What Orwell Could Tell Ukraine About Corruption In Wartime
War can unify a nation, but it can also contribute to the deepening of social tensions — especially when times get tough on the front line. A reflection forward, and back, including the experience of George Orwell calling out the bad Brits during World War II.
“There has of course been a big exodus from the East End, and every night amounts to mass migrations to places where there is sufficient shelter accommodation. The practice of taking a 2d ticket and spending the night in one of the deep Tube stations, e.g. Piccadilly, is growing . . . . . . Everyone I have talked to agrees that the empty furnished houses in the West End should be used for the homeless; but I suppose the rich swine still have enough pull to prevent this from happening.
The other day 50 people from the East End, headed by some of the Borough Councillors, marched into the Savoy and demanded to use the air-raid shelter. The management didn’t succeed in ejecting them till the raid was over, when they went voluntarily. When you see how the wealthy are still behaving, in what is manifestly developing into a revolutionary war, you think of St. Petersburg in 1916.”
Throughout World War II, the legendary British writer was very much a contrarian : he predicted British defeat in the war, criticized Prime Minister Winston Churchill and was outraged by the behavior of "rich pigs" who did not show enough solidarity with the common people.
Today we know that internal social conflict did not prevent Britain from defeating the attacking enemy. But we also know how much war contributes to the aggravation of social tensions and class hatred. This knowledge comes not only from the past, but also from what we are living through now in Ukraine.
The main Ukrainian anti-heroes of the current summer are the same "rich swine" that Orwell branded back in 1940. In the midst of a bloody war, they spend their downtime in the Maldives and buy villas in Spain ; they import luxury cars into the country and take their well-to-do children abroad; party in elite nightclubs and take major bribes.
Spit in the face
However, the modern Ukrainian elites are not as treacherous as the British elites. None of our ministers, for example, has a son who would openly cooperate with the enemy during the war. Yes, Leopold Emery, Minister of Indian Affairs in Churchill's military government, had such a son.
It's a striking contrast with the hardships of war and impoverishment of the masses.
And yet, most Ukrainians are convinced that our country suffers more from swine fever than anywhere else in the history of the world. Where are there more evil oligarchs, corrupt deputies, unscrupulous businessmen, corrupt military commissars, corrupt majors?
The Ukrainian citizen is outraged not so much by the violation of the law ( there may not be such a thing as formal as law in the current circumstances), but by wealth and luxury, which are in striking contrast with the hardships of war and the impoverishment of the mass of the population. For millions of ordinary citizens, every such case is a spit in the face.
Victory can cover scandal
If the city of Berdyansk had been liberated this summer, then the scandal surrounding Odessa’s military commissar Yevhen Borisov would have had much less public resonance. If the Russian occupiers had been kicked out of Melitopol, the Maldives holiday of member of Parliament Yuri Aristov would hardly have turned into such a grandiose scandal. And if the Ukrainian Armed Forces had taken back Crimea, almost no one would have paid attention to the shameful story about People's Deputy Anatolii Hunko .
A few bright military victories and the obscene actions of wealthy Ukrainians would have drowned in the sea of national triumph.
But the heavy battles in the south are not achieving such triumphs, leaving the common man without the psychological doping that can relieve stress, fill the soul with intoxicating enthusiasm and otherwise help distract from the country’s internal problems.
Today, there is nothing at the front that can smooth out the sharp social contradictions in Ukrainian society. There is nothing to hide them, nothing to cover, nothing to push them into the background — and instead, predictably, they increase.
On the wall is a quote of late anti-corruption activist Kateryna Handziuk
Rich pigs to steal
But how does this all get solved? Demonstrative tightening of the screws, searches for corrupt top officials, punishment of individual deputies or mass dismissals of military commissars are only half the story. Equally important is how effectively the public is kept informed and how the people interpret what they’re told.
Any loud disclosure, dismissal or criminal case can be interpreted ambiguously. The average Ukrainian will either confirm the opinion that "rich pigs continue to steal, despite the war," or they will become convinced that "the rich pigs have finally been taken down."
If the military confrontation ends in disappointment for the majority of Ukrainians, then the ferocity against the "rich pigs" will only increase many times over.
The corrupt, selfish businessmen and carefree military officers will be perceived as thieves of Ukrainian victory. They will be blamed for every drone that was not received by the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Every projectile that the soldiers of the Armed Forces of Ukraine lacked at a critical moment. Every piece of our land that could not be liberated from the Russian invaders.
National triumph can overshadow class hatred
And this threatens a large-scale social implosion.
But if the result of the current war is perceived by Ukrainian society as a complete victory over Moscow, then everything may turn out differently.
Most likely, national triumph will overshadow class hatred: as it happened repeatedly in the history of the 20th century. Today's claims against "rich pigs" will gradually be forgotten; their misbehavior during the war will have no place in the history books; and all their indecent deeds will be put under the brackets of a heroic national myth.
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