Monday, March 28, 2005

To Stop Corruption - Ban Baths!

Ukraine's new government, determined to end the corruption that marked its recently deposed Soviet Era regime, has determined that in order to mitigate secret deals and cronyism, it must keep government officials from visiting popular public baths.

Only in Ukraine would you think that the way to start a clean-up campaign is with a ban on baths. But the country's new leaders believe they can stamp out sharp practice by discouraging their underlings to steer clear of a centuries-old Slavic pastime, the banya or bath house.

It may be the place where Ukrainians, and indeed Russians, go every week to wash away their sins and grime but Ukraine's new "Orange" government thinks it is also the place where many an official is "nobbled" by corrupt businessmen. Viktor Yushchenko, the country's crusading President, has therefore informally banned regional governors and other officials from going to the banya - traditionally a sacred part of Ukrainian and Russian culture.

"It's all about showing the new face of Ukraine," Irina Geraschenko, Mr Yushchenko's spokeswoman, told The Independent on Sunday. "It's no secret that you get all kinds of unsavoury types there, and they are not the people with whom government officials should be mixing." Though she conceded that there was no way Mr Yushchenko could physically prevent his officials from frequenting banyas, she said that he had made it clear that banya-goers will be frowned upon.

In neighbouring Russia, banyas remain a staple of business culture - often replacing a business dinner or a boardroom meeting. Indeed, many legitimate business transactions are concluded amid the hot steam and beery atmosphere, where men traditionally wash themselves once a week.

One supposes that American version of such a policy would ban the appearance of government officials on golf courses and country clubs. And, thus, it would never, ever happen.


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