Vanity thought #1678. Panama Papers

This has been the most prominent topic for several days now – disclosure of 11 million papers stolen from the offices of a company setting up offshore businesses for its clients around the world. Only 149 have been revealed so far, though, but that already has been enough to generate front page news.

There has also been the first casualty – Prime Minister of Island who stepped down under public pressure. It’s a bit confusing, though, because he issued a press release denying resignation, but a new PM has been appointed anyway. This has certainly made the news but I bet down there on the ground the very first thing that everyone would notice is thousands of people protesting outside the parliament and pelting the building with eggs and bananas. It’s their anger that forced the resignation but it’s not reported as widely. It’s just how the news work.

A few years ago in Egypt they had a military coup completing the cycle of the events that is called “Arab spring” now. That’s what everyone remembers, and also public demonstrations in Tahrir square for democracy and freedoms and such. What has been washed from people’s memory is how the military killed a thousand people protesting in support of the deposed government, banned their political party and put thousands in jail. Their anger somehow goes under-reported because they are small and insignificant and do not symbolize anything good. Somehow OUR faked anger against the coup takes precedence, and we don’t really ask the generals to step down, just express a little amount of irrelevant righteous indignation. But I’m detracting.

What is it that makes these Panama Papers so energizing? Why do people, but mostly media, find them so interesting? Before Iceland’s premier resignation it was all about Russian president Putin. In my local paper he was mentioned on the front page, then in a little snippet at the top of a page to implore readers to turn over to the main story, and then in the main story itself, with his picture, of course, and then a couple of pages later there was another quote about his involvement again. His name was everywhere, except in Panama Papers themselves.

That’s right, for all this brouhaha around him his name hasn’t appeared there even once. There are articles in alternative media online that make fun of this ridiculous coverage and I can understand Russian reaction to it. Some spokesman who, I believe, IS in Panama Papers, came out to say that it’s all a CIA plot to discredit Russian leadership and influence the upcoming elections. I don’t know about that, but questions about the organization behind the leads, a group of journalists that selected these first 149 stories, are legitimate. Not a single American was mentioned, for example, as if they never ever used offshore companies to hide their profits.

Never mind that, that’s just politicking on both sides, what is more interesting to me is why people react at all and why the media expect them to react. In my personal life no one seems to care and people are only mildly curious about what would happen, it’s as if it’s a battle that doesn’t concern them at all but they know there’s potential for entertainment. Icelanders, obviously, feel different.

My first thought was that it’s Kali Yuga with their democracy going against the natural way of the world. Rulers have always been amassing wealth, not just power, and the laws always have been very forgiving to their transgressions, but in democracy everyone is equal and everyone is equal in the eyes of the law, too.

Is it plain envy, however? Is it because people can’t stand others getting rich AND having political power as well? In Iceland it apparently is, but elsewhere Panama Papers revealed something everyone knew already, it’s just that they didn’t know the details. And they are not going to read the details because those are too technical. “He stashed the money overseas”, that’s all people would remember. Not how, not what loopholes he used, not where his offshore companies are registered, nothing like that. “He has more money than he admits” – that’s basically all people would take out of this. In many places around the world it’s not a crime and it’s not nearly enough to call for a revolution.

Prime Minister of Malaysia has been embroiled in a financial scandal for as long as I remember. Not a month goes by that some new turn to the story isn’t mentioned somewhere in the media, that’s all Malaysia gets in the news for nowadays, and his son was mentioned in Panama Papers as well. Will it change anything? Not likely, at least not right away, because they’ve already tried demonstrating and expressing anger, the PM seems to be immune and his opponents need a different strategy, moral indignation doesn’t work anymore.

Chinese, in their turn, simply put the wall around the leak, fiddled with search results and redirected all queries about their PM involvement to stories about sport and movie stars. Their leadership does not only hide their wealth but also news about it and they do it very well so far.

Russians shrugged it off as western propaganda and took notice that their Putin remains squeaky clean. Afaik, they EXPECT people in power to look after themselves, doing otherwise would be as unRussian as not drinking vodka.

So it’s only people in democratic countries that expect “better” of their leaders and demand transparency, accountability etc. Why? I remember an Australian politician who said that if someone does not earn enough money to buy himself a BMW he shouldn’t be running for political offices either. On the other hand, we have leaders in Europe and as far as Uruguay who live very modestly and even use bicycles to travel to work. They are true public servants, everyone admits.

That’s where they put it upside down – they made rulers into servants, and people don’t expect servants to be paid better than their masters. That’s why “servants” have to hide their wealth overseas. It’s not an excuse, just a statement of fact, it’s against this background of impossible expectations that political leaders around the world have to turn to offshore havens.

Oh, there’s another example of a country not touched by this perversion – Singapore. They deliberately pay their government employees obscene amounts of money so that their ministers feel appreciated and generously rewarded for their work and don’t have to steal, demand bribes, and then hide their “ill-gotten” gains offshore.

So, the Panama Papers scandal exposes a systemic problem in the way our societies work and maybe we should address that before we jump on individual cases. It would not have happened if we had varṇāśrama, that’s for sure.

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