All Those Mighty Men Defending Democracy and the Freedom of Speech? Is Plebiscitarian Democracy Swiss Style the Future of Finnish Democracy- the Solution of a New Finnish Radical Right Populist Party? (I)
2010 and respectively 2011 are going to be very lively years, at least politically in the northern part of the EU; Sweden will held parliamentary and local elections on 19th September 2010, and Finland in the first half of 2011, most likely in April. What distinguishes these elections from the previous ones is the ever greater presence of Radical Right Populist (RRP) parties. This blog entry will be divided into two parts, first focusing on Finland and the possible rearrangements on the Finish political scene before the Finnish Parliamentary elections. The second part, which will be published in a later entry, will more carefully analyze the change in attitudes towards the main Swedish RRP, the Sweden Democrats (SD/Sverigedemokraterna), especially on behalf of the media and the party’s preparations for the coming elections in September.
In Finland, it seems that RRP parties attempt to make even deeper inroads into the national parliament. In the 2007 elections the True Finns (PS/ Perussuomalaiset/ Sannfinländarna) received some 4.5% of the votes which translated into 5 seats in the Finnish Parliament (Eduskunta/Riksdagen). Not only that, but it seems that PS was not perceived as a political force to be avoided, or ringed by the cordon sanitaire like in Sweden. As such, the 2009 EU elections witnessed the alliance between the populist PS and the Christian-Democrats (KD/Kristillisdemokraatit/Kristdemokraterna) which led to their presence in the European Parliament with 2 representatives.
But that appears to be only the beginning. Recently, the online newspapers Uusi Suomi (New Finland) published an article about the emergence of a splinter group from PS as a full-fledged party, after having gathered the required 5,000 signatures (in Finnish, tässä). The Finnish Broadcasting Company (YLE/Yleisradio/ Rundradion) reported on the possibility of this new RRP political force in Finland as well (more extensively in Finnish, tässä; briefly in Swedish, här).
The new political force, which reunites the more immigrant critical voices from PS, is lead by Juha Mäki-Ketelä and in the near future will apply for being recognized as a political entity, submitting the collected signatures to the Minister of Justice. According to its leader, the new political force has quite ambitious plans aiming at 2-3 seats in the future Finnish Parliament. Interestingly the party to be is called Muutos 2011 (Förändring 2011/ Change 2011). Mäki-Ketelä appeared to be rather irritated about the anti-immigration allegations and underlined that his future party will focus on the rights of Finnish citizens and the possibility of enforcing a more plebiscitary type of politics in Finland.
A closer look at the party web-pages (in Finnish, tässä; and briefly in Swedish, här; and English here) resemble a book example of RRP: the party would aim to 1) advance the interest of Finnish citizens; 2) direct democracy to support parliamentary democracy; 3) freedom of speech includes dissidents and those expressing opinions different from mainstream; 4) abandonment of consensus politics; and last but not least, 5) rationalization of immigration politics. Indeed 1) and 2) sound like the recipe for the modern democratic malaise, with low participation of the citizenry in the elections and an increasing politics of consensus that estranges even more the citizenry. Thus 4) is pointing an accusing finger, very much in the populist vein, at the Finnish political establishment that is found guilty of building consensus for their policies. 3) is intimately related to 4) since they both constitute a critique to “politics as usual” of Western democracies. And finally, 5) does not really come at a surprise if it is to remember that the party is representing PS‘ anti-immigration breakaway group.
However, some questions come to the fore. Would the Swiss model of direct democracy energize Finnish democracy, or would be the plebiscitarian option used to stave off immigration policy in Finland? How greater a role played the result of the latest Swiss referendum – that which witnessed the forbidding of minarets being built in Switzerland – in Muutos 2011 decision to embrace plebiscite as means of democratic expression? What kind of effect would have the presence of this party on PS? Will it become a part of the mainstream, even a desired coalition partner in the coming Finnish government; will other parties share PS‘ criticism of immigration and welfare protectionism?
Cyber-defenders of National Pride? On Romania’s bad reputation abroad, and the discrimination of Romanians and Romas alike
Without doubt, Romania and Romanians seem to have a rather tarnished reputation in Europe. Especially the European medias do not spare any criticism when it comes to describing the country’s problematic development and its citizens’ misdemeanors. Throughout the years, British readers have been warned of the flood of Romanian immigrants that will take over the British isles once the country joined the EU. The Italians were informed that Romanians are but beggars that have rape and assault in their genes, and more recently Danish and Norwegian newspapers reached the same conclusion about the Romanians’ inherent violence from the brutal assassination of a Norwegian air hostess at the hands of a Romanian citizen, in an hotel room in central Copenhagen. Such rushed conclusions raise some serious questions about how much do the medias in Europe really know about Romania.
And to add insult to injury, no one seems to pay attention to the distinction between Romania and its citizens, generally called Romanians, and the Romani people (also known under the derogatory name of ‘Gypsies’). Indeed, some of the Romani people now present across Europe may come from Romania (there were 535,140 Romani registered in the 2002 census; link in Romanian). But they may be as well from Hungary (some 205,720, according to the 2001 census), Slovakia or any other Central and Eastern European country that has/had a significant Romani population and has an anti-Roma record (ranging from forced sterilizations and forced expulsions from local communities, to violent killings of Romani people). Such treatments are unfortunately widespread across the region.
