Red Line: Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Gaza flotilla, Yingluck Shin

Source: AFP/EastNews

Source: AFP/EastNews

Each week, Voice of Russia hosts Red Line, a discussion about the events of the week, as seen from Moscow. This week, the political future of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the second Gaza flotilla and Thailand's Yingluck Shinawatra.

Ekaterina Kudashkina:  This week we start with the ongoing saga of former IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who has been dominating world headlines for another week. We will then turn our eyes to a project called Freedom Flotilla-II. Last year, an attempt to break a sea blockade of Gaza ended with nine people killed by Israeli commandos; this year the second Freedom Flotilla was to set sail on July 5, but was banned from leaving port in Greece. And finally we will speak about Thai Prime Minister-elect, Ms. Yingluck Shinawatra, youngest sister of the ousted former prime minister of Thailand, Thaksin Shinawatra, set to become the first female prime minister of this country, rocked by years of unrest and struggle for power.


So, let us go to our first heading – Beyond the Headlines. Almost two months after the first scandal over Dominique Strauss-Kahn alleged misconduct broke out in New York, 32-year-old French journalist and writer Tristane Banon has filed a suit against Mr. Strauss-Kahn, alleging that he tried to rape her in early 2003.

Sergei Strokan: And it took her nearly nine years to confess it, only after Strauss-Kahn was almost freed of charges in New York and planned to come back to France.

Mira Salganik: While the French public and media were discussing the chances of his return to politics and running in the 2012 presidential election to challenge President Nicolas Sarkozy. I don’t believe in conspiracy theories, but look, it does look a bit fishy.

Sergei Strokan: Well, a lover of conspiracy theories may think of the interests of Wall Street, which was not altogether happy with his performance as IMF head. So, according to this logic, the New York scandal was presumably meant to deprive Mr. Strauss-Kahn of his position in the IMF and the second case to be targeting Strauss-Kahn as potential candidate in upcoming presidential election in France.

Sergei Strokan: While comparing what was said and written on the issue in the U.S. and in France, I was seeing more and more evidence of the profound difference of American and French political, social and media mores.

Mira Salganik: There is a certain difference in attitude regarding the relationship between men and women in France and America in the sense that America is more hypocritical.


Ekaterina Kudashkina: What actually struck me was how open and how humiliating was this treatment of Dominique Strauss-Kahn by the American authorities.


Sergei Strokan:I think it is not surprising that, in its recent comment on the Strauss-Kahn case, The Washington Post is trying to downplay the issue of U.S.-French cultural differences. According to the paper, while the New York “sexual assault case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn is faltering,” there is no way for him to regain his position. The reason is that ‘many Parisians are no longer as tolerant of the sexism they perceive among womanizing politicians.’”


The idea of the Washington Post is that the French public is now apprehending the situation in a more American way. I have checked the latest French opinion polls, and they reveal that society is split on the issue. According to a Le Parisien poll, conducted the day after Strauss-Kahn was released from house arrest in New-York, 45 percent of those questioned said he shouldn’t come back to French politics, but 49 percent said he should!


Ekaterina Kudashkina: We have almost half of the French electorate supporting his return to politics, so I guess the survey’s result is not bad news for Mr. Strauss-Kahn. At any rate, as the dust settles, public opinion in France might become more favorable to him. Rape is a crime, but if it is proven that the man is not a rapist but a victim of a frame-up set by some interest groups, then he gets all sympathy from his compatriots.  

As for the American media posturing with its customary and disgusting complacency as the sentinel of America’s high moral standards while catering to the proverbial voyeurism of the American public, how else would this media treat such a delicious scandal, with a Frenchman as the villain to boot?

Now I suggest we listen to Dominique Moisi, a leading French political analyst.


Dominique Moisi:The question is: is there a plot? The conspiracy theory is, of course, very popular now among a lot of Frenchmen, they are suspecting so many sources. But in all honesty a local plot, which means a little mafia trying to extort money from Dominique Strauss-Kahn, does not sound very romantic, does not sound very exciting, but it is probably the most likely scenario, the most likely story.

Ekaterina Kudashkina: As usual, that happens more often that we actually know. But, has Mr. Kahn’s sad experience paradoxically boosted his image in the eyes of the French public?

Dominique Moisi: Well, they seem to know too much about him and a lot they would have liked not to know. So, it would be difficult for him to return as a candidate for the next presidential election. It is not totally impossible, but it is not a very likely scenario. I do not think he is finished in French politics, but the possibility that he would run as a candidate for president seems highly difficult.

Ekaterina Kudashkina: I have been reading some analytical pieces that say the situation within the Socialist Party before the election is going to be more complicated with this whole story evolving. How do you see that?

Dominique Moisi: Well, it is true. At the same time the popularity of Sarkozy has not gone up significantly since the beginning of the affair. The economic situation is very tense, very bad. The Socialists have a chance to return to power. So, it may be that by the end of the day, the scandal will not have affected French politics, except it will affect very badly the life of Monsieur Strauss-Kahn himself.

