The Arrow

There are no answers; only choices.

Archive for the ‘government’ Category

Overall, a Great Year!

Posted by thearrow on December 21, 2011

Osama bin Laden, check.

Moammar Gaddafi, check.

Kim Jong Il, check.

Speaking of, here’s some inspiring “mandatory public crying,” as The New Yorker’s Philip Gourevitch aptly describes it.

Then, enjoy the cheerfulness of this great photo essay with images from North Korea:
http://www.theatlantic.com/infocus/2011/08/inside-north-korea/100119/. Those dreary apartment buildings are only a tad more depressing than what you could see in Romanian cities, especially in Bucharest. Which you can see at
http://www.vice.com/read/everyday-life-in-communist-romania-0000001-v18n9.

Oh, and this other report from VICE, via CNN:
http://cnn.com/video/data/2.0/video/bestoftv/2011/12/20/natpkg-vice-inside-north-korea.cnn.html

Hopefully, these long-overdue deaths will mark the end of the respective eras created by their distorted heroes. Or at least the beginning of the end, although, considering that in Romania things are still far from normal 20 years after communism fell and, in some respects, have got worse, I can’t be too optimistic.

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Another Inglorious Basterd Down

Posted by thearrow on October 22, 2011

A few more to go. I take great satisfaction in the fact that Gaddafi was caught like “rat” in a drain and killed by a mob of angry fighters. I’m glad he got a glimpse of the hatred he spawned. And he said “Don’t kill me, my sons.” Ha ha! Just like his dear friend Ceausescu’s wife, when she saw that the execution was, in fact, going to happen. Three demented rulers.

The world’s eyes are now on Syria’s and Yemen’s ruthless dictators. And I can’t wait to see when North Korea’s Kim Jong Il and sinister communist regime fall, although I don’t see much progress because China is protecting them. But that’s one society I’m very curious to see shed its cracking ideology. Petro dictators in the Middle East don’t really have an ideology, but the combination of extreme communism and repression in North Korea has probably left very deep scars in that poor society.

But I’m now optimistic that there will be a time, not far from today, when all the dictatorships in the world are gone.

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Fucking Kim Il-sung

Posted by thearrow on October 10, 2011

Friday night I went to see “The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu,” by the Romanian director Andrei Ujica, introduced by Prof. Vladimir Tismaneanu from the Univ. of Maryland. For those of you who might not know, Ceausescu was our beloved dictator, who ruled Romania with an iron fist, starved and oppressed his people while making them put elaborate shows to express their endless love for him, and generally displaying other such despotic signs of care. It all ended like a fairy tale on Christmas Day in 1989, when a firing squad kindly disposed of him and his equally dim-witted and vile wife, Elena.

It includes three hours of archival footage (some of it never shown before) but without any context and very few references to the years when the images were shot. Him carrying the coffin of his predecessor, Gheorghiu-Dej, then taking power, and then basking into it while ruining the country. Speeches in stiff communist-speak to vast, supposedly adulating, audiences at home, pompous festivities put together for him by the kindred nations of China and North Korea, and a string of naive Western leaders (incuding the Queen of  England and Jimmy Carter) who seemed to have had no clue about his oppressive regime; or preferred to ignore it.

Tismaneanu said that the most important thing to keep in mind is the fact that this movie is called “autobiography.” The images recreate Ceausescu’s life as he probably would have told it, with all his grand socialist achievements. I was 17 in 1989, so I remember a lot from that regime. The first hour and a half felt like watching an extended newscast from those times. I was thinking, wait a minute, we already knew he thought he was so wonderful, that’s what we were being shown ad nausea in the papers and during the paltry few hours of TV time we had each evening. But it did include images that weren’t shown at the time, such as him awkwardly holding a rifle while hunting bears that had been brought close so he wouldn’t miss them, or him swimming in the Black Sea and his wife trying the same while very close to the shore. They looked ridiculous, which happens more than once and gives the viewer some much needed, even if unintended, comic relief.

