Sunday, December 16, 2007

Corruption and Music

It is no secret that power corrupts. People in charge like to visualize themselves as irreplaceable. A good example of this is in Russia, a country that has never experienced true democracy. Many wondered what would happen to Vladimir Putin as his constitutional options as the president were coming to an end. Of course I never expected him to retire and was somewhat astonished by the Western media being surprised by him continuing as prime minister. That position now all of a sudden has become more important than before. During the glory days of the Soviet Union he would have comfortably remained as the head of the Politburo, but that of course for the time being isn't possible as such an institution disappeared with the final breakup of the empire in 1991. The Russians have always had a Czar (a Slavic word for Caesar), in one form of another; today his name is Putin. Lenin's first name was also Vladimir; Putin sounds just like Rasputin.

Today's most corrupt nations are probably found in Africa. The BBC recently told about corruption in Cameroon, a potentially oil-rich neighbor of Nigeria. Cameroon has had the same president, Paul Biya, for 25 years and there is serious talk about changing the country's constitution again to allow him to continue. The country ranks as number 138 out of 168 countries in the corruption index and according to the BBC story, 79% of Cameroonians have paid a bribe in the last year. As public criticism in the media is quite out of question, the people have chosen a different method of outcry: music, in the form of song and dance. Just about everyone in the country knows the lyrics to anti-corruption songs. Two famed musicians Lapiro and Longue Longue (doesn't that sound like the Chinese pianist Lang Lang?) have spearheaded this revolt and their star status gives them the kind of immunity a reporter for the media can only dream of. Perhaps encouraged by this, protest songs have been spreading in other suffering African countries, such as Sierra Leone.

Although my native Finland ranks today as the world's least corrupt country, it hasn't always been so. In the 1956 presidential election, one of the chosen electors for Karl-August Fagerholm secretly sold his vote to Urho Kekkonen in an extremely tight race, thus changing the course of history. Kekkonen, a former propaganda activist during the wars between Finland and the Soviet Union, seemingly had the support of the country's mighty neighbor, and a deal was secretly made with someone who 'sold his soul to the devil'. Kekkonen loved his powerful position and special friendship with the Soviets. Later research has shown that the KGB actually used him as an informant. A shrewd politician, he had a special law passed after his constitutional six-year terms were over, so that he could again be the candidate 'for the county's best interests'. After that term was over, he was again a candidate, this time as a new one, as the previous six years 'didn't count'. Finally, during that last term he had to leave office, after 25 years, as Alzheimer's had set in and Mr. Kekkonen no longer could function in that powerful role. The country slowly got wiser and today the president is elected by popular vote, although at the same time power-hungry politicians want to change the role of the President to a ceremonial one. Once Kekkonen was gone, Finland started moving forward rapidly and was no longer a rubber stamp for the Russians. Change is necessary as my countrymen finally understood. Perhaps they had done so all along but were afraid to speak up.

Another unusual music-related story was in the news recently, this time closer to home. A trumpet player had been found brutally murdered, a third musician to meet his end this way in a week's time in Mexico. Either our southern neighbors take their musical affairs more seriously than we do, or this is just the way they handle problems in their lives. As Latino gangs are growing more powerful here, not to mention the Russian mafia, perhaps terrible events like this will become more commonplace here as well.

Since this story turned to crime, there is room for the punishment portion as well. I just learned that there is an all-women prisoner orchestra in Alaska, at the Hiland Mountain Correctional Center. It is unique in the United States and sounds like a wonderful program. I can see it working well for women; men in a similar setup would probably attack each other in no time with bloody results. All in the name of music.

Cameroon dances to anti-graft beat
photo © BBC 2007