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February 1, 2023

Elections and My Grandmother

My grandmother, who died last year at an age of almost one hundred years, always used to say: “Vote for whom you want, the one who has to win will win anyway”. She never voted after the Revolution. Yet, during each of those Sundays destined for elections, she used to place her elbows on the window case of her living room, in that apartment on the eighth floor of a block located near a school that hosted a voting section and watched the crowd on the street entering and exiting the school. Since early morning, as the voting section opened, she had one eye on the street and the other on the cats’ bowls that needed a refill; and till late in the evening, when lights were turned on all over the ground floor of that school and she was able to spot, with her small eagle eyes, the blue curtains of the voting booths, she witnessed the activity of the voters, most of them dressed as elegantly as they could, as if it was a celebration day. Some of them were walking slowly, holding other people’s arms, and used the opportunity to gossip a little bit with some of their neighbours. The others were fast, hurried to complete their duty as citizens and passed determinedly by the elderly ones who were slowly pacing, propped against their canes, knowing that, perhaps, they will not live to see the next elections. “Just look at that old fool, death is looking for him at home and he is out to vote!” “Just look at those people, they seem to be thinking they are going to a ball!” “These guys have nothing to do at home, they are wasting their time on the street”, she used to comment and laugh out loud while listening to the exit polls broadcasted from time to time by Radio Romania Actualitati, the state-owned radio station, the one she trusted the most. Also, from time to time, she used to go downstairs to my parents, who lived on the fifth floor, to voice her acid, always ironical opinions on the event. If she found me at home and heard that I did not intend to go to vote, she was extremely happy. “They should do to the devil! They are all liars. They make a lot of promises and stupid people believe them. They will get what was coming on the line after the elections”, she angrily told me, in a voice filled with ill humour, while the continued staring out the window. And she was right. We always got what was coming on the line after the elections; and it was worse and worse.
And yet, my grandmother did vote. During Ceausescu’s regime, when there was one party, The Romanian Communist Party, all candidates were proposed by this party and the attendance to the ballot boxes was over 99.9 per cent, and obviously all attendants voted for the Communists, as they were the only candidates. She carried me with her, to fulfil her duty as a “model comrade”, together with my grandfather, and swore all the way to the voting section. Yet, at that time, you voted for whom you did not want and the one who had to win won anyway. As he was the only one in the competition.
Afterwards, after the Revolution, there were options. There were so many options. And there were promises. Plenty of promises. Yet, my grandmother was unmovable. She refused to let herself “be fooled”, knowing from the very beginning that, no matter who won her life will be as difficult as before.
Even so, my grandmother anxiously watched everything that happened during election days, and, at the time ballot boxes closed, she was better than the Central Electoral Bureau.
She always knew the percentage of the attendance to the elections, based on the flow of people that passed under her eyes, eight floors lower. You had the sensation that the entire Romania had passed there and she had counted all of them. “It was weak, they were less than 60 per cent”, she used to say in 2004. “People did not go to vote. They woke up!” the delightedly commented in 2009. And she was right. At both elections, the attendance was very low – a little over 50 per cent.
But why was she so ironical and delighted when she witnessed lack of interest in politics? Her answer was always adorably harsh: “You vote for whom you want, the one who has to win will win”. She never trusted any politician. “All of them are thieves”, she used to say and grin. She had a pension of a little over EUR 100, after she worked like a man for many years at the textile factory, and she adored news depicting politicians found to have committed something wrong.
I cannot stop thinking about her now, every day I edit news about corrupt politicians arrested by DNA prosecutors and sent behind bars because they lost the concept of fairness – or, at least, that of a limit – due to their hunger of power and money. They definitely do not know how it is to live on a monthly budget of EUR 100, at the border of starvation, and be promised a lot of nonsense by fashionable and well fed people who do not know that you have no money to buy your medication, that your monthly bills are as high as your pension, that you were unable to afford a piece of clothing for 20 years and that, after you die, your family will not afford more than an iron cross on your grave.
I am convinced that she is up there, somewhere, with her elbows placed on the window case of a fluffy cloud and she looks down with an ironic smile to the police vans carrying politicians to their prison cells. And, obviously, she will laugh this Sunday, as well, at the stupid people who will go to vote thinking that their vote does really matter.

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