I imagine it’s very hard for someone who doesn’t already know what happened to follow three hours without any context or explanation. But it was a very important stylistic choice Ujica made. Ian Buckwalter nailed it beautifully: “if Ceauşescu were to tell his own story, it’s clear he’d never be able to shut up about himself.” Also, the fact that images follow a general chronology but they are not always  shown in their precise sequence is absolutely brilliant: they keep building the ego-maniacal self-aggrandizement we came to know so well. You can almost hear an incoherent speech about his greatness. In Mark Olsen’s description, “over the years Ceausescu seems to drift further and further into his fantasy vision of himself, making the film like a loop that repeats endlessly in his head.”

However, the absolute biggest jaw-dropper for me was Ceausescu’s visit to North Korea and China, of sad fame as they inspired his demented cult of personality. Well, I don’t know what they showed on TV or wrote in the press about it in 1971, but fucking Kim Il-sung put together an incredible show on a gigantic stadium for him. Something akin to the Beijing Olympics opening show without the fireworks. Ceausescu couldn’t believe his eyes. Thousands of people were moving flags and banners that seamlessly changed images and slogans. In Romanian! All the stupid shit with long live our beloved leader and marching towards the victory of communism. I had no idea and my parents didn’t know either. I’ve always thought he was inspired by how the North Koreans worshiped Kim Il-sung and wanted the same for himself. Well, no. He probably thought, if the North Koreans can worship him, well, Romanians better start doing the same. On his visit to China, at a show for him and Mao Zedong, an orchestra played Romanian folk music and a singer sang in flawless Romanian. Ceausescu’s mouth was wide open in amazement, as was mine. That’s where it all started my friends. After that, thousands of Romanians had to be in similar stadium shows for every August 23, which was our national day.

The film begins and ends with Ceausescu’s hastened trial, which led to his and his wife’s immediate execution. I remember seeing those images back in December 1989 and how he kept repeating that he’ll only answer to the Great National Assembly (the rubber-stamp parliament).  Tismaneanu said that  Ceausescu died singing the international and that he was a true believer in communism, which now I’m more inclined to believe. The idea that they didn’t quite know what the reality was and how desperate people were is now a little more believable for me. There was a wide group of people around him who constructed the fake beautiful reality he wanted, while accumulating great privileges for themselves. Personally, I hated him with all my heart and would have put a bullet in his head without hesitation or regret. But my hatred stemmed from the conviction that he knew what was going on. Now I realize that it’s possible he truly believed the set design was real because he took himself too seriously to ever question anything.

At the end of the three hours, all I could think was, wow, what an incredible, twisted history my generation witnessed. When the movie comes out on DVD, I’ll get it. I don’t want to forget what we went through. I want to own those images.

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Gone for a Little Bit

Posted by thearrow on March 8, 2011

This actually refers to me, not Gadhafi. I did want to write about the latest terrible developments there but life got in the way and now I’ll be gone for a week. Kristen, I owe you a response; hope to get to it next week.

One thing I have to say, though. That the United States and the West in general don’t see the urgency for intervening promptly with military force to rid Libya of Gadhafi and is caught in all sorts of sophisms about possible negative consequences of doing this, after having backed him up for decades,  is unconscionable. I’m completely baffled as to why the U.N. and other powerful international organizations simply don’t have cojones when it comes to military intervention in situations that everyone in this world can agree are completely justified. Do the U.S. and U.N. powers that be sleep better that there are now one million Libyans in need of humanitarian aid rather than having gone after Gadhafi and stomp on him like you do on a venomous snake?

Just asking.

Cheers everyone! I’ll be back.

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Gadhafi Close to Falling

Posted by thearrow on February 25, 2011

How do I know this? Because he’s now offering $400 per family, a sure sign of desperation. Ceausescu was offering extra money to everyone, too, when he saw the raging crowd in front of him couldn’t be appeased. I can’t find the article now, but I think Mubarak did the same. It didn’t take much longer for Ceausescu and Mubarak to fall after that, so I’m pretty sure Gadhafi isn’t going to last more than a few more days , and that’s just because he has mercenaries on his side. But, the rebel troops are getting close to Tripoli and they’ve been pretty fierce and determined.

