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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!

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Are Nations really masters of their fates?

I’ve just been doing an interview for a website about my experience of Romania. I found myself giving this rather severe response to one of the questions – 
Section 14 of my E-book Mapping Romania contains two excerpts from key books – the first from an article by a compatriot of mine (like me, with a Romanian partner) who moved recently from Bucharest to France.
It describes some typical scenes – which are also the focus of Mike Ormsby’s short stories about the country in “Never Mind the Balkans – here’s Romania” (You can read a couple of them here in “Bucharest Tales”). The second, longer excerpt is from a fat book called “When Cultures Clash” which includes good sections on both Bulgaria and Romania…  Section 7 has some further snapshots…… 
The overriding impression which remains with me is of a people who are unable to trust – and cannot therefore even begin to cooperate with - one another in matters of business or civic life….. This fascinating cultural map (which uses 2 different measures of values) puts Romania half way down the left part of the diagram.......The map is explained here…..

This raises fundamental questions about how free we are to shake off cultural values….Authors such as de Hofstede; Ronald Inglehart; FransTrompenaars; and Richard Lewis (in When Cultures Clash) tell us how such values affect our everyday behaviour. One Romanian academic, for example, tried, a few years back, to apply the important de Hofstede cultural concepts to Romanian organisations).  
And there is a body of literature called “path dependency” which indicates that such behaviour deeply affects a country's institutions and is rooted in long-distant events and quirks of history. But few authors, it seems, are brave enough to look at conscious efforts to reform such institutional behaviour..

Germany, for example, used to be well-known for its “Sonderweg” ie the distinctive historical and cultural path it had trodden – superbly critiqued by Fritz Stern…..But, somehow, it seems in the last 70 years to have shaken that cultural tradition off...How exactly did that happen? I vividly remember reading Ralf Dahrendorf's sociological analyses of the issue in the 1970s

An obvious reason for the lack of trust in country such as Romania is that it experienced 50 years of totalitarian rule from 1945- but, as Sorin Ionitsa has explained, the Ottoman and Greek Phanariot influences of 1700-1870 seem to have left stronger behavioural influences! 
When I was in Poland very briefly in the early 90s I was struck immediately with the paranoiac level of distrust which separated the various groups (which sadly continues to poison that country’s political development) I don't know to what to attribute that....

The obvious question which follows is what those in authority in those new EU Member States – eg in the universities – have been doing to try to encourage more cooperation eg in the cross-border field? When I was on a Fellowship in the States in the late 80s I had come across a fascinating structure called City Leadership which brought leaders from all sectors of city life (inc Unions, NGOs, churches, culture etc) together once a month to forge bonds of understanding. There is a global version of this here – although I can’t speak of its success.

A booklet on Poor Policy Making in Weak States produced by Sorin Ionitsa in 2006 - is one of the best attempts I’ve seen to face up to the issue.  But, somehow, our current elites are too smug and complacent to bother with such basic questions.......It seems easier to use meaningless technocratic rhetoric than admit to bafflement.
I would like to see elites express more realism, modesty…indeed humility about what is possible…..

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