The equation of Romanians with Romani people and the subsequent discrimination of both groups has become a common occurrence across “Old” Europe. Most recent in France, where even the institutions supposed to combat discrimination and racism fail to act even when this takes place on the public television. Such an example is the performance of Jonathan Lambert on France 2 on April 17th. At the end of the “On n’est pas couchés” show where he was invited, he chose a rather peculiar way to express his gratitude in the sense of “performing” the so-called “salut roumain”/”Romanian salute” (link in French). The gesture mocked Romanians- the hand trusted forward with the open palm typical for begging. The public imitated Lambert’s gesture in a manner that made most believe it was not a spontaneous move, but a rather well rehearsed act.
However, besides official complaints issued by the various Romanian embassies there is a new trend of what I call cyber-nationalism. If official statements may be regarded as ineffective and easily overruled by the media “perpetrating” the anti-Romanian offenses, the cyber-defenders of Romanian dignity act against the very presence of the medias on the internet. The Romanian cyber-nationalists, labeled “hacktivists” by the very media they threaten with their acts, seem to have coagulated into a group suggestively called Romanian National Security [RNS]. Witness the globalization pressures and the localist-nationalist aspirations, the group’s name is in English while their messages are to most part written in Romanian.
Their anger and cyber skills became apparent to the whole world when a Daily Telegraph third-party website was defaced on April 14th 2010. The text, mainly in Romanian, read:
“We are tired of watching how some ‘scum’ like you mock our country. The way you portray us, which has nothing to do with the reality, and how you name-call us ‘Romanian Gypsies’ and airing such s*ite shows as TopGear. For having the guts to piss of a whole country, be aware that we won’t stop here!” and added in English “Guess what, gypsies aren’t Romanians, morons.”
The TopGear reference concerns the first episode of the series’ 14th season, which follows the TopGear team in its quest to locate and drive along one of most picturesque roads in Romania, the so-called “Transfăgărăşan”. The mentioned episode is a classical example of journalistic “faux pas” being filled with unflattering remarks about the country and its people. On top of all there is the careless editing of the episode that contains a discussion apparently taking place somewhere in Romania. The dialogue is in a Slavic language and it infuriated Romanian viewers, evidencing the journalists’ unawareness of the various sensitivities at work in that part of Europe.
Mass media in France did not escape RNS’ attention either. Sunday, April 18th- only shortly after the France 2 show, it was the turn of Le monde’s website to be defaced. The more elaborate text, still in Romanian, took issue with the equation of Romanians to Romani people and the undignified reaction of French media in general to the “Romanian salute” affair:
“This is not a resistance movement, nor a protest, nor a rebellion! It is the cry of the whole Romanian people calling their brothers, who have forgot that Roman blood flows through or veins too! The blood spilled on battlefields so that our people’s history can be written urges now for JUSTICE. Our national heroes will never die! The memory of those who paid with their live so that Romania exists on the world’s map will never be forgotten. We want to proudly remind our children and our grandchildren of them and to give them the honor they deserve. We’ve had enough of mockery! The Gypsies are not Romanians! The have not written our history! When you make reference to our compatriots do not use such phrases as ‘Romanian Gypsies’.” The message is concluded with the warning “We have respected your French, you will respect our ROMANIA! RNS KEEPS GUARD for this to happen.”
According to an interview with one of the RNS members (link in Romanian), the 20-something group members do not know one another, but they are decided to signal that Romanians’ tolerance has been abused for too long. Described as a 17-year old man whose parents are also nationalists and who know and agree with his activities, the interviewee appears to live a “normal life” “preparing for his exams, grill parties at the weekend and dates with his girlfriend”. In a sign of civility the young man mentions that when defacing the websites RNS abstained from collecting sensitive personal information from the websites, or infecting the computers of both editors and readers accessing the web-pages. In other words they signaled of not being mere “hackers” but people animated by a national ideal and passionate about computers. Even more intriguing is his attempt to absolve RNS from any accusation of racism, apologizing to “all Romani people that live a honest life and are know the value of honest work, and respect”. So the “Gypsies” that the texts made reference to are, by contrast those who do not live a honest life, begging and pickpocketing in the streets of European cities, though it is rather difficult to assess if the Romani people in question had any choice in living such a life. The two messages and the interview are saturated with a rather romantic take on nationalism, remembering proud and upright masculinities, war heroes and civilized citizens alike, as opposed to the “Gypsies” that the authors want to distance from themselves and the entire Romanian nation.
Unfortunately, what the cyber-nationalists from the Romanian National Security group managed to do, was not only to draw attention on the stereotypical presentation of Romanians as beggars in European press, but also to point at the naturalized discrimination of Romani people that occurs both in Romania, but also across the EU. In their attempt to restore the dignity of Romanians they seem to have silenced the extreme discrimination and stereotyping experienced by the Romani people. Indeed, if Romania’s reputation is defended by dedicated hackers, who is willing to demand action for the integration of Romani people in the European societies? How stringent is the need to distinguish between Romanians, as in citizens of Romania (regardless of their ethnic belonging, i.e. Romanians, Hungarians, Romani people, etc), and Romani people? Can Romani people born in Romania called themselves and be called Romanians? How will RNS’ actions will impact on the situation of the Romani people?
