Imagine you are driving along and you’re pulled over by the police. But instead of a surly patrol officer asking for your license and registration, it’s a young child handing you a flyer about fighting corruption. It’s a comical image, but one that has captured the attention of people in Moldova in a way that no traditional anti-corruption campaign possibly could.
At first, drivers in the capital city of Chișinău have no idea why they are being stopped. Naturally they think they’ve done something wrong, but they have no idea what. When they see a small child wearing a police cap and uniform, they’re even more confused. Finally the tension is broken when the child hands the driver a colorful flyer with the message, “Don’t tolerate corruption! Don’t bribe in traffic! Denounce corruption!”
The amusing scenes are being played out as part of an aggressive campaign to stop bribery within Moldovan society and law enforcement agencies. The initiative seeks to stamp out the long-held practice of police officers soliciting bribes from traffic violators, and drivers offering black money to officers to look the other way. The idea is that since bribery is a two-way street, so should the efforts to stop illicit payments.
The pint-sized police have become a national sensation. Along with the traffic stops, the “Messengers of Integrity” have appeared in the slickly produced music video “Children of Change.” Fully decked in police uniforms, 10 children from ages 2 to 11 sing in formation at the Triumphal Arch on Chișinău’s main drag, Stefan cel Mare Avenue. The video has been viewed more than 300,000 times on social media since it was released on June 1, International Children’s Day.
The lyrics express frustration and hope in equal measure:
We want sunshine, not war – We want there to be peace
We’ll always fight for justice – We know what it means, integrity
We always care – We don’t want corruption in our home.
Yeah, we’ve been hearing about money since we were kids – Bribes, bribes and dollars
You’re always talking about crime – But nothing ever changes.
Don’t sell out our country – Let’s change it together
We know there’ll come a day, a better day – I know it, you know it
Let’s not have children with broken wings – Let our tears be tears of joy.
Liudmila Bragarenco, who is co-leading the campaign for Moldova’s General Police Inspectorate, emphasized the importance of putting children front and center: “Integrity is a value that is inherited from generation to generation. Anti-corruption messages start first of all in the family, and they are rooted in a clear conscience, education, culture and values.”
Another Moldovan youth, 17-year-old Vlada Șimon, joined volunteer activists from Armenia, Montenegro and Ukraine as part of a UN-sponsored public awareness program “Young and Uncorrupted.”
“You gain courage as soon as you understand how much you can do to promote integrity and motivate other young people,” Șimon said. “We, the youth, say that we want changes at home, in the society, in the country. Corruption reduces our chances to make these changes. As anti-corruption volunteers, we speak openly about the importance of being honest.”
Far from a vanity exercise in pursuit of style points, Moldova’s campaign “Blow the Whistle! Your Attitude Matters!” is producing significant results that are beginning to reshape public attitudes toward corruption. Police last year reported 77 cases of corruption, which resulted in 66 criminal cases being brought against citizens. These are no small matters: bribing a police officer carries a prison sentence of up to 12 years and a large monetary fine.
In the other direction, more citizens are successfully reporting corruption committed by the police. This June alone, four police officers were arrested for bribery offenses. Two were charged with demanding a 500 euro bribe from a person to quash a criminal case. The officers allegedly threatened to arrest the man if he did not pay the bribe. In another case, two officers were charged following a sting operation in which a whistleblower paid them 400 euros for help in passing a driver’s license test. All four officers face possible imprisonment and employment restrictions.