Positive Reinforcement


Three years ago, I started paying close attention to the news media here in Pridnestrovie.

All of is available online, for free, without any hidden gimmicks like required logins, paywalls, or paid subscriptions. And yet it truly seems like no one ever reads it.

I can partially understand that. Because a non-trivial percentage of the news here is positive.

And if all you’ve ever heard is extremely negative things about Pridnestrovie, then the PMR media saying positive things about the country sounds like “fake news” akin to 1984’s Big Brother pronouncements about chocolate rations.

So when you see things like the renovation of a public swimming pool in Bender:

Before & After

Or the police handing out flowers on March 8:

Or a Martisor concert in the country’s largest indoor arena:

Or high school students writing letters of appreciation to senior citizens:

Or female artists (in this case, a dancer) being nominated for “Person of the Year”:

Irina Godoba

… all in the last two weeks, it can be really hard to process. I mean, is it fake or what?

Well, no, it’s not factually inaccurate. All of the above images are real and come from real events that really took place.

Of course, anyone would balk if the only news coming from the government of PMR was positive. Yet there’s plenty of negative news as well, everything from murders (rare, but they do happen) to car crashes (sadly, way too frequent) to critical reporting about the government both past and present.

I assure you, the news here is quite balanced. But it seems surreal or fictional or “fake” precisely because Romanians are used to something very, very different.

How Would You Describe Yourself?

The Romanian government has an official news agency called Agerpres with news in Romanian, English, and Hungarian.

It is 100% financed and operated by the government, so there’s no need to worry about making a profit, garnering clicks, or kowtowing to advertisers. And yet, as far as I can tell, 99% of the news stories coming out of Agerpres are negative.

Here are just a few examples from today’s front page (all links in Romanian):

Suceava – Medical waste improperly disposed of in city dump.

Romania’s infant mortality rate is double the EU average.

Former finance minister Anca Dragu (a woman) says Romania is quite misogynistic towards women in leadership roles.

A cop in Bucharest ran over and killed a 79-year-old woman.

And on and on and on and on… all negative.

The only possibly positive news I found was an article saying that a historic building in Arad will be renovated for 12 million using EU funds. Except that when you read it more closely, it just says that the government intends to apply for EU funds to renovate the building.

In other words, it’s far from a certain thing – and even if it does happen, it’ll be years before anyone will see the benefit.

The Three Exceptions

The only regular respite from negative news in Romania is stories from one of three permitted categories:

  • A sports (or, rarely, an academic) team or individual wins a competition.
  • A foreigner recommends visiting Romania.
  • An American celebrity (person or company) does something exciting.

The last one is the most popular, by far. Agerpress had a story today about how the American actress is Jessica Simpson is “battling” to maintain a healthy weight.

Wow, so interesting and relevant!

Sad Cheerleaders

Just to make sure that I wasn’t missing anything, I went over to visit Positive News Romania, which, just as you might guess, focuses exclusively on positive news about Romania.

The site has a grand total of three stories published in 2020, and one of them is about a guy (the sculptor Constantin Brancusi) who died in 1957.

The article then goes onto note that Constantin Brancusi only gained recognition when famous Americans started praising his work.

The second article from this year is about a (living) Romanian who got rich in America after famous Americans started praising his work.

Meanwhile, by my count, the major Romanian news media (including Agerpress) publish around 170 stories apiece per day, all of them relentlessly negative except for the three special categories noted above.

A Local Perspective

I decided to check in on Monitorul de Cluj (🇷🇴) to see if I could find any local positive stories.

What I saw was:

The leader of a teachers’ union recognized herself as a child from a photo taken 60 years ago.

Store-bought ingredients used to make soup have a dangerously unhealthy level of salt.

And a letter from a Cluj MP begging the Central Library to not host a pro-fascist exhibition.

Unfortunately, the headline was horribly misspelled:

ce-N-trala…

The only truly positive story that I could find was that the biggest university in Cluj (Babes-Bolyai) was ranked (in 2019) as one of the top 500 universities in the world for Economics.

Wow… top 500, eh? That’s, uh… quite an achievement I guess?

Astounding Stories

Is there truly nothing positive going on in Romania? Are there no other success stories besides Simona Halep winning some tennis games and some Romania coders creating apps?

Does the government ever do anything right, on any level? Does anything ever get renovated with government (not EU) money? Does the government ever build anything new that’s a net social positive, like a hospital, school, or playground?

Do the people in all the thousands of communities across Romania never band together to fix an issue or do something positive?

Are there no animal lovers who rescue abandoned pets? Are there no volunteers who assist the elderly or the ill? Are there no heartwarming tales about regular people?

Of course, there are. But you’ll almost never hear or see these stories.

Which makes me ask… what, exactly, is driving this relentless need to publish only negative news? News that is published by Romanians about Romania?

Pointing the Finger

People loved me quite a lot when I used to say nice things about Romania, especially superficial comments about how the food was tasty, the women were beautiful, and the language is fun to speak (all true).

But as soon as I began taking a more critical eye at what’s happening in Romania, nobody wanted to hear from me.

I guess that’s because Romanians prefer to criticize themselves 24 hours a day, 365 days a year as some kind of weird masochistic impulse born out of learned helplessness, part of Ceausescu’s “Eternal Romania” mythology, a zombie gift that keeps on giving, decades after his death.

You see, the way it’s “supposed to work” in Romania is:

  1. The government is an employee agency for lazy thieves,
  2. The media’s job is to report the outrageous scandal of the day,
  3. And you, the individual Romanian, are supposed to tell your friends that “Romania is the best!” while simultaneously getting a job lined up for yourself in the UK, finding a car to buy from Germany, and booking a beach vacation to Bulgaria.

Romania is never ever going to surmount its problems and succeed as a nation unless it starts learning how to appreciate and reward positive achievements, successes, and role models that inspire others to lead a better life… right now, not in some projected future.

Relentless negative self-imagery is a form of psychological disturbance and the very worst kind of propaganda there is – because Romanians are doing it to themselves.

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