Tuesday, June 08, 2004

April 9, 2003: Igor Ivanov's Perspective

On Wednesday afternoon, April 9, 2003, Igor Ivanov, the Russian Foreign Minister, was standing in a lobby of the United Nations Building in New York and smoking a cigarette. Suddenly he noticed that everyone in the lobby had stopped talking and had turned to look at the television monitor.

Ivanov turned, looked up at the screen, and watched as a group of Iraqi civilians in Firdus Square -- with the help of American soldiers -- pulled down the statue of Saddam Hussein. His face expressionless, Ivanov was perhaps already thinking ahead to the next moves he and his staff would have to make to counteract this unfortunate incident. He had watched many statues pulled down in Russia after December 25, 1991. This was nothing new.

Standing in the lobby, he recalled something Mikhail Gorbachev once told him. After Gorbachev had given his speech that December day ending the Soviet Union, he left his office and, as he was walking down the corridor, he happened to look out the window and was shocked to see the soldiers already pulling down the Soviet flag and hoisting the Russian flag. It could not have been more than a minute after his speech, Gorbachev had told Ivanov.

Almost a century of Communist rule changed in the time it takes to lower one flag and hoist another.

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