What do Moldovans want and what power can offer them? IPN analysis, episode 2


Episode 1 of the analysis “What do Moldovans want and what can power offer them?” that was published on April 11, 2017 suggested that Moldovan society knows what it wants – “prosperity” – but does not know what and how to ask from the political class so as to achieve its goal and even encourages this sometimes to take action that rather distances it from the “prosperity objective”. Episode 2 tries to provide new arguments in this respect, which are also suggested by the latest polls, but this time as regards the attitude to oneself and to the state, the mass media and national values, including identity-related and international, European ones.

…The first part of the first day of the last week’s natural disaster. A minor, narrow street in the capital city. A car stopped in front of a pile of branches that fell down onto the roadway, which was noticeably passed with difficulty by more cars until then. The driver started to take branches away in small bunches, careful not to dirty his clothes. Several more cars approached, but their drivers and passengers waited stoically for the road to be cleaned in front of them…

Natural disaster with human questions and answers

It seems that at that period the picture on that minor street was one of the kind as in many other places all the cars continued their way over difficult obstacles or bypassed the blocked street sections, blaming the City Hall, the mayor, the Government, the President… When the situation worsened, the criticism leveled at senior officials and state institutions intensified in thought and in voice...

Question: Why should we complain when we consider that the state institutions and their functionaries do not cope if we are not better than they are? Or: Why should we expect good things from those whom we consider bad? Or: Why should we get angry with those whom we chose, who are like us or whom we resemble?

Possible answer: Because we haven’t yet understood that this state, this county is us, each of us and then the functionaries and institutions. Because such an understanding of who we are, what we want and what we can comes in time, with the democratization of this state and its institutions, on which the previous episode of the analysis focused, and our democratization too, with the acknowledgment of rights and obligations, with mandatory civic activism to which we will refer below.

It’s true that on the second day of the disaster, the civic spirit showed signs of life, individual first and then turned into weak circuits of communication on social networking sites and with sporadic cases of working with the shovel in public areas, as if instead of the authorities, functionaries and the state. On the third day, these sporadic cases culminated with several bigger initiatives like the one promoted by young activist Vlad Biletski and other representatives of civil society, who invited to a common effort to clean up the streets and sidewalks in Chisinau. At the very moment the call was made, it was very important for these initiatives to materialize into real volunteer work so that we could be sure that the chance to resuscitate the civic spirit, equal with internal democratization, still exists and we can count on this spirit now and in the future, if other calamities happen, and in the future elections, for example.

Face to face: civic spirit and calamity

Burt these examples were insignificant as volume and impact in society. Why was it so?

First. At individual level, many of those who lived in the period of the authoritarian “party-state” still long for it and wait for this to solve the problems, especially those related to life, “prosperity”. It is yet more serious when many of those who are younger and didn’t live in the old state also live thinking at that state. It’s true that particular forms of civic activism also existed in that state, with the “subotnicks” (common Saturday cleanup effort) being the most known of these. But in their case, we can speak not about genuine civic activism, but about a simulated activism because all things were directed from up and there wasn’t much room for personal or private initiative. The “subotnicks” were related exclusively to trade unions or comsomol, the first being considered the “school of communism”, while the second “party reserve”.

During many years, if not decades, the “subotnicks” were regarded by almost everyone as a big ideological formality or, in the best case, a pretext for an additional meeting with friends for a chat. Meanwhile, the real civic activism became atrophied, rudimentary and, as a social phenomenon, does not hurry to change even now. Why did the way in which “subotnicks” were organized 30-70 years ago annihilate the civic initiative in the form of corvee or statute labor, for example, which is at least several hundred years old? At least this is the impression created now by Chisinau, which brings together almost half of the total number of Moldovans and claims the role of cultural and spiritual center of Moldovan society.

Second. At community level, the citizens last week didn’t witness a sufficiently convincing example of civic activism that they could follow. What the representatives or “bloggers” of particular parties tried to do was rather an uninspired own PR attempt and an attempt to denigrate the political opponents, even if things sometimes were presented as “consensus of the shovel”. In this regard, it is good that the young and less young wings of parties didn’t make many calls and didn’t take many measures to alleviate the consequences of the disaster as they would have discredited once again the good idea of civic activism given that they are not trusted much by the people, according to polls. It is yet regrettable as some of the parties, when it was convenient for them, found huge resources, including human, material and financial, to mobilize thousands of people for much narrow causes.  

