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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

Sunday, May 9, 2021

Attempting the Impossible

The last post suggested that few authors had dared tackle the question of national success – choosing instead to focus on how nations fail. Of course, there are numerous books about economically successful countries – Ruchir Sharma is an investor who followed up his 2013 book Breakout Nations – in pursuit of the next economic miracles about the BRIC countries with 10 Rules of Successful Nations. And Turkish economist Murat Yulek recently produced a very thorough analysis How Nations Succeed – manufacturing, trade, industrial policy, economic lopment (2018)

But these focus exclusively on economic factors – or rather on the mix of policy, commercial and financial considerations which get an economy going.

The question which I want to explore is how the wider social system - consisting of the key government, business, trade union, media, academic, NGO, religious figures etc - might be persuaded in a polarised society to come together to forge a new beginning. But one with a reasonable chance of success…

I start with a particular interest in Bulgaria and Romania whose citizens, 30 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, feel a strong sense of hopelessness captured, for example, in a despairing article in one of Romania’s cultural journals summarised here – with a follow-up explanatory note here. My understanding of a situation for which both external and internal actors are equally to blame is described in a longer 2018 post- 

- in the early 90s everyone (particularly outside Romania) expected too much although Ralf Dahrendorf - unique in his experience as both a German and British politician and one of the first academics in the 50s to explore the nature of the social changes which took place in Germany in the first half of the 20th century (Society and Democracy in Germany) - had warned in 1990 that real cultural change would take “two generations”. This means 50 years!

- Absolutely no preparations existed in 1989 for the possibility that communism might collapse and for the choices this would present for political, economic and legal systems …..Everyone had assumed that the change would be in the opposite direction. The only writings which could be drawn were those about the south American, Portugese and Spanish transition ….

- The EC stopped treating Romania as in need of “developmental assistance” in 1998/99. The PHARE programme was phased out - the focus shifted to training for EU membership and the implementation of the Acquis (using the TAIEX programme). Talk of differences in political culture was seen as politically incorrect – eastern countries simply had to learn the language and habits of the European social market and, hey-presto, things would magically change……

- 30 years on, the names of Bulgarian and Romanian institutions and processes may have changed but not the fundamental reality – with a corruption which is nothing less than systemic.

- The billions of Euros allocated to Romania since 2007 under the EC’s Structural Funds programmes have compounded the systemic and moral corruption which affects all sectors.

- The Cooperation and Verification Mechanism is, after 14 years, deeply resented – despite the increasingly clear evidence of the collusion between the Prosecution and the Secret services…..

Historians of different sorts have, of course, published numerous books mapping what happened in each of the countries after 1989. Tom Gallagher is particularly good on the political aspects of Romania with “The Theft of a Nation – Romania since Communism” (2005) and “Romania and the European Union; how the Weak Vanquished the strong” (2009)

But I know of only two English-language texts which have tried to analyse both economic and political aspects -    

The Great Rebirth – lessons from the victory of capitalism over communism ; Anders Aslud and Simeon Djankov (2015) which tells the story from the view point of some of the key actors at the time

Ruling Ideas – how global neoliberalism goes local Cornel Ban (2016) which is a left-wing Romanian critique of how neoliberalism got its grip on that society

I’m using this post to signal an interest in pursuing this issue - working at the moment with the following sorts of questions -

- how do we confirm that these countries have polarised systems? Presumably with the annual Eurobarmeter reports?

- how do we find out what conciliation efforts have already been attempted - let alone lessons learned in BG and RO? South Africa had hundreds of such efforts 

- how would effective and "trustworthy" mediators be identified? There’s an Association of Conciliators here in Romania presumably for commercial and family disputes but perhaps they have relevant resources?

- who are the key actors who would be involved in any such meeting?

- how do we identify the positive lessons from other efforts throughout the world to bring societies together? Latin America clearly has had many such efforts

- how do we deal with the cynics who dismiss such experience as irrelevant to their country?

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