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!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Getting to Denmark

Readers know that, for the past 24 years, I’ve been involved in efforts to strengthen the effectiveness of various state institutions in such countries as Azerbaijan, Bulgaria (where I am now), Hungary, Kyrgyzstan, Romania and Uzbekistan. I’m trying at the moment to edit a collection of my musings over the past 5 years about this work – to which I’ve given the tentative title of “Getting to Denmark” which is the rather ironic phrase used in the last couple of decades to refer to one of the basic puzzles of development – how to create stable, peaceful, prosperous, inclusive, and honest societies (like Denmark).
We owe the phrase to Francis Fukuyama - of "End of History" and The Origins of Political Order fame – although the issue is one to which thousands of experts have bent their minds and careers for more than half a century.
Fukuyama’s small 2004 book “State-Building: Governance and World Order in the 21st Century” appeared at the end of a decade which had seen organisations such as The World Bank lead the charge against the very notion of the State. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, after all, had confirmed the anti-state, pro-greed philosophy which had begun to rule Britain and American during the Reagan and Thatcher years and became enshrined in the global ideology which has ruled us since - of ruthlessly transferring state assets to the private domain.

Fukuyama’s focus on how state capacity could be strengthened went, therefore, against the grain of a lot of thinking – although his main interest was trying to understand what makes some states successful and others fail? To what extent, he was asking, can we transfer our knowledge about what works in one state to another?
We know what ‘Denmark’ looks like, and something about how the actual Den­mark came into being historically.
But to what extent is that knowledge transferable to countries as far away historically and culturally from Den­mark as Bulgaria, Moldova and Romania?”

To be honest, his question didn’t mention Bulgaria and Romania - but, rather, Somalia. But the question remains since Bulgaria has made absolutely no progress in the last 25 years. And Romania only in the last couple of years.
Here’s how a Bulgarian friend of mine put it recently..
Now, how can we talk of any improvement when from 9.0 million in 1989 the Bulgarians today number 7.5 million? An estimated 2.0 to 2.5 million people having left for good, of which about half represent the quintessential “brain drain”. This exodus represents in my view a self-inflicted national genocide that the ruling Nomenklatura is collectively guilty of, and should one day be held accountable for.
How can we talk of improvement in the economic situation of a country which 20 years after 1989 has a GDP about the same size as it was then? What do we make of the facts that today:·      
-      about one third of the population is living below the poverty line;
·         about one third is just hovering at and above it;
·         the minimum monthly salary is less than 150 euro;
·         the minimum pension is less than 140 euro, and that is just above the (official) poverty line; you might want to learn that there are about 3 million retired people in this country – obviously a large portion of them seek additional source of revenue, such as e.g. in the grey economy; the rest rely on remittance from abroad, in order not to starve, the alternative being scavenging the garbage bins;
·         the average monthly salary is less than 350 euro – if we assume that it is realistic, which it is not, being an official number as well, but it’d be too long to dwell on here;
·         before 1989, all Gypsies were working and all their kids were studying in school; today most Gypsy parents are unemployed and on state benefits (apart from those pestering the French, the Italians, Brits etc.) and – protected by idiotic EU policies – engage in theft, damage of property and all kind of other criminal activities, begging apart; and the majority of Gypsy kids boycott schooling, whatsoever;
·         before, education, medicare, social security, recreation were all free or quasi-free of charge – no more today;
·         before, there was an incredible emphasis on culture; today cultural life in Bulgaria is a 24 carats example of the perfect disaster;
·         before, there was respect for the traditional values (we are one of the oldest peoples in the world, respectively claiming one of the richest palette of traditions), unlike today when the only “value” ruling over here is the very same – first and only one – that rules America and, after being imported a while ago, in Western Europe: making money, and fast!
·         From a reasonably well economically developing – albeit under Soviet diktat – and prospering – no unemployment, no poor, no beggars, every citizen “middle class member,” no illiteracy, no housing problem, surplus in food, export of manufactured goods – country then, today’s “democratic” Bulgaria manifests all the characteristics of a banana republic and keeps sinking in the ranking, already a Third World member by most measures. What a remarkable accomplishment, indeed!
In brief, the “transition” from “Communism” to “Democracy” has brought the Bulgarian state to its knees and the Bulgarian people have been impoverished as never before in the country’s millennia old history. Contrary to popular belief, membership into EU has further contributed to the disaster. I have explained this in detail in my recent book “Bulgaria, terra europeansis incognita
No wonder all independent polls today report that in 60-80% of the responses, within the relevant age groups, people consider having been better off prior to the arrival of “Democracy!” The masses being nostalgic to “Communism” is the true achievement of 20+ years under “Democracy” – that is the only real result which you could, in all fairness, take pride in contributing to, if you wish, no objections here. 
Now, before you stick to me a label of Commie or another affiliation of that sort, let me inform you that, in 1982, I defected to Belgium, where I am a citizen with accomplished career of executive in the microelectronic industry, recently retired, and my Bulgarian citizenship was restored only in 1994. Moreover, in 1954 my father, a regional enterprise director in Burgas, Bulgaria, was sentenced to death by the Communist “People’s Tribunal” for “economic sabotage of the young socialist republic,” in a mock up of a trial designed to scare the populace into submission. In 1955, at the age of 35, he has been executed, leaving behind a son of 7 and a daughter of 2; my mother has not been given the body, nor have we been shown his grave.
Nobody else, therefore, could be better qualified as advocate AGAINST Communism. …..but Communism (a single party Nomenklaturocracy) and Representative Democracy (a multi-party one) are basically the same animal, the ideology being used essentially as a tool to justify how all elites stay in power.
My recent post about the result of the Romanian Presidential elections shows that Romania has at last started to pull itself out of the vicious downward spiral. Time now to explore the reasons for these divergent paths in neighbouring countries.  
This 2009 paper by Alica Mungiu Pippidi - House of Cards – building the rule of law in ECE - gives a good insight into the efforts the EU has made in the past decade to get ex-communist countries to break away from their gangster cultures. But it doesn’t begin to explain the different paths these two countries have taken in the past few years…….


