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!
The Bucegi mountains - the range I see from the front balcony of my mountain house - are almost 120 kms from Bucharest and cannot normally be seen from the capital but some extraordinary weather conditions allowed this pic to be taken from the top of the Intercontinental Hotel in late Feb 2020

Monday, January 31, 2011

Preachers of unreason

What a dangerous stage The United States has reached when its main broadcaster on Fox TV is conducting an ideological campaign of hatred against a 78 year-old woman (for something she wrote in 1966) allowing death threats against her to appear on its official website. This is not just a reflection of the violent ant-liberal mood in the States – since Fox TV is one of the main engines of this hatred.
A very thoughtful blog reminds us how anti-liberalism poisoned the politics of Weimar Germany and paved the way for Nazism. The post summarises something else written in the 1960s – The Politics of Cultural Despair - which looked closely at the ideas of three writers whose critique of modernity in the late 19th century, the author (Fritz Stern) argued, prepared the mental ground for the acceptance of Nazism.
The central focus of this cultural criticism was the fact of modernity - liberalism, secularism, Manchesterism, consumptionism, and individualism. These were conservative critics; they favored an earlier time that was more traditional, moral, hierarchical, and religious. They preferred villages and towns to cities; they preferred cultivated thinkers to merchants and professionals, and they feared the rise of the proletariat.
By liberalism they meant to encompass several ideas: individualism, self-interest, parliamentary government, and glorification of commerce and the market. And their criticisms were unswerving: they hoped to turn back all of the liberal democratic and industrial transformations that modern Europe was undergoing.
The movement did embody a paradox: its followers sought to destroy the despised present in order to recapture an idealized past in an imaginary future. They were disinherited conservatives, who had nothing to conserve, because the spiritual values of the past had largely been buried and the material remnants of conservative power did not interest them. They sought a breakthrough to the past, and they longed for a new community in which old ideas and institutions would once again command universal allegiance.
The conservative revolutionaries denounced every aspect of the capitalistic society and its putative materialism. They railed against the spiritual emptiness of life in an urban, commercial civilization, and lamented the decline of intellect and virtue in a mass society. They attacked the press as corrupt, the political parties as the agents of national dissension, and the new rulers as ineffectual mediocrities. The bleaker their picture of the present, the more attractive seemed the past, and they indulged in nostalgic recollections of the uncorrupted life of earlier rural communities, when men were peasants and kings true rulers.
America's First Amendment is a sacred thing - but, in allowing hatred to continue spew from Fox TV and the airways when its citizens are looking for scapegoats for their troubles, is storing up trouble for American society. Anyway, the woman gives as good as she gets - see hereFritz Stern, the author, is a marvellous historian born in Breslau/Wroclaw in 1926 who escaped to America in 1938 and wrote a powerful autobiography essay which I read a few years back with great pleasure and benefit - Five Germanies I have known. He is a highly engaging character - as you can see both from his book and this video of him introducing it
Watching the video reminded me of the great interviews Clive James has on his website – and I liked his short piece attacking the rebranding which Britain’s privatised railway companies carried out you can see half-way through (3 mins 50 secs to be precise) this video interview about George Orwell.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Le Flaneur

Back into the tiny gallery on San Stefano St (at what I think is the north-east corner of Doctor’s Sq at the University area) to have another look at the large Tomev coastscape painting.
Then into the marvellous Alexander Nevsky church and am shocked to see the deterioration in the Nouveaux Arts paintings – many of which have large patches of white (dampness?) spreading downwards.
I stroll to the City Gallery to try to buy another copy of their large catalogue which has a (black and white) reproduction of every painting they have in stock. Only to find that they have some sort of problem with their little shop and they can’t sell its books! All that seems to be missing is a key – and the authority and/or the goodwill for the 2 people lounging at the reception! It reminds me of the situation in Bucharest where – despite the cutbacks – there are apparently many small heritage buildings and facilities with surplus staff.

I have a nice wander around a (quiet) centre – wondering once again why the young Sofians profess to disliking the place. To me it’s a painter’s paradise – not just the friendly little galleries but also the charm of the urban landscape with a mixture of old houses and 4 storey blocks – the space between always revealing a nice perspective. And almost no high rises – as if the supremely ugly 20 story M-tel block on Hristov Botev opposite the majestic beauty of the Ministry of Agriculture building is there to serve as a warning to modernists. The 2 towers of the Ministry building are unique for me. Sadly, however, there is a huge hole in the ground on the corner with Macedonskiya Bvd.
I look again at the painting of Varna port in the gallery at the top of Tsar Samuel(it’s a contemporary - by Lubomir Arnaudov – for 220 euros)
A visit to the small music shop at the end of Solunska St (beside the Methodist church) confirms my fears about the consequences of the change in ownership – a year ago it had in the basement one of the best collections of classical music I had ever seen and now that is gone and the choice much restricted. I need music when I’m working or reading – and forgot to bring some with me. I manage to fiind a nice collection of Bassoon concerts and an historical recording of Richard Strauss and Belle Bartok.
The Assen Vasilev gallery is just across the road and, although its stuff is more superficial, I pop in – after all I have bought a couple of things there. And, indeed, I recognise a Mitko Dimitrov painting and indeed pick out one of his without realising its his – a rather stormy slightly surrealist one with a country church at the top of a hill and a view down a valley to a distant village. Has a nice symbolic touch for me – and only 125 euros. Not quite sure…...My collection is now at the stage I have to be careful about having too many landscapes with houses; I need more seascapes and, above all, paintings with people! And one picture catches my eye – with lots of people in a square, It’s by 74 year old Ivan Manoilev – but a bit pricey for me.
14.00 sees me at Konos Gallery for my meeting with Yassen and his other gallery friend who are bringing some more paintings in for me to look at. This time I’ve brought a wine – I tried to fiind a Brestovitza but could only manage a Telish. Nothing can be better than a bottle of wine, cheese, bread, friends and paintings! I’m introduced this time to Todor Kodjamanov (born the early part of the 20th century) whose 1940s quiet river scene with some beached canoes has a lovely soft pastel colouring. He’s sought after – but I can get this large painting for just under 1000 euros. And there are 2 seascapes for me to inspect – a large Petar Boiadjiev and smaller more dramatic Boris Stefchev which I quickly go for. The Russe Ganchev they have for me is not very exciting – he’s on my list because I liked the exhibition of his work I saw 3 years ago at the National Gallery but have not really taken to the 10 or so I have seen so far for sale. The tiny 1911 Alexander Mutafov river scene still entices – but is, of course, pricey. Clutching my Stefchev, I say goodbye with another session fixed for Monday afternoon – when, hopefully, they will have an Emilia Radusheva for me which has something in common with the one I already have (see top).
Amazingly I stumble across two more antique shops on the way home – one in a tiny basement next to the Assen Vasilev gallery. As I emerge, my attention is drawn to a river scene which is hanging outside (!) and it’s mine for 100 euros!
So ends a very pleasant Saturday flanant (wandering).
Today’s Observer has a touching article by a young Egyptian woman about the developments there and in some other countries of the Arab world

Saturday, January 29, 2011

State hypocrisy

The upheavals in Tunisia, Egypt and even Yemen have shown the limits of both „authoritarianism” and of „democracy”. Those who rule without even the veneer of passive popular support are doomed to become currupt, inefficient and unjust; to repress the protest this creates – thereby creating a vicious circle of repression and protest. However, the arab world world is supposed to be fatalistic and immune from aspirations of democracy. So says a large (American inspired?) literature. And watching American statespeople cope with these protests is a real education about the reality of democracy in the USA. Two years ago, the world was full of hope when Barack Obama was sworn in as American President; but he has neither the will nor the capacity to change his country’s consistent support for dictators who give America what it needs – whether that is repression of alternative ways of governing or access to the petrol America needs.
And a year ago Hilary Clinton delivered a paen of praise to the internet – and its contribution to freedom and democracy. But her strong reaction to Wilileaks showed how empty and self-serving were her words. State interests conquer all.

People like Chomsky and Arundhati Roy have been exposing these hypocrisies for many years. The Guardian carries today a good interview with Roy - whose work, I have to confess, is not well known to me. A quick search threw up a strong 2002 piece on the damage Enron was doing in Indiaand a much more recent (and longer) article on the time she spent with Indian Maoist rebels in the field.
If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll know that I am interested in labels and Roy readily admits, in the Guardian interview, that she sees her writing as an important tool in the struggle for dignity and respect for ordinary people. In that sense she is a "writer", „activist” and „visionary” – although that latter term sits uneasily with activism. Someone (William Murtha) had a nice idea recently – to ask (200) people to put their vision into 100 words and also to list the five books which had inspired them. The result was – 100 words; 200 visionaries share their hope for the future I said it was a nice idea - not necessarily a good book! The invitations seem to have been restricted to "new age" Northern americans - and the contributors don't say why the books have inspired them. It was Scott London’s blog which put me on to this - at least in that posting he does give a nice little summary of what his 5 books meant to him.

