Right now there’s an ‘Anticorruption Forum’ of sorts taking place in Kyiv, organized by no one other than Mikheil Saakashvili his own self. While Twitter users are busy MSTing the participants’ speeches and marveling at the expensive cars lining the parking lots, I’m going to be brief.
‘Fighting corruption’ in Ukraine is a buzzword. It has no meaning. In my life I’ve seen scores of politicians, journalists and self-proclaimed ‘experts’ rambling and ranting on ‘fighting corruption’, yet somehow all we’ve done in that regard was talk. And we became exceptionally good in it.
Of course, most of the time even if you honestly wanted to fight corruption, you couldn’t do anything much. Corruption allegations were never investigated and offenders never jailed or given as much as a slap on the wrist – unless, of course, they were your political enemies. But while previous regimes resorted to using the country’s security services and the judicial system to attack their foes, the only way their foes could get back at them was get on the TV and shout at the top of their lungs. There were no legal mechanisms and, above all, no political will.
Here we are at the end of 2015, and while the question of political will is oft-raised indeed, Ukraine did manage to kick-start its anti-corruption mechanisms – the Anti-Corruption Bureau and, recently, the special prosecution to go with it; yet the ‘civil society’ and quite a few MPs and government employees failed to take the hint.
Going on TV and saying ‘that person is corrupt!’ looks nice, and probably sounds nice. Presumably it does wonders for one’s approval ratings, but what it doesn’t do is actually fight corruption. And even the approval ratings may be suspect when you’ve been in the biz for ten years running and the whole country knows your face. Or when you’ve been a virtual nobody just before Maidan, but now you suddenly tote expensive suits, drive luxury cars, and foot expensive restaurant bills for your fellow anti-corruption activists.
But loud accusations do not fight corruption. They do not make anyone accountable, they do not bring crooks to justice, they do not stop graft or kickbacks or money laundering; they’re just words. Hot air. Sure, they’re loud, and they sound good, but they aren’t actually doing anything.
All of this is just for show – a very hypocritical show, given all the expensive cars (certainly not the kind bought on an average MP’s salary) or restaurant bills in plain sight. This isn’t doing anything to make corruption go away. It certainly didn’t for the last ten years or so.
So next time when you hear some Ukrainian MP (preferrably from the cute little pro-European reform-minded parties like Samopomich or Batkyvschina) or journalist or ‘activist’ talking about how Person A or Person B are corrupt, don’t immediately trust what they say. And, most of all, do not take it seriously.
They are not fighting corruption.
All they do, in fact, is talk.
P.S. The author is firmly on the sidelines of the notorious Saakashvili-Avakov fight (also known as 2boys1cup), and Saakashvili’s public accusations that prompted the organization of this forum in the first place.
Everyone in this country can accuse. We’ve been doing it for more than a decade. And this is why I’m not placing too much trust in Mr. Saakashvili’s accusations, or, for that matter, anyone else’s.
P.P.S. ‘Ukrainian independent journalists’ like Mustafa Nayyem or Serhiy Leschenko have literally been in the biz for a decade.
Their admirable track record (or lack thereof) in fighting corruption is what makes me foam at the mouth every time I see someone in the West praising them. Honestly, I’ve yet to see them do anything but talk.
P.P.P.S. Other brands of ‘anti-corruption activists’ are examined here. Read, and weep, and wonder.