My 6-year-old niece brought up a discussion of societal corruption this week while riding with her parents the public minibus – known as “Marshrutka” in Armenia and in other ex-Soviet countries.

She unintentionally prompted a democratization discussion by singing a song for the passengers who enthusiastically clapped at the end. One of the older woman passengers asked my niece, “When will you be performing on stage?”

“It is $1,000 to perform on stage,” answered my niece – suggesting that the answer was “never.”

The passengers got angry at a society where a 6-year-old talented child knows she has little prospects to succeed since the charge for a single performance is $1,000.

Does talent matter? My niece has been attending a world-famous children’s sing group/school in Armenia for a few years. She is one of the two, if not the only, student who has been continuously receiving straight “A”s, and her teachers call her “a child with exceptional talent.” But to participate in a local national festival with a solo performance, group parents need to pay $1,000 for production, dress, etc. And the only qualification for students to participate in the performance is to come up with the $1,000. So talent, in this case, matters not.

To appease the mashrutka passengers, my niece said, “Don’t worry; I am going to leave Arevik anyway.” The passengers got more concerned, “No, please don’t!” The woman, who had sparked the discussion by asking when my niece was going to perform on stage, said, “You will succeed no matter what. Don’t worry.”

Isn’t something wrong in a society where a 6-year-old knows that the price for “success” is $1,000?