Moldova Needs a Jon Stewart

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The legendary American political satirist Jon Stewart recently announced that he will be retiring this year.  It is a tremendous loss for the American entertainment industry, but more importantly for political comedy as a genre. Luckily, U.S. has a tremendous pool of talent to fill in his enormous shoes.  Unfortunately, the state of political satire in Moldova, or rather lack thereof, is no laughing matter. Moldova has a proud literary tradition of satire, yet most of it covers ethnic or social stereotypes. Indeed, it should come as no surprise because political satire is by definition the art of speaking truth to power.  It is only in fairly democratic societies that satire can thrive without the fear of prosecution. Yet, political satire is not endemic to democracies; indeed Soviet Union had a proud tradition of satire, albeit largely underground. Many dissidents suffered tremendously for innocent jokes, exposing how fragile the system and how thin skinned the leaders must have been to go to such length to punish the slightest attempt at mockery or ridicule, but ultimately a mere exercise of free speech.

Things have come a long way from the times of Stalin and Brejnev.  Today, Moldova is a democratic society with constitutionally protected rights to free speech. However, freedom of expression is curtailed at every step.  First, there are cultural and religious traditions. Then, there is a strong tendency towards self-censorship due to centuries of servitude.  But, more importantly there is very little supply of political satire as a result of only partially free media. Moldova has plenty of media competition, but little to no media independence. The vast majority of TV, print and even internet media is owned either directly by politicians or by their proxies. Now, in a country like Moldova, where politicians spend a fortune on building a modern version of a personality cult; why would they be interested in paying for political satire? Right, they wouldn’t. That is why limiting political control over media is paramount for a genuinely democratic society. What we are witnessing in Moldova is the opposite. Leading politicians, who also happen to be business people, are building media empires. From their perspective, it is a great investment. Why risk and implement difficult public policies that will, hopefully, boost your parties standing in the next election, when you can manipulate the public into voting for you anyway?

Surely, there are significant constrains with regard to Moldova’s size and its economic potential. Tax-paying entertainment business is largely non-existent. Comedy is a dying art. Political comedy is even more difficult to come by, unless it is politically charged mockery of your political opponents. It is all the more unfortunate, because Moldovans could really use a good laugh. There is so much hidden tension in the society based on ethnicity, language, economic status, political views etc. Quality satire would diffuse some of that tension or at least allow people to have a good time at the expense of everything that is bad in the society. There is so much irony in our political developments that foreign diplomats are asking questions that a political satirist, if not a prosecutor, should ask:  “Cannot help but wonder how it is possible to steal so much money in such a poor country?”  Just imagine how Jon Stewart would take apart political clowns like Plahotniuc, Usatii, Dodon, Filat, Lupu, Voronin, Ghimpu… Hopefully, guys like Ilia Plămădeală (The Duck Show), Andrei Bolocan (Lumina/Fedot), Dumitru Buimistru (Moldova Yesterday) and others will continue to step up and make us wiser by laughing in the face of our own misery.

PS: Having a level of political culture that allows and even encourages politicians to act like thisthisand this would definitely make for a better or at least certainly a less grumpy society.

My Top Ten Political Satirists

  1. George Orwell
  2. Jon Stewart
  3. Mihail Zhvanetsky
  4. Stephen Colbert
  5. John Oliver
  6. Bill Maher
  7. Victor Shenderovich
  8. Dick Gregory
  9. Larry Wilmore
  10. Mihail Zadornov

Please feel free to share your own favorite political comedians below.

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