Two tennis officials have just been banned for match fixing, which isn’t remarkable in itself. Dangle easy money before people’s eyes and watch them light up – boys will be boys.
What did catch my attention is that one of the banned officials is a Croat and the other a Russian living in Kazakhstan. Eastern Europeans, both.
Admittedly, a sample of two is insufficient for drawing statistically significant conclusions. So let’s broaden the sample a bit.
A story broke a couple of weeks ago about tennis players doing the same thing as the two banned officials: fixing matches for their own gain and that of betting syndicates. For legal reasons the culprits weren’t named. We only know that there are 16 of them, some from the highest reaches of the game.
Since then the Internet has been abuzz with lists of the match fixers, uploaded by all sorts of variably credible sources. One would think that the variety of sources would mean a variety of names, but that’s not the case.
The same 16 players are mentioned throughout. Ten of them are Russians or other Eastern Europeans, which does begin to make one think.
Toting up the players and the officials, we notice that most of those implicated in cheating come from the low-rent part of Europe. This raises certain questions and even prompts certain answers.
But an observation first: we’re all sinners. This is an empirical rather than theological statement: we’ve all done things we aren’t proud of and, if I were in a confessional mood, I could give you a list of my own trespasses as long as all your four limbs put together.
However, all of us have at some point also refrained from doing bad things despite every temptation. Various restraining mechanisms clicked to prevent us from doing something we knew was wrong.
The mechanisms may vary from one person to another. For some the warning signal comes from faith, for others from a sense of duty, for still others from basic decency. But we all have something in common: we may not always do the right things, but we know right and wrong exist, and it’s usually easy to tell them apart.
This collective knowledge seems to be a universal part of the human condition, but it really isn’t. Standards of right and wrong change from one time to another and from one place to another.
For example, a mere couple of hundred years ago aristocrats saw nothing wrong about running a chap through with a sword just because he looked at them askance. Polygamy and cannibalism are seen as perfectly acceptable in some places, but not in all. Wife beating is treated as education in some parts and as a crime in others.
In other words, there are good or bad individuals, but the collective perception of right and wrong is to a large extent a function of civilisation.
In what used to be called Christendom, and is now called Western civilisation, the concept of right and wrong came mostly from the two Testaments of the Christian canon, which form the foundation of our Judaeo-Christian morality and, as its reflection, law.
This link has now been loosened but it hasn’t become equally slack everywhere. Logic would suggest that the longer a previously Western society has been detached from its founding morality, and the more violent the detachment, the more likely it is to be criminalised.
Hence corruption, though not the exclusive property of Eastern Europe, has to be more rife there, for nowhere else this side of Domitian’s Rome has Christianity been expurgated as thoroughly and violently as in Russia and her virtual European colonies.
This (though possibly not only this) explains the disproportionate representation of Eastern Europeans among European criminals, be that pickpockets, gangsters, assassins, extortionists, money launderers – or tennis cheats.
The Russians take pride of place among these groups because they were cursed with the communist blight for twice as long as their European conquests. The enduring moral damage they suffered might possibly have penetrated their genetic structure twice as deeply and widely.
For living under history’s most diabolical, amoral political system corrupts not just the odd individual here or there but the population at large. Those who retain basic morality are rather exceptions, and their number is inversely proportionate to the length of the communist rule.
This simple observation wouldn’t baffle an intelligent Russian or a Czech, but Westerners either don’t understand the situation or act as if they didn’t. Hence all those triumphant noises about the collapse of communism, advent of democracy, human rights and so forth.
We can debate the institutional collapse of, say, Russian communism, and believe me – it is debatable. I usually maintain that the ‘collapse’ was merely a transfer of power from the Party to the KGB, but this is extraneous to our discussion.
What’s both germane and indisputable is that communism is very much alive not because it used to live in Russia, but because it has taken lodgings in millions of human souls.
Evicting it will take many generations even with the best will in the world. Which, alas, isn’t always in evidence.