Nice bit of serendipity yesterday - the 22 tram outside takes me to the old (outdoor) market in the down-at-heel area just past the mosque and Jewish synagogue. My main interest was the Araab shops - for spices for the flat. I had intended to have another look at a (modern) painting of Varna port which is a good buy at 225 euros but decided to check again on the Valmar Gallery (at 55 Stamboloyski Bvd where it crosses Hristo Botev Bvd) which seemd to have disappeared last time I tried to go in the summer. Lo and behold it was still there - and open - although its windows were covered in shrouds and it looked closed and derelict. To enter it is to enter an Aladdin's Cave. I showed Valery my list - and he spent the next 90 minutes hours pulling paintings from the piles. What a contrast with the reception you get when you go to the Viktoria Gallery (and auctioneers) - where you are met with a deadpan look!! Not satisfied with showing me examples of those I had on my list, he introduced me to the works of more than 15 painters whose work was sufficiently attractive to me to have me scribbling their names down. By the end, I had almost 10 paintings put to one side for consideration - having regrettfully passed on a 15,000 euros Nikola Tanev painting and a 4,000 euros painting by one Ianko Marinov (born 1902). But I did get a Dobre Dobrev (which I have been looking for for some time - an example is above) - and another Alexandra Mechkuevska to add to my collection.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Money, money, money

Good old BBC! They’ve saved me the airfare to Davos! At least two BBC journalists are there and blogging on their interesting conversations – Robert Peston (see links sidebar) and Stephanie Flanders. And I don’t even pay the BBC licence fee!

I was trying to check my statement about Bulgaria being one of a handful of net contributors to the EU budget – and came across this useful post about the consultation on the future of cohesion funds - from a blogsite - EU Law - I should add to my links.
The project here in Bulgaria in which I have a marginal involvement is the closest I have come to Structural Funds. I generally stay away from anything to do with European integration – since it smacks of „The man in Whitehall (Brussels) knows best!” I always prefer to work with governments which have a free agenda; and are actively choosing to engage in reform - not passively „complying” with EU requirements for membership.

Eastern Approaches has a good blog about the Hungarian government's clash with the EU on its media restrictions
And Transition Online have started a series giving some rare detail on the sources of finance of political parties in central europe – here’s one useful paper on the close links between commerce and Romanian political parties.
I suspect the figures are considerable underestimates – the benefits of political favour in Romania (and Bulgaria) are so great that I doubt whether a 40,000 euros contribution is going to get you very much!
The lyrics of Money, money, money are here.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

innovation; paintings; and paranoia

I arrive at the Forum Hotel just in time for the coffee break – and a chat with Stella, the Greek specialist on cross-frontier projects within the Structural Funds. She then leads a lively and interactive session (in Bulgarian!) with the 6 Bulgarian local officials who have been selected as co-trainers for the intensive round of workshops on SF which will start in March. I learn later that the problems Bulgaria is having with managing the money are so great that the penalties and clawbacks to which it is now subject means that it is currently one of only three EU member states which is a net contributor to the EU – the other two being Brtian and Germany! Stella makes a nice effort to bring me into the discussions by asking me why some countries have such a poor record in generalising the lessons generated by the various projects. I look quickly at a short exective summary of Good Practice on a Greening Regional development project which ran for three years led by the Environment Agency for England and Wales, South West England Region (UK) with a Europe-wide network of 17 legal partners from 8 EU Member States (UK, Austria, Spain, Italy, Malta, Poland,Hungary and Greece) and with a budget of 1.5 million euros. The results semed positive. My tentative answer would run at several levels –
• It’s a small budget – particularly for a complex cross-boundary project
• It’s doubtful whether key national actors saw the project as a demonstration or pilot one. It seemed to be more of a local initiative
• Bureaucracies have a cunning habit of giving innovative work to new sections and younger people while the mainline work trundles along on its old tramlines (I know from bitter experience in Scotland in the 1980s)
• Some governments have proactive strategies for encouraging mainline departments to work more innovatively. Most don’t. And strategies sometimes are never implemented! (remember Burns – „the best-laid schmes o’mice and men gang aft aglay”!)

There is a large literature on the huge differences between even older EU member states in implementation of new acquis obligations. This reflects different styles of government (in some cases absence of government!); and presumably this also the case for take-up of good practice?

After a good lunch with the group, I catch the number 5 tram (which arrives just as I reach the stop!) – and pop into to see Vihra and her Astry Gallery. You can get a sense both of what she brings to the venture – and also of the gallery and the annual exhibition she organises of smaller (30cms by 30 cms) paintings on this video.
Vihra is a friend of Yassan – and the two of them would make great partners for this idea of mine about a booklet about Bulgarian painting of the past century. I promised to draft a concept paper to discuss with them

Then off to the shops for final purchases for the Burns supper – which was, in the event, very enjoyable. The haggis – despite the initial suspicion with which it was received – was much appreciated; and some good wines follwed it down! In between it all there was some heavy discussion of the mess Bulgarian public administration is in - and the lack of trust, if not paranoia, which basically prevents any real cooperation. I remember the interview I had in 1992 in Warsaw with the LOcal Democracy Foundation where it was clear that an outsider simply could not win - either he knew too little about the Polish context; or he knew too much (and the wrong people). I had spent about 2 weeks in Poland in 1991 for the World Health Organisation and could drop some names - but they were probably not the right names! At that stage, Poland was notorious for the suspicion and paranoia - but at least they had an excuse! As Enzo says, countries like Romania and BUlgaria were wrongly called Eastern countries - they are actually southern. Everything operates by informal contact and the debts you build up. Superiors have to have the low-down on inferiors - and confident that they can control them.....

The latest issue of Eurozine has an article about how the newer EU members have developed in the last 20 years.
The painting is the one painting I own by Alexander Mutafov

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


As I wait in central Forum Hotel for the start of the Training of Trainers session which I am, as team Leader, to kick-off, I have a nice chat with Belin Molev (an architect by background and ex-Deputy Minister of Regional Development here for some years) who is now a key trainer for the ToTs for Objective Three SF work. I declare myself a terrorist as far as Malls are concerned and extol the civility of central Sofia - now hanging by a thread. The word „globalisation” is like a red rag to a bull – „more of us can and need to say simply NO” I thunder. Not the most diplomatic of ways to introduce oneself - but I feel a kindred spirit. Six local officials selected by an intensive process Dicon explain to me later have beaten the snowy conditions to get to the Hotel by 09.00 from various parts of Bulgaria – and are clearly keen to start this 2 day session which will launch them into about 25 two-day courses over the next 18 months. I open the session by saying how much I enjoy coming to Sofia (so true!); describing very briefly the training work I did here 3 years ago and saying that my favourite activity was the work with trainers like themselves (true again). They are the engine of the system! Not only do they need the (theoretical and practical) technical knowledge but they have to develop an understanding of (and sympathy for) the trainees’needs and, finally, they need to develop the methods and skills to meet those needs. And they need, above all, an open mind and passion. To treat each workshop as an opportunity for them to develop their understanding and skills. This was the lesson I took from my last project here – and whose philosophy and tools is captured in one of the papers on the website - What do we have to do to ensure that training helps people learn?.Then back to the Dicon Office – for a presentation of the draft Progress report. Very impressive how they in just 20 days (including Xmas and Boxing Days!!) got 140 CVs and whittled them down to 36 trainers for 6 modules (with 10 reserves) – and now have more than 3,000 officials designated by all 2oo plus municipalities available for workshops which will start in March and be held in each of the 40 Districts. This is a new role for me – hands-off, supportive, reflective. I’m glad I’m able to offer a couple of practical ideas – to which they seem receptive. The staff I meet are also impressive – particularly young Danny who is helping me produce a personal visiting card which I want to use to market my website. I’ve (almost) decided to use the designation „explorer”. Perhaps „explorer and epicurean”?? At lunch, he introduces me to a great dessert - honey, nut and whipped yoghourt!
I’m free by mid-afternoon – and in a hurry to get to Neros gallery – but I discover that the trams are no longer coming past the synagogue and mosque to Vitosha; the metro works are still going on and I have to walk. Par hasard, I pass the antique shop where D and I bought a couple of old carpets last summer from an old guy (Nedko) who was very knowledgeable about painters – and lo his son Koso has a colourful 60 year-old Chiprovci kilim for me at 50 euros! It’s nice to see Ruhman again at Tsar Samuel ulice and, this time, I have my list of painters - many of which he has! So 2 Russi Ganchevs and one Petar Boyadjiev are now under consideration. Then off to my friend Yassev’s Konus Gallery (Xan Aslarich 32) who sells contemporary paintings but knows the older painters and with whom I always have great chats. This one is enlivened with some tasty Yambolski Raki – and a visit to a friend Biliana who has a new Gallery a few minutes away on Tsar Assen ul – all of these are tiny little streets. She has some superb large aquarelles by a 35 year-old Bansko artist Atanas Matsoureff – and also some tasty champagne! A woman worth knowing.
I raise with Yassen my idea of producing a booklet in English about Bulgarian painters of the last 100 years – and learn from Biliana that he comes from a literary family. He is also working with some friends to try to bring some honesty into the tricky market for older paintings. He is perhaps the partner I have been looking for! When I ask him about the absence of the trams, he raises some doubt about whether they will actually return to the area - whose future planning has some uncertainty. Alarm bells start to ring - since, as I;ve said above, the Sofia centre is a unique European asset for me.
To round off a great day, I also find opposite this new gallery the small one I had bought my Bahar sketches in (an eccentric bearded guy) and also stumble across another gallery which combines paintings with wine; a few books; and weekly happenings (chamber music; folk etc) I am invited to come on Thursday evening. The place is called „Snezana’?? At this rate Sofia could get a nice little niche for itself as a European art centre! And what's even more satisfying is that it apparently replaces one of these dreadful "Diesel" branches. Now that is real progress - although I have to wonder about the economics of the cavernous Gallery - even although it does rent the place out for business functions. I manoeuvre round the metro constructions works at the Sheraton and have to wait only one minute before a 22 tram picks me up at the Mosque. Now there's divine design!
The photo is one of the walls of my Bucharest flat - already replete with Bulgarian paintings. The large one is by Milko Kostadinov - whose paintings also grace the Snezana walls

