Widespread Apathy

Today the Eye brought me this report from the “Economist Intelligence Unit” (that’s really the name), a lot of jibber jabber about the economies of the “Balkans”, of which Romania is supposedly one (Hungary isn’t though).

Click on the link to read the entire thing but you’ll be glad to know that the only reason Romania isn’t suffering more is because of how backwards it is:

Three sets of factors seem to be at work. First, the region has some advantages of backwardness that cushion the region’s populations from the impact of the economic downturn. This includes relatively large agricultural sectors and the important role of extended families.

Long story short, as The Economist (could they be more arrogant?) and the IMF said themselves, all of the loans and austerity measures and attempts to modernize actually hurt Romania and leaving things the fuck alone (aka being “backwards”) is actually better, which is what I’ve been saying for years.

Nonetheless, at the end of the EIU report is a hard truth:

Finally, opinion surveys reveal that widespread apathy, not conducive to social activism, remains the dominant trend in the region.

I can’t speak for any other “Balkan” countries but here in Romania widespread apathy is definitely in effect. Since the story broke about the Prime Minister being a shithead plagiarizer and thief of intellectual property, nobody here cares at all.

Even people that I know (and otherwise respect) seem to think it’s a case of “poor technique” in citing other authors’ works. Not even close to being the truth. But today I passed by the main square here in town and not a single person was protesting. I saw plenty of people eating ice cream and strolling around peacefully though and having a little laugh as they sat at a cafe.

To recap, on Monday night, the journal Nature revealed that over half of Prime Minister Ponta’s doctoral thesis was plagiarized. Later that evening Ponta denied it and accused his political enemies of attempting to dissuade him from his political goals (and on a side note, Ponta also accused Nature of playing (Romanian) politics as though the most prestigious academic journal in Britain is going to give a shit about that).

Yesterday I saw the copied passages in full and they run for hundreds of pages. There is an entire block of text quoted word for word that continues for 35 pages uninterrupted. Ponta and his monkeys say that this is just “improperly cited” and that a one-page bibliography at the end of the text is enough attribution and that no quotation marks or footnotes are necessary for gigantic swathes of copied text.

Furthermore, I also saw where the copyist (I’m going to assume Ponta is far too important to have done all that typing himself) made some rather comical errors. Where the original text says condemnatul (the condemned person), Ponta’s dissertation says comandantul (the commander). It’s obvious that this is just a scribal error and further proof that Ponta in no way intended that he be the true author of his own dissertation. Someone just pulled text from three different sources, cut and paste them together and then slapped a few paragraphs in between them to make it read (semi) coherently.

Before Ponta seized power this year, he was a prosecutor, which means that he was responsible for representing the state in a fair and judicious manner as it moved against those who have broken the law. Plagiarism certainly isn’t a violation of the criminal code but under the new academic rules (instated by Ponta’s political enemy, the former Education Minister) a special ethics commission must weigh all evidence and render a verdict on alleged acts of plagiarism. This self-same ethics commission was just disbanded and then reformed by people all hand-picked by Ponta himself due to an ongoing case against Ponta’s (now former) Education Minister, the serial plagiarist Ioan Mang.

There’s an old saying in English that you never hire the fox to guard the henhouse and now Ponta and his cronies are appearing in all channels of the Romanian media saying that journalists and ordinary people are unqualified to determine what is and what is not plagiarism. Indeed, according to Ponta, the only people qualified to render a verdict on plagiarism are members that he picked to staff the ethics committee.

The fact that a greedy, vain and stupid man would lie, cheat and steal from others in order to rise up the ranks of power is nothing new. What disappoints and disgusts me is the widespread apathy from the ultimate “ethics committee”, the people of Romania. Earlier this year I saw thousands and thousands of people here in Unicorn City protest against ACTA, a bill that would’ve taken away some of the freedom and privileges of the internet. I saw with my own eyes that the majority of the protestors were university students, which makes sense, as it is the young who are most heavily invested in the internet and the online world.

But when the head of the government lies and steals the work of another author, falsely claiming that he earned a doctorate, the highest degree possible in formal education, where is the reaction from the university students? Where is the outrage that all of their hard work is being cheapened, that their degrees are being seen as increasingly worthless to the outside world? Where are the petitions, the demonstrations, the essays and articles about how the Prime Minister not only is a documented thief but is appearing on TV and laughing about it?

Oh right. The only sound I heard today from university students was the slosh of another cheap beer being poured down their cravenly apathetic throats.

5 thoughts on “Widespread Apathy

  1. On a different, but slightly related topic… I have an almost visceral hate for the current political class and I feel that none of the important parties in Romania represents my interests even remotely. However it is obvious to me that during that last 2-3 years many people have gathered so much hate for PDL that they honestly thought or hoped that USL really is going to bring a change. Well… I hate to break it to those people, but it’s the exact same shit. Just with different faces. Anyone who thinks that Ponta or Antonescu are truly better than Băsescu or Boc must be a fool or a severely deluded individual. Sorry, but it’s as big of a fact as you’re likely to encounter from a random stranger on the Internet.

    I really-really hope that people will start to wake up, that they will start to look for genuinely new alternatives to this same old tired shit that’s served to us at every election. I’m in no position to offer or suggest said alternative, but at least I know that I’m willing to look for it. To quote from an old movie, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take this anymore”.

    In the mean time we’ll be treated to the Năstase soap opera. For once the Romanian judicial system puts a really big shot behind bars and said big shot doesn’t even have the guts to take it like a man. Năstase could’ve accepted his conviction with dignity or he could’ve fought for his innocence with every ounce of his strength. Both would’ve been honorable choices. He chose to be a chicken shit… no wonder, since long ago he was enticing us to count his eggs.


  2. Sam,

    Seriously, you’ve been there how long, yet you’re friends haven’t let you in on a common known “secret”? Ask them whether they ever took an exam for a friend, or a friend took one for them, or at least know of others who have done so. Of course al under the “averted” eye of a instructor. The lack of protest or or even judgement eminates from the dignity of the pot not wanting to call the kettle black.

    Still a major fan, but the Complete Guide has a slight blind spot.



    1. Well, taking an exam for someone else isn’t actually that common (not unheard of, but certainly not common), but there is definitely a tradition of cheating or by-passing exams in some way or another. This applies to anything from driving exams to mandatory medical exams and from 5th grade history tests to doctoral thesis.

      Personally I think that Ponta should pay through the nose for his plagiarism; perhaps others don’t think it’s a big deal.


    2. Exactly. Where I study, “preparing for an exam” seems to mean “bring along proper cheating material”, for most people. Depending on the exam, sometimes close to 100% of the dozens of students in the room will cheat copiously, and may not even bother to hide it too much. I actually try to pass my exams by studying and of course, sometimes I fail, while these people usually don’t. Some of the professors themselves *expect* people to cheat, at it leads to tragic/comical moments when they ignore someone’s book blatantly falling out of their desk, for instance. This happens from elementary school all the way up to university, everywhere, all the time. Apathy regarding this is unsurprising. If you point the finger, you point it to yourself and all of your friends, too.


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