By Mihai Ganea
Free elections and democracy should be part of the same story, since it is difficult to imagine one without the other. However, as a result of the latest presidency elections in Romania, I am sensing a rather bizarre change on this matter. The outcome of this vote created a powerful picture, a dangerous one in my opinion, the idea that one vote is more important than the other.
Some 25 years ago people went out to protest against a totalitarian regime, demanding a democratic change. People fought for free and fair elections, for the freedom of speech and thought, for the dream of a better life. The cold war ended with the fall of the iron curtain. But since it was war, there had to be a winner. If you ask the people “Who won this war?”, many of them will probably answer “America or the USA”. Some will even go further to say “Democracy won”. And if you will dig a little deeper in this matter, most of them will come to the conclusion that “The western democracy defeated the eastern communism”. I prefer Abraham Lincoln’s definition: “Government of the people, by the people, for the people.” The modern definition of democracy focuses on democracy as a system of government described as a “political system for choosing and replacing the government through free and fair elections.”
Yet even if we acknowledge this reasoning, it is hard to accept it. Every election will have a winner and a loser. Even so, now one wants to be on the losing side. Starting here and accepting this premise one has to find a convenient explanation. Not wanting to accept that there can be other opinions and that one might have a different point of view, we start to look for an explanation that suits us. These feelings manifest as vices like jealousy, envy, greed, vanity, arrogance or sloth. Nevertheless, there seems to be a bit of all in this particular political matter. After the first Romanian presidential election round on the 2nd of November, the voters went on barricades against each other. The differences of opinion did not escalate in a violent way, but the two sides are far from understanding and respecting each other. Rather than trying to “talk it through”, the dialogue was skipped and an aggressive and defamatory discourse emerged. What has initially started under the somewhat democratic motto “if you don’t vote, you don’t matter”, soon turned into “if you don’t vote like I do, you are …something”. The simplistic arguments, “I am smart, so all those who think like me are smart as well” and “who’s not with me, is against me”, led to the one-dimensional conclusion “who’s not with me, is stupid”. A considerable number of campaigns started on TV, in the print media and especially throughout the social media, started offering the answer “why do the others vote for their guy”. Both candidates have launched several populist messages meant to win over the masses, a rather usual jugglery in the political business. But the actual problem, my concern in this matter, is caused by the fact that they went even farther, a lot farther, or at least some of the voters did. It is one thing to criticize your opponent, to even call him a liar, to appeal at ones national sense (Ponta a ture Romanian) /preconceptions (Johannis being the “good” German-Romanian) and it is entirely different when you aggressively disregard the other voters. What might seem at the begging as a rather innocent anger and frustration can be easily turned into blind hatred. The violent campaign against the “poor and unschooled” voters, the defamation of the “blood sucking pensioner”, the division “between the enlightened Transylvanians and the unmannerly rest of the country” is not only foul, but a danger to the democratic society itself. Because your freedom “ends just where the other man’s nose begins”. All men and women are equal and have equal rights; no one is “equaler”. The idea which nourishes behind these campaigns has little to do with democracy. When YOU know what is best for your peers and you choose to help them by relieving them of their right to vote and to take their own decisions, or you question their ability to be part of the (YOUR) society and you marginalize them as a plague, well my dear companion, YOU have went too far! It is a lot easier to exclude someone for not sharing your point of view, than explaining it to him and accepting, that he is entitled to his own opinion. It is a lot easier to belong to a group, where all have one and the same opinion, than to be an outcast, a free tinker. The elections are and should be “the crown jewels” of democracy, a process which allows all citizens to participate and where none is better or worse than the other. It is one thing to question WHOM you are choosing and it is a whole different thing to questioning WHO is allowed to choose. The 2nd and final Romanian presidential election is two days away. Like in any healthy democracy Romanians have to make a choice between two candidates and not between free elections and “a democracy”. If free elections lead to civil unrest, there is something wrong with our democracy.
There was a time, not so far ago, when some knew better, what is good for the others. Pastor Martin Niemöller expressed it best:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.