Monday, January 24, 2011

A typical old consultant's day

I was in my element in the morning – first a 20 minute stroll to the great little gallery in Stan Stefano ulice on the lovely square in the university area (highlydesirable old residential quarter) where I am known. These guys (along with the Neros Gallery just off Hristo Botev Bvd) have just the paintings I love. This time they introduced me to two new painters – delicate landscapes by Georgy Christov Rubev (trained in Prague in the 1930s) but a bit pricey at 750 euros; and Veselin Tomev (trained in Munich) who had a large coastscape with the most superb sea blue for the same price.
Then InterNos Gallery which I eventually found (with a number 1 trolleybus) at 58b V Levsky Bvd (after a slight incident with a hoodie who refuses to let me out from the seat!). It’s a larger gallery – covering my favourite period of the mid 20th century - but doesn’t quite come up with the goods. They did however have one small Boris Stefchev – for 250 euros – and I am keen to add him to my collection (also Russe Ganchev; Dobre Dobrev).
I had a meeting at 13.00 with my landlord (for him to bring extra chairs; fix wireless internet etc) but had time to visit the Tourist Info Centre cunningly concealed in the underpass opposite the University Entrance – and also the bookshop next to it (for more music).
Connecting to the internet is always a problem when I hit a new country (less so in central asia!) – so don’t talk to me about European Integration! So basic! Why doesn;t a company like Vodaphone (with whom I have a good deal in Romania) offer me a deal in Bulgaria – just next door????? It takes 4 young Bulgarians 90 minutes to set up a wireless system for me. In the meantime I have to find my haggis dealer – his phone number is on my E-mail but Mirela comes to my rescue and I set up a meeting for the transfer!
Then off to my 15.30 meeting with my new BG consultancy company, Dicon – just 10 minutes up the road I am assured. I’ve been told to look for an office next to block 204. The first place I hit (a 2 storey furniture shop) I’m told is number 50 (it’s not marked) and they tell me 200 is far away - so I catch another bus which seems to take me away from civilisation and I hop off at the next stop. There are flurries of snow and my patience is starting to wear thin (why can’t people put themselves in the shoes of visitors????). I phone – and am quickly rescued – to return to the (exact) point from which I started (shades of TS Eliot). Number 50 sits next to another 2 storey building – blue with graffiti – which is the one I was seeking! I tell my contact that in future they should forget about the address – and simply describe the place as the „blue 2 storey building with the graffiti next to the furniture shop"!! They think I'm joking - but I'm deadly serious!
The meetings go well – but not the simple task of printing a few Burns’ poems. It’s a pdf file – and the system can’t cope! But eventually I get the four critical ones (Address to the Haggis; Tae a Louse; Tae a mouse; A man's a man for a' that)
I know Sofia from the 2007 project I led here - when I rented a great flat for 18 months. The project was to develop a capacity to train local officials in the implementation of the famed European Acquis. And, in the initial months when we trapped in a game going on between consultancy companies and a corrupt Ministry of Finance, I had some fun working on the implementation and "compliance" (the key EU word) concepts. I was cheeky enough to use a famous Burns' quote as the lead for the Inception Report -
The best-laid plans o'mice an' men
Ganf aft agley
An' leave us nought but grief an' pain
For promis'd joy
The haggis assignment takes place outside a theatre. I wonder if Andy has ever been accosted for drug dealing?? It’s now 18.30 and I still really don’t have the proper accoutrements for a Burns supper so, after picking up tatties, carrots and (the superb Bulgarian) leaks (but no naps), I phone around and get agreement that Rabbie’s do will be postponed 24 hours!!
The painting is a Petar Velchev I have - up in Sirnea.

Snowy sunday in Sofia

So much for my theory about the warmer weather in the south – I awake at 05.00 Sunday to the sight of the streets and buildings suffused in the yellow glow of street lighting with snow which has followed me south. I count my lucky stars that I decided to make a break for it yesterday rather than delaying until today when the road conditions will be horrific. Good also that I have brought my mountain boots in the car which I’ll need to struggle to the galleries and Knigomania bookshop today. But first another trip to the detested Mall – arriving just before it opened at 09.00 and had the place to myself. One of the cleaners was very helpful in taking me to get the papers stuff – I shook his hand – such kindness is becaming rare. Perhaps my (collapsible) aluminium stick helps!
I try to avoid the wine section – but, after picking up rye bread and gorganzola cheese, am drawn like a moth to a flame to the section – of course just to check what new brands there might be a year or so since I had the leisure for such an aesthetic trip. Katarszynski wines had something new but its too pricey – so I buy a Chardonnay from the Magret range I found a couple of years ago produced in the gangster lands at the Greek and Macedonian borders (3 .50 euros a bottle) and what purports to be a 2006 Brestovitza merlot reserve which I used to get from my wine cave on Macedonski Bvd (3 euros a bottle). The bottles are entirely for scientific purposes (!) – to test against the 2 euros a litre Romanian wines I have brought with me (the Romanian Recas white scores; and so does the Brestovitza which has a buttery finish) . Having dumped the produce in the flat, I found the ticket booth for the tram tickets open and was able to get a 22 tram to just beneath the lovely Alexander Nevsky Cathedral – few antique touts were braving the weather conditions in front – so I went on to the City Gallery which had just started an exhibition of Nikolay Boyadjiev (what’s the connection with Petar I wondered) – but it did not open until 11.00. Graffiti outside the empty little art kiosk just to the Gallery’s left tell me that „Danes are racists” What’s that about ??
So on to the Knigomania bookshop – near the British Embassy. Glad to see it’s (still) open – but slightly disappointed with the range (and prices). After an hour of browsing (and tempted only by Katharine Mansfield, Raymond Chandler and Ernest Hemingway) I emerge with a nice edition of Louis de Bernieres Birds without wings about the emptying of the Greek Anatolian villages a century ago - I had left my hardback copy in the library of the Azeri Civil Service Agency. My knees are beginning to ache – but I wanted to get back to see the City Gallery’s special exhibition – picking up a couple of discs to have for the music system (Cesar Franck; and Giuliani) and also an update of the great little guide of the Bulgarian Association for alternative tourism www.baatbg.org which gave me a couple of years fantastic prices (12 euros) for superb rural accomodation here. A must!! And prices are still very reasonable.
I was very taken with the N Boyadjiev exhibition – the first, it claimed, since his death in 1963. He was born in 1904 and, according to the publicity sheet, was kicked out of the Painters’ Association just before his death for refusing to toe the line on socialist realism (as so many of the younger PhD generation is now toeing the line on EU integration!!).

