In the Gift of the Gatsbys

Just outside the Government’s headquarters in Chisinau, capital city of Moldova, there’s a billboard advertising a ballet based on The Great Gatsby. No irony is intended, I think, but it struck me as spookily appropriate that Scott-Fitzgerald’s great American tragedy should find a home in Chisinau.

Gatsby

The Great Gatsby is set in the 1920s in New York and Long Island during the early years of Prohibition. Gatsby, an enormously wealthy businessman and war veteran, is young, urbane, generous, extravagant, philanthropic, and charming, the aloof centre of a mad whirl of cocktail parties, decadence and soulless excess, the man everyone wants to know or be. He’s the embodiment of the American Dream, a rich and powerful man who has come from nowhere to possess nearly everything. Of course, somewhere not far behind or beneath this tasteful façade lurks bootlegging, violence and organised crime, but the surface, at his vast Long Island mansion, is unruffled. He is a man to look up to, to be grateful to, and to respect.

At the outset of the novel Gatsby is in love with Daisy Buchanan, an apparently unattainable married woman, with whom, years earlier, he had had an affair. As the story develops their affair is rekindled, and when Daisy accidentally knocks down and kills her husband Tom’s mistress, Gatsby takes the blame and is then stalked and shot by the woman’s husband. One senses that, in the end, he’s almost grateful for annihilation. It puts an end to the ennui, as well as the heartache for a woman he can’t fully possess.

Cut to Moldova in 2015. so like 1920s New York. In Moldova, one of the new, liberated, capitalist democracies that have emerged from the ruins of the Soviet empire, everything is now possible , that is, as long as you possess sufficient courage, ambition, ruthlessness and intelligence, and as long as you’re not too morally squeamish. You can rise high in the ranks of government and society, however you might have made your fortune, and whomever you’ve exploited, as long as you’re disbursing the right favours at the right time and in the right places.

Take Ilan Shor, a young Moldovan businessman who’s recently admitted giving Vlad Filat, the country’s former Prime Minister a million dollars in bribes. He’s off the hook, I believe, in return for  the hooking of the bigger fish, and, as Mayor of Orhei, he’s become, in any case, invulnerable  (It is an inexplicable feature of many of Europe’s new democracies that politicians are immune from prosecution. )

He’s not as fascinating as Gatsby, but he’s probably equally as much ‘image’ as Gatsby, rather than reality. In Orhei Ilan Shor is loved by his constituents, not for his alleged criminal daring, but for the greatness of his heart and his unselfish concern for his constituents, above all for the largesse he’s bestowed on the region. It’s alleged that he won the election with 62% of the vote at least partly because of gifts of basic household commodities distributed to impoverished voters (see The Great Moldovan Bank Robbery). Never mind that the money and gifts he’s giving away might never have been rightly his own, his people still love him, as if he’s really a man of simple generosity, not of inordinate and immoral greed.

How splendid it would be if the tycoons and political leaders who dominate Moldovan society were to fall from grace. They needn’t fall as gracefully, as tragically and sympathetically as the balletic Gatsby in the image above. But I do not suggest they should be shot. Rather, they deserve a fair trail and several decades in jail if they’re finally convicted.

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