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!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

culture matters

I changed the title of yesterday’s post after inserting some of the argument of the 2nd article on Greece (which tried to explain what might be called the "amoral familism” of the country – and its neighbours such as Romania and Bulgaria (to a lesser extent I feel)
I also added the link to the brilliant paper about Romania written by Ionitsa in 2005 which had used that term -
Leaders are supposed to be promoters of their protégés; and clan-based loyalties take precedence over public duties for salaried public officials. Such behavior can be found not only in the central government but also in local administration, the political opposition, academia and social life in general, i.e. so it permeates most of the country’s elites. Classic studies of Mezzogiorno in Italy call this complex of attitudes “amoral familism”: when extended kin-based associations form close networks of interests and develop a particularistic ethics centered solely upon the group’s survival7. This central objective of perpetuity and enrichment of the in-group supersedes any other general value or norm the society may have, which then become non-applicable to such a group’s members. At best, they may be only used temporarily, as instruments for advancing the family’s goals − as happens sometimes with the anti-corruption measures.
Since Romanian society, like others in the Balkans, still holds onto such pre-modern traits, its members are neither very keen to compete openly nor are they accustomed to the pro-growth dynamics of modernity. Social transactions are regarded as a zero-sum game; a group’s gain must have been brought about at the expense of others. This may be a rational attitude for traditional, static societies, where resources are limited and the only questions of public interest have to do with redistribution
And I was reminded of a recent discussion I had with an ex-Deputy Minister who was bemoaning the lack in public life here of the soft skills of communications and cooperation operating for the public good. And of my realisation of how rare was the enthusiasm of the lady from Pernik. It takes me back to the early days of my work in Romania when the Head of the European Delegation handed us summaries of Robert Putnam’s Making Democracy work; civic traditions in modern Italy which had recently appeared (I already had a copy of the book). She had quickly sussed out what Putnam called the „lack of social capital” in the country – ie the lack of trust and associations. Thanks to the World Bank, academic writing about Social capital then became a cottage industry. I’m not sure if we are any the wiser as a result!
As I’ve noticed before, "path dependency” is the phrase used by those who feel that it is impossible for a country to shake off its history. And that takes us into the murky areas of cultural studies – and of
Samuel Huntington whoe views are considered so offensive here since he suggests that the line dividing civilised from non-civilised countries puts Balkan countries on the wrong side (mainly for their Orthodoxy). But his stuff is worth reading – particularly Culture Matters which is a marvellous coverage of the proceedings of a conference on the subject which brought together in argument a lot of scholars.

I wrote recently about a new Gallery of Contemporary Art opening in Sofia’s south park – a magnificent renovation of an old mansion. Courtesy of Norway, Iceland and Leichtenstein no less. I paid my 3 levs and ventured in – and was bitterly disappointed. No Bulgarian artists – just a few small Chagall and Picasso etchings – and a large exhibition of Scandinavian ceramics. The second floor was roped off. I ceremoniously tore up my entrance ticket at the reception – and roundly chided them for false pretences. Apparently all the fault of the Prime Minister who wanted it open earlier rather than later to show what his government is capable of (the rehabilitation work only started in October). OK the building is nice – as are the large (Bulgarian) scupltures which surround it. But don’t bother going in!
And an example of the problems of moving around in this part of the world. Next week I will be up on the Bulgarian side of the the Danube just south west of the city of Craiova – as the crow flies it is little more than 90 kilometres from there to Vidin where there is a ferry from Calafin. I thought it would be a good idea if Daniela came down from Bucharest and met up at Vidin – so that we could explore the fascinating mountain area which is the north-west. In fact it will take her about 4 hours to make that 90 kms (much longer if she were to take the train) on the Romanian side. Two hours by bus; waiting time 2 hours; and 15 minutes the ferry which deposits you apparently 5 kilomtres from the town of Vidin- with no onward public transport! A bridge is half built (with European money) – but the Bulgarian side is bogged down in commercial arguments – and it could be another 18 monthe before it is ready (watch this space). I remember a woman from the cabinet Office here telling me that it took her a similar time and 3 changes of transport to move a similar distance within southern Bulgaria.
An interesting post this time last year - on government matters.

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