Obsessing about the Other in Finland: mandatory study of Swedish may turn you into a killer, welcoming refugees spells the end of Finnish nation
Being preoccupied with the Other appears as a multifaceted process in Finland, and it stretches to encompass attitudes against Swedish-speaking Finns and mandatory Swedish-language education in Finnish schools, to fears of national dilution with the apparent increase of asylum seekers and other refugees in the country, a consequence of the clandestine activities of the same Swedish-speakers. However, what they have in common is the danger they posit to the Finnish masculinity, or better said to the typology of Finnish conservative heteropatriachal masculinity heralded by the Finnish radical right populists- the True Finns (PS/ Perussuomalaiset/ Sannfinländarna).
A first example is the incident which was mainly discussed on the Finnish Broadcast company’s Swedish language web-pages (här). It is an opinion piece published by Kirkkonummen Sanomat (KS) authored by Voitto Mäkipää (in Finnish, tässä, p. 15). Kirkkonummen Sanomat is, as the name suggests, the local newspaper in Kirkkonummi/ Kyrkslätt, a commune some 30 km away from the Finnish capital. Mäkipää is a local non-affiliated commune councilor on educational matters, who works closely with PS. In his article, Mäkipää argued against the teaching of mandatory Swedish in Finnish schools, the so-called pakkoruotsi/tvångssvenska. What is surprising, however, is the way Mäkipää claimed in his piece that based on his personal experience of being forced to study a “completely useless” language like pakkoruotsi he has come to understand the frustration of young men that eventually shoot innocent people around them. In this light, he recommended researching which language had to study those who engaged in violent shootings in Finland in the recent past. He then continued unabated that pakkoruotsi is “a relic of the past” and that the Swedish-speaking Finns are the fifth column, which clandestinely undermines the Finnish nation from within.
From a gender-informed perspective, Mäkipää‘s take on the issue of violence in Finnish society obscures completely the widespread gun ownership across the country and focus on stereotypical images of Swedish masculinity (and by means of the common language, transferred over to the Swedish-speaking Finns), as emasculated and weak in comparison to the Finnish heteropatriarchal masculinity in its conservative translation as heralded by the radical right populism of PS. In other words being exposed to Swedish inflicts irreversible damage to Finnish heteropatriachal masculinity and reveals its extreme vulnerability, since violence is the only means to release the frustration of forced-learning and symbolically erase the signs of the less-than-masculine (read Swedish-language exposed). Apparently this is how real Finnish men are crafted: complete resistance to Swedish and everything the Swedish language represents in Finland, and if this is not possible then the only manly solution is indiscriminate violence against innocent bystanders.
In a parallel development that echoes the references to the fifth column of Swedish-speaking Finns, PS has lashed out at the Minister of Migration and European Affairs Astrid Thors (SFP/ Ruotsalainen kansanpuolue/ Svenska folkpartiet) and demanded her resignation. PS accused her for the allegedly too liberal take on Finnish migration policy, which apparently has resulted in a surge in the numbers of asylum seekers in Finland (tässä, här, here). PS reacted to the 6000 or so family reunification applications received by the ministry, which are considered to be the direct effect of the overly lax immigration policy in the past years. What PS did not mention was the extremely high rejection rate of such applications, but in turn focused on the generous financial support offered by the Finnish state to those very few who are granted asylum and allowed to bring their families to Finland. It is not the first time when PS criticized Minister Thors for her work. At times of economic hardship, their accusations may sound very comforting to the disenchanted jobless and economically struggling Finns across the country. The PS implicit critique is that such an attitude risks to undermine the Finnish national being, since the newcomers, mainly from Somalia and Iraq represent an extreme embodiment of the Other, both religiously (i.e. non-Christian) and racially (non-European). The large non-Finnish families would thus change the population dynamic in the country, and undermine the hegemonic position of the Finnish man by exposing him to competition from the Other men.
One may wonder if learning Swedish, even when it is a mandatory discipline, leads to such frustration that justifies violent manifestations against innocent people around (like in the tragic school shootings in Jokela and Kauhajoki; or in the shooting spree in Espoo/ Esbo)? Is Finnish conservative heteropatriarchal masculinity really threatened by Swedish language abilities? Even more worryingly, is the Swedish-speaking Minister of Migration preparing quietly for an invasion of the country of True Finns (the name of the party after all) by cohorts of asylum seekers and their families from Somalia and Iraq? Is this yet another case of thinly veiled anti-Muslim sentiments against the incoming asylum seekers, or a real concern with an explosive immigration in Finland?
After all, in 2008 there were 467 favorable decisions for family reunification , and some 2 170 people were received by Finnish municipalities; one can imagine their impact on the overall Finnish population of 5 326 314 (the numbers are taken from the Finnish statistical public authority, for different language versions: tässä, här, here).
