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This is not a blog which opinionates on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers to muse 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, October 29, 2018

a powerful Interview in Revista 22

Dorel Sandor is a name to conjure with in Romania….
I first met him some 25 years ago when he had just started his career as an independent policy consultant which morphed into that of a respected political commentator….
Less visible these days on television perhaps than a decade or so ago, Sandor has just given an interview in Revista 22 which some Romanians may feel is selling their country short. As, however, I've posted only once this year about Romania and his analysis will strike chords with many of my readers who are from other European countries as well as the US, Ukraine and Russia......I’m going to try to summarise the main points of the interview – but blame Google Translate for the inevitable mistakes which will occur…….

First, however, let’s set the context for the 98% of my readers who are not Romanian…..
The end of next year will see the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Ceausescu regime but few Romanians have any reason to celebrate. Four million of their best and brightest have, for example, emigrated – and most of its industries, agriculture and woodlands sold to foreigners.
Romania joined the EU in 2007 and, for a time, it seemed, was making progress in judicial reform where it is still (like Bulgaria) subject to the constraints of an annual monitoring system. The sentencing of a Prime Minister to jail-time led to what appeared to be open season being declared on senior politicians and businessmen (corruption was so systemic that it was difficult to distinguish the two).

Accusations about partiality were brushed aside initially but evidence slowly began to accumulate first of suspiciously high conviction rates and, more seriously, collusion between prosecutors and the (still extensive) security services…..Traian Basescu the maverick liberal President (from 2004-2014) had appointed in 2006 a young woman Laura Kovosi as Prosecutor General who found herself and the service under increasing fire from various high-profile scandals from 2016. In December of that year, the Social Democratic party came to power and tried to use the scandals to muzzle the Prosecution service and indeed to change the criminal law. Extensive street protests have marked the regime ever since….  

The Sandor Interview
starts by emphasising how wrong it is to talk of a Romanian "revolution" in 1989/90 – it was just a reshuffling of positions - and creation of opportunities for a Mafia-type takeover of financial assets.. 
The great secret of post-communism is that those who fed, sustained and exploited it did not want it to have democracy, market economy, free press, civil society, but to put money on the factories, plants, resources. And here begins the metastasis of Romania for the past 30 years. At present, parliament is a collection of nonentites, people fleeing immunity with no idea of what is happening in Romania”.

Indeed, he suggests that there are no more than a dozen decent individuals in Parliament – and 2 worthwhile trade union leaders. He is highly critical of NGOs and the media…..”empty shells”….

He is particularly scathing of the passive consumerist culture which now has a grip on the country 
“Nowadays, the plague that destroys 30-40 year-olds and children is mobile phone, laptop and Facebook. Now, when the baby comes out of the mother's belly, she puts the phone in her mouth and sees what is delivered to her screen, so she does not have any personal experience and she's eating information from commercial companies. Communism and capitalism have been replaced by vulgar consumerism And the phone, the laptop, the computer, Facebook and the TV are sources of substitution for the collective personal identity and the world we live in.
On the street, I see mothers with a baby in their arms talking on two phones. Or children for a few years who sit and look at the computer screen. 80% of people are prisoners of the screen. It's a plague. This is one of the main factors that peacefully breaks down, soft liberation, collective and individual thinking…….. The human species is in a very serious anthropological deadlock. It is in the global trend. We, being a poorer, more primitive country, are lagging behind in this pathology. So it's an incredible collective plague”.

And has clearly given up on politics 
“The stark reality is now that we do not have political parties any more. The Romanian political environment is in fact an ensemble of ordinary gangs that try to survive the process and jail and eventually save their wealth in the country or abroad. That's all! Romania has no rulers. It has mobsters in buildings with signs that say "The Ministry of Fish that Blooms".

Hungary and Poland are currently the focus of serious European concern simply because Brussels has given up on Romania 
“In Poland and Hungary things are working. They have preserved their internal authority, they want to lead them, according to market standards, and they are naughty. But these are two countries that function and want to function in their traditional, authoritarian way, with pride. And to them is nationalism, but it is a nationalism that has consistency.
While there is no such thing in us. However, there are relevant things that happen there in the economy, in investments. And they violate the rules for personal and personal interest, but not in the way we do. It is a gap between the level at which we have fallen below elementary standards and them.
One of the reasons why the EU is not too concerned about us is that it is that they reckon that you can only reform a driver with a car that works. We are a two-wheeled wagon and two horses, a chaotic space, broken into pieces. What's to reform? So it's a big difference.”

Is Romania therefore “finished” – as Sandor claims? 
If anyone can deal with this question, it is Alina Mungiu-Pippidi - a prolific and high profile Romanian academic/social activist (with a base for the past few years in the Hertie School of Government in Berlin) who has been trying to understand Romanian political culture and the wider issue of corruption for the past 2 decades. In 2006 she contributed a chapter on “Fatalistic political cultures” to a book on Democracy and Political Culture in East Europe. In this she argued (a) that it was too easy for people (not least the political elite themselves!) to use the writings of Samuel Huntington to write Balkan countries off; and (b) that we really did need to look more closely at what various surveys (such as The World Values Survey) showed before jumping to conclusions….In 2007 she gave us even more insights into the Romanian culture in Hijacked modernisation - Romanian political culture in the 20th century 

But what can people do when a system is so broken? Talk of the "democratic will" seems meaningless....Few people understand how the Italian system has been able to survive - but at least it had the liquid resources to keep its people happy.....The stark truth is that, after 30 years, Romanians live in a state of anomie and with none of the social trust or solidarity which allows some European countries to survive - however insidiously neo-liberalism is destroying even these...... 

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