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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

Saturday, May 8, 2021

How does a country go about constructing a hopeful future?

It’s been fashionable recently to write about how countries fail – but the challenge of finding countries which have put together a winning formula and emerged as both economic and socio-political successes has proven much more difficult. Germany, Japan and South Korea are about the only cases quoted – with tiny countries such as Estonia and Singapore also being acknowledged.

But all, save Estonia, go back to the post-war period…..

Right now Bulgaria is without a government since the populist who carried the most votes wasn’t interested in forming a government and  - despite the flashy cars and new office blocks - neither it nor its northern neighbour, Romania, have made any sustainable progress in the 30 years since the Berlin Wall fell.

A couple of decades ago, global bodies were shoving “good governance down the throat of recalcitrant countries as a precondition of admittance to select clubs such as the EU – although any efforts to comply were immediately relaxed on admission.

And progress in countries such as Hungary and Poland has been in a consistently rapid backward direction – with others such as Bulgaria and Romania not even trying very hard in the first instance. Both are still (after more than a decade) subject to the “conditionalities” of the Compliance monitoring of judicial systems – with the efforts Romania has certainly made in that sector being consistently challenged in recent judgements in the European Court of Justice in what increasingly looks to have been collusion between the country’s Prosecutor and its Secret Services.

All this I have covered in posts in the last decade. But I have – like most of the literature – devoted almost no space to how such countries might end the vicious downward spiral and find ways to return some hope to their despairing citizens. Alasdair Roberts put it very well in his “Strategies for Governing” - 

We must recover the capacity to talk about the fundamentals of government, because the fundamentals matter immensely. Right now, there are billions of people on this planet who suffer terribly because governments cannot perform basic functions properly.

-       People live in fear because governments cannot protect their homes from war and crime.

-       They live in poverty because governments cannot create the conditions for trade and commerce to thrive.

-       They live in pain because governments cannot stop the spread of disease.

-       And they live in ignorance because governments do not provide opportunities for education.

Almost 3 years ago, one of Romania’s foremost analysts shared a despairing article but was least convincing when he tried to offer a way forward  

I have a list of what to do – starting with the need for an exploration of what sort of Romania we should be aiming for in the next few decades. Such a process would be moderated by professionals using proper diagnostics, scenario thinking and milestones.
It would be managed by a group with a vision emancipated from the toxic present.  

 At the time I indicated my support for such approaches embodied, for example, in the Future Search method. It’s how I started my own political journey in 1971 – with an annual conference in a shipbuilding town facing the decline of the trade on which it had depended for so long….But any venture would have to demonstrate that it can deal with the astonishing level of distrust of others shown by the fact that, in 2014, only 7% of the Romanian population could say that “most people can be trusted” (compared with about 20% in Italy and 40% in Germany)

For my money Social Trust is one of the fundamental elements of the soil in which democracy grows. From the start of the transition countries such as Bulgaria and Romania have been caught up in a global neo-liberalism tsunami which has been corroding that soil….

South Africa is the country people select when they want a recent example of positive reconciliation. Clearly Nelson Mandela was an exceptional visionary – but he did not work alone. He brought with him the support and assistance of the sort of people Dorel Sandor was referring to – professionals not associated with the “toxic present”.

But where are they to be found? What professional, religious or other groups can inspire the trust that Bulgaria and Romania need?

Earlier this year I indicated some of the toolkits available for those seriously interested in building a country back together.

But they can be used ONLY when a country has taken the first step and brought together the warring factions to forge a new future together.

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