2009 ended tragically in Finland: six people were killed in the Sello shopping mall shooting in Espoo/Esbo: one woman and three men were shot to death in the mall, another woman was discovered gruesomely killed in her home; the last victim was the gunman himself. At the time when the police was still searching for the suspect, and the media hardly had managed to publish information about him, comments flooded pointing out at his not being a Finn and being a convicted criminal as the main explanation of the shooting. By the time he was found dead in his apartment in Espoo/Esbo, it was public knowledge that his name was Ibrahim Shkupolli, a 43-year-old Kosovo Albanian that came to Finland at the beginning of the 1990s.
In the aftermath of the shootings it was heatedly argued that Shkupolli should have been deported to Kosovo, and that Finland has too loose a law on deportation of foreign convicts. In a later series of articles ran by Helsingin Sanomat (HS), it was revealed that annually there are deported approximately 70 from among the almost 140,000 people of foreign origin living presently in Finland; moreover, Shkupolli had his Finnish citizenship application rejected, as a result of his “numerous” offenses (in English, here). His criminal offenses, according to the same HS (in English, here) were a conviction of assault (2001), and two firearms offenses (in 2004 and 2007). His former partner, one of the women victims, had a restraining order against him because of his violent behavior and continuous harassing.
In a self-secure tone, Timo Soini leader of the RRP True Finns (PS/Perussuomalaiset), commented that both Finnish PM, Matti Vanhanen from the Center Party (Kesk/Keskusta/Centerpartiet), and the Minister of the Interior, Anne Holmlund from the National Coalition Party (Kok/Kansallinen Kokoomus/Samlingspartiet) are moving ever closer to PS’ line on the question of granting residence permits to foreigners with a criminal background, in the sense of making the legislation even more restrictive (in Swedish, här).
Acting as a leading opinion maker in Finland, HS addressed the heated debate about Shkupolli not being Finnish but also went further and asked what can be defined as “racist” and inquired openly if his background had an impact in the unfolding of the tragic event (in English, here). One of the main arguments put forward was that the Kosovo Albanians have suffered a severe collective trauma, as evidenced by research of psychiatrists from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm (Sweden). One of the main findings was that the Kosovo Albanians forced to seek refuge across Europe have an increased sense of marginalization and alienation than other migrant groups. This unfortunately silenced the issue of integration in the Finnish society, since Shkupolli lived almost 20 years in Finland before the tragic event. Despite being convicted for the aforementioned crimes, he lived and worked in Finland, and it is rather difficult to portray him as a blood-thirsty foreigner living at the fringes of Finnish society. Even the Finnish Immigration Services had to admit that his criminal record was not enough to support a potential deportation, and that his later actions could not have been foreseen just from that.
However, another HS article acknowledged the strong resemblance between the domestic violence degenerated into the killings of whole families perpetrated by native Finns, and Shkupolli’s actions. The case of former sportsman Matti Nykänen, who allegedly injured his wife on Christmas Day 2009 with a knife and attempted to strangle her (in Finnish, tässä; in English, here), made headlines not only in Finland but also abroad and was a sad reminder of domestic violence in Finland.
Interviewed by Hufvudstadsbladet (Hbl), the Minister of Migration and European Affairs, Astrid Thors from the Swedish People’s Party (SFP/Ruotsalainen kansanpuolue/Svenska folkpartiet) was one of the few dissenting voices who reacted strongly on the matter and warned that the debate around the Sello killings should not focus on the ethnic background of the perpetrator, but consider the combined impact of high incidence of gun ownership, and domestic violence in Finland (in Swedish, här).
Addressing the issue of family violence, which in Finnish media usually receives a gender-neutral connotation, Pia Puu Oksanen argued in an interview in the same Hbl for the strengthening of policies on the matter, despite the present economic hardships (in Swedish, här). She underlined that in almost 20% of homicides in Finland a man kills his wife, girlfriend or co-inhabiting partner; the most critical moment is when women attempt to put an end to their relationships. Unfortunately, the ideals of Finnish masculinity appear to be constructed around the conviction of ownership of women. In other words, a woman breaking away from a toxic relationship with an abusive man, looses somehow her most basic human rights (the right to live being of utmost importance), and she is to be punished by the man who has a right of life and death over her.
Indeed, it is estimated that approximately 20-30 women die each year in Finland as a consequence of domestic violence. At European level, Finland is only surpassed by such countries as the Russian Federation, Belarus, Ukraine, Latvia, Lithuania, Albania and Romania in terms of a higher rate of women killed in a relationship. In this context the question that comes forward concerns the Finnish obsession with keeping the country for Finns, when the very Finnish women are refused their most humane rights: who gains from hurrying into making rankings of violence, labeling violence perpetrated by foreigners as “bad”, while not addressing the very issue of violence and its poisonous symbiosis with the ideals of Finnish masculinity? Is not violence, at the end of the day, intrinsically bad, why is there a need to add shades to it, and attempt to find futile justifications for the violence in the Finnish homes? Can the tragic event in Sello mark a more serious questioning of the overall heteropatriarchal relationship between guns, violence against women, and ideas of masculinity?
