[...] But I grasped its meaning a few months later as I sat at a Ukrainian border station in a beat-up Volkswagen Golf, trying to cross into Moldova.
"Present? Present?" the border guard asked, holding up my CD player. His comrades were inside our car, searching every nook and cranny. I smiled and told the guard I didn't understand. He smiled back, gave the player a whack with his billy club and permitted me to keep my broken Discman. Then we were inexplicably told we couldn't leave the country. In retrospect, I might as well have given it to him. It could have saved me 30 hours of desperate searching, through the night and into the following day, for a station where the border police would let us pass without stealing our car or demanding a bribe higher than we were willing to pay. The asking price at the next stop was $200, a lot more than I paid for the CD player.
All this corruption is really maddening, yes, but one thing I'd really like to know is the name and title of the border guy who broke that CD player and prohibited a foreign citizen from leaving Ukraine. Also, names and titles of the guys who pocketed Mr. Kulish's money 30 hours later.
I want the whole world to know their names and the names of the border stations they serve: I do feel shamed for my country, and I want them to feel as lousy - and maybe to lose their jobs as well.
Getting their names might have been difficult, but not impossible. Moreover, a mere attempt could've helped Mr. Kulish to get the hell out of Ukraine.
I assume he was traveling without a fixer, translator or anyone else who knew how to speak with the border guys in the language and manner they understood, someone who knew how to remind the assholes that they were not irreplaceable in the country full of unemployed people. This may be tough to accomplish even for the locals, and much more so for a foreigner.
But I also assume that Mr. Kulish is a U.S. citizen (despite his Ukrainian last name). Imagine a truly ridiculous situation in which a U.S. citizen is doomed to spend the rest of his life in the middle of nowhere just because a Ukrainian border guard wouldn't let him out. Imagine that this U.S. citizen is not aware of any other border station nearby - or that he's out of gas and money, unable or unwilling to drive around like an idiot for the next 30 hours. Imagine this U.S. citizen's next step: he'd probably want to call the U.S. embassy and ask the folks over there about his options. In the course of his conversation with the embassy, he'd probably want to name the Ukrainian official who was basically keeping him hostage at the border. Maybe the embassy people would like to speak with the corrupt sonuvabitch themselves and explain to him a few things about norms of international law - or remind him of the existence of his superiors.
Who knows, maybe the border control guy would suddenly realize just how vulnerable he is - and then he'd apologize and let Mr. Kulish drive on into Moldova.
I don't want to appear arrogant or imply that this scenario is absolutely realistic: in this situation, I'd probably be too frustrated, shocked or scared myself to think clearly.
But I really feel that we could use some help in fighting our famous corruption - and getting the bastards' names, titles and locations into the New York Times and the International Herald Tribune would have taught them something.