN Resolution 1975 gave them the right to destroy heavy weapons and to protect civilians as well, and now the UN has to back the Ivorian state police to guarantee law and order, especially in Abidjan.

Ekaterina Kudashkina: Do you think that the international force is there to stay for a long time in this country?

 

Rinaldo Depagne: I am not sure the French will stay. I am not sure they want to back the UN, and I am not sure they want to do more. After a few weeks maybe they will reduce the size of their force, which is currently 1,700 men, to perhaps less than 1,000. The UN will stay, because this country needs some stabilization. A parliamentary election will take place perhaps in a year, and until that point, I think the UN has to stay.

Ekaterina Kudashkina: Some analysts tend to compare the situation in the Ivory Coast to the situation in Libya. Do you think this is a justified comparison?

Rinaldo Depagne: No, because it is a very different country. First of all, you don’t have the same kind of divisions, you do not have the same type of the crisis. Before what you can call the Libyan war, Libya was unified; before Mr. Gbagbo’s arrest—and still today—Côte d’Ivoire consists of two parts. Politically, Côte d’Ivoire is a democracy with several political parties, Libya is not; Mr. Gbagbo was militarily equipped, but he was not as powerful as Mr. Gaddafi. Gaddafi is militarily very powerful, because he has money, Côte d’Ivoire does not. Mr. Gaddafi during his 42-year reign bought tons and tons of weapons, so it makes a difference for an intervention; you can easily defeat Mr. Gbagbo, it won’t be easy to defeat Muammar Gaddafi.

Ekaterina Kudashkina: What is going to happen to Mr. Gbagbo now?

Rinaldo Depagne: Who knows? I am not sure Mr. Ouattara himself knows what is going to happen to Mr. Gbagbo. He has been to the northern part of the country, he was in Abidjan, and apparently Ouattara forces and the UN put him in a helicopter, and we do not know where he is. There are several options: The first one is that he will be jailed and judged, but before judgment he has to be charged with something. Perhaps he will be sent into exile, if the Ivorian justice is not doing the job, the international justice will do it, well, who knows. The thing is that Mr. Gbagbo’s life has to be very carefully protected. Symbolically, he is the former president of Côte d’Ivoire. Forty-five percent of the Ivorian voters cast their ballots for him, and he must be protected by the UN to avoid any kind of a new tragedy in Côte d’Ivoire.

Ekaterina Kudashkina: Sergei, you started to talk about the similarities between Libya and Côte d’Ivoire. Did you want to say that both nations have become a testing ground for new breed of African democracy?

Sergei Strokan: Let me explain what I mean. The first step in installing democracy envisaged the removal of an autocrat or despot who was seen as the major obstacle to change. You may ask, what will happen next? Well, no one knows. Let the dust settle first.

Ekaterina Kudashkina: But then it looks as if the Western nations that opted for bold democratic experiments in tribal African societies were following the famous maxim of Vladimir Lenin: “The crucial thing is to timely get involved in a fight. Then we shall decide on the next move.”

Mira Salganik: It is also clear that by taking sides in the conflicts in Libya and in Côte d’Ivoire and in any of the internal conflicts that are linked to tribalism, the international community is fueling the conflict instead of trying to subdue it.

Ekaterina Kudashkina: Now we are turning to Red Line’s second heading, Between the Lines, where we discuss what we think to be the most notable publication of the week. This time we have selected a story from The New York Times: “In Space, Nice Guys Finish First” by Mary Roach. This somewhat bitter story is about the greatest event in the history of humanity – Soviet Cosmonaut Yury Gagarin’s spaceflight, which took place on April, 12, 1961. On April 12, 2011, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of this event and, for the first time, this day was celebrated as the International Day of Cosmonautics. 

Sergei Strokan: There has been a flood of publications on Yury Gagarin’s flight in leading world media this week. I think it is quite understandable. The famous science fiction writer Ray Bradbury has compared the significance of man’s first step into outer space to emergence of fish onto land.

 

Russia is rightfully proud of Gagarin’s flight. Yet now, half a century later, when international cooperation in space has finally ousted Cold war rivalry and national ambitions, new questions arise.