It appears that the first decade of the third millennium, now nearing its end, was not under the most positive auspices for Finland. Especially with regard to public violence perpetrated by men in Finland, be them Finnish natives or “new” Finns, on other innocent citizens. To mention just those events that received a lot of media attention:
- Myyrmanni bombing in October 2002 in a shopping center located in Vantaa/Vanda, neighboring commune to the capital Helsinki/Helsingfors. The bomb killed 7 people and injured a total of 166.
- The school shootings in Jokela in November 2007, 9 were killed and 12 were injured. Less than a year later another school shooting shook Finland. In Kauhajoki in September 2008, 11 people were shot to death and 3 more were severely injured*.
- Today, 31 December 2009, just a few hours before the end of the year, a man shot and killed 5 innocent people. The gruesome event occurred in in Sello, one of the largest shopping malls in Finland, located in Espoo/Esbo, a commune neighboring the Finnish capital to the west. 4 people were executed at Prisma shop in Sello, while the other victim was shot in her home. From early police reports released by Finnish Public Broadcaster YLE (tässä/här/here), it seems that the gunman is of Kosovo Albanian origin and have resided in Finland for a long time.
A first thought that comes to mind is that the Finnish ideal of masculinity is undergoing a very unsettling stage. The constant pressure to comply with and fulfill the ideals of a heroic heteropatriachal masculinity, coupled by a tradition of gun ownership- not seriously kept in check by a rather lax gun law- intrinsically connect violence and Finnish masculinity in a deadly symbiosis.
A second comment pertains to the symbolical nature of these events that resemble strongly public executions. Innocent people, oftentimes mainly women, are targeted in cold blood, in what can be regarded as a public reassertion of the perpetrator’s masculinity. In other words, this very extreme manifestation of Finnish masculinity requires to be enacted, performed in front of terrified others and demands the irrational sacrifice of innocent bystanders. In this vein, the perpetrators’ last act is their own suicide, performed less publicly and more hurriedly, and thus ensuring they do have the last word.
A third, and necessary reflection comes up somewhat later. It was recently revealed that the author of the shooting in Sello is of a foreign background, namely of Kosovo Albanian origin (identified as Ibrahim Shkupolli). Will this be turned into a renewed interrogation of “irrational” Balcanic masculinity, and avoid the pressing need for reassessing the hegemonic Finnish masculinity? In the case of Myyrmanni, the perpetrator was an “unbalanced man”, in the case of Jokela, and especially Kauhajoki, the gunmen were labeled unstable mentally and “misfits” of the masculine norm. It seems that time and again, series of explanations and othered scapegoats are found and the main question is yet to be posed: What is the dominating ideal of Finnish masculinity and why is it umbilically connected to violence?
To conclude in a more interrogative tone, perhaps the decade to be inaugurated soon should be one to critically assess how traditional ideals of Finnish masculinity can enter a new phase, in which manly ideals are not underpinned by implicit reference to violence. Is Finland still haunted by its horrific experience of the WWII, or is this just an expedient explanation for much deeper and more serious traumas that are manifest in the Finnish culture in general?
* The issue of school shootings in Finland has received increased scholar attention. Among others, I have presented a paper titled “Violent masculinities and school shootings in Finland” (written together with Prof. Johanna Kantola and Ph.D. Student Jemima Repo) – presented at Foranderlige Mænd og Maskuliniteter i Ligestillede Samfund/ Changing Men and Masculinities in Gender Equal Societies conference, within Theme H: Uddannelse og opdragelse af drenge og piger: normalisering og formning af genus/ The education and upbringing of boys and the formation of masculinities (28.01-30.01.2009), Roskilde University, Denmark.
Probably Madonna’s Sticky & Sweet Tour in Europe was awaited with great expectation and excitement. One by one, European cities have greeted her and her music. Most notably, with the occasion of her concert in Bucharest (Romania), she chose to address a message of tolerance towards one of the most discriminated against minorities in Europe: the Romani, commonly known as Gypsies:
“It has been brought to my attention … that there is a lot of discrimination against Romanies and Gypsies in general in Eastern Europe. [...] It made me feel very sad. [...] We don’t believe in discrimination … we believe in freedom and equal rights for everyone.” (Associated Press)
How was her message met? By boos and jeers from some of the 60,000 people gathered for her concert. And that was just the beginning, since Romanian press took up the subject and transformed it into a matter of hurt national pride. Not few were the editorials that questioned her motivations, her position, and her right to make such a statement in Bucharest. Inflammatory pieces accused Madonna of equaling Romanians with Gypsies, and of purposefully exploiting this subject, a painful one for Romanians, for her own marketing purposes. A Romanian TV channel (link in Romanian) collected the opinions of average Romanians on the topic. Tellingly, they read: “the fact that a whole nation did not succeed to educate and civilize this ethnic group, but on the contrary [...] is no reason for national pride,” reads one comment; “I see no difference between our discrimination against Gypsies and their discrimination against the Blacks,” is another reaction; “Why don’t you [Madonna] go one night in Ferentari [a neighborhood in Bucharest with the reputation of the most violent and poorest borough in the city; inhabited by a large Romani population] to enrich a little your knowledge about them. To be robbed, beaten up, and possibly… to be still alive afterward,” recommends another.