Beating the snow - drive to Sofia

Snow forecast for all Saturday in Bucharest – but just a flurry at 07.00 as I drove off, alone, for first a Russe meeting at 09.00 with Zhechka my great local colleague on the project 2 years ago who has an office both in her home town and in Sofia. The flurries grew thicker as I crossed the Danube at 08.30; bought my Bulgarian road vignette for the year (34 euros not bad) and met up with Z who took me to her office for coffee and briefing - she tells me she managed to get the rent of an office suite (and shared common facilities – an entire floor) dropped to 200 euros a month! The route she led me to exit Russe took me past some great fin de siecle buildings (by the gorge) and, with some trepidation, I joined the snow-flecked highway – thinking I would be lucky to make my 16.00 meeting in Sofia with my Italian friend Enzo’s landlord but in the event – with the snow flakes disappearing as I had anticipated as I headed south - I was able to phone him at 14.00 (on the start of the Balkan mountains highway) to report that I would be an hour early!
I had had some initial difficulty finding a place to rent for 2 weeks when, just over a week ago, the Dicon company announced that my presence would be appreciated on 25 and 26 January for the start of the training activities of the project of which I am (titular) Team Leader.
Initially they said they would be happy to recomend a flat for me (they have, after all, a local office – and experience of people needing short-term rents). I refused the palace their agency first offered me – and accepted the next 2 (they had problems paying a deposit for me!) but, when I said I wanted a small dining table to celebrate Rabbie Burns’ birthday, the letting agency warned me that their flats were not suitable for „meetings and parties”!
My bawdy reputation of laughter and poetry must have spread from 2001 Tashkent and 2008 Sofia! Assuring them of my respectability and sobriety (and calling my previous landlady here into the lists – the widow of a Bulgarian Ambassador), they first graciously accepted and then (after overnight reflection) rescinded. I consider this quite a feather in my cap at my age!
And (to continue the metaphor) hats off to Enzo – whose friend Blago came to the rescue (at very short notice) with a flat they normally don’t offer for short-term rentals. It’s for long-term rentals to Bulgarians who normally bring their own facilities – so it lacked the basics – eg kettles, pots and pans, knives and forks, reading lamps, radio, bedding (!!) – so Blago was very good in trekking around with me to get this stuff in. A young man with a majority shareholding in his own (property company), he drives a plush Mercedes – as do all the best young men like my friend Ivo (I almost said Iago!). And Zhechka tells me that my young (ever so diplomatic and skilful) friend from the Institute of Public Administration here in 2007/08 is not only still there – but is now the Director!!
I’m always happy to drive down the pass from the Balkans into the bowl of Sofia – the first time I saw it (on my way to Thassos in early summer 2007), I was horrified by the smog which concealed the famous Vitosha mountain which towers over the central pedestrian st (Vitosha) where our office was. But I’ve seen glorious views of the mountain as I’ve completed my drives from Bucharest (to emulate the painting I have). Today fog and smog prevented vision. Another disappointment was the experience of yet another fucking shopping mall (Siderca – 10 minutes walk away from the flat). But this latest is so huge that we actually got lost in it. Typically neither the flat nor the mall had any reading lamps (stupid man! But the Bucharest IKEA has such fantastic deals so there have to be some readers here!). At least there is a wine barrel shop nearby (from Divin no less – not far from Romanian Recas the other side of the Danube whose Pint Griș/Riesling I have actually brought with me – for Burns’ night - in a 5 litre drum)
Neither the central heating nor the internet is yet operational in the flat – but heating is adequate – and 48 hours without access to the internet is an excellent discpline – not least encouraging me to read some of the large volume of stuff I:ve downloaded in the last few months!
The painting is a Dobre Dobrev

Friday, January 21, 2011

academic amnesia

I mentioned some time back O Wright’s Envisioning Real Utopias – whose entire book I had downloaded (for free). I had read the first few pages; (literally) skimmed the rest to get a sense of its coverage (Mondragon and Port Alegre looked worthy case studies) and kept it on desktop rather than placing in my „alternatives” file to encourage reading. But it has not, since, drawn me in – and a very tough review on what should be a sympathetic site – Dissent - tells me that my laziness has saved me from wasting my time! Apart from the other faults listed in the review, the book’s 287 pages have apparently less than 40 pages on the 4 case studies (whose haphazard selection is not justified); even worse, desite the title, there is no referencing to other writing on „realistic”utopias! The book apparently reflects the incestuous, self-referencing world of an academic (American) sociologist.
We are so overwhelmed by books and learned articles that one of the first things I look for in such works is an indication that the author is familiar with and references what has gone before – as Google Scholar puts it – „stand on the shoulders of giants”. Otherwise we are reinventing the broken wheel - going round in circles – letting the blind lead the blind – whatever metaphor you care to use. I criticised Will Hutton’s most recent book for this weakness in relation to recent discussions about inequality. A recent article in Political Quarterly (by an Australian Professor – Ian Marsh) displayed the same amnesia. I can't give a link to the article but you can get a sense of his particular intellectual baggage here. His review looked at the change mechanisms behind the „deliverology” of the last New Labour Government as justified in books by Michael Barber and Julian le Grand. Le Grand (who has the better pedigree) suggests there are 4 basic mechanisms - professional trust; targets; voice and markets. Barber has three - command and control (targets); quasi-markets; and devolutiona and transparency.
The three authors seem unaware of two classification schemes produced 15 years ago by the 2 key writers about public reform – Guy Peters and Chris Hood.
Peters suggests that administrative reform can be reduced to four schools of thinking - "market models"; "the Participatory State"; "Flexible Government"; and "Deregulated Government". Like Peters, Hood attempts to reduce the whole literature on admin reform to four basic schools. He uses grid-group theory (“grid” denotes the degree to which our lives are circumscribed by rules – “group” indicates the extent to which we are governed by group choice) to give a matrix of -
- Hierarchist (high on both)
- Individualist (low on both)
- Egalitarian (high on group; low on grid)
- Fatalist (high on grid; low on group)

Marsh seemed to think that the answer lies in the work of C Sabel whom I vaguely remember writing in the 1990s about the modern northern Italian craft complexes and who is now into deliberative discourse stuff which again makes little or no reference to the theories of administrative reform and organisational change (Gerry Stoker is much better on this.)Instead it gets us into the highly incestuous and opaque field of European studies – many of whose contributors seem to be young, with no experience of life and living off European Union grants.

I realise that, by now, I should know better than to bother with Google Scholar and the academic turds it fishes up. But (like consultancy) there are so many hundreds of thousands of robots being churned out from the academic factories that some of us have to keep track of the poison. And yes - I will admit to some prejudice here (!) – and would be happy to be persuaded out of my cynicism. But I am happy to have the chance to use a (1940s Port Glasgow) Stanley Spencer painting so quickly after mentioning the series he did. It's "Riveters" - and so appropriate!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

West of Scottish bards, comics and painters

First, congratulations to the West of Scotland poet and dramatist, Liz Lochhead, who was yesterday appointed to the position of national poet (or „makar”) – a position invented a few years ago by the First Minister of the new Scottish Government and held first by Edwin Muir. Ironically the only poem of Lochhead’s which seems to be online is the entitled "Poets need not be garlanded":

Anyway, it’s a nice idea – although I’m a great fan of Tom Leonard’s poetry myself but he generally writes in a strong West of Scotland accent – the good thief will give you the idea (you need to know that the thief is hanging on a cross and speaking to Jesus!).
That poem led me onto the Billy Connolly’s scabrous humour In addition to explaining some of the words, I also pointed out to Daniela one of the historical specialities of these quality West of Scotland comics (Greenock-born Chic Murray was the best) who simply took the meaning of common phrases and words apart – eg „Ï rang the bell – what else can you do with it?”.

Interesting that the poet WS Graham (much admired by TS Eliot)who so focussed on words and their fragility should also (like me) be from that town. And also quite a clutch of writers - John Galt, Davidson, George Blake, Alan Sharp,Ian Banks (briefly and in Gourock), playwright Bill Bryden and David Ashton(ne Scott) - the last 2 classmates of mine.

