About civic duty: a plea to my generation

We are the generation caught at the intersection between communism and experimental democracy. We might feel powerless. But we are just the opposite
We are the generation caught at the intersection between communism and experimental democracy. We might feel powerless. But we are just the opposite
More than one week passed since the elections in Romania. The dust is slowly settling on the story, first emotional reactions disappeared and, hey, Christmas is just around the corner. In the meantime, we also have a proposal for the prim-minister position. However, I remain a bit stuck and would really like to go back on the elections day (11 December 2016). I will make the long story short and will mention just one number, nothing else: 39, 49%. This is how many Romanians decided to express their vote. The only question that still haunts me after the elections day is: how? How did we get here?! Why don’t we give a damn anymore?!

More than one week passed since the elections in Romania. The dust is slowly settling on the story, first emotional reactions disappeared and, hey, Christmas is just around the corner. In the meantime, we also have a proposal for the prim-minister position. However, I remain a bit stuck and would really like to go back on the elections day (11 December 2016). I will make the long story short and will mention just one number, nothing else: 39, 49%. This is how many Romanians decided to express their vote. The only question that still haunts me after the elections day is: how? How did we get here?! Why don’t we give a damn anymore?!

I was about five years old, when I participated for the first time in an election. In my grandfather’s arms, I stamped for the first time a ballot. Little did I know back then that I was part of a historical moment. It was May 1990, just after the fall of communism and Romania, my country, was voting for the first time in free elections after decades. The turnout to vote back then has been 86,2%. Almost 30 years later we got to 39,49% presence in the parliamentary election. This is the number that hurts me.

Elections in Romania: Sunday, 20 may 1990

On a Sunday morning, my grandfather told me we would go to vote. He explained in very simple words what that means; I did not understand much back then, but just from the way he was speaking, my-5-years-old-self figured out that something big was happening.

We dressed up in our best cloths, just like for a celebration day. I remember going down the stairs flanked from one side by my grandpa and the other by my grandma. His hands were trembling with emotions; she was smiling at him. We took a short walk to the polling station, which was in a high school building.

I still remember how my grandfather handed out his ID and received in exchange a ballot and a stamp. He asked permission for me to join him in the cabin where he was about to vote. He took me in his arms and handed me the stamp. “Today, we are decided the future of our country“, he said and his eyes were in tears. This is how big a vote was for him.

A lesson of civic duty

That was the day when I received my first lesson of civic duty. HE was my living example of civic duty. My grandfather was a tall and honest man who loved his country. His political beliefs were strong, but he never got into a fight with anyone about that.

When growing older, I started admiring the way he exposed his attachment to the monarchy and his resentment for the communist regime. Jailed and haunted by the regime, he suffered the shame of seeing his family disinherited by the communists and had to build his life all over again. So, for him, being able to vote and express his views for the future of his country was a civic duty and also a responsibility towards us, his children and grandchildren.

And somehow, I took this lesson for granted; I thought we all have been taught this. But now, to me, it seems that either we forgot or we are ignorant…

Forgetfulness? Disregard? Ignorance? Disbelief?

… expressing a choice by going to vote meant back then not only a responsibility, but also a privilege.

Looking at the numbers, in 1990, it looks like people did not know any longer how to vote. Literally. 1,1 million votes were blank or invalidated for the Chamber of Deputies in those elections. And then we, Romanians, slowly learned democracy and how to express opinions. We learned so many things in 27 years and still… only 40 percent of us went to vote in the latest elections, on 11 December 2016.

I honestly continue to wonder where is the issue and why are we the country with one of the smallest presence in elections (in Europe). Forgetfulness? Disregard? Ignorance? Disbelief? So many names for such a worrying phenomenon!!!

Because we still have the privilege to live in a democratic society, on a wealthy continent with high standards in any regard. Why is my nation so stubborn in digging its own grave? And please, pay attention, I am not talking about the result of the vote, I am talking about how many of us went to actually express our right to chose: not enough.

Looking at the numbers, it appears that the ones going less and less to vote are the younger generations. It is a reality, not only for Romania, but for many European countries. Many would argue: yes, but it is not only in Romania and why are you picking up on your own country and your own generation? Well, it might be true that it is a more general phenomenon and we forgot all over Europe to go to vote, but still, this doesn’t make it right!!!

A generation with great power and little self-confidence

I greatly appreciate how my generation and the younger ones developed. We had amazing opportunities, we built careers, became comfortable, created a new society.

Say what you want, but we did shape Romania differently. Maybe not enough, but we did. It’s the generation that requires change, talks loud, makes revolutions with social media. It’s the generation with smart public figures, great artists and, all in all, amazing potential.

But, there is something else about this generation that keeps it stuck in a moment. We are also the generation caught at the intersection between the tough times of communism and the ones of experimental democracy. We might feel vulnerable and powerless. But we are just the opposite and I wonder what it takes to wake up this revelation in a generation.

And there is something else that worries me greatly: we might still look back in the past too often and therefore loses sight of the future. And again, I wonder, what does it take to break this way of thinking… because anger and resentment can never build up a healthy society.

In the few elections that my grandfather caught before passing away, he was often disappointed by the result. But not even once did I hear from him that he would not exercise his right.

It is never too late to undue what we have done with our ignorance. Luckily, the democratic system offers us every few years the possibility to vote. And then, maybe more of us will remember the values and the fight that past generation have put up in order for us to have the right to vote.

I plead to my generation, not with anger and resentment, but with hope and conviction that we will do it right next time.

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