Bono: Vaccine for corruption is transparency, democracy
Global celebrity Paul David Hewson, better known as Bono — the frontman of rock band U2 — made a surprise visit to Kyiv on Sept. 15, but not to perform any of his many hits.
Bono’s first appearance in Ukraine came at the invitation of Ukrainian billionaire oligarch Viktor Pinchuk, who asked the 58-year-old Irishman to attend the 15th Yalta European Strategy, or YES conference, as its special guest speaker.
Bono is one of the wealthiest musicians in the world, first gaining fame with his band, formed in 1976. He has since also become known as a philanthropist, activist, venture capitalist and businessman.
“A big welcome from a city that’s been waiting for you for so long,” said CNN host Fareed Zakaria, one of the moderators at the conference. But he went on to remind the rock star of the fates of other well-known public figures, such as actor Kevin Spacey as well as then-celebrity Donald Trump, who have addressed the conference in previous years.
“So what this tells me is the omens are that you are either going to become the most powerful man in the world, or you are going to have a sex scandal on your hands,” Zakaria said referring the current U.S. president and Spacey, who was accused of multiple sexual assaults after appearing at YES.
The EU idea
Bono’s visit to Ukraine was part of a larger campaign that has taken the star across Europe to promote the European Union.
Many Europeans have taken the idea of the EU for granted, Bono said, and he sees Ukraine as a strong supporter of the political-economic union of 28 states.
For most Ukrainians, the EU represents a better life. Back in 2014, hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians protested against then-President Viktor Yanukovych, who decided at the last minute to back out of signing a trade and economic association agreement with the union. The decision prompted massive protests and led to the EuroMaidan Revolution that drove Yanukovych from power.
“Viktor and Olena wanted me to come here because they say that there’s real respect for European values here in Ukraine, and a real desire that those values be encouraged. And in Europe, we need encouragement,” Bono said.
Threat to EU
The “EU idea” has come under threat, Bono said, referring to the Italian government’s recent antiEU rhetoric, Sweden’s opposition to immigration, and Brexit, or the United Kingdom’s decision at a June 23, 2016 referendum to leave the EU.
“You see the very real possibility after Brexit of the dismantling of this beautiful idea that is Europe,” Bono said. “I’m not saying that Brussels is romantic, but Europe is a very, very romantic idea. The idea that everyone can speak a different language and still be understood. How wonderful a thought is that?”
Europeans should be a little “afraid” and “nervous” about their future, he said.
“I don’t know enough about this great country but I know enough… that you don’t have to explain to Ukrainians the meaning and the value of peace and freedom,” Bono said. “And you’re still fighting for it on a daily basis, and my prayer for you is that you wouldn’t have to actually fight for it in any physical sense — just spiritually, would be nice,” he said, referring to Russia’s war against Ukraine and its occupation of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula.
Bono recently came under criticism for his business and tax affairs after the 2017 Paradise Papers leak, in which 13.4 million electronic documents related to offshore companies were made available to the press. Others have criticized him for posing in photos with some of the world’s richest, most powerful and most corrupt people.
Bono’s response is that he is trying to unify people.
“If I can tell you about what was so extraordinary in my life, if this makes any sense to you, it is what I would call unexpected couplings, to be in a photograph with somebody when it doesn’t make sense,” he said. “This was the thing I’m most proud of is… (the ability to) work with your supposed enemy, and this is maybe a hard thing to say here in Ukraine. And the most important word in the English language might turn out to be the word ‘compromise.’”
This is the approach that has allowed his humanitarian organization, the ONE Campaign, to unify people who would usually consider each other enemies, he said.
“Fighting HIV, we had people who wouldn’t want to be in the same room with each other,” he said. “So trying to find a constituency across political divides became our theme tune at the ONE Campaign.”
Bono then talked of Africa’s fight for freedom and success.
“I think if you listen to the Africans, they are just excited about their own success stories and they are trying to throw off a generation of leaders that have been corrupt and have not shepherded and stewarded their resources,” he said. “I mean Africa is so rich, it is this really rich, extraordinary, magnificent place, and I think that this new generation is going to get through.”
“In the north (of Europe) we have Brexit, to the west we have the name that shall not be mentioned (a reference to U. S. President Donald Trump), and then to the east we have your problem, another name that shall not be mentioned (a reference to Russian President Vladimir Putin), and then to the south we have the Mediterranean, eight miles away from Africa,” Bono said. “We have to think differently.”
“I think hierarchical societies are not made for the 21st century,” Bono said. “I like to think Irish people are entrepreneurial anarchic thinkers… And I’d like to think that Ukrainian people are innovative by nature. That’s what I hear.. But if you are hierarchical, you are f*cked,” Bono said, looking straight at the crowd.
Pinchuk, sitting in the first row, is one of Ukraine’s richest men, with a fortune currently estimated at $1.4 billion by Forbes magazine. He made his fortune mainly from the Ukrainian steel industry in the 1990s, when large state assets were taken over by a few businessmen who became oligarchs. He later created a more Western-style London-based investment firm, EastOne Group.
Pinchuk’s business empire Interpipe Group was built mostly during the presidency of his fatherin-law, former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, through non-transparent tenders.
On the other hand, Pinchuk has since won praise for donating at least $125 million to charitable causes through his foundation.
“It used to be that you could make money any way you wanted, be a brutal capitalist, and then you get your halo in the way that you give your money away, you become the philanthropist for your sins,” Bono said during the following panel.
“And I think this next generation, particularly the millennials, are much more demanding of that. For them, it’s not the way you give away your money that defines your corporate social responsibility, it’s the way you make it. And that’s a key change.”
Bono has been strongly involved in philanthropic work himself, raising billions of dollars to fight HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.
When Zakaria asked how Ukraine should fight corruption, Bono gave a vague response — through information technology that creates more transparency, he said.
“Corruption is killing more children than HIV/AIDS or malaria,” Bono said. “But there is a vaccine for corruption. It’s called transparency, it’s called open government.”
“Don’t agonize, instead — organize,” he said.
Global celebrity Paul David Hewson, better known as Bono — the frontman of rock band U2 — made his first visit to Kyiv on Sept. 15 as he was the special guest speaker at the 15th Yalta European Strategy conference. (Sergei Illin/YES)