I realised that I will be in Sofia on January 25th – the birthday of Scotland’s real national bard – Rabbie Burns - and will try to arrange a small „do”for my friends there to celebrate the man and his life and works (and Bulgarian, Italian, Romanian and Scottish poets – Italian for my friend Enzo will be present). Doubtless the hapless Hristov Botev will be one of the Bulgarian poets – the”romantic revolutionary” (against Ottoman rule) who must vie with Bonnie Prince Charlie for the title of The historical figure who "couldn'ae manage a menage” ("hopelessly impractical” in West of Scotland patois – except that I can’t find it online!

Haggis then jumped to mind ("it has that habit" - as Connolly or Chic Murray might have said) and I remembered that Sofia had an outfit which delivers British products to the door. Sure enough Andy was quick to reply and a couple of haggi (??) will duly wing their way to the flat next week - provided that is that I can find a flat! The local company with which I am working - Dicon - has proved very inefficient so far in that respect.
But, with 10 litres of good Dealu Mare and Recas red and white wine from Romania, we will toast absent friends such as Daryoush, Jacek and Zulfiya – with whom I have celebrated these evenings.
This - plus some Bulgarian wine which I have missed - should be enough for 8 people!!

Bought a copy yesterday of my favourite newspaper – Le Monde – it said it all that it devoted at least 5 full pages to the development in Tunisia. Can you imagine a british newspaper doing that??

I was trying to find a suitable industrial landscape painting of West of scotland online - but couldn't. Andy Hay did some great stuff a few decades back on shipbuilding (as did Stanley Spencer during the war) but this is the only painting I could find of his. And the great Stanley Spencer is very badly served by the War Museum who have all his Port Glasgow shipbuilding paintings but don't display any of them on their website!
All praise to poetry, the way it has
of attaching itself to a familiar phrase
in a new way, insisting it be heard and seen.
Poets need no laurels, surely?
their poems, when they can make them happen -- even rarely --
crown them with green.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Chinese administrative reforms in international perspective

OK out there – all thousands of you – the moment you have been waiting for has arrived! I have completed my paper for the Euro-Sino dialogue on administrative reform and all 35 pages and 72 footnotes are duly waiting for you here. To be fair, only about 20 odd pages are my own work – the rest is text gratefully borrowed from project ToR; the likes of Colin Talbot (who delivered a lecture in Beijing last year which I have reproduced as an annex); and the lists of books)
I am keen to get up the hill at the back because I leave today – and, typically, it is the most glorious weather of the entire week. Cloudless blue sky (except over the Bucegi peaks) but with a sharp white frost on the ground

The last thing I had to do this morning before converting the text to pdf and zinging it to the website was a Coda which I perhaps too quickly drafted – its peroration goes like this -
One has to respect the dignified way in which national power in China is shared in the party leadership; policies are hammered out behind the scenes in a dialogue which involves academics; and formal positions of nationals leadership pass in a regularised way from person to person every decade.
Perhaps no leaders in world history have ever had the responsibilities and expectations which those of China have today. Having achieved a remarkable economic transformation and wealth, the leaders of this massive country are now expected to deal with pollution and the poverty in which so much of its people still live; the inequity and systemic corruption; and also achieve a peaceful achievement to a system of Rule of Law.
Those who have the combination of audacity and good fortune to go to the country to assist those efforts – whether in teaching or consultancy – should have the humility to admit that they have no answers.
Not, of course, that their hosts expect that from their visitors. They have their own context and processes of and capacity for policy experimentation, deliberation and decision. They are painfully aware of their weaknesses; and look to their visitors for something which, unfortunately, seems to be in short supply – historical understanding. That is to say the ability to articulate the processes by which, for example, Nordic countries transformed themselves into the societies in which they are today. Sadly, western technocrats have colluded in recent decades to destroy a lot of that.
If a Euro-Sino dialogue can restore some memory and respect for what Europe had, it will indeed have been worthwhile.

Monday, January 17, 2011

wood and wisdom

There is little more satisfying in winter than raising a good axe above your head in the open air and bringing it down with a swift, so professional, movement to split a suitably sawn and well-seasoned chunk of wood! I take some pride in having heated myself, in my recent sojourns here, only with the wood from the branches I sawed from the 2 garden trees in the autumn (OK I take the nip off the air in my study with a burst from the electric heater!).
I made the mistake last week of using some logs which had not dried properly in the spare room – and so have now chopped some which have been in the open air and therefore season better. They are now in the bedroom, having a last bit of seasoning in the warmth of the bedroom (whose stove went out 15 hours ago but whose bricks continue to keep the room iincredibly warm). I will not need to light the fire again beforee my departure tomorrow. I’m off to Sofia for a couple of weeks - some business on a small training project I have there; meet old friends (including the wine!); and visit the art galleries for more paintings.
I’ve just taken the laptop out on the verandah after clearing the ashes from the bedroom fire to protect it from the ash particles and find that I can sit comfortably on the verandah – in mid January at 1,400 metres in the Carpathians (well for 15 minutes!) Great sounds – birds, folk music from somewhere and the inevitable sound of a power saw.
I’m now in the last stage of the paper relating to Chinese adminsitrative reform – over the week-end it grew an important section summarising (for me and the Chinese) the last 40 years’ history of reform efforts! This morning, therefore, I had to return to the start and explain the purpose of and audience for the paper. It has been written for anyone engaged in discussions about administrative reform in China – whether Chinese or foreign. The project I was to have led last year there was not only designed to assist indigenous reform efforts – but also service an EU-China dialogue about administrative reform. Perhaps, as a good Scot, I feel guilty about walking away from that – and want to make amends! Right now I am looking at a blank section with the headline „Coda” in which I want to leave some brief, final injunctions about reform endeavours. Any ideas? I think I want to say something about "balance" - relating to recent comments here about that. At the moment I have only two extended quotations – the first a TS Eliot poem which always crops up in my writing; the second Rosabeth Kanter’s 10 rules for stifling initiative.
I’ll sign off with the poem -
So here I am, in the middle way, having had twenty years -
Trying to learn to use words, and every attempt
Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure
Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
One is no longer disposed to say it. And so each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate
With shabby equipment always deteriorating
In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,
Undisciplined squads of emotion. And what there is to conquer
By strength and submission, has already been discovered
Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope
To emulate - but there is no competition -
There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
And found and lost again and again; and now under conditions
That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss
For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.
TS Eliot; The Four Quartets

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Missing history of administrative reform

Worked non-stop all Saturday on this briefing paper on Chinese administrative reform (Friday’s draft is here). Two developments got the creative juices flowing - first I discovered a method for giving my website papers higher visibility on the internet - I simply choose a title for a blog posting which is the same as one already on the first page of google search and then ensure there is a link in the blog post to my paper! So, as I scribble (or whatever word now captures the key tapping we all do now) I can imagine my phrases and insights hitting a spellbound global audience. Dream on!
Then, as I was grappling with the question of the lessons from 40 years of reform efforts in Western Europe, I was suddenly reminded of my 1999 book - in which I had tried to explain west european public admin reform to a central european audience. I was amazed to find that the argument and text still stands up pretty well eleven years on – and have duly uploaded it to the website - In Transit - notes on Good Governance Part I. What I had tried to do in chapter Four of that book was to emphasise how varied were the „explanations” we had in the 1970s about the sort of problem which required „reform”; and, therefore, how differently (despite the talk of New Public Management - NPM) reform programmes developed in different countries. I had also explained how, in the 1970s, the new breed of policy analysts had almost given up on the hope of getting the bureaucracy to operate in the interests of the public - „disjointed incrementalism” was the best that could be hoped for. And how public choice theory came along to give an ideological explanation and justification for what came to be called NPM. I was fighting bureaucracy in the 1970s and 1980s with a different (and simpler) theory – what I called the „pincer approach”- a combination of community action and strategic management led by politicians and explained in paper 50 of my website – Organisational Learning and Political Amnesia. In the 1980s, I was using the pamphlets of the Institute of Economic Affairs (on issue like road-pricing) with my students to show the practical applications to which economics could be put – never imagining that such neo-liberal thinking would soon dominate government policies. But in the mid 1980s I remember reading a long article by a neo-liberal American academic in The Economist about the need to introduce a split between purchasers and providers into the health system – and sending it with a warning note to the (Labour) Opposition spokesman in Parliament.
The technocratic fix of (young) consultants misses completely this politico-historical side of things – and I realise that my personal history (and extensive reading and international experience) gives me a fairly unique perspective on this issue of administrative reform. Anyway it encourages me to think I have!

