The day they died

One of our project’s component studies is about depictions of protest in popular culture. In my case, that means music, and how songs and music videos can be used as vehicles for political messages of discontent. I’ve blogged before about news reports on the anger caused by corruption and politicians in Romania, but in this post, I’d like to combine news and pop culture to think through “The Day We Die”, a song by the Romanian band Goodbye To Gravity. It seems to me that this is a perfect example of how a popular cultural text – in this case, a rock song – targets corruption (“F**k all your wicked corruption/ It’s been there since our inception”), protests against political leaders (“Loose lips are shifting leaders”), and the reduction of people to numbers (“We’re not numbers, we’re free, we’re so alive, so alive”) and encourages individuals to take a stand (“Stand your ground in the battle zone/ Filled with life, bone and scorn/ Clench your fists, I’m battle prone/ Pull the trigger and set the tone”).

While the song itself can be interpreted as spreading messages of discontent, an event related to it is particularly worth noting. This time last year – on October 30th 2015 – Goodbye to Gravity had their last concert in Colectiv, a club in Bucharest. At around 22:30 a fire broke in the location, killing 64 young people, injuring over 100, and leading to 20,000 people taking to the streets in protest. Their voices were raised against corruption, at the indifference of authorities, and at the failure to respect safety regulations by allowing unsafe spaces to be used for public gatherings, as it was the case with the abovementioned club. The protests led to the resignation of then prime minister Victor Ponta and the fall of the government, as well as stricter controls in respecting safety regulations in public spaces as clubs, bars, restaurants, and a bill that forbids smoking in such places.

On the one year anniversary of the day they died, Romania remembered them with a march of commemoration, and a silent protest highlighting a problem that persists: corruption in Romanian politics. Four thousand people were out on the streets with banners, silently heading towards the club where the fire started last October, and that is now closed.

While some point to changes that have followed in the wake of the nightclub incident, the general feeling is one of pessimism. Even the president, Klaus Werner Iohannis, agrees that political parties in Romania must continue to reform. The political discourse of the parties will play an important role in the future parliamentary elections scheduled for December 11.

The song mentioned above was toned down and covered by two other Romanian bands, as a tribute for the victims. Out of the members of the band involved in the tragedy, the lead singer is the only one still alive.

So where does this leave us? As I said at the beginning of this piece, it is the story of a popular cultural text with a deep political message. To use the language of our coding scheme, the trigger of the protest and the shift in Romanian politics was a fire in a nightclub. The protest issue was corruption, clearly stated by both protesters and journalists reporting on the event. Reporting the manifestation on the anniversary of the protests, Euronews (see clip below) reminded viewers of the continued importance of the issue. As Euronews is one of the channels we follow, the protest may well end up in our sample.

Diana Grecu

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