Here below some important questions arose, in the form of an interview to the Fund Director and Ruslan Stefanov, Program Director (Center for the Study of Democracy)
Mr. Bombarda, How much is important to participate at this kind of initiatives?
«When I received the invitation, I went straight to the title to start reflecting about what I could have said, and I suddenly thought that “Anticorruption and Youth – a Forward Look” is a challenging one. Why? Because usually youth and corruption are two separated fields of interests, actions and reflections. Or better, corruption is, unfortunately, a topic which is not touching sufficiently youngest generations’ interests».
Mr. Bombarda, can you explain why?
«These last years we have seen millions of initiatives raised by youth for our environment, we saw them on the streets with Greta to fight climate change, we saw on the news, everywhere around Europe, the so called “Fridays for Future”, but we don’t have any weekday tackling and fighting corruptions, we never heard about “Tuesdays against corruption”!
I believe that, in that specific field of interest, there are a lot of “unaware victims”, if we can call them like that, as it happens in other sectors –I believe that “corruption” is not related only to money or to the political word: it concerns every aspect of our daily life and thus feeds itself more and more. Unfortunately, youth is not always aware, or at least the majority of new generations is not».
Mr. Stefanov, Considering the title of the intervention of the Fund Director to the event, and in relation with the Project, “Anticorruption and Youth – a Forward Look”: Why do our societies need a “forward look” in your opinion?
«Anti-corruption is a long-term developmental problem, which requires coordinated and sustained action over many decades. The whole history and study of anti-corruption has taught us that successful nations look at it as a journey, not a destination. We need to always remain conscious of the threat of corrosion of our democratic institutions and each generation needs to re-define its fight for democracy. Power corrupts, so we need to always look forward and expect where the next concentration of power might jeopardise democratic fundamentals».
Mr. Stefanov, Corruption is, unfortunately, a topic which is not touching sufficiently youngest generations’ interests: what can be done in your opinion to increase their knowledge?
«In fact, the young are one of the vulnerable groups to the corrosive impact of corruption. Just think about the massive toll on young people that corruption has left in many systemically corrupt countries around the globe and in a historical perspective: from hunger in Africa, to participation in military conflicts in Latin America, to poverty in Asia and unemployment in Europe. But as corruption is difficult to prove (or rather in many cases there is unwillingness by the corrupt to investigate their own business of corruption) the young typically brush aside corruption problems, thinking these could be dealt with at a later stage, while they prefer to focus on their start in life. This is why it is important that political parties, civil society, schools, and society are able to educate and draw in the young to understanding and tackling corruption. They need to be sensitised that corruption can appear in any society and in any power structure, and hence it requires constant vigilance and the creation fo checks and balances. And in the end of the day, that it is the personal responsibility of everyone to stand up for their rights, which corruption often denies».
Mr. Stefanov, What are the Project “Implementing Shared Anti-Corruption аnd Good Governance Solutions in Southeast Europe” ideas and action to involve also youth?
«Out initial thinking has been to focus mostly on outreach through social media, where (we thought) the young are most likely to be active. We have included in our activities ideas about professional outreach, which would target the young in South East Europe in particular with vivid visuals and smart insights about the impact of corruption on our societies’ well-being. But maybe we need to think how to create more horizontal linkages to the youth strand of the regional cooperation programme. This holds a lot of potential for synergies as we are mostly focused on public-private interaction and advocacy».
Mr. Bombarda, in the framework of the Fund for Regional Cooperation, how valuable is this Project?
«A Project that deals with this specific issue is more than welcomed: it is needed more than ever that youth is involved into those fields in order that they can be aware, because, only involving them directly – once they are conscious – we can achieve results and shared solutions. That is why I am proud to be here with you hosted by the Project R2G4P (Regional Good Governance Public-Private Partnership Platform (R2G4P, fantastic acronym!), grant from Fund for Regional Cooperation. The aim of the project is self-explanatory, since the main goal is to implement shared anti-corruption and good governance solutions in Southeast Europe through innovative practices and public-private partnerships. Meanwhile I have to state that I love much more the nick name of the project provided in the invitation to participate to this conference: SEE for South East Europe, the project main area of intervention, but also SEE which the definition is to look at or recognize with the eyes!».
