The tour of corruption

A young Czech philosopher had an unusual business idea. He set up a tourism company with an unusual offer: “the tour of corruption.” His clients are taken to different places, from the Prague City Hall to the private homes of those involved in various corruption scandals, in order for them to be able to feel in a more concrete manner the striking character of the phenomenon. Corruption is talked about in the media, but for most it is just a story from a different world. So the indignation, when it persists, takes the form of an almost impersonal condemnation, as towards an epidemic of viruses that act without being detected. Although corruption is very personal, its effects seem to concern us only indirectly, to the extent to which confidence in politicians that resort to it can only drop drastically, condemning a good part of the electorate to scepticism or civic abulia.

That is precisely why the possibility of “museifying” the products of corruption – in this case buildings erected as beneficiaries of corruption – can be a more efficient way of bringing the phenomenon out of the vagueness that contributes to generalized public amnesia. “A blackmail for each floor,” this is how the rising size of an important Romanian newspaper building was noted during the interwar period. Corruption was expressed (sometimes very) visibly in buildings, the latter being the samples of a phenomenon that was otherwise discrete by definition. And these buildings can be taken out from their “anonymity” and placed on the “tourism” map like any other monuments. After all, they express a culture that is not just strictly political. For instance, we shouldn’t be surprised that some Orthodox theologians are almost friendly with the phenomenon, considering it the expression of a personalist mentality in opposition to institutional abstraction. Because the “me-you relationship,” even in the ambiguous form of corruption, deserves to be privileged in their view. Not all among the Christians think like this, but the temptation is not just marginal. Pope Francis’s effort to remove “bribe” and “dirty” gains from the category of harmless sins is proof of that. The justifications of those who resort to corruption are multiple: a legitimate supplement for public servants poorly paid by the state; a stimulus in favour of a beneficial but insufficiently popular project; an astute way of closing ranks against “the big thief”, the state; an agreement not interceded by red tape etc. However, they forget to ask themselves why such gestures are designated with this Latin-origin term whose etymology means “to break in half.” Because, morally speaking, corruption divides the perpetrator, prompting him to simultaneously belong to separate realities. Using buildings as the metaphor, there are several cities, like parallel realities. The political space is in fact fractured, with “ineffable” borders, and this obscurity keeps alive the feeling of asymmetric war against a quasi-unseen enemy against which you cannot win. Bringing to light and keeping under the spotlight, as museum exhibits, the buildings of corruption and their “artisans,” has to do with a welcome counter-culture. We can learn from the Czechs, especially that the idea of this unusual tourism has a specific humorous nuance. Not seeing the corrupt solely as individuals unjustly defended by power and that deserve to be lynched by the finally indignant citizens, but to subject them to the calmer but more durable erosion of irony, which deprives them of the aura of chameleons capable of surviving no matter what. Let us think about a “tour of corruption” in Romania, its special theme being the Rosia Montana project that has stirred the ongoing protests because it has the classical data of a suspicion of corruption: politicians that suddenly change their position, a colossal and cross-cutting advertisement, government acts at the limit of legality (as even the Parliamentary Commission that has just published its conclusions has had to admit), local authorities not interested in the environmental risk etc. It would be even more efficient for “tourist” visits to be organized outside Minister Barbu’s home, instead of starting street arguments with the involvement of gendarmes and the possible slide towards verbal (and not only verbal) violence. The government building should be visited next (from the outside), in order to point the constant interest shown by the current team, and then the walls of the Cotroceni Palace should be admired, with the thoughts going towards a President just as partisan in favour of the project. Similarly, several newspaper headquarters and even the private homes of some “specialists” that have so far signed the government agreements could be visited. To the route one could add the headquarters of certain parties and, in the future, even that of Parliament. Of course, such a civic initiative (under the cover of a tourism offer) does not intend to take the place of the judiciary, the latter being the one meant to verify and punish acts of corruption. But it wants to put the spotlight on those suspiciously close to situations that are at least ambiguous. Let’s not forget that without a major and constant protest the faults of the project would have mostly remained ignored. A funnier (but maybe even more acid) option would be a “tour of corruption” with its special concreteness. It could represent legitimate civic pressure placed on a much too arrogant political class.

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