And that is a good opening for a bit of trumpet-blowing. I got a very nice note a few weeks back from Tom Gallagher (author of Theft of a Nation – Romania since Communism and Illusion of Freedom; Scotland under nationalism and many other books) whom I had met up with for the first time in Bucharest in late November. He has kindly given me permission to reproduce his note which read -
“I came to Carpathian Musings fairly late in the day but I soon grew to appreciate the intellectual fire-power and also the aesthetic pleasures to be derived from following your thoughts and also your experiences in Romanian city and countryside. Indeed, I can't think of any other blog that works so well at very different levels; you are able to switch (seemingly effortlessly) from discussing the current deep politico-economic crisis, to appraising the books you are reading, casting a beedy eye on the delusional university world, to passing on your experiences as a bon vivant, sampling the cornucopia of seasonal foods, wines and your trophies from the fairs and antique market. You also explore your own life in an honest and constructive way. So you manage to be a cross between JK Galbraith, Fred Halliday, Egon Ronay and Dennis Healey - quite a feat”.
Praise indeed - particularly from such a writer! I have been trying to insert it as one of my list of quotes in the right-hand column of the site but have been foiled so far!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Morning surf

I gave a link yesterday to an interesting site – Musings of an Amateur Trader – which consistently gives detailed and self-confident assessments of the political and economic health of countries. Wow, I said to myself, this guy really gets around. Now I think I know why – it’s hardly a blog (it contains no profile or statement of purpose) rather the presentations from a risk agency called STRATFOR headed by a financier called George Friedman. Today’s entry is a detailed forecast of political and financial events in 2011 – with the text occasionally indicating STRATFOR’s methods or assessments (when the penny dropped). So this is the real stuff we are getting – for free!
While I was searching for info on them, I came across (a) a long and fascinating post from another forecasting blog on Stratfor reliability and also what looks to be a thoughtful blog by management consultant (!!) John Hagel.

I’m remiss in not having looked at the great Eurotribune website in the last few months – and did some catching up this morning of its diaries. It draws on a group of writers from various parts of Europe and America and does great interviews with people working at the cutting edge of social and economic development - particularly those working on food and farming issues (eg farming sovereignty) and in various African countries (a good series is the 1,000 word intros to those countries and the various garssroot initiatives they have). Good posts on Neo-feudalism and neo-nihilism; a pamphlet on the broken British economic model; and a discussion about trends in financial capitalism.

Clearly I shall have to update the list of favourite links I have on the right hand column of this site!
Now to return to the editing I have been doing of the two papers on China I have recently added to my website. The title I had originally given to my explanation for my resignation from the project there had been Mission Impossible and, when I changed it to Lost in Beijing,I had not realised there had been a steamy film with that title! I had actually been thinking of Bill Murray's Lost in Translation with the sad hotel scenes looking down on a megapolis. Right now I'm working on the other paper - a briefing note on Chinese Administrative Reform. One might ask why - since my website does not get many hits. But I am surprised by the frequency with which I can find a post of mine from this blog on a google search - so I hope that, with a suitable title, the paper (and website) might get a higher profile. Even although I say it myself, its library of papers and references seem to be unique!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Lessons in Transylvania

I've just received the latest issue of The Ecologist and it contains a great article by Laura Sevier, a freelance journalist, about traditional farming here in Transylvania. For the (few) lazy readers I have, let me reproduce the entire article here -
Transylvania has maintained traditional farming methods for hundreds of years. As it faces the twin threats of intensive agriculture and byzantine EU policies, its model of under-development is attracting the interest of policy makers. Forget Count Dracula. Deep in the heart of Transylvania, an altogether more mesmerising scene is playing itself out - a vision of what life must have been like in a medieval village. There's not a brightly coloured shop or advert in sight. Horse and carts clatter down the dirt track roads and cows wander freely. There are barely any cars. And behind the tall walls of each of the old Saxon houses is a self-contained ‘courtyard farm' complete with a wooden hay barn, livestock sheds and a small vegetable plot and fruit orchard.
In the distance are unfenced wildflower-rich grasslands and communal hay-meadows and beyond that, thick, old growth forests where bears, wolves and wild cats still roam.
This village, Crit, is one of the 150 or so well preserved Saxon villages and settlements of southern Transylvania that have remained almost unchanged for hundreds of years. The so-called Saxons were German colonists who immigrated to Transylvania in the 12th and 13th centuries and they were renowned for being hard working farmers. The smallholder lifestyle continues to flourish here today, with most villagers entirely self-sufficient.

The good lifeA typical household keeps poultry, a couple of pigs, 10-20 sheep, along with 2 or 3 cows that graze on communal village pastures by day and are milked by hand in the morning and evening in the courtyards. Fruit and vegetables are eaten fresh from the garden or preserved in pickles or jams for the winter months. As well as growing and rearing their own, villagers also slaughter and butcher their own animals. Every chimney has a special chamber for hanging meat (predominantly pork) for smoking. Many households make their own wine from homegrown vines and brandy from plums.
This self-sufficient way of life is still deeply ingrained in rural Romania, passed down from generation to generation. Farming dictates the rhythm of life here, both daily and seasonally - during the summer months, for instance, most families are out in their hay-meadows with scythes and rakes making hay for their cattle and sheep.
‘Practically everyone is a farmer in rural Romania,' says Nat Page, director of the charitable conservation foundation ADEPT. ‘Ninety per cent of villagers have land outside the village and their courtyard farms.' There are some shops but they're very basic - you wouldn't even know they were shops and most people only buy things they can't make themselves, like cooking oil, cigarettes and beer.
The food produced is organic in practice, although it's not certified because the costs of certification are too high. This low impact, ‘High Nature Value' farming allows nature to thrive. Wildflowers are abundant, and many of the mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, fish and insects present are rare or protected at national and international level, and have disappeared over much of Europe.

ThreatsADEPT focuses its work in the Târnava Mare area, 85,000 hectares in the heart of the Saxon Villages area and has had the area certified as a Natura 2000 site which gives it a basic level of protection.
There are, however, threats facing the landscape and local communities. ‘People are not being allowed to produce jams and pickles in their own kitchen because of excessive interpretation of EU law by the Romanian Food Standards Agency,' says Page. ‘They're being driven out of business and lovely old bakeries are still being closed down.' This, he stresses, is not what Brussels wants. ‘Brussels preaches diversity, flexibility and cultural traditions but it's up to the host country to implement it.'
Another problem is that 70 per cent of farmers are over 50 years old. Christi Gherghiceanu, ADEPT project manager who grew up in the area says, ‘people older than 50 are reluctant to leave their homes. They seem to be happy with their rural lifestyle. The rest of the population would rather abandon the villages because of the lack of financial opportunities in the area.'
The biggest threats to the landscape are intensive farming - artificial fertilisers would seriously damage or destroy the wildflower meadows and high stocking rates could lead to over-grazing - or abandonment of the land.

Farmers' markets‘Inevitably many of the smallest farms will disappear,' says Nat Page. ‘The average size of a farm here is 1.5 hectares. In five years time it will be three hectares. We can't say that everything is going to remain the same. But we can say we hope small- scale farming has a future in the area.'
Founded in 2004, ADEPT's main objective is to protect the fragile biodiversity of Transylvania and use it to benefit local communities. ‘We didn't just parade in with a load of money telling them what to do,' explains Page. ‘We employed local people and we've helped small farmers in the real world. If you want to conserve an area but there are no economic benefits, people are less responsive.'
ADEPT, funded by Defra's Darwin Initiative, Orange Romania and Innovation Norway, has assisted small farmers in two main ways. The first is to help them find a market by organising regular farmer's markets in nearby towns and cities and enabling producers to get their kitchens authorised (by persuading inspectors not to excessively interpret the Brussels guidance). ADEPT, based in the large Saxon village of Saschiz, also provides a modern ‘food barn' authorised by the Romanian Food Safety Authority where people can produce food. The 20 producers it works with now sell 70,000 euros worth of produce a year through markets, although ADEPT is keen to work with more. In addition, ADEPT has helped 65 small-scale farmers gain an income again by finding a market for milk. By working with them to improve hygiene and equipment, the farmers had their milk collection reinstated.
The second aspect of what ADEPT does is to help small-scale farmers get grants from the EU's Common Agricultural Policy. Many farmers own under 1 hectare, so don't receive basic Pillar 1 payments. ADEPT is dealing this at a policy level, promoting higher payments for small farmers.