”Holy place” or ”the king is naked”?

This “holy place” could have been occupied by NGOs or, why not, by credible opinion leaders. But this didn’t happen also because a part of these discredited themselves by coming dangerously closer to untrusted parties, while another part to other parties that have a similar image. The third part discredited itself before society by supporting attacks against untrusted parties and their sympathizers by the principle “Catch the thief!” . For a period of time, these have been scenarios thought up in party labs and newer, in oligarchic labs too, directed by their representatives. Consequently, the whole community of NGOs and also the political analysts and opinion leaders get poor ratings in opinion polls.

In the absence of examples worth being followed, the Moldovans continue to trust most the church and the army, which seem to be the closest institutions in modern history and the oldest institutions of this territory.
It is the choice of Moldovans to act like this, but there are also well-thought-out instruments for maintaining these in a non-natural state.

Head–to-head voluntarily

Some 89% of the Moldovans inform themselves about the political developments trough TV, according to a poll carried out by international operators. The TV is followed, in descending order, but the Internet, friends, radio, print media, social networking sites, etc. And this happens at a time when another credible international institution, Freedom House, says about 80% of TV channels are politically controlled. Moreover, the aforementioned poll shows that over 80% of the Moldovans prefer namely the TV channels that are considered to be politically controlled. Why does it happen so? What do the Moldovans want and what do they appreciate here?

Weak institutions and solid personal businesses

One of the reasons could reside in the fact that there are no significant correct televised information alternatives on the Moldovan media market. The public TV channel Moldova 1, as a potential alternative, has been always treated as a Cinderella, in terms of economic and financial possibilities provided by the state, by all the post-Independence governments. At the same time, all the governments demanded from this loyalty, if not servility, by the principle that it is easier to subdue a poor and humble organ than a robust one from economic viewpoint and with professional dignity. Or how can we explain why the several private owners have more possibilities to outfit the channels they own from economic, technological and salary viewpoints than the whole state, together with its GDP (Gross Domestic Product) and NPB (National Public Budget) and other instruments it possess in relation to the public TV channel?  To come closer to an answer, we should return to the earlier stated thesis about the importance of state institutions compared with persons and parties in a democratic state that is able to ensure the “prosperity” desired by its citizens. But the public TV channel “Moldova 1” is a component part of the National Public Broadcaster, not of a private entity. There are also many foreign TV channels in our media space that are far from the models of correct informing.

TV: their thoughts become yours

The second reason is directly connected with the first, but is also based on psycho-psychological and even physiological particularities of humans, which are known and fully exploited by particular political-economic circles, and not only in the Republic of Moldova. Convicting arguments in this regard were provided many years ago by Eckhart Tolle, who is considered one of the most original and inspired spiritual guides of our time. For example: “When you are watching television, the tendency is for you to fall below thought, not rise above it. Television has this in common with alcohol and certain other drugs. While it provides some relief from your mind, you again pay a high price: loss of consciousness. Like those drugs, it too has a strong addictive quality” .  

In the book “A New Earth”, the author details aspects of the relationship between humans and television, which turns out to be less beneficial, in terms of correct informing and, respectively, to the “prosperity” of humans. “Although for long periods your mind may not be generating any thoughts, it has linked into the thought activity of the television show. It has linked up with the TV version of the collective mind, and is thinking its thoughts. Your mind is inactive only in the sense that it is not producing thoughts. It is, however, continuously absorbing thoughts and images that come through the TV screen. This induces a trancelike passive state of heightened susceptibility, not unlike hypnosis. That is why it lends itself to manipulation of public opinion, as politicians and special interest groups as well as advertisers know and will pay millions of dollars to catch you in that state of receptive unawareness. They want their thoughts to become your thoughts, and usually they succeed,” wrote Ekhart Tolle.

