Hacking democracy with theater | Eero Epner | TEDxKyiv

Translator: Francesca Maria Solinas
Reviewer: Denise RQ Hello. I’m Eero, and this is my famous passport. (Laughter) Yes, I had to come here last year, but we in Estonia have
this kind of plastic ID card, and I travel with it, I pay my taxes with it, I can do bank transfers with it, and I can even check
my children’s school homework with it. So, yes, it came as a total surprise
when I was already in Munich, at the airport, and it turned out
that in order to come to Ukraine, I need 32 pages of waste paper. So I didn’t come, sorry. I work at the “Theatre NO99,”
which is a state-owned theater and is located, by the way, in the same house
as the Estonian Ministry of Defense. We have been in business since 2004, and we are a normal, little theater. We do diverse projects, but also Shakespeare,
Albee, Chekhov, and so on, and when Wladislaw from TEDxKyiv
told me to speak here, he told me, “It would be great
if you could come up with some ideas that could save Ukraine.” Well, the bad news is
I don’t have such ideas. Not even a single one. But the good news is
that this didn’t stop us six years ago, when we founded
a fictional political party, and for a very short period, it gained all the symbolic power
there is in Estonia. Yes, we wanted to do something big and, first of all, something real. And so, we did this. (Video starts) Man: Who is Tiit Ojasoo? (Sings) Estonia, Estonia for Estonia Through fire and water Together we are powerful Estonia, Estonia for Estonia Through fire and water Estonia, Estonia for Estonia Through fire and water Together we are powerful. (Video ends) (On stage) Eero Epner: Yes, well,
we created a fictional political party and its name was Unified Estonia. And now, if this name does
ring a bell for somebody because it sounds like Unified Russia, then let this bell ring, because that’s exactly the parallel
we wanted to create. We wanted to build up the nastiest, most populist,
and most fascist party ever. And we succeeded. (Laughter) There were only two problems. (Applause) There were only two problems:
yes, , the public started to love us and secondly, they really thought
that we were the real thing. I mean, journalists, politicians,
voters, everybody believed that we were into something real. And so, we were invited
to different talk shows, TV shows, we made also headlines
in dailies and weeklies. And of course, we did everything we could so that people would believe more and more
that we were the real thing. And we even had posters on the streets. Well, actually not on the streets
but on a street, in singular form, because we didn’t have money
to print more posters. But it was enough because those images circulated in the Estonian
media for weeks. And so on, and so on, so in the polls, 25% of the voters said
that, “Yes, I will vote for them.” And I even remember when my neighbor,
an older guy around 80, came to me and said, “Come on, guys.
You have to take power. You have to turn this state
into a new state.” So there we were: ten actors with almost no money, and we were expected to save Estonia, like TEDxKyiv is expecting me
to save Ukraine. (Laughter) Yes, laughing. Now, one might ask what was our program, what were our ideas,
and what did we promise. Well, the answer is
we had no program, we had no ideas, and we promised everything. So, we actually had nothing in our hands, yet, we enjoyed massive public support. And why? We did a very simple thing. We said that we were
against established parties, and that we were a new force. And that was all that was needed. To be against the present day
and to present yourself as the future, because people like future. So when we announced
we were going to have a party convention for 12,000 people, the tickets were sold-out in 48 hours. So, actually, taking power
isn’t such a hard thing. If we were able to do that,
then you can do it, too. And to give you a quick primer, so you could take notes
on how to take power, I would like to emphasize three things
that were crucial to our success: First: you have to be pretty. And I’m not kidding, because we had big posters
with the faces of our actors, and they really look pretty,
that’s why I couldn’t show my picture. (Laughter) Yes, pretty people. Because when you present yourself
as being some kind of a new force, then you also have to look new and fresh. We didn’t have any texts printed, no, we didn’t publish any essays,
any articles, no commentaries; we just operated with images and photos. And that was all that was needed. Secondly, emotions. I read a couple of months ago an interview
with the ex-counselor of Vladimir Putin, and he said that the main thing
in controlling the masses are emotions. And that’s why also Crimea,
that’s why the Olympic Games in Sochi, they were not needed for
economical benefits or stuff like that. Their value was purely
symbolic and emotional. And the same goes also for democracies: emotions, emotions, emotions. And, of course, at some point,
