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13 March, 2011  ▪  Oleksandr Leonov

Shadow of the State

Fight corruption only leads to its growing if citizens pin all their hopes on “wise rulers” and sit back, while continuing to give and accept bribes in the meantime

Despite the mind-boggling diversity of the world, there are things that are universal for all times and peoples. Unfortunately, this includes corruption, a true scourge of humanity. Corruption is mentioned in works on the art of state administration and religious and legal writings of Ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Judea, India, and China — the origins of our own civilization. This social evil is also unmasked and condemned in the Old Testament: “For I know your manifold transgressions and your mighty sins: they afflict the just, they take a bribe, and they turn aside the poor in the gate from their right.” (Amos 5:12)

The curse of civilization

Historians are almost unanimous that corruption sunk its deep roots when the state and government emerged. It essentially developed from the ancient ritual of giving presents to decision-makers. Since then, when it came to establishing the truth, the powerful of this world have been guided not so much by justice as by gift-giving competitions. This practice was the norm in primitive societies. The emergence of the state generated extra momentum for corruption. This was linked to the formation of an entire army of officials who had the authority to speak and act on behalf of the state or the ruler. They were not limited to their own, often modest, pay and frequently used their offices to enrich themselves.


With the advent of the modern age and professional state officials (bureaucracy) with its emphasis on rational procedures and formal rules, corruption assumed a new significance. It became a kind of lubricant that was applied to achieve goals. First, awards for officials were the response of traditional society with its customs of mutual assistance (you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours) to the impersonal rational bureaucracy. By bribing a particular official, the briber tilted the bureaucratic machine in a more favorable direction. Second, corruption cut through the red tape where formal rules were too clumsy and inefficient.

However, despite helping specific people find understanding in a specific situation, corruption curbs the development of society and the state. The reason is that in corrupt systems decisions are not made in favor of the best or most just option but are the consequence of bribery. Thus, society's resources are distributed inefficiently, and society itself is discontent with the corrupt and hence less legitimate government.

In the second half of the 20th century, corruption assumed an international scale. Cases of corporations bribing top officials in foreign countries snowballed, and globalization served to aggravate this trend. The Financial Times declared 1995 the year of corruption in its 31 December 1995 issue. The UN established International Anti-Corruption Day (9 December) to raise awareness of these crimes.

Anti-corruption recipes 

Since the late 18 century, and especially throughout the 19th century, Western countries saw a turning point in the confrontation between modern civilizations and corruption. Liberal transformations gave society an increasing amount of leverage against the highest echelons of power, particularly the state apparatus.

Today the most effective way to fight corruption is to minimize the factors that cause it. In particular, legislative reforms are often selected as the simplest anti-corruption tool — not so much along the lines of more severe punishment for corruption as simplifying and weakening state control (less frequent checks and lower taxes) to minimize the very possibility of abuse of office. Thus, controlling bodies can focus on the much narrower corruption-prone sphere and be more effective in their controlling functions.

External control includes mechanisms that are highly dependent on the executive power. The independent judiciary make it possible to convict transgressors and thus greatly undermines the appeal of corruption. In addition, one of the most efficient tools to rein the bureaucratic apparatus is the freedom of press and the mass media.

Around the world, some of the most effective anti-corruption measures include the following:

• ruling any corruption-generating norms unconstitutional, i.e., those that place restrictions on citizens (excepting norms about constitutional freedoms and human rights);

• increasing the legal awareness of citizens: providing citizens with legal analysis and clear-cut explanations of their rights and duties, consequences of violations, details of judicial procedures, etc. Equipped with all this knowledge, citizens will be more confident when they confront bribe-demanding officials;

• open and transparent government systems and adequate civic control may be implemented via the publication and open discussion of internal government documents on the Internet, which can seriously undermine corruption;

• social provisions for officials: high salaries, first-rate healthcare service, interest-free loans on real estate, and high pensions. Bureaucrats have to feel they are losing a lot if they get caught taking bribes. Studies show that this measure does not provide an immediate result against corruption but does help improve the government apparatus in the long run.

Even though most of the above measures have to be carried out by central governments, they also need the support of society. History gives us many examples of the will of political leaders relying on active civic support which then quickly produced initial results. Two cases in point are the “Clean Hands” campaign in Italy in the 1990s and Georgia under President Saakashvili.

If, however, citizens pin all their hopes on “wise rulers” and sit back, while giving and taking bribes in the meantime, a loud campaign may lead only to further growth of corruption, as was the case in the modern history of Ukraine and Russia. Historical experience shows that this may wreck both the prospects and the future of the state.



Everyday corruption arises from interactions between average citizens and officials. It includes gifts and services for the benefit of an official and members of his or her family, as well as nepotism.

Business corruption emerges from interactions between the government and business. For example, in the case of an economic dispute the two parties try to win the support of the judge to secure a court decision in their favor.

Corruption of the supreme government refers to a situation when the political leadership and supreme judges in a democratic system act in their own interests and to the detriment of citizens.

Internal corruption occurs between members of one and the same organization.


Bribery is a promise, offer, or provision of any benefit which makes an undue influence on the actions or decisions of an official.

Embezzlement is the theft of resources by people in authority who have control over valuable things.

Fraud is deception of a person or legal entity for personal benefit or the benefit of a third party.

Extortion is forcing a person to pay money or hand over other valuable things in exchange for certain actions or inactivity.

Conspiracy arises in the same circumstances as extortion, but it is beneficial to both parties and refers a plan to do damage to the state.

Abuse of power is using the official authority to provide unjustified benefits or preferences to a person (group of persons) or, on the contrary, discriminate against a person (group of persons) for personal benefit.

Conflict of interest/illegal transactions with securities refers to participation in transactions, procurement of an office, or deriving commercial for the purpose of personal enrichment if these actions are in conflict with the person’s official position and duties.

Illegal benefits or rewards are benefits or rewards received by officials from someone who would like to obtain a government contract.

Favoritism means the provision of services or resources to relatives, acquaintances, friends, fellow party members, etc.

Nepotism means favoring one’s relatives in assignments to official offices.

Unlawful donations and contributions refer to procurement of money in exchange for loyalty to the donor or contributor.

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