They all revealed the uneasiness of a large majority in Romania with the subject. The “Gypsy question” so to speak, brings forward the shameful episode occurred a couple of years ago in Rome (Italy), when a Romanian Gypsy allegedly robbed and raped an Italian woman. At that time, the Italian press was quick to make the analogy between Romani and Romanians, to the deep dislike of latter group. Unfortunately, the tragic episode in Rome is one of a multitude of such stories. Even in Romania, Gypsies (as they are commonly called) are accused of raping, stealing, and pillaging “common” Romanians. Little was done to improve their status of pariahs and marginalized group. Behind the well intended initiatives, there is a deep seated distrust that very easily degenerates into violence against them.
It seems that a Romanian essentialist nationalist cliche has taken hold of the debate in which the Gypsy are stereotyped as uncivilized, robbers, beggars, and rapists, unworthy of any help, and the source of all possible evils and national shames. Gypsies as a whole group are accused of actively resisting “civilization”, “integration”, assimilation in the name of “Europeanization”, strikingly reminding of racist reasoning and civilizational superiority. The Romanians may be considered Easterners elsewhere in Europe, but they have identified an immediate Other at home that can be regarded with contempt. In other words, discrimination and hierarchical structuring of Whiteness goes in concentric geographical circles, from the very White and very Western center, to the intermediate Eastern Europeans, and it meets its Easternmost periphery in the person of Romani people.
Even more unsettling is that not all Romanians are some innocent, saintly creatures either (not that it would come at a huge surprise to anyone). More often than not one reads (if there is any such interest) about horrendous acts of violence of Romanians against Romanians. Newspapers are bursting nowadays with news about fathers that rape their children, women that sell their newborns, women that are being trafficked. The less fortunate aspect is that even these are oftentimes dismissed with a quick brush “The perpetrator must have been a Gypsy! No Romanian would ever do that.”
But then a whole range of questions arise: Really, is it really only the Gypsy/ Romani/ or whatever one may wish to name them, the ones who must take the blame? Why is not there any thorough interrogation about the so-called deep Romanian values, and the much heralded “true” ways of being a Romanian, and to compare them with what actually happens in the country, or wherever else in Europe Romanians may happen to be? Why is it so difficult to assume responsibility for one’s own deeds? Is hating the less privileged such an easy and convenient way out, postponing emancipation from old stereotypes and toxic judgments? Perhaps it is about the time the whole Eastern Europe (keeping in mind the horrendous anti-Romani acts in Hungary, and the strong discrimination they face elsewhere in the region) needs to accept its responsibility and seriously engage in a wider discussion about the Romani/Gypsy with the very Romani/Gypsy that are so easily accused and discriminated.
And this is, unfortunately, just one side of the issues some Romanians have when it comes to relating themselves to Romani people. In a similar vein, Madonna’s appeal for fighting discrimination against the LGBT community, at the same concert, was met with even stronger boos and jeers. In this light, it seems that Romanian essentialist nationalism is one deeply anchored in racism and patriarchal heterosexism, highly intolerant with anything not conforming to the norm, but at the same time extremely uncertain about its own identity and aspiring to a “rightful” place in the “Great family of European nations”.
A Sunday afternoon visit to the Museum of Modern Art in Stockholm (Moderna museet) turned out to be very rewarding, and not only from a purely aesthetic point of view but also because some of the pieces, in particular one of them, seemed to call upon a strong connection with the title of the present blog.
The aforementioned artwork is Björn Lövin’s sculpture titled The Containing Father (Den kringgärdande fadern) (1988) that reminds, not only through its title, of Lacanian scholarship on the topic of language, infancy, mothers and fathers.
At 280 cm tall and 120cm wide, the sculpture is almost intimidating. The solid, darkened surface of the wood does not appear at all hospitable, let alone friendly. There is a certain warmth in it, but one needs to be willing to look for it, and find it there where others would simply feel distance and coldness. the sculpture rests on three feet, two of them projected outwards like some sort of giant embracing arms, ready to contain and not let go.
Strangely, one may walk closer to the sculpture, willingly subjecting herself or himself to the father’s embrace. Time appears to be frozen in this open embrace. The feeling of containment comes not from the arms not yet fully closed, rather from such potentiality once the embrace may be led to fruition. The figure is tempting, it is open; at the same time, one may sense the size and the open embrace as intimidating, a promise of a possibly disciplining action yet to take place.
I find the piece a masterful and powerful translation of stereotypes and idealized pictures of masculinities, especially that of strict, intimidating, disciplining fatherhood. Now I can only wonder, how can one further deconstruct these?
The Witch-hunt of Moldova’s Twitter revolution. How to search for hidden messages/ financers/ benefiters while forgetting the defense of basic human rights
Squeezed between the news about the rescue of the US captain from the Somali pirates and the unfolding events in Thailand, the situation in Moldova risks to soon fall off the international media attention. To the benefit of whom, I wonder?
