Herostratist kittens and latifundists

This adapted translation of an essay, authored by Юрий Гудыменко, appeared on the Petr i Mazepa ezine on December 12, 2017. It attempts to explain using baby cats why the word “anti-corruption” induces uncontrollable twitching among a large segment of Ukraine’s educated population.

Pretend you are living in a nation inhabited by little cats. There exists a serious and multifaceted problem: the government is spending millions treating the ones who suffer from obesity. Thet cannot stop eating when they are near their food bowls. Making matters worse, cat food producers are preoccupied with increasing sales. They are unconcerned about the diets of their customers or in providing healthy cat food.

When the obesity problem reaches critical proportions, political activists emerge from fluffy clumps of fur. Acting on popular demand, they begin campaigning for a healthy lifestyle for kittens.

A Specialized Anti-Fat Cat Prosecutor’s Office, National Cat Anti-corruption Bureau and other state and public agencies are created as a result of their efforts. The activists (who themselves are now fattening up, hourly) address cat rallies, deliver lectures, talk about how cat food producers have conspired with the fat felines to steal a percentage of food sales. They say in order to win a real victory over obesity it is necessary to create a specialized court to deal with kitten food producers and the fat cats with whom they conspire.

On social media networks, these lifestyle activists post photographs of cute kittens, but skip stories about Chinese fat cats, who are instantly shot for kitten-food transgressions, as well as stories about the United Cat Emirates, where the paws of corrupt cats are chopped off unceremoniously.

Do you think that the kitten population’s cholesterol level will decrease one iota in this population of cats? The correct answer is yes, but insignificantly. The popularity of healthy-lifestyle crusaders for cats, meanwhile, will soar.

The simple fact of the matter is that in addition to chopping off furry paws and imposing strict control over tailed officials, there exist other, much more effective ways to combat obesity. But this method will not increase popularity ratings. That’s why you don’t hear about them at rallies. Never, ever…

Ukraine last week once again extended the moratorium on farm land sales. If you are not aware of this, read further. The land sales moratorium is one of the most shameful stories about Ukraine. It is also one of the main sources of corruption in the country.

Latifundists, or farm land lessees, in rural villages and districts throughout Ukraine oversee a sufficient number of hectares for themselves and for God only knows how many others. They control property rented to them by land owners, whose votes they control. Many have more money at their disposal than large corporations, allowing them on the district level, sometimes even on the regional level, to open closed doors, bribe judges, prosecutors and local officials.

Latifundists decide who is elected mayor or head of the communal territory. They decide most issues with cash, cold hard cash. The cash flows to the State Land Cadastre, to local police, newspapers and to bandits when there is a conflict between land lessees or with farm land owners.

It is a scene right out of the 18th century, except land lessees ride around in luxury Toyota Land Cruisers instead of on horses.

The total volume of bribes, black cash, non-payment of taxes is difficult to estimate. Probably hundreds of millions of U.S. dollars, perhaps billions. Lifting the moratorium on farm land sales moratorium would wreck the scheme. Completely, and all at once.

Land would be assessed in the thousands of dollars, not $500 in an envelope. Land plots would start to be bought and sold in a civilized manner. A market for land sales would emerge and attract foreign investors. Corruption won’t disappear entirely or all at once — the pig will always find dirt — but lifting the land sales moratorium will decrease by orders of magnitude the level of corruption in ukraine.

The opportunity and the need to buy secretly what will become opened for sale will make it much harder to evade taxes. There will be new players and new rules, which will extirpate the current land lessor system. Corruption in the country will be dealt a very strong blow. Do not believe me. Look at the experience of central and eastern European countries during the 1990s. There is nothing new under the sun. The moratorium was extended in Ukraine, in part, because public support for lifting it remains too low. And that’s a shame.

Politicians for too many years have shouted that it is impossible to buy and sell land. Too much money has been invested in propaganda campaigns against lifting the farm land sale moratorium. Tymoshenko erects tents, Liashko waves pitchforks and anti-corruption activists keep silent. Stupidly silent. They are afraid of becoming less popular. For them, high ratings are more important than achieving results.

peter byrne is а рассеянный journalist who spends his free time collecting ideas, running and learning new technologies.