To CAP it offADEPT has also helped farmers benefit from biodiversity conservation. As the area is a Natura 2000 and HNV landscape, farmers are eligible for CAP agri-environmental payments but these are not automatic - you have to opt for them. After running farm visits explaining the advantages of signing up, 75 per cent of eligible farmers within Târnava Mare have joined the scheme; this is four times the rate of uptake in neighboring areas which demonstrates the desperate need for farm advisory services in such areas.
This will too, of course, benefit plants and animals. ADEPT's botanist, Dr John Akeroyd, who often accompanies Prince Charles (a regular visitor to Transylvania) on his walks through this countryside says, ‘the grasslands in this area are uniquely rich in Europe and appear to be still in good heart thanks to continuing traditional management by local farmers'.
On a wider scale, Nat Page believes this project could even have an influence over the next phase of the CAP, 2013-2020, in favour of High Nature Value landscapes elsewhere. ADEPT has been asked to present its results at EU meetings in Brussels because it shows a way forward to protect the small-scale farmed landscapes and communities across all of Europe. The Commissioners for Agriculture and the Environment both sent encouraging video messages to the High Nature Value Grassland Conference organised by ADEPT in Sibiu in September 2010.
‘An amazing thing is happening within the EU,' says Page. ‘A few years ago everyone said these farms were irrelevant and policy favoured competitive farms. Now small-scale farms are seen as valuable for food and landscape, with massive benefits for flood and fire control, biodiversity and mitigation against climate change. They are increasingly appreciated as vital for Europe's future.'


A cold mist surrounded the house in the early part of the morning – but, as it slowly lifted, a wondrous sight was beholden. Each tree nearby and far was picked out - as in a touched up photograph - covered with iced snow. It was like a phalanx of phantom warriors. Question – what is the collection noun for a group of government leaders? It was none less than Harold McMillan, a Conservative UK Prime Minister in the early 1960s who gave a great answer to this question – “a lack of principals”! And, as the sun’s rays reached the branches, a rustling around the house as the icicles fell from them.

Paul Theroux is a travel writer who apparently arouses some feeling – his observations apparently offend some people. I find this genre an interesting one but personally prefer Colin Thubron. Theroux has reached the age of 69; started to write his autobiography; got to 500 words; and then realised he couldn’t be trusted to tell the truth about himself and found justification for closing his notebook on the venture by looking at the reliability of autobiographies over the centuries. I suppose blogs make a lot of us diarists if not autobiographers these days. One of the papers on my website attempts what one might call an intellectual autobiography - Search for the Holy Grail - Lessons from 40 years of fighting bureaucracy.

Simon Jenkins had a good piece on the issues behing the uncovering of an undercover policeman who was playing a prominent if not agent-provocateur role in the ecology movement.
And I've recently come across a blog - Musings of an amateur trader - which, like Boggy's blog - gives useful mini-lectures and country vignettes. This week on banking.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

An everyday encounter

Over the weekend I stayed at Ploiesti - some 50 kms north of Bucharest on the main road to Brasov; within sight of the Carpathian foothills; and easy reach of the Dealu Mare vineyards. For most of the 20th Century it was the Romania’s oil base – but the oil has now been bought up by foreigners and apparently put on reserve. As a result the City is now very pleasant – at least in its physical surroundings!
But Romanian petrol has become in the last 6 months the most expensive in Europe – the subject of some intense debate but for reasons for which I am none the wiser. If it interferes with the driving habits of the young Mafia here, I will be well pleased. We encountered one of the high Testerone guys on Monday – his smoked windows black Audi was dumped across the pavement leaving us only a body width to scrape through. We get very angry with this insensitivity – and swung our bags around as we passed – and a screetching dervish duly emerged to hurl insults at D who reciprocated. Testerone Ted (all of 24 years old – how can he own such a car???) came chasing after D – and physically prevented her from continuing her way – paintwork after all is their virility symbol. I returned to lend her moral support – just as a 50 year-old was telling her that if it had been his car he would have knocked her to the ground and trampled on her! Our protestations about illegal parking were brushed aside – even by a couple of cops who were summonsed after the guy grabbed my throat after his floosy objected to my banging my fist on his car. At my age I can (if I control myself) react passively - unlike the TTs. D and I were driven to the police station – with D facing a charge of vandalisation (for a hair scratch) but me prepared to counter-charge TT with assault. I was told that – as a foreigner – I could not enter the police station (!) and one of the PCs stayed with me. He was in his mid 40s – had been fairly hostile to us during the encounter – but now seemed to relax (good training??) and share my concerns about TTs.
When I was eventually allowed in, it was to meet the very impressive station boss – Tiberius no less – who spoke English and adopted a very common-sense approach – apparently threatening TT with both a parking charge and assault. He took D and me into his office and, while D was writing her testimony, told us about his various initiatives. A good guy – although D feels that the treatment had a lot to do with my being a Brit (and of a certain age)!

The next day – despite the overcast sky – I headed north to the mountains and D to Bucharest. The higher I climbed the more the sky cleared but immediately I hit the plain again at Rasnov I was into pea-soup mist again. The village, however, had not only clear sky but no snow! Rare for 1,400 metres in mid-January.
A box of Fassbinder films was waiting for me – as well as the news that one of my neighbours had died (88 year old husband of the small bent woman who chases her chickens and occasionally drops in for a coffee and biscuits. Duly lit the bedroom stove – and discovered that a leak has sprung in one of the bath taps (yes, I do have a bath – if no TV or fridge!). But I took the easy way out; turned off the water again and relied on the traditional water pitcher and bowl I bought recently. Assembled one of the marvellous standard lamps (with additional reading light) which IKEA is selling for only 10 euros – and settled down to read a fascinating book about the 3 Himmler brother written by a granddaughter of the youngest (Heinrich was the middle brother). How Nazism took hold of such a civilised country as Germany is a fascinating question which I have never seen dealt with adequately – it’s usually passed over in a perfunctory manner to get to the more exciting and shocking aspects of Nazism with which (as Peter Watson rightly points out in his recent book) the Brits have an unhealthy fixation. A lengthy, sympathetic but balanced story of the interaction of the stable family circle and unstable social and economic environment in which someone like Himmler grew up is an important aspect of our understanding of that period. Most of us know about the feeling of betrayal when the 1st world war was suddenly lost (The Kaiser had been hiding the truth); the communist putches in the various cities in the immediate aftermath and the recruitment of young soldiers to the Freikorps-type organisations which were created to put down these revolutionaries; the hyperinflation – but it is rarely told from the perspective of the ordinary person. Himmler’s father was a respectable Headmaster – and The Himmler Brothers by Katrin Himmler paints a powerful picture of how such people’s worlds crumbled.
And, finally, a good sample of recent coverage of China.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Chinese administrative reforms in international perspective

Exactly a year ago I was preparing to fly to Beijing – to start a major new project but I was not looking forward to the experience. Alarm bells had rung in the summer when I was first invited to go with the bid – and I told the contractors that neither the scale of the city nor the repressiveness of the regime appealed to me. Nor could I see what my experience could bring to the Chinese. What little I knew of the Chinese context suggested that it was so very different from anything I was used to.
But the temptation of seeing China was too great – and I agreed to go with the bid – not really expecting to win. We did – and the alarm bells started up again when I went to visit the contractors in November and began to realise what a gigantic bureaucracy they (let alone the EU) were! And that they wanted to offload virtually all the financial management to me as Team Leader. I prefer to focus on professional issues and let the contractors deal with finances.
I tried to put my foot down – but was still subjected to a lot of technical briefing about (expert) procurement and payment procedures which frankly bored the pants off me. When, 2 months later, we got to Beijing we were taken to the contractor’s huge offices there and subjected to the same briefing over several days with no Chinese counterpart in sight – at which point I began to realise that what was supposed to be a support system to us was in fact exactly the opposite. We were paying the local contractor’s branch office for services which were at best perfunctory - but expected to pass to them all project papers and information in a complex and time-consuming intranet system!
This was one of three factors which persuaded me to draft my resignation after only one week – the other two issues being the claustrophobia I felt in the dense mass and materialism of Beijing; and the failure of the Chinese to appoint anyone for us to work with. I had faced some difficult challenges in 7 years in central Asia (even a revolution) and a year in politicised Bulgaria - and survived and succeeded. The other key expert resigned a few months later (there were only two of us for a rather ambitious project which was another warning sign I had ignored!)
On my return home in March I took time to try to understand why I had so quickly felt so alienated on this project. Lost in Beijing was the result - in which I identified 17 reasons for my decision!!
I shared it with the contractors and some colleagues – but feel I should now put it in the public domain as a contribution to the gap in literature about this multi-billion industry which I identified recently. The paper has a few comments at the end about what I learned about public services in China – and these are developed in a separate briefing and reading and web references which I’ve also put on the website for anyone who suddenly finds themselves involved in discussions with the Chinese about issues relating to administrative reform! It’s called Chinese administrative reform in perspective - a revisionist briefing (May 1 update)and contains some provocative stuff about so-called western democracy.

