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30 June, 2011

The Lure of Impunity

What I love about our television is its hospitality.

I recently saw one of my favorite talk show hostesses welcome a guest from Moscow. Sergey Glazyev, one-time Russian minister of foreign economic affairs and Duma member and now the senior secretary of the Customs Union promoted by Russia, explained why Ukraine needs to enter this union rather than join the EU. I can’t quote him verbatim, but I can tell you his message was as follows: “What do you need that Europe for? Why are you itching to get there? What can they do? Maybe only permit same-sex marriages.” My favorite talk show hostess was at a loss. No wonder, I, too, would be hard put to make any sense out of it. Indeed, what can you say to a person for whom Europeanness begins and ends with tolerance for sex minorities? Most importantly, is it even worth it at all to debate anything with a person like this?

Of course, this could only surprise someone who is ignorant. A co-founder (together with infamous Dmitry Rogozin) of the Rodina Motherland-National Patriotic Union, Glazyev cannot fail to believe that Europe and the entire West are completely degraded and chaotic, while the country which Ukraine and Russia were part of (and soon will again be, he hopes) is the epitome of stability, economic prosperity and, forgive me, modernization. Everything we need to do is just join the union. Like my niece says, “Switch over to the dark side – we have brownies.”

Indeed, look at all the things going on in the West! A global commission on marijuana proposed legalizing the drug. And what a pitiful commission it is: four former presidents, two former prime ministers, two ex-state secretaries, a former UN Secretary General, various ministers, attorneys and a Nobel Prize winner. An exact opposite to this despicable bunch is Russia’s Chief Sanitary Inspector Gennady Onishchenko, the man who once banned the import of Moldovan and Georgian wines and Borzhomi mineral water and in recent days ended the import of any vegetables from the EU. He is so thoughtful of his compatriots’ health. Not so long ago he officially declared parsley will be deemed a narcotic in the Russian Federation. Not the plant itself, of course, but its roots and essential oil obtained from it. So now, who will dare grow or sell this vessel of sin in Russia and risk going to jail? That’s the way to do it – by acting in a straightforward and uncompromising fashion without any regard for the mercenary public. Why not? Russia is in danger, you know. It ranks as the world’s biggest consumer of heroin (75 tons) leaving behind China (45 tons) and the USA and Canada together (20 tons). Is there any other, better solution to this problem than banning parsley?

I concede that Ukraine may benefit in the short-term by joining the Customs Union. But we first need to sit down and calculate what we would give up by joining, and honestly at that (not like in the case of gas prices). One thing I have become convinced of is that, strategically, we need to steer clear of this economic and, dare I say it, mental environment which routinely generates hypocrisy, demagoguery, foolishness and, most importantly, impunity.

Impunity is the most devastating of the above. No matter what else Onishchenko does or what filthy trick or nonsense he comes up with, his right to influence the Russian consumer market will not be in jeopardy until he irks his direct bosses. Nevertheless, he knows how to please them. The same goes for any functionary in the current system of government in Russia, a country which is urging us so much to join it. It’s Russia’s own business, we could say, but on its winding but sure path to Europe, Ukraine is now rapidly acquiring civilized features peculiar to this, loosely speaking, “Asian” order. I say “loosely,” because I can still see the image of a typical Asian premier who apologizes before his people for the Fukusima catastrophe and promises to resign as soon as the first rescue measures are carried out. He did not cause the tsunami or design the reactor. No, these are merely ritual moves, but they are easy to understand in the framework of personal responsibility. (I can just see our premier or education minister committing seppuku.)

Let us talk about tolerance and the right to follow our own path (including the choice of sexual orientation or the consumption of weed – to some this is the number one question, but to me it is way down on the list) when we agree to bear responsibility for our actions. The “stability” which Glazyev is dangling before Ukraine is, in fact, total irresponsibility, including the ability to put opponents away in jail, whether their last name is Khodorkovsky or Lutsenko.

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