One more piece in the domino will be down soon. And what I find so encouraging about the Libyans’ future is that they are not sitting idly, waiting for someone else to govern them. At least in Benghazi, they have started governing themselves and taking care of business. That’s a great sign of a strong civil society. Of course the road ahead won’t be easy. But it has a chance to be less chaotic if people are involved.

Way to go, Libya! A final forceful push and you’ll be free!

Later edit: I’m not the only one saying this. “In a BBC interview, Interior Minister Gen Abdul Fatteh Younis says Col Gaddafi’s regime is collapsing, and forecasts that he will last only a few more days.” From http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-12585174.

And the Christian Science Monitor is saying it, too:
“There were credible reports that military bases at Tajura and Misratah, near the capital of Tripoli, had also defected. If true, the remainder of Qaddafi’s 41-year reign will probably be measured in days.”
http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Middle-East/2011/0225/How-Qaddafi-started-losing-Libya.

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Mubarak Is Gone! Yaaay!

Posted by thearrow on February 11, 2011

I am SO HAPPY for the Egyptians! And so excited that this whole world of possibilities and hope for a better future has opened up for them. I remember how I felt in 1989, when I was 17 and Communism fell in Romania. The same exaltation and at the same time disbelief that we finally got rid of our dictator. But I think this time around it’s the rest of the world who is in disbelief that something so awesome could happen from the grassroots up, and which no one was able to predict. The Egyptians were just weary of the guy who just wouldn’t f**ing leave already!

I’m also amazed at the power of social media. Not a lot of dictatorships are going to stick around any more, hopefully, thanks to Facebook and Twitter. It certainly makes me reconsider going back on FB (heh heh). And fascinated at Wael Ghonim’s incredible contribution at helping spark the protests online. Or, rather, putting them on fire. To quote: “Ghonim played a key role in organizing the protests that have convulsed Egypt for more than two weeks. He was the administrator of a Facebook page that is widely credited with calling the first protest January 25.” What a perfect 21st century story!

Beyond all this amazement, excitement, exaltation, and other synonyms, I am worried. And not about the Muslim Brotherhood or the likelihood that Egypt will turn into an Islamic state with Sharia law. Interestingly, the Muslim Brotherhood had an op-ed in The New York Times saying that they won’t have a presidential candidate.  “We do not intend to take a dominant role in the forthcoming political transition. We are not putting forward a candidate for the presidential elections scheduled for September.” I have to say I’m impressed with their PR 🙂

I am worried about corruption, which seems to be as widespread as it is now in Romania, where, 20 years after our revolution, it has metastasized at all levels of society. Corruption really is a cancer for which you need very aggressive treatment. As in, zero tolerance. Richard Engel, NBC’s chief foreign correspondent, was referring to this as “the bacshish culture.” For those less savvy in how to grease palms, “bacshish” (my spelling) means “bribe.” In Arabic, in Romanian, and probably other Balkan countries, where we had to rub elbows with the Turks for several hundred years and got influenced by their mores.

Engel was saying that Egyptians hope that the ousting of Mubarak’s regime and his cronies, who have all the business connections to enrich themselves up to the wazoo, will also mean the end of corruption. That they are fed up with having to bribe hospital staff even to change bed pans or they won’t do it.

Oh, how sadly familiar all this sounds! And how naive the Egyptians’ hope is. That’s what we, Romanians, thought was lying ahead of us. And yet, here we are 20 years alter, still bribing our way left and right because nothing at all would happen otherwise. Public servants would just sit on their ass and do squat until you bribe them. Same thing in hospitals and pretty much every other sector. It’s not like this everywhere and parts of the country might be saner, but it sure is like this in Bucharest. All levels, high and low, are corrupt. Just as an example, the uncle of one of my friends was diagnosed with lung cancer and was put through chemotherapy, only to find out from the doctor later that he actually didn’t have any cancer. He has something else, that they haven’t been able to identify yet, but now he has to try to get back to life after a brutal chemo treatment. For those who can read Romanian, here is my friend’s post.

