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When a Country Votes for Dead Men

Image: an abandoned house in an open field against a blue sky in Deveselu, Romania.

On the 27th of September 2020, the results of Romania’s local elections had officially been broadcast, with every settlement throughout the country – from its capital city to its scarcely populated villages – either rejoicing in their newly-chosen mayor, or (some quite literally) mourning the loss of another candidate. Being away from home at the time, I followed the elections’ progress sparingly, but was nonetheless attracted to the story of Deveselu. An otherwise unassuming place, Deveselu harbours a military base and around 3000 civilians – its environment and architecture blend in with the rest of its county’s, and its villagers, politically, with their surrounding area, making for an all in all conformant, humble community.

However, on the 27th of September 2020, Deveselu voted for a dead man to be their mayor. And yes, he won – by a landslide, securing 64% of the villagers’ votes. The other 36%, I can only assume,  deemed him unfit to govern. The death was not much of a surprise either – he had been dead for ten days prior to the election. I have, since finding out about Deveselu, read every related article I could find in order to understand why nothing was done in order to prevent the voters (who, admittedly, had said that they would still vote for the deceased candidate) from, in essence, simply causing the village’s town hall to undergo the same process twice. The answer I was met with was, in summary, they just didn’t. 

It was the first time that I had ever truly noticed the lingering apoliticism and indifference which had been polluting my country, and it was certainly the first time I had noticed the same thing in myself. How did we get here?

In fact, I was left so unsurprised by the whole ordeal that I didn’t even mention it, although one might think that it is the kind of news that you would talk about, at least in humour. The one time I jokingly did bring it up to my friends, I was met with the typical oh’s and huh’s, reducing the surrealist event to about the same level of importance as our national news’ monthly article on a thieving pet. Even though it has been a month since the elections took place, Deveselu just wouldn’t leave my mind. It was the first time that I had ever truly noticed the lingering apoliticism and indifference which had been polluting my country, and it was certainly the first time I had noticed the same thing in myself. How did we get here?

I wouldn’t particularly count Romania’s general disregard towards politics as unusual, all things considered. But Deveselu’s story has little to do with politics. In thinking about how the village’s situation, and the unsurprised reactions which ensued throughout the country, considering it something all-but-abnormal, came to be, it is important to think about it as a broader issue, at the root of which sits our population’s bane: powerlessness. Powerlessness caught thick roots in the Romanian mentality under Ceausescu’s regime, to then be re-established over and over again, through poverty, corrupt pseudo-democrats, illiteracy – and the biggest killer of them all, the each-to-their-own mindset. 

Powerlessness caught thick roots in the Romanian mentality under Ceausescu’s regime, to then be re-established over and over again, through poverty, corrupt pseudo-democrats, illiteracy – and the biggest killer of them all, the each-to-their-own mindset.

Gen Z has, indeed, started to weaken those roots – although, unfortunately, mostly through the medium of leaving the country as a whole. In our case, the avoidance of past generations’ stubbornness and survival mechanisms seems favourable in contrast to its alternative, which would be testing the immunity of an already hurt and bruised nation. Avoidance, therefore, seems to be the lovechild of powerlessness and political advancement, and it has been implanted in my generation. Although more vocal, we still sit in the back row of the corrupted puppet-show that is Romania’s political scene, (1) by leaving and (2) by employing the same attitude of indifference as our parents did towards the gross injustices taking place – the main difference is that we are now living in a democracy, and they didn’t. Both can simply be considered generational coping mechanisms, but they are as much of that as they are excuses. 

Deveselu’s population, in choosing not to take part in what had become a single-sided vote in their village, unilaterally reclaimed some power. Acknowledging that, rather than the humorous nature of their election, is a start towards shedding this thick-skinned post-Communist attitude. In the current landscape, there absolutely is an appeal to electing a man that’s six feet under.

Image: Anca Raluca Majaru, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

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