I continue to think about the increasing divisiveness in our societies – and the apparently minimal efforts being made to repair the divisions. Or is this just a mirage – something created by a 24-hour media system which exults in scandals and bad news? Perhaps, under the surface, all is much better than we think. Perhaps the optimists like Stephen Pinker are right after all?
It is, of course, impossible to generalise – the world looks very different from a Chinese point of view. Each country needs its own assessment – ideally from a combination of internal and external sources. The UK, for example, perhaps suffers from a surfeit of such appraisals – of both sorts - starting with the prescient Suicide of a Nation edited by Arthur Koestler in 1963 which attracted Olympian disdain from none less than Philip Hobsbawm
After the Obama years, the USA has had, over the past 5 years, only its negative side portrayed - but two recent books offer the country some ideas for how it might rebuild. They are
- The Upswing – how American came together a century ago and how we can do it again by Robert Putnam (2020) – the country’s best-known sociologist and
- A Time to build – how recommitting to our institutions can revive the American dream; Yuval Levin (2020) which builds explicitly on an important but neglected book written in 2009.
For the moment, my interest is focused on Bulgaria and Romania – and how such countries might extricate themselves from the vicious circle of hopelessness into which their citizens seem to be locked.
Political leaders of these countries, of course, would not agree with that description – but any reading of the annual Eurobarometer poll of EU citizens is inevitably drawn to the conclusion that the political institutions of central and south-eastern Europe lack legitimacy and public trust. One of Romania’s foremost political analysts – Dorel Sandor – wrote in 2018 a powerful article in which he confessed that he had given up any hope for the country - with this reliable source giving evidence for the loss of trust in the country.
A recent book - Romania Confronts Its Communist Past: Democracy, Memory, and Moral Justice; by Vladimir Tismaneanu Marius Stan (2018) – reminds us of what lies behind this. Just over a decade ago – after some 15 years of the country being in denial about its past - a maverick President set up a Commission to investigate the communist era. This is the book in which its chairman recounts the experience and impact of the Commission.
I asked a young Bulgarian friend who is a journalist with an interest in Romanian affairs about what efforts either country had made toward “conciliation” in their divided societies – and was, of course, then made immediately aware of the fragility of the words we use when he asked for an explanation of what I meant by the term. I was aware that it is normally used to reference family and minor commercial disputes but I had forgotten that a new field has arisen – of Transitional Justice – into which academics (both Eastern and Western) have been crowding in the past decade. This includes the field of property restitution, lustrace and memory
And I have the feeling that few Bulgarians or Romanians have been let loose with what I would call “mediating skills” of the sort practised by Adam Kahane of the last post
A Short Reading List on Romania
Key Articles on Romania
2020 Freedom House report on Romania; written by reputable Romanian experts
Romania Redivivus (2017) an excellent summary of the social and economic changes since 1989
A Guide to Change and change management for Rule of Law practitioners (2015) As it says
Hijacked modernisation - Romanian political culture in the 20th century; Alina Mungiu-Pippidi (2007) The country's finest analyst
Poor Policy-making and how to improve it in states with weak institutions; Sorin Ionitsa (CEU 2006) pity this hasn't been updated
“Fatalistic political cultures” Alina Mungiu-Pippidi 2006 (chapter in Democracy and Political Culture in East Europe in which 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 off countries such as Romania; 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
Europe's Burden - promoting good governance across. borders" Alina Mungiu-Pippidi (2019) which looks at the nature and impact of European technical assistance on the development of institutional capacity in central europe and "Neighbourhood" countries
Romania Confronts Its Communist Past: Democracy, Memory, and Moral Justice; by Vladimir Tismaneanu Marius Stan (2018) – both Romanians. The first who left Romania in the 1980s and returned briefly in the early 2000s to chair a Presidential commission into the impact of communism on the country, the second who still works in Romania. The book is a very personal take on how that Presidential Commission fared.
In Europe’s Shadow – two cold wars and a thirty-year journey through Romania and beyond; Robert Kaplan (2016) - a fascinating book by an American journalist who has had a soft spot for Romania since the beginning of his career. It has an element of the “Common Book” tradition about it with its breadth of reading
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 – with all the strengths and weaknesses that genre involves
Ruling Ideas – how global neoliberalism goes local Cornel Ban (2016) which is a left-wing Romanian critique of how neoliberalism got its grip on countries such as Romania and Spain
A Concise History of Romania; Keith Hitchins (2014) Very readable analysis by the American historian who knows the country’s history best.
Mapping Romania - notes on an unfinished journey; Ronald Young (2014) See section 7.2 at page 31 and all the annexes for the political culture references
Romania and the European Union – how the weak vanquished the strong; Tom Gallagher (2009) great narrative
Theft of a Nation – Romania since Communism; Tom Gallagher (2005) powerful critique
Romania – borderland of Europe; Lucian Boia (2001) Very readable and well translated study by a Romanian historian
When will it ever change? (July 2017)
Impervious Power (Jan 2017)
A Divided Country – dangerous times (Feb 2017)