What is even more worrisome is the wave of probably well intended analyses of the geo-political situation in the Eastern Europe that regard the convulsive manifestations in Chisinau simply as some sort of abstract power struggle between Western-financed and encouraged think tanks and political entrepreneurs and the power-clinging East-faithful. But this is, however, an overly simplistic dichotomous model, since Romania, the main culprit as it is portrayed by out-going president Voronin, is not the most important member country in NATO, nor does it have such a crucial leverage in the decision making process regarding the whole security architecture in Eastern Europe. Second, the Eastern sympathies of the out-going president Voronin have changed quite often, as it was noted across time. What has persisted though, was a desire to remain in power and ensure that the next elected president would not upset the internal power balance instated during Voronin’s time in office. I am afraid that, as they use to say, the devil lies in the details, and a rushed and disconnected analysis of the ongoing events in Moldova do not help the cause of the demonstrators against the electoral fraud from the 5th of April 2009.
It appears that the foreign analysts do not bother to read the local news, be them biased on the side of the manifestants or the centrally controlled state media. Otherwise how could one explain the complete silence regarding certain issues that cast a different light on the event? To start with the most obvious, Moldova Azi discusses the mysterious man (see video attached) that repeatedly appears in the midst of the anti-governmental demonstrations, planting the EU and the Romanian flags on both the Moldavian Presidential residence and the Moldavian Parliament; the same person was filmed among those opposing a manifestation of the one of the opposition parties, only to be later one of those disclosing that he was payed to demonstrate for (this time for) another opposition party. The same topic was discussed by Jurnal de Chisinau, a proof that Twitter meets YouTube when it is about genuine popular movements, and that we truly live in an age of ever more internet connectedness. An educated guess would be that this is a intoxication maneuver to create the false impression that governmental forces were taken by surprise (well, most comments on the internet focus on how cooperative and non-combative a treatment the mysterious man received from a police officer on the roof top).
So what actually happens in Moldova while foreign analysts involve in sophisticated discussions about balance of powers, emergence of new security architectures in Eastern Europe, radical re-drawing of alliances and imminent power struggles, or even more fashionably today, blaming it on the global economic downturn? On the one hand, people die. Or maybe, unfortunately, not as many people die as to attract media attention. Despite that, a young man died, allegedly as a result of the savage beatings of the police forces (the official report blames it on the tear-gas fumes; even so, no discussion on the responsibility of those making use of such lethal means to reprimand demonstrators is allowed to take place). On the other hand, journalists are harassed, this was even difficult for the foreign media to miss. CNN ran yesterday an article on this topic, but that was pretty much it. In the meantime, we are told that a vote recount would take place. However, one may wonder if counting defrauded votes would make a dramatic difference.
In this context, what about taking a step back and leaving aside the grand politics and grandiose theories of international politics, to start looking into how those people manifesting against the result of the elections are (miss-)treated? I think the lives of human beings should value more than a witty comment about new power balances and that a chance for fair democratic elections should be given also to those not as lucky to be in such world hot spots as Thailand or citizens of the US. Maybe it is time for the influential media figures in the West priding themselves with non-partisan stances to take a second and reflect on the fate of the Moldavian youth. I think they owe it to the thousands of young demonstrators in Chisinau and to their future. Or is their future to be gambled for a new security format to better account for the sensitivities of the today’s multi-polar world?
Chisinau revisited. How to suppress the revolution that no one talks about. A few á la carte options to dealing with the Evil.
Trying to keep up with the news flow and to make some sense of the events, both foreign media and the (still) free Moldavian news platforms, and some Romanian news outlets prove crucially helpful. However, one may have the impression that something is about to happen. Contradictory reports from Moldavian media news agencies, depending on their (dis-)likings, the fewer and fewer reports Romanian news channels and newspaper are able to provide first hand, and the almost eerie peace and composure of such international channels as BBC that run “impartial opinion pieces” paints an atmosphere of a widespread backlash against demonstrators at the hands of president Voronin’s faithfuls.
CNN finally noticed that the Moldavian government has embarked on a heavy handed campaign against the few journalists that still dare to oppose the official line of disinformation about the recent events from Chisinau. Romanian TV channel Antena 3 is less reverent when it comes to such touchy subjects and bluntly maintains that Moldavian journalist from the free press have been harassed, kidnapped, and searched for “compromising materials”. Of all, the most vocal are Jurnal de Chisinau, a local Moldavian news platform targeted systematically by the on-going governmental repression. Threatened to go underground, the journal’s director declares the journalists are ready to continue the struggle to inform Moldavians and the foreign fora (OSCE, Council of Europe, etc) about the “reinstatement of dictatorship in Moldova”.
But is it so? Is a full fledged repression about to take place? Are we about to witness a bloody backlash of those clinging to power in Chisinau? If one is to believe the discussions going on in Moldova, and on the blogosphere, then it seems that the government is about to bring in the heavy stuff into the Chisinau and forcefully “pacify” the capital. So the amateur film shows a whole column of military vehicles heading into Chisinau. Why are they driven into the city? To protect the defenseless citizens protesting against the recent electoral frauds? The intimidating presence of the military vehicles will reinstate what amongst the populace?