people get tired of emotions. They want to return
to their old, normal, boring lives. And the solution is you just have
to offer them new emotions. And that’s what we did. We were very emotional. And the third thing, of course, the media. It’s a very well-known fact that media plays the key role
in designing public opinion. So, therefore,
it’s also a very simple truth that you have to have
friends in the media. Now, please note,
because people mix that up all the time, your friends working in media
don’t have to write about you. They don’t even have to support you. They just have to be your friends. So, this is the biggest
news portal in Estonia. Every day hundreds of thousands
of people visit that site. And let me remind you Estonia only has a little bit more
than one million inhabitants, so this is really the gate. In one night, we defaced our posters. Yes, we did it ourselves. Our guys threw some paint on them,
so the posters looked like this. And the news that our posters were defaced was the top news item on that news portal
for eight hours, from 8 a.m. till 4 p.m. And why? Because of this guy. He is the friend of our director,
and he is working on this news portal. He didn’t support our ideas, because, like I said,
we didn’t have any ideas. (Laughter) He was just backing us up. And I believe that this is
what being a good friend actually means. So, at the end of the project, we were in the convention hall
together with 12,000 people, and they were all expecting us to continue to build up the party,
to run in the elections, and so on. They really supported us. The only problem was
that we didn’t want to continue. We wanted to return to the theater, to play in “Who’s afraid
of Virginia Woolf?” again, we didn’t want to go on
saving our country, we wanted to lean back and talk about, I don’t know,
Stanislavski and improvisation. So, if you have the situation where you have 12,000 people
expecting you to say one thing, and 12 people who want
to say the exact opposite, what do you do? Well, you just say it. Was it hard?
No, actually it wasn’t hard. The people applauded for the usual
one minute 30 seconds anyway. But the hard part was giving up power, losing power, even if we didn’t have
any real power anyway, and even if this losing was voluntary. It was quite hard. I remember that weeks
after the convention, every morning, I opened the newspaper,
and I was looking for our names; well, for my name, actually. But I couldn’t find it. We were not mentioned anymore
in the newspapers, and we were history. So I was quite sad. And maybe this is also
one of the reasons why I came here. (Laughter) So, I could end here and say,
“Yes, it was a nice project.” Why did we do it? Because we were dissatisfied with how democracy
was being manipulated in Estonia. Or, like Wladislaw from TEDxKyiv told me, “Please come here and tell us
that it is the same shit everywhere not only here in Ukraine.” What did we want to achieve? Well, we wanted to educate people,
to reflect the society, and so on. Did we succeed? We will never know. And why theater? Well, I believe theater is the best tool
when somebody is interested in topics like, “How do I manipulate
the masses today?” So, yes, it was a cool project,
and I’m proud that I was part of it. But Tricky has a song titled,
“Hell is round the corner.” Our project was six years ago, and two years ago, in Estonia,
we had parliamentary elections. And there were two new parties that did
pretty much the same thing that we did. All they were saying about themselves was that they are against established parties,
and that they are a new force. And they got 17% of the votes. Plus, they are not nice. One of them is a very right-wing,
almost neofascist party. And the other party is
for hippies and hipsters, so even they themselves have no idea what kind of ideas they should have. So, opportunists. And then I started to think because I had the feeling
that they are in the parliament now, at least partly, thanks to us. We, in our theater, believe
that we are a good force. We support gay rights,
we welcome refugees, we donate for whales,
and dolphins, and so on. But in order to get the power,
we used populism. And what it showed us,
or what it at least showed me, was that it’s still me. Although I used
a very nasty tool, populism, it didn’t feel any strange or alien to me. It was kind of an organic part of me. So, yes, populism is part of me,
and lying wasn’t hard. In fact, I have been lying
to you today, as well. You know – this guy? He is not the friend of our director. This is just a random photo I downloaded
from the web a week ago. I googled ‘trustworthy face’
and found this image. Also, we didn’t have 12,000 people
in our convention hall, only 10,000; or 7,500, to be exact. Well, sorry about that,
but it was necessary in order to show you that populism
is not a tool that only bad people use. No, we all use this tool. And therefore, the conclusion is in democracy, there are