Boffy has another good read on present economic issues.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Just Words?

I’ve uploaded two papers in the last couple of days to my website – the first is a note in which I explore why my professional encounter with China last year was so brief. I will talk about this more later this week. The other paper is an updated version of my glossary which is now 20 pages long and entitled Just Words? How language gets in the way. One important addition is the list of 200 plus words which the UK Local Government Association felt it necessary to recommend in 2009 be banned. This was an expansion of an original list of 100 I’m puzzled about the inclusion of some of the words – but I have not lived in the UK for 20 years and have therefore suffered the annoyance of such jargon only from the occasional visiting HRM consultant! There is a phrase I would ban – “human resource management”. Of course, as an economics student, I was taught to consider workers as a basic resource – but I still shudder with the implications of the term. Sometimes I go overboard on this and abuse my position as team Leader – one HRM “expert” (another word I tend to discourage in my projects!) used to talk frequently about “addressing issues” which, for some reason, I found very distasteful. And I explode when I encounter such words as “cohesive” and “governance”.
I find this therefore a quite excellent initiative. It would be interesting to know what impact it had and whether it has survived the aftermath of a General election and massive public cuts. The offensive words included –
Advocate, Agencies, Ambassador, Area based, Area focused, Autonomous, Baseline, Beacon, Benchmarking, Best Practice, Blue sky thinking, Bottom-Up, Can do culture, Capabilities, Capacity, Capacity building, Cascading, Cautiously welcome, Challenge, Champion, Citizen empowerment, Client, Cohesive communities, Cohesiveness, Collaboration, Commissioning, Community engagement, Compact, Conditionality, Consensual, Contestability, Contextual, Core developments, Core Message, Core principles, Core Value, Coterminosity, Coterminous, Cross-cutting, Cross-fertilisation, Customer, Democratic legitimacy, Democratic mandate, Dialogue, Double devolution, Downstream, Early Win, Embedded, Empowerment, Enabler, Engagement, Engaging users, Enhance, Evidence Base, Exemplar, External challenge, Facilitate, Fast-Track, Flex, Flexibilities and Freedoms, Framework, Fulcrum, Functionality, Funding streams, Gateway review, Going forward, Good practice, Governance, Guidelines, Holistic, Holistic governance, Horizon scanning, Improvement levers, Incentivising, Income streams, Indicators, Initiative, Innovative capacity, Inspectorates (a bit unfair!), Interdepartmental surely not?), Interface, Iteration, Joined up, Joint working, level playing field, Lever (unfair on Kurt Lewin!), Leverage, Localities, Lowlights (??), Mainstreaming, Management capacity, Meaningful consultation (as distinct from meaningless?), Meaningful dialogue (ditto?), Mechanisms, menu of Options, Multi-agency, Multidisciplinary, Municipalities (what’s this about?), Network model, Normalising, Outcomes, Output, Outsourced, Overarching, Paradigm, Parameter, Participatory, Partnership working, Partnerships, Pathfinder, Peer challenge, Performance Network, Place shaping, Pooled budgets, Pooled resources, Pooled risk, Populace, Potentialities, Practitioners (what’s wrong with that?), Preventative services, Prioritization, Priority, Proactive (damn!), Process driven, Procure, Procurement, Promulgate, Proportionality, Protocol,
Quick win (damn again), Rationalisation, Revenue Streams, Risk based, Robust, Scaled-back, Scoping, Sector wise, Seedbed, Self-aggrandizement (why not?), service users, Shared priority, Signpost, Social contracts ,Social exclusion, spatial, Stakeholder, Step change, Strategic (come off it!), Strategic priorities, Streamlined, Sub-regional, Subsidiarity (hallelujah!); Sustainable (right on!), sustainable communities, Symposium, Synergies, Systematics, Taxonomy, Tested for Soundness, Thematic, Thinking outside of the box, Third sector, Toolkit, Top-down (?), Trajectory, Tranche, Transactional, Transformational, Transparency, Upstream, Upward trend, Utilise, Value-added, Vision

The Glossary also now includes a reference to the work of a 2009 UK Parliamentary Committee which actually invited people to submit examples of confusing language which they then reported about in a report entitled Bad Language! Paul Flynn – who is one of the few British MPs who has understood that his basic function is to represent the public and challenge the perversions of authority – gives us a nice example in the Annexes.

Sunday, January 9, 2011


The current issue of the (British) Prospect magazine carries a fascinating article about the various stresses to which inter-cultural marriages - and divorces - are subject. We all know about the difficulties Swedes or Finns are likely to have with ebullient Latins. Not so well-known are the vagaries of national systems within the EU. The French legal system emerges in a particularly insensitive light – assuming, for example, that wives will always be able to return to the labour market (despite having been absent perhaps for more than a decade) and insisting always on children being shared week-in week-out (even at the age of 3).
It is Saints who are causing some tension between this particular north-south pair. End of last week was the name-day of Ion here (John – also my father’s name). Our friend Olteanu who died in November was a Ion – so we visited his grave on Thursday (or at least D did – I gave up after an hour of trying to find it). And she duly bought and passed on to a stranger some food – as is the habit here in celebrating such anniversaries. I tried to explain that the Church of Scotland (in which I was brought up) doesn’t do Saints – and therefore name-days. And, in any event, I had rebelled against (the minimalist) religion at age 15 and am therefore clueless about the whole set-up. My clumsy attempts to try to try to understand why John the Baptist has 2 days - the first apparently for his death; and the second for his life – caused the usual tensions! And what, anyway, is the English for his status – forerunner, prophet, vanguard??
More positively, D and I had started to talk about the possibility of establishing a modest Foundation which might ensure support and publicity for what Ion valued – as an NGO activist here. Apparently his widow has also had some discussions about this – so hopefully we can come together not only within Romania but with his various friends in Europe.
And that reminded me that I have not resolved the question of how I properly fix my father in community memory in Greenock. About 18 months ago I had some discussions with the curator of the Watt Library and McLean Museum there – of which my father had been Chairman for many years. I had started with the idea of a lecture series in the Greenock Philosophical Society (of which he had also been Chairman) – but felt that this would not have a large enough impact; and was latterly considering a suggestion from the indomitable Kenneth Roy of Scottish Review of an award for Scottish youth with the Institute for Contemporary Scotland. As well as publishing Scottish Review, ICS organises such high-level awards as Scot of the Year. Clearly association with a body will have a larger impact – but it all needs careful consideration. The discussions are caught in a special note I prepared and reproduced as a blog tribute. I have only been involved with one such memorial idea – when the widow of a senior (community) education official struck down in his prime set aside a small fund for a few of his friends and colleagues to administer. We decided to make an annual award to the community group which had succeeded “despite the odds”. This led to visits, meetings and publicity which certainly kept his memory alive.

In my google searches I came across first the website of the church in which my father served as Minister for 50 years; then a nice collection of photos of my hometown (even some shots of the McLean Museum) and the superb landscapes all around it
And finally a nice site on less well-known Scottish painters which included a neighbour of ours in Greenock - James Watt - one of whose paintings the family bought for my father and which has now temporary residence in a Brussels supurb.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

In praise of austerity

The art blog I mentioned yesterday reproduces a range of quiet interior paintings by a 19th century Danish artist Hamersoi in which our attention is drawn to the starkness of the décor – wooden floors and minimal wall hangings. D’s response was that this must say something about the poverty of even the middles classes in Scandinavia in those days. I tried to suggest that it had more to do with the influence of Protestant values (Lutheran I think) which have had such a powerful influence on social and political developments in these countries – let alone on notions of interior design. Austerity is getting a bad name these days – when I googled to try to find something about this aspect of Scandinavian societies all I got was articles on the latest European fiscal crisis - one of which acctually bears the title Beyond Austerity . As a child of the war years (who still has his ration book) and raised in a Scottish Presbyterean household, I have great respect and affection for austere ways of living (providing wine is accepted as a basic requirement – from the barrel of course!). Tony Judt used that last painful period of his life to reflect about his life in powerful short pieces in New York Review of Books – and some of them celebrated the immediate post-war period in Britain which is so often viewed in a negative light. My surfing put me onto a recent book Austerity Britain which appears to take a more positive view. /