And all these heinous events get what kind of reaction from the foreign media? As mentioned above, CNN is cautiously telling stories of journalists desperately looking for a safe heaven from the physical brutality of the governmental forces. BBC does not bother with such trivial details. On contrary they seem to gave fallen into a trap, of what seems to be a classical attempt to media intoxication. In an effort to impartiality, we learn that a student, whose name we may know, participated in the demonstrations earlier this week. Then an NGO worker did the same. We get to know her name as well. And then strangely, from the other side, so to speak, we are told that actually there were never as many as 20,000 demonstrators in the center of Chisinau, and we are given the cheesiest description of how fair the elections were and how a good government they have had the chance to get so far. No name, just a very nice recitation of old praise. For someone still having memories of the “golden years” of Ceausescu’s dictatorship this piece brings back some very chilling memories. That is not a leadership working for the common citizens, but forcing them to exult at imaginary achievements (none in their own mind can claim that being acknowledged as the poorest country in Europe is something to be proud of, since they did not start from that position, but they got there grace to the leadership of the past years). Like from another world, DW tells us that president Voronin has accepted a vote recount, as if this would prove what? That president Voronin’s faithfuls have collected only 60 instead of previously announced 61 seats in the future Legislative? Should/ could anyone wonder about how genuine were these recounts? A loss of one seat does not make a sea of change in the present situation, and it appears too cynical a clarification to just make manifestants go home happily.
So then why to intimidate and forcefully silence the genuine discontent of the Moldavians? Why to present the Moldavian youth as some sort of internal and disobedient Other when all they want is that democracy and rule of law to be respected? Equally worrying is the strange silence and extreme reservation of external media to reporting the events, and yes, allowing dissenting voices to be heard and to critically look at the on-going events.
Reading/ Watching the news one gets the surreal impression that what is (still) happening in Moldova is a sort of a missed chance. What is for instance the difference between the wave of savage reprisals going on now on the streets of Chisinau, and what was going on in say December 1989 Bucharest? The amount of shooting? Or maybe, to start in most cynical a way, because we have no body count as yet for what is going on the streets of Chisinau? There are a lot of unsettling signs that if the first couple of days were euphoric, not everything appears to get some very strong shades of … blue.
Then, we learn who is to blame for the whole thing. It is not because of the possible election fixing and all sorts of uncertainties and suspicion around the ill-fated Sunday 5th. No, we are told that no matter the complaints, the blame is on Romanian shoulders. Now I can only wonder how could Romania (I am not sure if the whole country, only some parts of it, or some of its citizens; for the sake of the argument we accept this common label of the Evil: Romania) orchestrate and masterfully coordinate the street protests in Chisinau (some estimate that there were around 10,000 to 30,000 manifestants)? The same person that looked the Evil in the eye and dare to speak its name, out-going president Voronin, concluded that the Evil, i.e. Romania, has had/ still has/ may have (/ should have?) a dirty plan with Moldova.
Why? Well, because such an explanation suits his needs so good. If in some countries we have immigrants to be blamed for every single wrong-doing, well, in Moldova things are pretty different.The thing is that most Moldavians were forced by a disastrous country leadership to find their fortune elsewhere. So they may be, in turn, the evil Other some other place across Europe. Because of that there is not so much/ so many to blame before rising one’s eyes in the direction of the country’s leadership.
So then an external Evil comes in handy. Out with the Romanian ambassador for he has sinned (?!?), out with the Romanian journalists that dared to … do what journalists do, present the news. In this case they were accused they did a bit of rioting together/besides/ before and of course after doing their jobs. The supreme proof (if it was needed) was flagging the Romanian (and the EU) flags on the Moldova’s Presidential residence.
Taking one step back (from the Presidential residence that is) one could notice that Romanian flags were a rather conspicuous sight throughout the demonstrations. So, when most of the people manifesting against the electoral fraud were youth this means that Romania did a hell of a good job sending flags to Moldova (one often forgotten detail is that most traffic to Moldova from Romania was heavily restricted even before the tragic elections)? It does not mean that they, the young Moldavians, look at the example of the German reunification as a possibility to at least start hoping things will be better as a part of a EU country? So popular will does not count in this case? Why not?
The same out-going president Voronin, if it is to believe the same wrong-doing journalists, appears to have consciously allowed/ encouraged/ stimulated (?!?) the vandalizing of the Moldavian Parliament, and the Presidential residence, and that even the famous Romanian flag that sourced so much discussion and his fiery remarks was actually planted on the residence with the help of some policemen.
So what is left now? A revolution that wasn’t, a soon to turn bloody hunt for those to be held responsible for the “attempted attack to the state’s sovereignty”, a president that halfhearted admits to have played a rather dubious role in the whole chain of events, and a comfortably Exterior Evil Other (maybe that’s why out-going president Voronin spoke Russian, and not even Moldavian-than-is-so-easily-confused-with-Romanian?). Foreign media regards the mass demonstration in Chisinau with some sort of curiosity, expecting for the bloodier details, and not really bothering to delve into too deep an analysis of the causes, events, repercussions, implications.
However, trying to leave these aside, the questions that comes over and over again is: Aren’t the people the sovereign in a democracy? Shouldn’t they be listened to? How much blood/suffering/misery needs to be aired before things to be taken seriously?
How democratic is democracy, and whom is it to serve after all?
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