Corruption is worse than prostitution. The latter might endanger the morals of an individual; the former invariably endangers the morals of the entire country --- Karl Kraus (Austrian writer)
Corruption is as old as our civilization. Equally old are the attempts to shift public behavior from accepting corruption exploited by those in positions of power. World forums and conferences continue to rank corruption levels of various countries while bringing attention to ways to remediate the problem. In May 2016, 43 countries from the Americas, to Asia Pacific, Central Asia, Europe, to the Middle East, North and Sub-Saharan Africa congregated in London for the Anti-Corruption Summit and signed declarations committing to eradicate corruption in their respective countries.
Since 1996, the Berlin-based international NGO, Transparency International has published the annual Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) ranking countries "by their levels of corruption, as determined by expert assessments and opinion surveys." The 2016 CPI ranked both New Zealand and Denmark as the least corrupt countries. At #84 Singapore ranked as Asia's least corrupt country. In the America’s, Canada ranked #7 as the least corrupt and Venezuela at #166 ranked the most corrupt while the U.S. ranked #18 between Austria and Ireland. The most corrupt country ranking went to Somalia at #176.
In January of this year, in one of the world’s smallest countries, Armenia (ranked #113), a new campaign was launched to tackle corruption through artistic venues.
In recent years there has been heightened focus on corruption in Armenia with the local media openly accusing public officials of corrupt practices. In 2015 the government’s anti-corruption council was itself the focus of media scrutiny on a corruption scandal involving its chair -- then prime minister, Hovik Abrahamyan -- accused of leading a lavish lifestyle and taking luxurious travels abroad to attend various conferences. In February of this year, the Delegation of the European Union to Armenia launched “Stop the Flow of Corruption” communication campaign in cooperation with the Government of Armenia, engaging anti-corruption experts, representatives of the civil society and the private sector to help highlight the “EU’s efforts in support of the fight against corruption in Armenia.” And the ambassador of the EU Delegation to Armenia, Piotr Świtalski pledged 2017 as the year of the fight against corruption.
The year-long #ArtofCorruption campaign however, hopes to raise public awareness among the three-million inhabitants of Armenia through artistic and cultural interpretations – and shift the public perception about acceptance of corruption as the norm. Focusing on multi-media art venues the campaign will integrate poster art, comedy/satire, TEDx Talks, publishing comic books, and satirical sketch broadcast by stand-up comedian Sergey Sargsyan of ArmComedy TV show (400,000 viewers) who recently toured the U.S. to raise funds for The Armenian Assembly of America and the Armenia Tree Project appearing on Conan O’Brien’s show (Conan appeared on ArmComedy last year during his trip to Armenia).
The #ArtofCorruption worldwide open call for a poster competition (closed on July 15) curated by Armenia native and artist Samvel Saghatelian, hopes for submissions that reflect personal stories of corruption from anyone around the world.
Thirty posters will be pre-selected from the submissions and selected artists will spend the month of August to finalize their posters for a late-September/early-October poster art exhibition in Armenia. A jury consisting of artists, politicians, corruption experts, and representatives from various NGOs and the media will select the top 3 best posters to receive a cash prize of 300 Euros provided by the European Union in Armenia and will be featured in a public art exhibition. Additionally, 10 to 15 posters will be offered to different organizations in Armenia for use to further expand the campaign’s messaging and reach.
Sara Anjargolian, CEO and Founder of Impact Hub Yerevan: “When we first started to conceptualize the #ArtofCorruption, we were interested in collaborating with ordinary citizens so that the campaign was not solely viewed as a governmental or media concern.”
Following extensive research on past anti-corruption campaigns both in Armenia and abroad, brainstorming meetings were held with Impact Hub Yerevan members, Transparency International, the Armenian Lawyers Association, and other organizations to further develop the campaign and spotlight specific programs – the campaign was ultimately structured following Transparency International’s continued efforts. During an “Ideathon” attended by 50 individuals a range of suggested slogans were selected for use by the campaign’s venues. Some of the slogans included: Corruption is not genetic to Corruption starts with me to Corruption Kills to Corrupt teachers foster a corrupt society – among others.
“By promoting and executing this campaign, we hope to influence untapped groups of anti-corruption disseminators. That’s why our campaign’s motto - “only one person can stop corruption—‘you’ the ‘people’” conveys the obligation of each member in the society to end corruption, regardless of age, social status or professional ranking,” explains Anjargolian. “By implementing this campaign we intend to increase and foster discourse where people can feel safe enough to share their stories and support one another.”
Artists’ poster art submissions have all included real names of the artists -- willing to risk recognition of their anti-corruption message, in return for having their voice heard. While the organizers believe they cannot predict the level of government support or scrutiny the campaign will receive, they feel scrutiny will be unlikely given the recent show of willingness among the current government to join in similar anti-corruption efforts and the internationally recognized groups leading the campaign.
Integrating such visual arts as poster arts will surely garner greater impact in shifting public opinion and awareness of the detriments of corruption. Posters after all have been the hallmark of socio-political movements’ messages for reaching the masses across all socio-economic status; from the Communist era slogans to modern day anti-government protests.
And as in all societies where the youth are at the forefront of challenging authority, the #ArtofCorruption campaign has engaged with Tumo Center for Creative Technologies (Tumo) - the after school program with centers throughout Armenia - to encourage Armenia’s youth to submit works for the poster competition. The campaign also promotes Tales of Neto -- a soon to be released comic-cartoon, mobile game produced by Tumo and supported by the European Union in Armenia to “save the planet from the effects of corruption”.
Ambassador Piotr Świtalski of the EU Delegation to Armenia: “The EU is investing substantially in combatting corruption on different levels in Armenian society – from petty corruption to systemic corruption. Armenia cannot tackle this major issue without addressing it from different angles. No surprise that the EU in Armenia is now also helping to address corruption from an artistic perspective. Drawing on the creative minds of Armenian artists is a new opportunity for us to engage with other segments of society in this battle. Every Armenian citizen needs to be involved in this fight. I therefore hope that by raising more awareness among citizens not to take part in any corrupt acts, we can get closer to the root of this endemic problem.”
The overarching message of the #ArtofCorruption campaign is a call on all the citizens of Armenia to self-reflect on how their actions of acceptance of the status quo prolongs and supports corruption. But while raising awareness among the common citizens is noteworthy – how will the local government’s practices be scrutinized by this campaign?
Will the campaign ultimately further polarize the already disenfranchised Armenian citizens – artists -- against corrupt public officials?
“I don’t think this is something we can predict or try to influence,” explains Anjargolian. “We are creating another tool, another space, and another platform through which the creative sector in Armenia can express itself on an incredibly crucial topic.
Ultimately, organizers hope that the heightened awareness will inspire individuals and organizations across Armenia to initiate their own anti-corruption measures. And if successful, then the campaign’s blueprint can be replicated in other countries.
Armenia’s five thousand year-old history is dotted with occupations, wars, and the 20th century’s first Genocide, which annihilated 1.5 million of historic Armenia’s inhabitants. In today’s glory days of full independence – Armenia’s new generation is more brilliant and ready to take on the world than perhaps ever before in its long history – so it’s imperative to sojourn the widespread corruption in an ancient land that has been resolute for centuries before it “endangers the morals of the entire country.”