  1. To look at the President as a Providential man, is a mistake or a pitfall and it's unfair toward the president. In Romania, the President has limited constitutional powers, his main role being the role of mediator of the political arena. We had another President (Emil Constantinescu) who came with on a similar wave of support and he declared at the end of his mandate "I' ve been defeated by the system (sic!)"

  2. It is unfair not to mention women next to wine, books and art. You, Mister, have at least 4-5 women that are still playing an important role in your life! the same for music!

  3. Re the last comment..... stand corrected!
    However the link I give in the last para of my post makes it clear that the optimism Romanians are entitled to feel at the moment is entirely down to improvements in the judicial system which the link tries to explain (for those unfamiliar with Romania).
    I agree that Presidential powers are limited in the country; that the Constantinescu rule was a failure; and that the odds are still stacked against a new President making much impact

  4. I am ready to bet with anyone that any next President will make no difference either. We are dealing with systemic problem here and no individual or a party - as long as it is composed by professional politicians - will change things for better. The professional politicians constitute the problem with Representative Democracy and only a change to Direct Democracy will bring us out of the current mess.

    The judicial gang - whether in Romania or any other country - is inevitably contaminated, in a Representative Democracy, and then corrupted so that to serve the Nomenklatura of which it then becomes indelible part.

    Above is a part of the evolution of Nomenklaturocracy, and different countries are in a different stage. Sadly, it goes the pattern I have described earlier, and - lest we do something about it - we shall see further deterioration.

  5. Two and a half years later I'd challenge anyone to demonstrate to me any improvement brought in by any new President, PM, etc. The system is rotten and it has to be replaced by the new, superior one (Direct Democracy - or Anarchy, which is the same thing), if we are to see things changing for better.