Ekaterina Kudashkina: Do you think this scandal could affect the relations between France and the United States?

Dominique Moisi: At the level of society, the French have not such a good opinion of American justice and American police. But the relationship between the French government and the American government is not going to be affected by that.

Ekaterina Kudashkina: And what are the prospects for Mr. Kahn in short term?

Dominique Moisi: He should rest after such a terrible moment, and then if he supports one candidate within the Socialist Party, most likely Martine Aubry, he could even return as prime minister if she were elected president, or finance minister. So, there would be still important tasks he can do, except he will not be the head of the IMF and he will, most likely, not be the next French president.

Ekaterina Kudashkina: And now I suggest we move on to our next section – Between the Lines – in which we usually talk about a most notable – and provocative – publication of the week. This time it’s a column by Thomas Walcom run by Toronto Star under the title of “Sorting myth from reality in the Gaza flotilla.”

Sergei Strokan: I am not sure there’s much to investigate. At first glance, it’s a PR action by some people who call themselves protesters against the Gaza blockade, who also claim they want to bring humanitarian aid to Gaza by sea. If we talk about aid – well, to me the most important thing would have been to make sure it is there. 

Ekaterina Kudashkina: Nevertheless, when the Greek government suggested it could organize the delivery, those, who organized the Flotilla rejected the offer. Listen, to what they told me… we are joined byIzzet Sahin, Western Countries’ Coordinator for the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief – an Islamic Turkish NGO active in more than 100 countries around the world. 

Izzet Sahin: What they offer, the Greek government, is not different from what the Israeli authorities have been offering for a long time. They say they can allow the humanitarian aid from Ashdod or from El-Arish ports. But we do not accept that as the humanitarian activists or international coalition for breaking the siege on Gaza, because it is an illegal siege on Gaza and it must be lifted, and we will continue until Israel declares officially and practically will allow everything coming from outside or going out from Gaza freely, otherwise while the siege is continuing, will continue our activities every single day in the coming months. 

Mira Salganik: I suppose we all understand that carrying humanitarian aid is largely a pretext. Breaking the sea blockade – that’s what matters most. As long as the company is prevented from leaving Greece, there is no flotilla project.

Ekaterina Kudashkina: Let me quote from the story: “Last year’s deadly Gaza flotilla was a clear win for the Palestinians in their long conflict with Israel. This year’s version is shaping up as another. Ostensibly, the flotillas are about breaking Israel’s blockade of Gaza and bringing needed aid to the 1.5 million people there. In reality they are about political pressure and public opinion. This year’s flotilla may not end up delivering an ounce of medicine to Gaza. But by drawing attention to the territory and through it to the Palestinian cause, it seems set to score an interesting victory.”

Mira Salganik: Look. Israel as a sovereign country has a right to protect its territory. The sea blockade is a way to protect its own citizens.

Sergei Strokan:I suppose we could remind our listeners that one of the major reasons Israel had established the blockade was that Hamas militants were shooting their rockets from Gaza. And those rockets were arriving to Gaza via sea routes.


Ekaterina Kudashkina: Well, that’s true, but it is also true that the blockade has ruined fishermen who were not Hamas, it ruined fruit and vegetable farmers, who were not necessarily Hamas, didn’t it? But – we’re drifting away from our main subject of discussion. And it is – what is the Gaza Flotilla? What kind of project is it?

Sergei Strokan:I’d agree that it’s a tool in the information war between Israel and Hamas, but – I’d go a step further to suggest that it’s also a tool that a third party – a country like Turkey, for instance, could use to strengthen itself as a regional power.


Mira Salganik: I would like to bring your attention to something else. Things are changing inside Palestine because there is this reconciliation agreement between Hamas and Fatah, so is this PR action targeted at this reconciliation effort?

Ekaterina Kudashkina: That is my strong suspicion. I have my doubts that this whole project is aimed at bringing peace to that land.

Let’s take another quote: “These are the David and Goliath contests that Israel cannot easily win. For in the flotilla sagas, Israel is by definition Goliath. If it forcibly stops ships bearing aid, as it did last year at a cost of nine dead protesters, it risks being painted a bully. If, as is alleged this year, it leans on other nations such as Greece to stop the flotillas, it risks being labeled a devious bully. And the flotilla participants? These are, by large, middle-aged pacifists. One may disagree with their politics. But they hardly seem dangerous. This year’s flotilla, assembled mainly in Greece, is being prevented by that country from leaving its territorial waters. This may forestall another deadly confrontation with Israel off the Gaza coastline. But for much of the world, the overwhelming image is the same: A peaceful humanitarian protest has been stopped; the big boys are ganging up on the Palestinians; the people of Gaza continue to suffer.”


