Monday, March 21, 2005

Catching on to Viktor 

I didn't see this until John Ray had put it up over the weekend, but Jay Nordlinger's review of Davos included this snippet on lunch with Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko:

Amazingly candid, the new president of Ukraine. He says, "My country is a deeply corrupt country." He appeals to investors, and anyone else doing business in Ukraine: "Do not offer bribes to anyone." In fact, you can enter a new line, when you do your accounting: "Saved expenses on ungiven bribes to Ukrainian officials."

Although corruption in Ukraine is a "huge problem," other countries have "cured" it, and Yushchenko expects his to do the same. "And as an economist, I'm especially aware that over 50 percent of our economy is in the shadows. These people pay not a penny in taxes, and it hurts us all."

He discourses on the state of free speech in Ukraine � not good. Journalists have
been murdered "for telling the truth." The "information domain is controlled by two or three families. Our goal is an information market that is public and transparent." (There's that Davosian word again, "transparency.")

After his formal remarks, and before we begin our lunch, Yushchenko offers a toast: "I wish you prosperity in all your endeavors. I wish you physical and moral health.
[A striking phrase, that.] And may you have a white angel sitting on your left shoulder, taking care of you."There is some dispute after whether Yushchenko has said "wise angel" or "white angel," but it was one or the other.

Then he claims that the toast � the act of toasting � originated in Kiev, anciently. You see, the most popular method of eliminating one's opponents was poison. (This, of course, is all too meaningful, coming from Yushchenko.) So you clinked your glasses extra hard, so that some of his drink would spill into yours, and some of yours would spill into his.

I've said before, and ought to say again: To be in the amazingly noble and dignified presence of Victor Yushchenko is probably the highlight of the Annual Meeting.

And to think I had a year where I saw this guy weekly. I'm amazed, still. And I never met someone who gave a better toast (and not for lack of trying!)