So beware of the “bacshish culture,” my friends. It is much more insidious than you might think. It erases the concept of accountability and that turns the country into a body with no immunity. For all those who give bribes are those who take them and they may be your parents, friends, relatives. It won’t be easy at all to change people’s behavior. They’d like other people to change, but not themselves.

Be active, alert citizens and do whatever you can to establish the rule of law and accountability, and create institutions that serve you, rather than themselves. After 45 years of being told what to do by the state, we didn’t know how to do that. Few of those who were 40 in 1989 and had therefore lived all their lives in Communism were able to fight for it. Those with connections grabbed the power and privileges with a sure grip. My generation didn’t try as hard as it should have, I think. A lot of us left the country when we saw the doors of opportunity closing and I don’t think those who stayed are particularly optimistic. A few are doing the best they can.

As hard as it was, Mubarak’s ousting is just the beginning.  Egypt has a lot going for it, though, not in the least the fact that half the population is under 24. It will be a long slog but hopefully you guys will be able to have a functional country where you have free and democratic elections, and where you don’t have to bribe the hospital staff to change bed pans any more.

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An Arab 1989?

Posted by thearrow on January 27, 2011

First Tunisia, then Egypt, now Yemen. Wow! The cauldrons are bubbling to topple 30-year oppressive or at least very strict and corrupt regimes. I read Jim Rosapepe and Sheilah Kast’s  Baltimore Sun op-ed, “In Tunisia, history repeats (sort of)” the other day. They  know Romania well because he was the U.S. ambassador there between 1998 and 2001 and I agree with the points they raise  about what the West should do to help Tunisia achieve success.  I wonder if they are surprised by this wildfire, seemingly similar to what happened in Eastern Europe in 1989.

I know very little about the Arab world but I’m very excited that this is happening. It will be a tough, long road to peaceful, stable, and democratic societies. Romania is still far from what it could be and, sadly, every day things are getting worse. But maybe others can learn from our  poor-governance mistakes. I think the most important thing is to help Tunisians build strong and accountable institutions that can guarantee their rights are protected and their voices are heard. Pretty much everything else stems from that.

A good negative example are the recent IMF and World Bank loans Romania had to take to stay afloat and for which it had to get its budget deficit in some order. Which led to the reduction of public sector wages by a whopping 25%, of pensions by 15%, of imposing taxes on more pensions, and an increase in the Value Added Tax to 25%, all with absolutely no consideration on what effects these might have on the people. And without any glimpse of a thought given to meaningful reforms of the pension system that wouldn’t leave people hanging on a thread for survival.

Or a meaningful reform of the public sector. We already pay our teachers, doctors, and nurses crap and the government reduces their wages by a quarter?? While at the same time some well-connected government employees earn obscene salaries for nothing? Thousands of doctors and nurses have left the country in search for better pay and treatment.  At the same time, checking into a hospital in Romania is a Russian Roulette these days; you might get a good doctor but it’s likelier that you won’t and also quite likely you’re going to get out dead even if you had some minor ailment.  And even if you get a good doctor, the rest of the medical staff might decide they won’t attend to your needs. Hello!

Or a meaningful reform of the justice system. Unless you have the money for a really good lawyer, the last outcome you can expect in court is justice.

I lay equal dollops of blame on the IMF, the World Bank, and the Romanian government. It seems that the first two have much narrower concerns than they should, as they stick to some abstract economic yardsticks but ignore the effect on people, and don’t care about instilling good-governance principles. And the Romanian government stopped pretending it cares about the people a long time ago. It’s just a bunch of half-literate guys  whose only interest is lining their pockets. They specialize in daylight downtown robbery.

So, if the countries now on their path to freedom can learn how to avoid these mistakes, that would be a huge success for everyone.

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