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Corruption is non-Western

Of the civic vices most commonly reported as “alien to Western values,” corruption stands out. The reporting on Bulgaria’s, Romania’s, and Ukraine’s transitions to democracy very well illustrates this.

When in 2002 NATO invited Bulgaria and Romania to join the alliance, the AP (November 18) distributed a story that questioned these countries’ fit as members. The story pointed out their considerable

A 11 things nefarious are non- Western 33 poverty, the inferiority of their military, and especially their corruption. A pertinent paragraph reads: “Corruption is rampant in this region, Western values are not universally held, and the economies are struggling. Ordinarily, such grave troubles would delay a nation’s entry into NATO for years.”

The corollary is that an anti-corruption stance is an attribute of Western values—or transformation toward it. Though not always specified, it is manifest in the overall narrative. It was especially evident in the coverage of Ukraine in the years before and after the Russia-allied government of President Viktor Yanukovych was forced out by massive violent protests in February 2014.

One AP story (originally distributed on December 4, 2013) chronicled the rise of heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko as a leading candidate for the presidency. “Thanks to his sports-hero status and reputation as a pro-Western politician untainted by Ukraine’s frequent corruption scandals, the 6-foot 7-inch Klitschko has surpassed jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko in opinion polls,” the AP reported in the second paragraph.

Klitschko was quoted as saying that Ukrainian politicians were “simply plundering the country” and had no interest in transforming the system. “He embraced Western values while training in Germany and the United States for matches, he says, and wants to bring that mindset home to Ukraine.”

To avoid splitting the reformist votes, Klitschko had decided to back Poroshenko for the presidency and was elected mayor of Kiev instead. In an interview with the U.K. Guardian about four years later, Klitschko expressed frustration at the difficulty of rooting out corruption. “The Soviet system is how everything here works,” he told the Guardian in a story published on May 29, 2018. “It’s very difficult to break the system. The system is big and inflexible, uneffective and also corrupt. And that is our main goal, to change the system, to break the system, to make it modern.”

In a second-anniversary story on the revolution, the Washington Times blamed holdovers from the earlier regime for the difficulty of transforming the system. “Activists said the problem is clear: Oligarchs like Mr. Poroshenko who ran Ukraine before the revolution remain in control despite the change of regime,” the Times surmised in a story on December 20, 2015. The paper quotes a critic of the slow reform as saying, “The people who came to power are the people from the old system, who worked with Yanukovych.” It just happens that Poroshenko was one of the oligarchs who sponsored and fanned the massive protests that brought down Yanukovych’s government.

That corruption is alien to Western values also comes through in reporting on another Ukrainian oligarch charged with the offense amid the unrest that toppled Yanukovych. In March 2014, Dmytro Firtash, an influential pro-Russian businessman, was arrested in Vienna in connection with a U.S.-issued warrant. In its dispatch on March 13, the AP quoted one Tim Ash, “an emerging markets analyst with Standard Bank in London,” as describing the arrest as a “seismic development.”

And then there is this detail:

In an email, he said Firtash’s detention sends a strong message to oligarchs in Russia and other former Soviet republics ‘that no one is above the law and... that if they are to do business in (or) with the West, they need to comply with some basic Western values.’

Although the story does not specify that corruption is “alien to Western values,” that point is obvious.

 
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