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Opening Evening: IRRESISTIBLE? A symposium on the phenomenon of CORRUPTION

IRRESISTIBLE? A symposium on the phenomenon of CORRUPTION

Friday, 16 June 2017, from 18.30

PDF-Icon Opening Evening german

Thomas Krüger (President, Federal Agency for Civic Education, Germany)
Johannes Ebert (Secretary General, Goethe-Institut, Germany)
Peter Eigen (Founder of Transparency International and HUMBOLDT-VIADRINA Governance Platform, Germany)
Constantin Schreiber (journalist and moderator, ARD, Germany)
Moderator: Constanze Abratzky, (TV journalist and moderator)

Audio-Record: Official Opening and Keynote of the symposium IRRESISTIBLE?; June 16, 2017 (© 2017 Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung)

"Corruption is a highly complex social phenomenon", is the first sentence of the programme of the symposium "IRRESISTIBLE?". Thomas Krüger, President of the Federal Agency for Civic Education, thus emphasised in his welcoming speech that corruption is not limited to the economic sphere. As such, the project "IRRESISTIBLE?" takes a multiple perspective of corruption. Apart from the Berlin symposium, which was organised by the Federal Agency for Civic Education (bpb), the project also comprises cultural productions supported by the Goethe-Institut Ukraine. Presented in autumn 2017 in Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova, these reflect on the phenomenon of corruption in an urban context while also integrating local and universal markers, narratives and concepts. A key objective of this interdiscipliniary approach is to raise awareness among a broad target group in Eastern Partnership countries and Germany.

"Are you corruptible?" moderator Constanze Abratzky asked at the beginning of the opening evening on Friday. That evening marked the beginning not only of the symposium, but also of the overall project, organized in cooperation with the Goethe-Institut Ukraine and discussing the phenomenon of corruption with particular focus on the Eastern Partnership countries.

In his opening speech, bpb President Thomas Krüger emphasised that the topic is highly relevant for political education. The cliché of mainly economic corruption, manifested in "men in grey suits", falls short; instead, inquiries must be made into the roots, structures and means of fighting corruption. Self-determined societal change is hampered if development is manipulated by corruption.
IRRESISTIBLE? – A symposium on the phenomenon of corruption - OpeningIRRESISTIBLE? – A symposium on the phenomenon of corruption (© bpb/Dorothea Tuch)

But is Germany, of all places, an appropriate location for a symposium on corruption? Are the problems not really elsewhere? Krüger denied this and explained that no country in the world can truly be absolved of allegations of corruption. Moreover, corruption is a global problem and thus also a shared responsibility. A transnational discourse is important in order to create utopian spaces.

Following on from Thomas Krüger, Johannes Ebert, Secretary General of the Goethe-Institut, also welcomed all participants and guests. Formerly Director of the Goethe-Institut in Kiev, he reported that attempted bribery was fairly common when the institute was first established in the Ukrainian capital. He described the resulting sense of powerlessness he experienced repeatedly during his life. Ebert made clear that focus should not just be on the big scandals, but also on small-scale bribery as this is closely interwoven with society and also affects the field of culture. He concluded by commending all those who actively stand against corruption worldwide.

Islands of integrity

In his keynote "International corruption as a challenge for democracies", Peter Eigen, founder of Transparency International, considered the framework conditions necessary for containing corruption.
IRRESISTIBLE? – A symposium on the phenomenon of corruption - OpeningIRRESISTIBLE? – A symposium on the phenomenon of corruption (© bpb/Dorothea Tuch)
The transnational level is key to this as the situation has changed with the emergence of a global market; the challenge is to shape this situation politically. If a market economy no longer produces tolerable results, ‘correction’ is needed. National states are helpless with respect to fighting corruption on international markets. Widely travelled, Eigen criticized the West’s systematic participation in corruption as clearly unethical, for example in Africa, underlining this with impressive examples and figures: Corrupt processes have driven low-income countries to make pointless investments which then cause up to one third of these countries’ over-indebtedness. Placing trust in nation states and insisting on their sovereignty is counter-productive with respect to fighting corruption. The temporal dimension, determined at the national level by election periods for example, weakens the motivation of governments to tackle longer-term problems. Enriching these aspects with some biographical retrospectives, Eigen then spoke of the foundation of Transparency International. To begin with, governments were less sympathetic to the NGO’s efforts. German exporters, so the argument, could not be forced to abandon corruption as this would put them at a competitive disadvantage. Eigen used this example to illustrate the multiple approach taken by Transparency International. Working with civil society, governments and companies, ‘islands of integrity’ need to be created (see https://www.transparency.org/whatwedo/nis/). The 1997 OECD convention, which criminalizes corruption abroad, is one of the greatest successes achieved on this basis.

Success in fighting corruption

Implementation particularly focuses on supporting local civil society organisations that diagnose problems and draw up local proposals for reform. After all, it is important to take into account cultural particularities and to act locally. Key to success is a holistic approach that not only considers criminal law, but also tendering procedures or access to information.

IRRESISTIBLE? – A symposium on the phenomenon of corruption - OpeningIRRESISTIBLE? – A symposium on the phenomenon of corruption (© bpb/Dorothea Tuch)
In the concluding conversation with Constantin Schreiber, Eigen was optimistic and pointed to the successes already achieved in fighting corruption. Although corruption is still more prolific than desirable, the public and media have already become much more aware of the issue. When a certain indifference was pointed out with respect to bids to host sporting events, Eigen replied that penal processes naturally always take time. Furthermore, people are corruptible in principle. Human weakness makes compliance with rules and their creation particularly important. In his conclusion, Eigen pointed to the connection between corruption and the lack of democracy as well as dependencies created during colonial times, as can be observed at present in many African countries.

Summary: Simon Clemens

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