Ekaterina Kudashkina: I think, the main question is a philosophical one: Why is space exploration being done? To satisfy human quest for knowledge? To find new destinations which could be colonized to an extent?

Sergei Strokan: One more question: Should we start packing for Mars? Half a century ago, when the Soviet space program’s chief designer, Sergey Korolev was packing Yury Gagarin for the very first manned spaceflight, as Mary Roach writes “there was a great deal of concern about the unknown physiological and psychological consequences of space and zero gravity.”

Ekaterina Kudashkina: Of course there was a lot of concern. And therefore Roach’s following account is somewhat illogical and rather inaccurate. She writes: “The first man to ascend into the cosmos was a skilled pilot forbidden to use his skills. The controls of the Vostok-I space ship were locked; the capsule was maneuvered entirely from the ground.” Here’s what Alexander Lazutkin, a Russian cosmonaut who spent 185 days on the MIR space station in 1997, told us.

Alexander Lazutkin: That’s not right. He had the opportunity to control the space ship – there was a control deck and control levers. But the goal of the first flight was to ascertain whether man could survive in weightlessness. So the entire flight was automatically controlled. But if the automated controls failed, Gagarin would have to start controlling the ship manually.

Sergei Strokan: Gagarin's flight on the Vostok was entirely automated, yet simply by having the courage to face the unknown, he taught his fellow humans a vital lesson: They had a future in space. I have recently read writings by James Oberg, a NASA veteran who has studied the Soviet space program extensively, and he insists that before this first flight there were reasonable suspicions that human beings weren't made for this environment. According to Oberg, Gagarin answered that question positively. After Gagarin’s flight, “every other discovery on every other manned spaceflight was just details.”

Sergei Strokan: How have priorities changed 50 years after Gagarin’s flight? Fifty years ago, Gagarin’s flight was seen through the lens of Cold War rivalry, and this is not the case anymore now, it is now seen in a wider angle. I think it is forcing mankind to look beyond nationalism.

Ekaterina Kudashkina: We could quote Cathleen Lewis, curator of international space programs at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, who believes that the significance of Gagarin's flight had matured and broadened over time. She said: "One of the unanticipated benefits of the Cold War is our understanding of the Earth as that very fragile planet in the middle of nowhere. It came out of that Cold War competition." 

Alexander Lazutkin: He [Gagarin] talked about the beauty of the Earth, how blue it is, how fragile our planet compared to the cosmos, he spoke about needing to look after the Earth.

 

Sergei Strokan: Sure!  Gagarin’s phrase “off we go!’ did usher in a new cosmic era. However, the beginning of the era demonstrated how strong was the rivalry between the two super powers of the time.

Mira Salganik: We know that when Gagarin landed he said: "Now let the other countries try to catch us," and it seems that NASA and the U.S. did what he said, because what happened was that just twenty-three days after his flight, on May 5, 1961, Shepard became the second man in space.

Ekaterina Kudashkina: And barely three weeks after Shepard's launch, President John F. Kennedy committed the nation to putting a man on the Moon by decade's end. The goal was achieved on July 20, 1969.

Alexander Lazutkin: For the generation of cosmonauts before me and the current crop that is travelling into space now, Gagarin, along with the other space pioneers, take a special place in their minds and hearts. When we gather together, the opportunity to go up to the first cosmonauts, to speak to them is an invaluable gift. Alexei Leonov is one of those first-ever spacemen and whenever guys land, they are taken to Moscow and he comes to visit them on the very first day. He came to visit me on my first day back and he asked me how I was doing. This is a walking legend, who has come down from the heavens and came up to me, greeted me, shook my hand. It’s a real honor. If Gagarin was alive, I think the attitude would be the same. On April 12, we always remember those who are no longer with us – the four cosmonauts we’ve lost in flights and the others who have passed on. Because there aren’t that many of us, we really appreciate one another.

Ekaterina Kudashkina: And now the time has come to move on to Red Line’ concluding heading, which this week is called Person in the News as we are to speak of Ms. Atifete Jahjaga, the new president of Kosovo. Some of our listeners may remember, that in early March we discussed the new president of Kosovo, millionaire-turned politician Beghjet Pacolli.

