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!

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Deserts of Transition?

For all the talk of European Commission transparency, it’s none too easy to get useful information about the projects on which its various Structural Funds and Operational Programmes spend so many thousands of millions of euros.
Nor, incidentally, have I seen anyone look at the role which such funding has played in the socio-economic development of this Region. A lot of money is spent on consultants evaluating the projects but their availability seems to be very restricted. And those who write these evaluations have no interest in biting the hand that feeds them – so no fundamental critique will emerge from that quarter.
I might expect journalists and academics to tackle such basic questions – except that they too have their reasons for not wanting to upset a gravy-train.
I have lived in central Europe for much of the past 20 years – and don’t need to worry about offending the powerful interests in the EC. So let me clearly say what I think about the contribution of Structural Funds  
It has helped into place the systemic corruption here – not least by adding to the incentives to pull the wrong sort of people into the political systems.
I doubt that a credible case can be made for its economic contribution.
Bulgaria and Romania have been able to spend less than 10% of the monies allocated to them.

That’s a pretty dismal picture – and a poor reflection on European journalism that no journalist seems to have posed, let alone explored, the question of what it has all really achieved for these countries. The opportunity was there in the past 2 years while the whole future of the Structural Funds was being reviewed – I rather belatedly woke up to this(rather inward if not incestuous) discussion at the end of January     

All this is by way of a preface to praise for one report which I stumbled across last week - Narratives for Europe from the European Cultural Foundation.Don’t be put off by the “deconstructionist” verbosity at the beginning – this was an interesting venture using EC funding to link up ordinary people in a lot of peripheral areas of Europe whether at weddings, playing music or in the final stages of their life in remote villages.
We are not looking to collect either official discourses or isolated individual stories. We are trying to identify common ground and shared representations, yes, but it is also about identifying diverging perspectives, conflicting desires, grey zones: the questions and even doubts expressed by people in Europe of all generations and backgrounds, particularly those engaged in arts and culture
Coincidentally, The Economist also published this picture of life in North East Bulgaria - whose poverty I saw for myself this time last year.

In February, March, and April 2011 up to ten thousand people assembled every other evening in Zagreb, and up to a couple thousand assembled in other cities. Besides a rhetorical shift (a strong anti-capitalist discourse unheard of either in independent Croatia or elsewhere in the Balkans), the crucial point was the rejection of leaders, which gave citizens an opportunity to decide on the direction and the form of their protests. The “Indian revolution,” previously limited to public squares, soon turned into long marches through Zagreb. It was a clear example of how “invited spaces of citizenship,” designed as such by state structures and police for “kettled” expression of discontent, were superseded by “invented spaces of citizenship,” in which citizens themselves opened new ways and venues for their subversive actions, and questioned legality in the name of the legitimacy of their demands. This was not a classic, static protest anymore and, unlike the famous Belgrade walks in 1996–97, the Zagreb ones were neither aimed only at the government as such, nor only at the ruling party and its boss(es). They acquired a strong anti-systemic critique, exemplified by the fact that protesters were regularly “visiting” the nodal political, social, and economic points of contemporary Croatia (political parties, banks, government offices, unions, privatization fund, television and media outlets, etc.). The flags of the ruling conservative Croatian Democratic Union, the Social Democratic Party (seen as not opposing the neo-liberal reforms), and even the European Union (seen as complicit in the elite’s wrongdoings) were burned. The protesters even “visited” the residences of the ruling party politicians, which signalled a widespread belief that their newly acquired wealth was nothing more than legalized robbery.And this is precisely the novelty of these protests. It is not yet another “colour revolution” of the kind the Western media and academia are usually so enthusiastic about (but who are otherwise not interested in following how the “waves of democratization” often do little more than replace one autocrat with another, more cooperative one). The U.S.-sponsored colour revolutions never put into question the political or economic system as such, although they did respond to a genuine demand in these societies to get rid of the authoritarian and corrupt elites that had mostly formed in the 1990s. The Croatian example shows that for the first time protests are not driven by anti-government rhetoric per se, but instead are based on true anti-regime sentiment. Not only the state but the whole apparatus on which the current oligarchy is based is put into question by (albeit chaotically) self-organized citizens. No colour is needed to mark this kind of revolution which obviously cannot hope for any external help or international media coverage. It did the only thing the dispossessed can do: marched through their cities. The emergence and nature of these Croatian protests invites us also to rethink the categories used to explain the social, political, and economic situation in the Balkans and elsewhere in post-socialist Eastern Europe.
In the general bemoaning of the small number of people who seem to be aware of (let alone sympathetic to) their European neighbours (now or in the past) let me salute and help shine a light on the writings of Clive James whose Cultural Amnesia is a unique and amazing set of vignettes of European.

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