If you’ve been reading my blog since April, you know I’ve been displaying a badge for Let’s Do It Romania in the sidebar, an advertisement for a nationwide event which will take place this Saturday.
Simply put, it’s going to be a single day in which close to 60,000 volunteers are going to pick up trash to help clean up the country. Sounds good, right? I know I’m registered to participate, alongside The Woman and a few other people, in order to get my town (Cluj) looking better than ever.
I was excited to volunteer and I still am, but my enthusiasm became somewhat soured when I read this post (in Romanian) from the “famous” Zoso, probably the best well-known Romanian blogger out there.
Translation is my doing and any errors are mine:
“Let’s Do It Romania” [incorrectly capitalized in the original] is a project that proposes to bring together some people to clean up their neighborhood. It’s a noble idea… but that’s about it. The impact of the project will be negligible and I’m going to tell you why.
Romanians are used to learned helplessness
They don’t help anyone clean up a trashed area. Three weeks from now those places will look the same. And the effort put into cleaning it will have no results other than a lot of photos will get posted on Facebook [again with the incorrect capitals].
The idea is not to interrupt people’s daily lives and set them to work with a broom. No. The idea is to take some people who have made some mistake and set them to work picking up trash and sweeping – useful work for the community. You would be given three days off from work and then you can pay back your debt to society picking up plastic bottles if you don’t want to pay your parking tickets. If you don’t want to pick up your own garbage, you can clean up after 100 other people so you can get a dose of your own medicine.
His post has two images (in English), one “hilariously” saying “Fuck your ideals” and the other some bizarre old cartoon showing the industrialized murder of artists as an ideal solution for fuel production, rather creepy in a Die Endlösung way (especially with that topic heading).
Quite simply put, he’s demonstrating a pretty typical Romanian attitude. He uses the word milogeala which I translated as “learned helplessness”. This is wherein a person (a Romanian) has to beg for someone to help them in the sense of a peasant begging a favor from a noble.
Zoso clearly fancies himself playing the part of the “noble” and therefore he declines to help participate in cleaning up his own fucking country because those people discarding trash won’t “learn their lesson” or what have you. See that, filthy uneducated peasants?
If you knew how to keep your neighborhood clean, we (the nobility) wouldn’t have to clean it up for you and anyway you’ll just wreck it again in three weeks (how delightfully specific)! And then what was the point for we nobles to help you ungrateful slobs, except to load up our Facebook pages with pictures of our largesse?
No. Here’s the deal Seine Majestät forgot to address – this country is groaning under the weight of trash, which consists of everything from food wrappers to plastic bottles to vast quantities of discarded construction materials, broken appliances and industrial waste. I know because I’ve seen it myself while walking around.
I’ve also seen it in many other countries as well – when there are few places to properly dispose of trash, what are people going to do? If you had an old, rusty washing machine that couldn’t be fixed, where exactly can you throw it away in Romania? There is nowhere. At this point it’s extremely difficult to recycle used cooking oil much less all the other kinds of random bits of trash I see every day, from large piles of stripped insulation to rusted out lengths of metal.
Let’s take his final conclusion – that the cleaned areas will be trashed again within 3 weeks – and assume he’s absolutely correct. Does that mean “Let’s Do It Romania” was entirely in vain? Heck no. If one ton of trash is picked up and properly disposed of (and recycled?) that’s still one less ton of trash lying around, disintegrating into a lethal cocktail of metals and chemicals pouring into our water supply. Isn’t that a good thing, unto itself?
Secondly, Zoso (sadly) epitomizes one of the most entrenched Romanian attitudes of all time, that being things suck and they’ll never get better. Okay the trash situation is bad but that’s just a fact. The question becomes what to do about it and seeing tens of thousands of volunteers actually fucking doing something might actually inspire others to take better care of their environment, no?
He says no, and wants to turn trash collection into some kind of Romanian version of a chain gang, teaching malcontents and parking ticket scofflaws a valuable lesson by making them clean up after littering scofflaws.
But the damn rabble-rousing volunteering peasants are trying to subvert the moral order of Romania by not forcing the litterers (or other criminals) to clean up their own mess! Yes, let’s all put on our powdered wigs and huff and puff in derision at these upstart scalawags instead of doing a goddamn thing ourselves.
Back when I lived in Spain every trash can was labeled “Una ciudad limpia es la tarea de todos” meaning A clean city is everyone’s responsibility and I took that motto to heart. After all, I live here and so therefore yes, I want to pick up trash so it’s a cleaner and a nicer place to live. A puffed up sense of superiority over those heinous litterers is little comfort to me when I stumble over a pile of broken glass.
I don’t have a Facebook account (I know, right?) so there won’t be any photos of me heroically picking up trash. But what will happen is I will be out there this Saturday morning, alongside other foreigners as well as thousands of Romanians wanting to do a good thing, and we will make a difference this weekend, which I’ll share here later on the blog.
Whether or not this ends up in a permanently pristine environment with nary a discarded food wrapper is not relevant – it is the right thing to do and therefore worth doing purely for that reason alone.
On a slightly different note, I find myself in a weird position even defending “Let’s Do It Romania” before it’s actually happened, because I am quite confident a lot of the usual smecherie will happen. There will probably be funds diverted or embezzled. Organizational failures will occur and communication from the headquarters has already been confusing and contradictory.
The organization earlier promised to supply trash bags and gloves and now it looks like we’re going to have to buy all that stuff ourselves. I’m not even sure at this point who is going to transport the trash we collect.
Yes, I get it. This is kind of a new thing for Romania and there’s going to be quirks, failures and avarice thrown into the mix. Nonetheless, at the end of the day I live here and I want here to be as nice as possible – and therefore I’m doing my part.
UPDATE: well it looks like several other Romanian bloggers, including write man, Stefan Murgeanu and Chinezul have all chimed in to say they are going to participate this weekend as well, leaving Horatio “Zoso” Alger the odd man out.