no dark and bright forces. There are no conflicts anymore. There are no conservatives or liberals
because everybody can be both. Those who stand for economic freedom
can easily be against gay rights, and those who are saying
that they will stop corruption can stop important reforms if they are involved
with too many lobbyists. So, yes, democracy doesn’t have
a dark force and a bright force. There is no light
towards which we should go. I would say that democracy
is not like Star Wars movies where space knights
fight against Darth Vader. Democracy is more like porn movies
where everybody is involved all the time. (Laughter) (Applause) So, the real question, I believe,
also here today in Ukraine, is not how to get to the point
where the good people have the power. It’s not the question
of how to concentrate the power into the hands of the few good people. Rather, vice-versa:
how do you distribute power? How do you disperse power? I don’t want to sound
like Patty Smith now, but the question really is: how to get [to the point]
where the people have the power? Because it is in the very nature
of power that it converges. And people like that. I like that. Because it gives me the freedom not to participate
and not to take responsibility. But I believe that the real task today
is not to educate the voter so that he or she makes the so-called
right decision in the elections. No; our task is to get to the point where he or she himself or herself sees
that he or she is the politician. That he or she makes politics. There is this fundamental expectation in all modern western societies
that the world changes in one day. That’s why people also so passionately
wait for the New Year’s Eve. Because they believe that on that day,
everything will change. And so, they make promises. They promise to stop smoking,
to start to love their wives again, to be better prime ministers, and so on. And this is also a fundamental
expectation in democracies: waiting for something that could instantly
in just a sec, change everything – new parties, new politics, new faces. But I would say that we have
to turn this expectation upside down. It’s not about New Year’s Eve
in democracies. It’s very easy to be a star
on New Year’s Eve. All you have to do is to look nice,
to sing nicely, and promise lots of gifts. But it’s actually about January, 1. The moment when you stand all alone
in an empty ballroom, it’s 4 am, deflated balloons and empty
champagne glasses around you; this is actually the defining
moment of democracy. There is also this fundamental paradox
in western democracies that all decisions, especially
during the so-called revolutions, are made very emotionally
and very theatrically. I believe this is a good thing
because emotions unite people. But at the same time, the same emotions also disappoint people
when the heyday is over. It’s like in nature – all species feel sad when coitus is over. So, I believe that I don’t have a solution and Unified Estonia
didn’t have a solution either, but as we were also very emotional
and very theatrical, I guess it showed
this really doesn’t work in real life. Well, it works for a short period, but in the longer run,
we really must distribute power. We must, or people must stop
projecting all their expectations on ministers, and presidents,
and politicians. Democracy is not that decisions
are made by a few good people who make then the right decisions. Democracy is about all of us
making lots of decisions every day. And some of those decisions are good,
some of them are bad. But really, the world
doesn’t change in one day, but it changes every day. Now, how to get to that point?
I don’t know. But, remember, I told you
about my neighbor, this older guy around 80. I wasn’t lying about him. I thought, “What would make him
take responsibility?” And the answer is unfortunately banal. It [takes] courage. To be a citizen, it [takes] bravery. But how to be brave in democracy? It’s quite easy to be brave
in a dictatorship. I remember when my father,
during the Soviet times, when he hit his finger with a hammer, he always yelled, “God damn Soviet power!” So, I thought he was
a brave man, and he was. Also, he was, I must say,
quite clumsy with the hammer so I heard a lot of this yelling. But what do you yell
when you have democracy, and you hit your finger with a hammer? In democracy, where everything seems
to be OK, it seems to be settled, it seems to be almost perfect? I really don’t know,
but I’m sure it can be done. And as a first step, I would recommend
always carry a passport with you, because it reminds you that you are not only a human being
but you are also a citizen. Thank you. (Applause)

Maurice Vega

4 Responses

  1. Ну, ми, хоч не одні такі. Але це не дуже тішить. Нам вкінці не покажуть титри…

  2. Голосовать только за Порошенко! Иначе нападёт злой Путин! Опять! В 100501-й раз!

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