Mr. Bombarda, Are there “unaware victims” of corruption among youth? Which is the main influenced sector?
«I think the bulk of the victims of corruption are “unaware victims” and that is one of the core problems of tackling corruption. Corruption is a complex crime that is difficult to investigate. It also typically involves two mutually interested in the crime sides, each of which is not interested to disclose the corrupt transaction. Corruption is also a very sensitive issue politically, because in the short run you can win yourself a lot of powerful enemies by going against their corrupt dealings, you can antagonise your own corrupt political buddies, etc. All these and other factors make it a stealth killer. Think about the many collapsed buildings because of sub-standard construction globally. These are often victims of corruption. Think about the many high risk people that died without receiving a vaccine for Covid, simply because someone in power was able to jump the cue. Think about the thousands of deaths annually in South East Europe because of air pollution coming from the use of coal, as corrupt deals have continued to prop dirty energy generation. And this is only when we consider individual corruption transactions, without going into the much more complex and pernicious state capture phenomenon. Think of the hundreds of billions of economic and job opportunities that are lost annually to corruption and that result in unemployment, poverty and misery. People need to organise politically and stand up to corrupt regimes so that they stand up for the rights of such “unaware victims”».
Mr. Stefanov , «“Youth and corruption” is probably the most important long-term or resilience building topic. I also believe, it is important that the EU follows US’ drive under the current administration on anti-corruption and democracy and needs to develop much more specific instruments to tackle more assertively corruption and rule of law deficits». You wrote us those words: what can we learn from US?
«By the virtue of its open society and economy, the US has always served as a beacon to democratic aspirations globally and as a leader and example of anti-corruption. A lot of autocratic regimes have tried time and again to portray the continuous uncovering of corruption in the US as an indication of inherent corruption of market democracy. This is deeply misplaced. The US has been leading in anti-corruption initiatives. For example, it was the first country to define and go after foreign corrupt practices of its companies. The US was the first to introduce corruption as a sanctionable offence for autocratic regimes globally together with human rights abuses under the Global Magnitsky Act. And from this year, the US is the first country to introduce corruption as a strategic threat to the country’s national security. I think the OECD countries and the EU in particular need to step up their efforts in all these directions. Think about the fallout of the 2008 Eurozone crisis and the recent laundromat cases. There have been so many corruption allegations uncovered that remain without a strong follow up: while there have been many policy initiatives at the EU level (e.g. the EU Anti-Corrruption Report, the Rule of Law Mechanism, European Democracy Action Plan) their actual implementation by member states on the ground remains questionable at best; and some were discontinued in their infancy».
Mr. Stefanov , Is there space for a real transnational cooperation? What should be the goal behind a real coordination, even among countries?
«The US and the EU economies are deeply integrated. Hence, corruption vulnerabilities in one are easily transmitted across the Atlantic. This is even more so within the European Union and the European Economic Area. Hence, we need more coordination and more EU institutions, like for example a common Anti-Money Laundering Agency or common monitoring tools for corruption and state capture vulnerability, or a common US-style Global Magnitsky Act. We do hope that with our cooperation projects we will be able to provide examples and ideas about future joint action. But for these to be successful there is a need for a much wider political action on the highest level in Europe and the US».
Mr. Bombarda, to which extent societis has the duty to involve youth?
«When it comes to fighting corruptions, many young people are already making a big difference into their communities and countries but most of them, as I was saying before, are just starting out and therefore they need a precise guidance, especially on how to turn plans into real actions. Remembering that the best way to uncover weaknesses is through transparency and available, fair information».
Mr. Bombarda, we are living a crisis: how can institutions and societies improve transparency and fair information?
«We are, most probably, in the exact moment to start this process since times of crisis usually create new opportunities to strengthen societies. We can create attempts towards influencing policies and decision-making processes and we can do this “exploiting” (in a positive way) youth. Empowering young people to be active citizens with clear rights and obligations (not only rights!); young people are change actors, are our future. Future will be theirs to be engaged while empowering them in being active citizens is the job I am honoured and fortunate to be able, at least to try to do!».
Center for the Study of Democracy