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Against its original purposes, the Romanian Securitate Archive  is used now by regular citizens to access their family’s past.  Oana Lungescu published a documentary on BBC about  State Secrets with very good examples of  Romanian Securitate legacy.

Here is a short piece from the article about the terrible family history of Ioana Voicu Arnautoiu and the way she recovered it.

“A concert violinist, she was born in a cave in the Carpathian mountains. Her parents were partisans, part of a small desperate band that resisted the communist takeover in the 1950s.They held out for nine years – surviving sometimes on boiled bark – before the Securitate hunted them down.

Now it is the Securitate’s own records that are revealing Ioana’s family history, in 85 thick files and a collection of black-and-white photographs.

One shows her mother climbing out of the cave and going down a ladder, carrying baby Ioana under one arm like a doll.

Before her father was executed, the Securitate took a last photograph of his gaunt face, with dark, haunted eyes. Her mother died later in prison.

Ioana was spared. Aged two, she was taken to an orphanage and adopted by a loving family. She grew up without knowing who she really was – until Communism fell and the archives opened.

Her story might be unbelievable – if the Securitate had not archived everything so thoroughly.” (Oana Lungescu- Romania Securitate legacy 20 years after revolution)

Lungescu raises interesting questions about the role Securitatea had in documenting life during Communism. The State had to know everything and now, people have access, at least in part, to what the State knew of them.  Ioana Voicu Arnautoiu says in the documentary that she is thinking about putting her family history into a book. Working on such books is a needed exercise for Romanian society. Even though affecting individuals this drama was felt by the whole society and Securitate practices combined with the lack of information channels changed our information habits.

Many are still amazed by the way people chose to act even though they have freedom to be informed and access to information. People that worked on the case of  Ioana Voicu Arnautoiu parents could, presumably, be  successful business men nowadays (as is the case with the Securitate person that had Herta Muller, the Nobel prize winner in literature, under observation). One needs to take a step back and notice the destines that, even though shared the same geographical space,  were parallel  as long the State was not “in danger”.

What the evil library did was to document those intersections.  Looking back at these documents can help us figure out where and why deviations in behaviors took place. That would help understand the current “informed” decision Romanians make and how they can be helped to take part succesfuly in the global Information Society.

Hey, hey, finally a clear voice that looks at  digital divide literature and  EU Information Society policies and talks about the missing parts !!!
Dijk, Jan van (in press) One Europe, Digitally Divided. In: A. Chadwick & Ph. Howard (Eds). Handbook of Internet Politics, London: Routledge.

Van Dijk is a well known and respected author in the field.  The Deepening divide, Inequality in the Information Society book generated very interesting discussions in my Digital Divide class this semester.  Reading it, even though  valid and pertinent,  I was surprised that it did not criticise the huge emphasis on the material access ( Broadband) of EU policies when addressing the digital divide. (On EC site the eInclusion policy about the “broadband gap” is also caled “digital divide”).

Van Dijk’s  framework for digital divides start with motivational access that will naturally be followed by  physical access. The EU policies however take for granted the motivational access because everybody wants to have a better job (and ICT skills are said to get you a better job). The fact that, for example, informational skills and culture differ greatly around EU or that a non-English speaker might have a hard time finding relevant and good quality information online was of no interest to policy makers in EU.

Things started to change lately with the Ministerial Riga Declaration on eInclusion and recommendation of digital literacy so at least  the conversations  about information literacy are more audible in Europe.  However  European Commission is very vague in its discourse and on national or local level in places where, as van Dijk said “possession of personal computers, the Internet and a broadband connection […] countries such as Romenia (RO) (!) and Bulgaria (BG) run very far behind with access figures of a Third World country” the message fails  (or takes forever) to reach the decision factors.

Van Dijk’s article is  more than welcomed especially since he is an advisor of the EC.  Hopefully EC will pay more attention from now on to bring everybody along with them in the EU information society they build. In the process maybe will also figure out that libraries, especially public ones, have a great potential in helping EU IS countries  by serving communities and providing support at local level for lifelong learning and engaging individuals in using ICT.

This is Clay Shirky‘s talk from the Web 2.0 EXPO 2008.

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Very informative presentation with great examples to illustrate it. However, as it often happens with things that I want to apply into Romanian context the cognitive surplus seem to have a different history back home.

For what did the Romanian society used its cognitive surplus while building up its “industrial” society during Communism? I cannot answer this yet. For sure though the answer will  not be TV because during those years we had access to the most 3 hours of broadcasting per day (one of them being dedicated to news about the most beloved leader and his wife….) However,  part of it is, I am sure, connected to reading. I talked a little bit about this and its very interesting to see how books and reading were really a pilot for social web of today. Sharing was a key factor of those informal networks that circulated the good books and people were often breaking the laws contributing to these communities.

For almost 20 years now the “original” democracy in Romania has been pushing hard the sitcoms and sitcoms-like-news on the little cognitive surplus left of people after working hard for their daily bread. Not being used to speak their mind they got easily tricked by the media and accepted their passive position as receivers.  Can we hope that the Web will change this?

Part of the Romanians that get online are using the Web as presented by Shirky. Is there any connection between the good readers during Communism and the good web users today? My intuition would say yes, there should be a relation and I feel it is not determined by the financial status. I wish I would have time to look more into this!

How about the rest of “everybody”?  If they were not reading, what were the people doing with their cognitive surplus during Communism and what are they doing with it now? What does the Web has to offer in order to get them to turn the TV off and participate?

No, Romania is not behind the TV looking for the mouse…but it is aware of what a mouse is and that is a start.

This started as a short movie, with a script and ended up catching a glimpse of Romanian Information society.  I added the English translation and a tentative time frame for it.

[0:09][Man]Good day! Today I was allowed to mess around with lots of money.
[0:15] If I were a rich kid …just take a look at this.
[0:20] Here is a laptop Sony Vaio, as you can see, in working condition.  Let’s turn it on.
[0:33] Here it is.
[0:49] So, pay attention to what I would do with a laptop if I were to have lots of money.  We are at the country side. Ha ha
[1.01][back voice, woman voice] What are you doing?!
[1.06][woman]By hell, you are scaring the hens and the chickens.
[1:09][man]They didn’t get scared, rest assure.
[1:11][woman] Hell they didn’t!

[1.19][man] I just filmed how to chop a laptop.
[1:20][woman] You did it with my axe?
[1:22][man] With what else?
[1:24][woman] I think you must be crazy, you, Alin. By hell, you’re ruining the axe!
[1:28][man] It does not get ruin.
[1:29][woman] Hell it doesn’t! May it go to hell [the laptop]!
[1:32][man] Here, you [polite] take a piece.
[1:34][woman] Give it to devil to f**k it. Don’t you ruin my axe for I don’t have any sharpening file to use on it.
[1:38][man] I’ll give you one from the grinder.
[1:44][woman] This is not for cutting … is for cutting wood. [Swearing]
[1:49][man] Look, here is the processor.
[1:55][woman] Look here you can even see the mark you left.
[1:57][man] Common, in plastic?
[2:00][woman] Yes, in plastic.
[2.02][Man] Get out of here…
[2.03][Woman] You get out!

Some thoughts from what was the original idea of the movie:

  • laptops are distinct object of rich people;
  • destroying what the rich people have is emotionally rewarding;
  • the divide between rich and poor people’s technologies is huge.

The old lady’s reaction is so real and natural: she is defending her axe, fearing that the laptop( such a powerful tool, isn’t it?) will ruin it. She is worried that she lacks the power( the ordinary sharpening file) to make sure she will keep her technology working…

Later edit:
Here is the movie with subtitles in English:

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