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!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Impervious power


The good news when I went online during the night was that I had gained three more Bulgarian paintings – I’ve actually lost count of how many I have now but it must be more than 50 (scattered in 5 locations). This one claims to be 100 years old – an aquarelle by Kabakchiev (know nuttin' about him/her) – and its eastern interior decoration features (carved wooden ceilings, tiled stove and carpet) represent those I fell in love with more than a decade ago in the swathe of land which stretches from Transylvania to the Central Asia plains. I also added a Chokalov and Vasilev to those I already have. The Dobre Dobrev got away (see next week). I was too mean in the upper limit I gave the auctioneer who bid on my behalf –although I got two of them for the starting price. Given that I wasn’t physically present, three out of four old paintings for a total of 1,000 euros is a very good result.
Creativity cannot be controlled – so today I ignored the paper I had promised yesterday to update for the website (whose tentative title has now become “Living for Posterity” and focused, instead, on the Varna paper for the NISPAcee Conference whose final version has to be submitted within the week. It was time to print out what I had – and skim the physical pages in the sun at Bran as I waited for the car to be put into trim for its journey to Bulgaria. I’m able to see things more objectively as I turn the pages physically and scribble notes and arrows on them.
But, as I got home and sat at the PC to try to transfer some of the ideas on to screen, I continued to struggle with the precise nature of (and terminology for) the regimes of which, I argue in the paper, the Technical Assistance industry has neither understanding nor prescriptions. Feedback suggested that my term "Kleptocracy” was too general and emotional. “Autocracy” was also too much of a cliché. “Sultanistic” had been suggested by Linz and Stepan in their definitive overview of transitions in 1995 as one of the systems into which totalitarian regimes could transmogrify - but had never caught on as a term. “Neo-feudalism” popped up recently to describe the current Russian system – and “proliferating dynasties” was a striking phrase in a book edited by Richard Youngs to which I recently referred. Suddenly I found myself typing the phrase “impervious power” – and felt that this was a great phrase which captured the essence of all of these regimes. Impervious to the penetration of any idea or person from the hoi poloi. The imperviousness of power leads to arrogance, mistakes on a gigantic scale and systemic corruption. How does one change such systems? Can it happen incrementally Where are there examples of „impervious power” morphing into more open systems? Germany and Japan in the aftermath of war – and Greece, Portugal and Spain in the 1970s under the attraction of EU accession. But what happens when neither are present???
The great Perry Anderson continues to capture the essence of countries – his latest essay on….Brazil
And, somehow, I alighted on what must be simply the best Central European Blog (sorry Sarah!)– this one on everyday political events in Hungary as they unfold. She is a Hungarian who let the country in 1956; achieved academic distinction in America; and is probably now retired. I particularly appreciated her description of the contributions from the floor at a recent meeting in Mioskolc, the town in North-East Hungary where I lived for 2 years in the mid 1990s. Quite frightening picture she portrays!
A final comment – the 2001 paper I uploaded yesterday to the website had tried to identify the organisations I then admired. Since then, however, (as regular readers of the blog will have noticed) it is individuals who impress me – not organisations (my anarchistic streak perhaps?) It was interesting that my recent correspondent asked me about the organisations I admired. Last night it was the late lamented Tony Judt whose words reverbated in my ears as I tried to get back to sleep.

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