Sergei Strokan: However, now we are again talking about the new president of Kosovo and this time. In a dramatic turnaround, the Kosovo Constitutional Court ruled that Mr. Pacolli was elected Feb. 22 in a flawed procedure and must step down. So, after his forced resignation last week, he was replaced by a political newcomer.

Ekaterina Kudashkina: Meet Atifete Jahjaga, who until this week was serving as deputy head of the Kosovo police force. Ms. Jahjaga was elected this Apr. 14 by 80 out of 100 votes of lawmakers. So far, few things are known about her. A few of them: She is a graduate of the FBI academy and on Apr. 20, she will turn 36.

 

Sergei Strokan: In an interview with local media, Pacolli said that Jahjaga was chosen in a meeting between Chris Dell, the American ambassador in Kosovo, Hashim Thaci, the prime minister of Kosovo, Isa Mustafa, the leader of the biggest opposition party, and himself. According to Pacolli, it was the American diplomat who pulled her name from an envelope.  “There should have been a camera to record their reaction,” said Mr. Pacolli.

Mira Salganik: Very interesting, but let us come back to the new president. She is a woman, she is the first non-partisan president, there is no political party behind her. I think that it would be good for Kosovo.

Ekaterina Kudashkina: We shall see. This country seems to have such a complicated future ahead. Are you saying that at least foreign dignitaries visiting Kosovo can now meet a leader without fear of being accused of giving succour to someone known as a mafia boss, like Mr. Thaci, or Pacolli, “the richest of Albanians?”

Mira Salganik: That’s what I mean, she is kind of untainted, as far as we know; but on the other hand, all said and done, she is an enigma. What is known about her is mostly facts of her biography: a law graduate of Pristina University, in 2000 she joined the Kosovo police force, then she attended courses in police management and criminal law in the UK and the United States. She is married to a doctor in Pristina. Had she not been elected president, she would have been made the director general of the Kosovo police force.

 

Ekaterina Kudashkina: She is generally seen as the joint candidate of three parties. It is an unprecedented development that the main political parties have joined together and agreed on a new president, so do you think that perhaps it gives us hope?

Prime Minister Hashim Thaci said that what seemed impossible has now been achieved. But the interference of Ambassador Dell helped to solve the problem. As a result, Pacolli was convinced to step down. The deal was made and local analysts regarded it as an important step towards political compromise, something Kosovo has lacked during its three years of independence.

 

Mira Salganik: Whether Ambassador Dell produced an envelope or not, the U.S. can be complimented. Now, not only can it count on the loyalty of Kosovo’s new president, but Hashim Thaci remains in power too as prime minister. Why is this important? Because the main thing that has to be preserved at all costs are the negotiations between Pristina and Belgrade.

Ekaterina Kudashkina: Now we are joined by Borislav Korkodelovich, a Serbian journalist and consultant, who will comment on the recent developments in Kosovo.

Borislav Korkodelovich: People are saying the latest events have confirmed the “controlled” independence of Kosovo, which was emphasized in Martti Ahtisaari’s document. Basically all those events around the elections of Ms. Jahjaga were in fact under strict control of the United States and Ambassador Dell, who was a sort of communicator between various parties of Albanians and arranged the election of Ms. Jahjaga. I think that this type of situation will continue in the future.

Ekaterina Kudashkina: Is the whole concept of greater Albania still pursued? Do you think that the new leader of Kosovo is in favor of this prospective?

Borislav Korkodelovich: I suspect that almost all Albanians, particularly in Kosovo, are striving towards that goal, and I suspect that Americans and the most important EU countries will support the aspirations.

 

Sergei Strokan: So just to sum it up, I think that now the European Union’s uphill job is to keep up this dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo.

 

Ekaterina Kudashkina: In her first speech, Atifete Jahjaga voiced her support for the ongoing talks. She said: "As we cannot change the past, we will build the future, learning from the mistakes of the past."

Referring to the dialogue, Ms. Jahjaga also said: “Kosovo and Serbia will have an open path towards the EU and the citizens of the two countries will return to a normal life.” 

 

To me it seems a little bit idealistic, a little bit like wishful thinking.

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