It seems that each day another story breaks about a crooked politician. And although some are outraged by the news, the vast majority seems to accept it, as what is becoming the new normal. We shrug our shoulders, roll out eyes and move on with our day without giving it another thought until the next media cycle brings it back to our attention, only to be dismissed again.
In some countries corruption has catalyzed political upheaval and revolution, but here in the US constant media exposure along with impunity have desensitized us into tolerance and complacency. Our elected public servants are deliberately abusing power and their only punishment is shame. That is unacceptable.
Last week, I received an email that was sent to all the members of a Ukrainian organization, which I belong to. It was an announcement of an impending rally and it highlighted the keynote speaker, Senator Robert Menendez. When I read it, I became outraged. I immediately reacted by responding to the entire distribution list. I reminded everyone of the recent indictment brought against Senator Menendez and pointed out that it would reflect poorly on the Ukrainian community to be associated with a notoriously corrupt politician.
Well, my note caused somewhat of a stir, but instead of agreement and support, I was personally attacked and MY credibility was questioned. But, I am fine with being challenged, especially if that is what it will take to spark dialogue and elicit some type of reaction. But the discussion was short lived because, I was asked to cease by one of the organization’s heads, who essential imposed a gag order [so much for freedom of speech].
Last night, I attended the PEN World Voices Festival (an organization that defends writers and advocates for freedom of expression in literature) where a panel discussed the acclaimed documentary The Russian Woodpecker. The film which won this year’s World Cinema Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, investigates the 1986 nuclear reactor explosion in Chernobyl and makes the assertion that the disaster was not an accident, but the result of a calculated decision made by a high-ranking bureaucrat of the Soviet Union.
The panel discussion delved deep into Soviet corruption, citing Stalinism as the virus that initially infected the entire region, and blamed it for the visceral corruption that exists in Ukraine today. Because Ukraine has an egregiously unequal society, bribery has become the accepted currency of every social transaction, creating a culture of corruption that would take a generation to alleviate.
But the cycle of corruption doesn’t ever seem to end. “Corruption breads violence and violence breeds war” exclaimed Fedor Alexandrovich who was the actor and filmmaker on last night’s panel. Orphaned by the Chernobyl catastrophe at the age of four, Fedor was profoundly impacted by the disaster. But his story is only a continuum of a tragic family history, fledged by a corrupt society.
Fedor goes on to vividly tell a horrid story about his great grandmother’s personal account of the Holodomor, the artificial famine of 1933 that killed 10 Million Ukrainians. He tells the audience that after the famine claimed the life of his great grandmother’s sister, the children were forced to eat her flesh in order to survive. The audience was stunned.
He then proclaimed that the crisis in Ukraine was not a problem isolated to the region. It is a global problem and cycle of corruption continues by seeping into the world through an economy that circulates blood-money. He warned against taking money soiled by corruption, as it prolongs the cycle which creates violence, as we’ve seen in Ferguson and Atlanta and ultimately war, which he believes is inevitable.
The timing of this presentation couldn’t have been more fitting for me given the experience I had earlier in the week. I had questioned whether or not I should have spoken up by sending the email. But after hearing Fedor talk, I know that inaction was not an option for me – especially, when he punctuated his grandmother’s story by boldly stating, that when we turn a blind eye to corruption, we are all participating in eating human flesh. Think about that.