The Wisdom of a Ukrainian Plumber

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Just before the current troubles in Ukraine began, we called a plumber to our rented flat in Paris, which smelled of mold at the time. He was Ukrainian. He told us why he had left his native country a few years before: Everyone there was corrupt, nothing was possible without bribery, the opposition was as bad as the government, and all political demonstrations, which were frequent even then, were entirely bogus. Indeed, political demonstrations had become a form of social security, the political system’s corrupt and vastly rich oligarchs paying a small daily subvention to the otherwise unemployed who agreed to demonstrate in their favor. There was nothing to choose between the government and opposition except the size of the daily payments that they offered, which varied from day to day like the stock market. Principle didn’t come into it; demonstrators changed from pro-government to pro-opposition and vice versa, according to the amount on offer.

This was only one person’s opinion, but when it comes to understanding a country, one native plumber is worth a thousand foreign correspondents. And things may have changed in the meantime: by the Ukrainian opposition having become honest, for example. Moreover, demonstrators have died, though it must always be remembered that if history proves one thing rather than another, it is that the willingness of people to die for a cause is not in itself a proof of its worthiness. People are as willing to die for evil as for good.

Having on a few occasions been something of a foreign correspondent myself, I have learned to be skeptical of what I read in such correspondents’ reports. The days of Scoop are by no means over, and unanimity is no guarantee of accuracy. The bar at the one luxury hotel in town is often where the history, or rather report of the history, of an undeveloped country’s crisis is made. Correspondents are more interested in what other correspondents are going to write than in what is happening on their temporary doorstep. Lies repeated become truths, and truths ignored cease ever to have existed. One of the things that surprised me was the ease with which an entire press corps could accept the most obvious untruth, usually convenient to some interested party or other, without any external compulsion to do so. I can only suppose that one of modern education’s purposes is to prevent people from thinking for themselves.

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