I have just returned from a railway holiday in what I still call “eastern Europe”, so I hope you will forgive a slightly tongue in cheek post as I get back into gear for serious work. In order to get me in the mood for one of our destination countries – Romania – I decided to re-read “Dracula” by Bram Stoker. I first read this when I was a teenager, and it scared the stuffing out of me. And if you have not read it, I can highly recommend it: the original novel is much more thought-provoking and bone-chilling than any of the Hollywood gore-fest interpretations. But as I once again experienced the horror of the creature with no reflection climbing down walls like a lizard, and the thrill of the chase as the good guys ran him to ground in his castle, I came across this handy insight from poor benighted Mina Harker: “And it made me think of the wonderful power of money! What can it not do when basely used?”
What it is being used for in this instance is to bribe local customs officials and police officers. And at various points in the story the narrators note things like: “Boarded by Turkish customs officers – baksheesh. All correct and under way.” They also comment that, in their rackety journey across several countries, their way is often eased by the regular payment of little considerations. In other words, backhanders are the Esperanto of the day: the universal language that everyone understands.
So maybe we are giving corruption a hard time. It causes misery and chaos, to be sure, and allows nasty people to do rather well for themselves, but for international travellers it can be a boon. (And if I don’t get this tongue out of my cheek soon, I may choke.)