Sergei Strokan:If you ask me, the whole thing really amounts to provocation


Ekaterina Kudashkina: Well, it certainly doesn’t contribute to creating better conditions for peace negotiations, does it? Is it what the region needs? And if not the region, then who might need that? Let’s discuss it with our guest speaker Vyacheslav Matuzov, president of the Russian Society for the Promotion of Friendship and Business Ties with Arab Countries.

Vyatcheslav Matuzov: I think that it corresponds to some political motivation in aspirations from some Islamic countries who want to be the head of the Sunni population after Egypt lost its ruling position in the Sunni world. I see that we have Turkey as a moving Islamic state, as a state that has certain ambitions in the Sunni world.

The second point I want to make is how this idea corresponds to the policy of the Palestinian leadership. The steps undertaken by the Greek government are coordinated with the Palestinian leadership; I think that it is the right way to send this help to Palestinian people –  not through provocative steps against Israel only to provoke a new stage of confrontation between Palestine and Israel, but to find a certain humanitarian corridor that can be very helpful and fruitful for the Palestinian leadership.

Ekaterina Kudashkina: Now the time has come to move on to Red Line’s concluding section, Face in the News. This week it is going to be the photogenic face of Yingluck Shinawatra who is to become the first female prime minister of Thailand. After years of instability and struggle for power, the nation is going to be ruled by someone who is equally acceptable to all conflicting parties. So, is Ms. Shinawatra really the one to bring order and prosperity to the former Kingdom of Siam? She is the youngest sister of the ousted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra; in fact, she is going to be the third prime minister of Shinawatra family after Thaksin Shinawatra and her brother-in-law, Somchai Wongsawat.

Sergei Strokan:Thaksin was toppled by the military coup in September 2006 and now lives in self-imposed exile in Dubai to avoid a two-year jail term for abuse of power, but the Pheu Thai party maintains close ties with the fugitive premier. Ms Yingluck was nominated as the party’s top candidate in May and in the campaign, the Pheu Thai slogan was “Thaksin thinks and Pheu Thai does.” So, no wonder that some analysts regard Yingluck to be no more than her elder brother’s mouthpiece.

Ekaterina Kudashkina: She evidently doesn’t have political experience, but she definitely received a good home education in the subject! As she said at a press conference: "My father was a politician, and so were my brothers, so I've known about politics since I was a kid."

Mira Salganik:In this sense she is following in the footsteps of other great Asian women politicians who blazed the trail to big politics: Sirimawo Bandaranaike became the prime minister of Sri Lanka after assassination of her husband; there was Corazon Aquino in the Philippines whose husband was murdered openly by President Ferdinand Marcos; and Benazir Bhutto, daughter of Zulficar Ali Bhutto who was hanged by Pakistan’s military dictator Zia ul-Haq.

Ekaterina Kudashkina: We are seeing one and the same pattern: their husbands are being assassinated, and wives are stepping into the scene.

Mira Salganik:That is what I wanted to bring to your attention. Asian women never thought of political careers, they were either born in political families, or married to political leaders.

Sergei Strokan: However, there is no denying that by now with a number of females occupying positions of power both in the West and in other parts of the world, the gender barriers are gradually giving way. Still, Ms Yingluck is yet to prove herself in Thailand. So far she has been talking about national reconciliation – a welcome promise for Thailand that seems to be tired of tensions between the Democratic Party and the Pheu Thai party.  Last year about 90 people were killed and many more were injured in a confrontation between the military and the pro-Thaksin "Red Shirt" protesters. Yet the question is whether she will be able to deliver on her promises.

Ekaterina Kudashkina: Or her brother, if he returns. He reportedly said: if I go back, I want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

Mira Salganik:Yes, I remember, and it is an important thing, because this is the question that everybody in Thailand raises now – is she independent?

Ekaterina Kudashkina:Thailand has had several democratically elected prime ministers but as far as I understand none aimed for, let alone achieved, a populist appeal. They got to the top through deal-making between parties. Thaksin, however, acted as an authentic populist who identified the potential power of the nation’s poorer classes and exploited it.

Mira Salganik: Thaksin’s opponents accuse him of threatening economic stability through his populist programs. But I read in some Thai papers, in the press, it is being debated, that there is a new generation in Thailand, there is a demographic change.


Sergei Strokan: And I guess this generational change also affects views on the role of the old institutions, including role of the military and the moneyed elite that actually rule the country. But it is doubtful that Pheu Thai is going to gain from the new political awareness. 


Sergei Strokan: Let me also make a final remark. Do you know what was said about Corazon Aquino when she finally stepped down? I think it was said by Lee Kuan Yew: “I am sorry she has lost a chance which is given once in thousand years.” What I want to say is that this is the universal question that all female politicians in Asia are facing – each and every of them is given a chance that is probably given once in centuries, and it should not be wasted, it should not be mishandled. Let us wish our female prime minister of Thailand success!

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