Justice of Dimitrie Cantemir

To realize that “their thoughts become ours”, it is not enough to look away from the screen at regular intervals, as the author recommends. We should also ask ourselves if we need our own thoughts and views, including about ourselves, the country, politics and politicians and, why not, about “prosperity”. If we want to leave the “cage of television”, we should at least periodically return to book reading, to live communication with children or with parents. And maybe Dimitrie Cantemir realized it in his distant century and his opinion that the Moldovans are people who do not really like reading books continues to be valid? Can this be the third reason?

Antidote to TV

They can say that not only Moldovans are fond of watching TV, but this is only a part of the truth because it turns out that the prosperous citizens from the prosperous European countries inform themselves from slightly different sources than the Moldovans. In other words, the priorities are different, said Lithuania’s Ambassador to Moldova Rimantas Latakas, whose country and its citizens had the same fate as the Moldovans for a period. Thus, the Europeans inform themselves mainly from the print media, radio and then from TV, said the diplomat. Maybe this is why the Europeans live better as they care more about the own thoughts than the foreign ones and make more effort to formulate these and put them into practice.

From bread and circuses to arrests

TV watching is a modern form of leisure time spending called by antics “bread and circuses”. In the recent past, a new facet of the modern circus approved by the Moldovans has taken shape – massive arrests of persons from different social categories on corruption charges. Yes, the active fighting of corruption is more than necessary and is expected by the people, as polls show. But the general impression is that there is a too great dose of subjectivism in these arrests, as to who and when should be arrested, who should be held in a remand prison and who should be placed under house arrest, whose hearings should be public and whose should be held behind closed doors, who should be allowed to say his last word in the trial and who should not be allowed. This perception comes from the suspicion that the decisions are taken not only inside the competent institutions, such as the prosecution service, the police, the Anticorruption Center, courts of law, etc. In this case, as in others, it is the perception that counts, not what we are told from the TV screen.

The power could explain that such a behavior derives from the wish to make more and swifter progress in corruption fighting and could give the example of Romania, which is much more ahead on this path. But without sufficient transparency in his matter and without making headway with the real, credible independence of institutions, at least by the example of Romania, the arrests remain mainly a show and we probably do not yet realize how dangerous this is for the fate of our democracy and “prosperity”.

And yet brothers

Romania’s case is relevant also to other “wishes” of Moldovans. According to polls, fewer Moldovans than it would be logical to be improved their attitude to the neighboring state as a political and economic partner even if this provided massive support during the last few years and channeled this directly to hundreds of schools and kindergartens in particular communities that cannot overlook this. Even if Romania is the biggest advocate for Moldova on its path of European integration and, respectively, on the path of strengthening the institutions that ensure “prosperity” and diminishing the subjective factor in the life of the country and its people. In the best case, polls reveal parity between the pro-Romanian and pro-Russian preferences, even if assistance for Moldovan schools and kindergartens does not come from the East. It is harder to detect other reasons for such behavior than those mentioned above and also bigger trust in persons than in institutions, as the first episode revealed. On the other hand, this attitude shows that Moldovans are related and are even brothers with Romanians because some of us, from older times, keep anger long at close relatives and often get on better with foreigners.  

What kind of turmoil do the Moldovans yet need?  

It is correct and useful to use the notion of “Moldovans” in relation to all the citizens of the Republic of Moldova if we want to become once a common, but prosperous country and society. However, in the context of this analysis, it can be useful to refer especially to Moldovans as a majority ethnic group in the Republic of Moldova, as the last population census shows and which can be regarded as the broadest “poll” conducted in the last few years. The over 75% of surveyed persons who said that they are Moldovans, together with or without the 7% who said that they are Romanians, should better know what they want and what they can for living better at home, together with all the other citizens. In other times they could shift the blame onto the “smaller or elder brothers”, but in the current conditions they bear responsibility for the own fate.

What counts most after the last week’s natural disaster is that the ”virus” of civic activism woke up, even if with difficulty and even if partially. Maybe this happened because of the calamity. Maybe we need such calamities in other areas of activity too so as to wake up? I don’t know if these “calamities” should be similar to the events of April 7, 2009, for example, but it seems that we need particular shakes to wake up. The recent heavy snowfalls in the middle of spring are an additional proof of this.

Valeriu Vasilică, IPN