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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, January 15, 2017

Impervious power

For more than a decade I lived and worked in states in central Asia and central Europe which were (and remain) systemically corrupt – my work being in “small islands” of institutional improvement which had been negotiated as part of a much wider international reform effort. 

In Transit- notes on good governance” was the little book I used as a calling card in Uzbekistan (3 years); Azerbaijan (2 years); Kyrgyzstan (2 years), Bulgaria (2 years) and, more briefly, Romania (whose project management I could take for less than a month), 

I devoured the literature first on “transitology” (early reading was captured in the 2nd chapter of "In Transit") and then on “anti-corruption”….and tried, in various papers, to make sense of my experience .

In 2007 I brought my critical thoughts together in a paper Missionaries or mercenaries? presented to the Annual Conference of Network of schools of public admin in central and eastern Europe which I updated in 2011 as a result of an important policy paper about the European Commission’s programme of Technical Assistance  which tried to address the criticism.
That second paper was called The Long Game – not the log-frame – and, in it, I coined the phrase “the impervious state” because of the ease with which, for various reasons, systemically corrupt political regimes have been able to deflect criticism (both domestic and from international bodies) like water slipping down a duck’s back. Sadly, the phrase didn’t stick but states continue to be (ever more) impervious to public discontent.

And, equally sadly, Romania is a prime example of both this systemic corruption and apparent public indifference. There were no celebrations at the beginning of the month – when the country might have been expected to be celebrating what was, after all, the tenth anniversary of its membership of the European Union and when indeed it was celebrating the 27th year of freedom from the iron grip of Ceaucescu.

Privatisation was a policy insisted on by global institutions after 1989 but was favoured by apparatniks and leaders of many political parties in the region as a means of enriching themselves.
State bodies were left alone - as the fiefdom of these parties - with “reform” efforts consisting basically of new acronyms and rhetoric. 
Lack of any serious reform efforts meant that Romania had no chance of being allowed into Europe in 2004. Although its membership was approved in principle in 2005, a system of annual monitoring and verification reports was installed from 2005 - and is actually still in place for judicial reform. Indeed its eventual membership was allowed 3 years later largely because of the reform efforts of the Minister of Justice Monica Macovei - appointed in 2004 by newly-elected President Traian Basescu

It was however typical that the very day after Romania entered the EU (and therefore escaped most of its “conditionalities” ), the Romanian Senate voted for Macovei’s resignation which duly came the following month…..  – just one of so many attacks over the years by politicians and the media on attempts to sustain an independent judiciary

The Anti-Corruption Agency (created in 2003) has managed to hang on….although it is clear that many of the subsequent convictions have been on the basis of tenuous evidence…..public support remains high (judging perhaps it better to have a few“Al Capone” type convictions than let the systemically-corrupt walk free)….
 
It is remarkable how few Europeans know (let alone care) about Romania. Tom Gallagher is an academic who published his Theft of a Nation – Romania since Communism in 2005; Romania and the European Union - how the Weak vanquished the Strong (2010); and has written over the years frequent columns for the European and Romanian press. His interests, however, are much wider which means that the occasional article by outsiders who know little of Romania (such as these by Dennis McShane and David Clark) can so easily (and shamelessly) mislead.
Gallagher must have French and German equivalents but I don’t know of them…. 

Alina Mungiu-Pippidi is a highly respected academic indeed one of the world’s foremost writers on anti-corruption efforts (now based in Berlin) but her efforts to help her country are attacked by the local corporate media….since she is seen as parti-pris…..Here is a typical piece she wrote about her country’s successful efforts in outsmarting the EU.

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