what you get here

This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

more Transylvanian and Balkan flavour?


The title of this blog is Carpathian Musings since I am now based here in this marvellous mountain range – in its southern sweep in Romania – but a recent incident has made me realise how little about the immediate area or country I mention in the blog. The other blog I started a couple of years ago but which transmogrified into this one contained much more about life in the mountains.
The starting point for today’s story is one of my many book blogs. At one level it is hardly surprising that those who read should also want to share their pleasure – and write about their recent reads in a blog. For me, the discipline of summarising key points in a book fixes them more solidly in my mind – and may actually create a few questions which send me back to a reread or search in another book. But that is for the non-fiction which tends still to be my fare. What I find amazing is the care and love book bloggers devote to the sentences and characters in fiction. I am deeply grateful to those bloggers who reproduce whole chunks of text to give the reader their own sense of a book and of its style – rather than leaving us to rely on an opinion. One of the best such bloggers is Pechorin – who asked recently about central European literature. As someone with a base in the Carpathians I was happy to share a couple of recent overviews I had come across on the subject – but I then decided to add my own blog address to the second comment. But immediately Max (such is his name) graciously acknowledged and promised to look at my blog, I could anticipate his shocked response – “this guy doesn’t really read novels – and where are his musings about the Carpathians?”
Technically the Carpathians sweep from the plains 150 or so kilometres north of the Danube (in which Bucharest is the largest city) to north Romania, up into Ukraine and then across most of Slovakia – and I did blog (however briefly) in June about my latest trip to superb Slovakia.
But the content of this blog belies its title. The focus here is, of course, on issues of public management - since it takes over from the blog I wrote under the “publicadmin reform” rubric. Ideally I should retitle the blog Carpathian Musings about Good Government! But that would make it more difficult for me to celebrate the wines, paintings and mores in an area which extends for me to the other side of the Balkans mountain range which runs across central Bulgaria.
It’s almost exactly twenty years ago that I started my work and nomadic existence in what was then called countries of central and eastern Europe (CCEE). It started with a personal invitation from the Head of WHO’s Public Health Office in Copenhagen (on the basis of my role then in the Healthy Cities network) to identify the scope in the new central europe for developing networks of preventive health. WHO had long had small offices in all these countries and my job was to fly in and spend a week or so talking not only with Ministers and party leaders but with representatives of the new NGOs. One of my most vivid memories is driving in an ambulance to Brasov (just down the road from where I am now) with the young doctor who had been assigned to me in Romania, hearing German being spoken in the streets; talking with both the University Rector and an episcopalian Bishop; and then being driven on to Alba Iulia to talk with the Archbishop of the Orthodox and Catholic Churches. I also had a moving hour long discussion in Bucharest with the old, frail and highly respected Leader of the Peasant party who had recently been released from 20 years’ imprisonment. My WHO tour included a stunning visit to a snowy and blue skied St Petersburg in mid-January - where I remember being shocked by the completely different value system eg that a life had no value (from a bright young woman) or that food should be subsidised and controlled by the municipality. The one capital I was not allowed to visit in this busy 6 month spell in 1991 was Belgrade. Copenhagen knew something the rest of us didn’t about the coming conflict in the Balkans.
And, since that dreadful conflagration, the Balkans have (once more) being marked apart. Indeed those of us in the Technical Assistance business since then have used a threefold classification - central Europe (for countries such as Poland; Czechia, Slovakia, Hungary and Slovenia with their borders with EU countries); CIS or Commonwealth of Independent States (for those to the East which had never experienced capitalism or democracy); and the troublesome Balkans (the countries of ex Federal Yugoslavia and Bulgaria and Romania) where the Ottoman influence was still evident. Not so, of course, here in Transylvania which was not only Austro-Hungarian until the Trianon Treaty but had Saxon immigrants in medieval times. The old border with Ottoman-controlled Wallachia is just at the back of my house!

Anyway, the point of all this is to promise that I will try to give more of a Balkan flavour to this blog – or rather Transylvanian and Bulgarian flavour – not least to counter the impression that I am leading a vicarious life and missing home. Of course, on fine days here, I have a certain hankering for the Clyde and the Argyll hills and a sight of the Hebrideans – but I have no wish to return to the dreary weather! And I follow the politics simply because it’s an easy case-study for me.
As I’ve mentioned the Ottoman influence, let me finish by pointing you to a provocative article on Turkish styles of argument.
In Turkey, it is normal and expected to say that you will do something, have done something, or agree with something when, in fact, you won’t, haven’t, or don’t.Not only is truth here derived from emotion, but the emotions themselves are more intense and more transitory. Arguing a mild difference of opinion by screaming and threatening would come across to Westerners as weak at best, lunatic at worst. Not here. No shame attaches to displays of anger that in the West would result in the issuance of restraining orders. The fights dissipate as quickly as they start; everyone proceeds to drink tea and moistly proclaim their mutual love. The entire incident is then forgotten, except by the American, who is still shaking with rage and nurtures her resentment forever
Thanks to Marian for the photograph of my neighbourhood. Her stunning collection is worth a look.

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