“Because grandma said so”
“We had no choice back then. But you, you do have a choice and yet you let other people decide for you?” This is a Romanian grandmother’s video message in the run-up to the European elections. Within 24 hours of going live, it already had more than 3 million views on Facebook – an impressive number in a country of just 19.6 million people. The video is a unique push to vote: In a funny and charming way, a grandmother who spent most of her life behind the Iron Curtain calls out the younger generations bored and disenchanted with politics and the EU.
But first things first: why even encourage people to vote in the European elections? The European parliamentary elections are as complex as the European Union itself, whose complicated democratic structures only seem to intensify voter apathy. The level of the European Parliament’s participation in European lawmaking went from 30 percent in 1958 to 65.2 percent in 2009, but there has been no corresponding rise in voter turnout. On the contrary, it has been steadily decreasing. In 2014, the EU registered the lowest-ever turnout when only 42.54 percent of Europeans cast a ballot. According to scholars, voters are more likely to be motivated to participate in EU elections by the desire to show trust or distrust for their national government than by the desire to shape European politics. In light of Brexit, the disparities among European countries and different takes on immigration, the EU’s aim of preserving a peaceful community of nations has become less relevant to many citizens, which is exactly why the EU elections are so crucial this time around.
Romania is less cynical about the EU than many other countries. Alongside Bulgaria and Croatia, the government is actively pushing for the greater integration that Poland and Hungary are so strongly resisting. According to the April 2017 Eurobarometer study, 83 percent of Romanians are in favor of the EU – one of the highest approval rates among EU countries. Yet only a modest 32 percent voter turnout was registered during the 2014 elections. So the online video “Because grandma said so”, created by video blogger Mircea Bravo and commissioned by Romanian nonprofit “Declic”, is a well-needed push.
The plot: A young Romanian asks his grandmother for money because he wants to take his girlfriend to Paris. His grandmother disapproves of the plan because the European elections are scheduled during the intended Paris trip. The young man makes excuses, saying he’s “not interested in politics”, that “all politicians are the same anyway” and “one vote will not make a difference”. His grandmother is very quick to prove him wrong. If his decisions don’t make a difference, he could as well go to Romanian resort Caciulata instead, she argues. And if one person doesn’t make a difference, perhaps he should take someone else along on the holiday too. Grandma then brings it home: “You don’t like that idea? You should know that back in the day, we finished school and they immediately put the sickle in our hands... And afterwards? The communists came, they took our lands and we had no choice but to comply. Nowadays you get to watch hundreds and thousands of movies, but we only had one movie a month! We had no choice. You have a choice, yet you’ll let someone else decide for you. Tell me, how can that be normal?"
It’s no surprise that Mircea Bravo chose a grandmother to convey this message, as grandmothers are dear to every Romanian’s heart: grandmothers who survived communism and are, therefore, regarded as an infinite source of wisdom; grandmothers who lived through difficult times and know what is important in life. Victims of both communism and orthodox patriarchy, they are believed to know the true secret to happiness and success.
The video’s simple and effective message seems to work like magic. While some reactions on social media have been political and controversial, most are pure admiration. “This is by far the best video I’ve seen in the past few years. It is funny, smart, creative and it gives you goosebumps. Grandma has just taught us a life lesson. We’ll do what she says,” wrote one Facebook user. And a YouTube user commented: “Faith in Romanian youth: restored! Faith in grandma: never lost!”
But leaving the obvious aside, grandma teaches us another important lesson: humor can help people better understand an abstract concept like the European Union. For just a moment, the EU isn’t boring, complicated and inaccessible. And that’s exactly the boost it needs right now.