The essential issue here is whether democratic processes in fledgling often corrupt economic societies are conducive or preventative to governmental and societal corruption. A specific case on point for this discussion is dichotomy of Ukraine and and its northern neighbor, Belarus both arising from the ashes of the USSR. Both are corrupt predictably. Ukraine is democratic, Belarus is autocratic, yet their corruption ranking is hugely disparate in favor of Belarus. According to Transparency International Belarus ranks 63rd globally, Ukraine ranks a dismal 117th out of 180 countries. Accepting these rankings on their face an objective observer may be disposed to say thank God for Lukashenka. However, I, would rather live in Ukraine than Belarus. Is this a product of my Ukrainian nationalistic myopia or an analytical myopia on the part of the person guided by Transparency International?
The answer is a bit of both.
Two years ago I stayed for a few days in Kharkiv, monitoring Ukraine’s presidential election, The city of Kharkiv was in the hands of a Russian speaking thug, albeit democratically elected who has since departed altogether. I was pleasantly surprised and I had been in Kharkiv a half dozen times before by the city’s appearance. I was unable to find weeds in the parks. At almost every plant location a person was bent over weeding. Several weeks earlier I had traveled to Belarus, specifically landing in the City of Minsk. While I assume that I was followed by unknown companions throughout my visit, I was pleasantly surprised by the appearance of Minsk. There were no weeds in the parks. Not surprisingly to me, in Kyiv’s Shevchenko park and Lviv’s Stryjsky park there was a genuine need for weeding. For the annoying reader no weeds means few weeds.
The weed phenomena can be explained rationally. Dictator Lukashenko is all about law and order almost to the point of obsession. Mayor albeit thuggish Kernes was a fine administrator who cared for appearances. The corruption ranking, however, requires further reading (even the hidden or fine print) and analysis.
Transparency International is a global coalition against corruption. Before accepting its ranking, one should be informed about the methodology used. The Rank Index as explained is predicated upon the perception of corruption. The website itself explains the concept.” Corruption generally comprises illegal activities, which are deliberately hidden and only come to light through scandals, investigations and prosecutions.”
That explains a whole lot and changes the picture substantially. An authoritarian regime has few scandals and even less investigations and almost no prosecutions of those who are benefiting most from the corruption while in favor with the beneficiary-in-chief. Besides Belarus, such authoritarian regimes left over from Soviet days, as Kazakhstan and Armenia among other less than democratic states rank well ahead of Ukraine. China ranks 78th. Frankly I am surprised that all of the Stans (Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan) and Russia do not rank higher.
At the conclusion of the NATO Summit, US President Biden was taken aback somewhat by a question on Ukraine’s NATO membership. He referred immediately to a lack of democracy and the prevalence of corruption before catching himself and expounding only on the corruption. Frankly, I am certain that President Biden’s advisers utilized such indices as that of Transparency International without considering the explanatory material.
I am not suggesting that there is no corruption in Ukraine. In fact, Ukraine is quite corrupt. The United States is then only somewhat corrupt. Please consider merely the police departments throughout the USA. Still, Ukraine is a paragon of democracy in Eastern Europe. Ukraine’s corruption is a long term constant struggle in all likelihood. President Zelensky is making strides. The law on oligarchs may be a major stride. Without denigrating anyone, Turkey, North Macedonia, Albania rank right there with Ukraine in that less than persuasive Index. Turkey is an autocracy and the other two are at best minimal NATO contributors. Please do not inhibit Ukraine’s progress in democratization and the corruption struggle by jeopardizing its sovereignty and strategic importance on the border of the world’s greatest threat, all on the basis of a misinterpreted Index.
June 26, 2021 Askold S. Lozynskyj