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Reaction to the “Panama Papers” — how Ukraine differs from Russia

“By the way, 86% of us do not support this re Evolution.” Cartoon by Serhiy Yolkin
Reaction to the “Panama Papers” — how Ukraine differs from Russia
Article by: Vitaliy Portnikov
Translated by: Anna Mostovych

Drew Sullivan, founder of the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Program (OCCRP) promised that the publication of the materials investigated by his organization would “change the world.” But there is one small inaccuracy in this journalist’s promise. Only the world that he is accustomed to can be changed.  A world where there is an independent judiciary, free media and public opinion. Where, after all, there are real elections and the transfer of power.

For such a world, the publication of information on the off-shore firms of government officials, on suspicious transactions and mysterious “custodians” serves as the grounds for front page articles in newspapers, headline stories on television shows, statements by investigators and prosecutors. And even if the published documents do not lead to any real court actions, the party of the politician whose honesty is questioned is very likely to lose in the next election and the politician to begin a more or less honorable retirement.

Sullivan promised the Russian president’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov that he would be working until late evening. I suspect Peskov probably spent Sunday evening in a much less stressful state than Sullivan himself. What really happened? Novaya Gazeta, which exists solely to denigrate the saintly image of the most popular politician in  Russia has published another accusation? The Western media has launched a tiresome diatribe about the “president’s friends”? Most Russian citizens will not even hear anything about this attempt to discredit Russia. And if they do, it will be presented as vile slander they have to live with. And, most likely, they will sympathize with the victim of all this villainy –targeted  simply because he dares to protect Russia from its enemies. If Russia’s Prosecutor General’s office and the Investigative Committee of Russia take up the Panama matter at all, it will only be to punish the disseminators of this “slander and baseness.” And Russian media will not report on Putin and his friends. They will talk about Poroshenko. After all, blaming Reagan on the Red Square is an established custom of Russian democracy.

By the way, the reaction of Ukrainians to the information that their president had registered offshore companies demonstrates how modern Ukraine differs from modern Russia. Practically no one argues that the head of state can do anything he wants. No, the discussion is mainly about the degree of responsibility. About the political consequences — whether there will be any or not. About what the recently formed anti-corruption bodies should do. And both the supporters and opponents of Petro Poroshenko have no doubt that he is a citizen like everyone else. A citizen who is responsible for his actions and misdeeds.

This is the kind of world that Drew Sullivan can really change. Because, after all, it is not information itself that is important — any politician can get embroiled in offshore networks even from the most non-corrupt countries. It is the reaction to the information that is important. It is the existence of a society that wants to know this information, to discuss it and to draw conclusions that is important — a society with media capable of developing a subject in order to separate the real meaning of the documents from emotion and propaganda. It is the readiness of law enforcement and courts to respond that is important. Both the professional level of this discussion and the legal consequences are indicators of the maturity of a society. And the political consequences of any revelations are proof that the voters have reached their conclusions and placed the responsibility for the country with those who were at a distance from the epicenter of the explosion.

Only a world that can change and wants to change can be changed.

Translated by: Anna Mostovych
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