All posts by Henrieta Serban

Katy Fox, Peasants into European Farmers? EU Integration in the Carpathian Mountains of Romania (Zurich: LIT Verlag, 2011)

 

This phrase is used as a motto also by the author, Kathy Fox, in her investigation (p. 39) and I consider it most appropriate for numerous reasons. It applies also to the tremendously slow pace of change, seeming to remain ‘frozen in the project’, within the Romanian countryside. 

 

This volume takes the term ‘peasant’ seriously as a ‘source of significant economic difference’ (p. 41) and investigates how far the Romanian peasant, caught in transition, is from this status. This book is the result of a year-and-a-half ethnographical research into the European agricultural integration in the Southern Carpathian Mountains of Romania. The study succeeds to discuss the European agricultural policies, while identifying interesting correlations between practices and personhood.  EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is analysed in terms of policies, elites, but mainly livelihood possibilities of the peasants. The realities of Romanian peasantry’s life (related to the subsistence farms and peasant households) are confronted with the “intelligible, efficient, standardized and commensurable” profile of the EU model.

 

The effort to surprise the local colour and to reach the essence is substantial: quickly going through the “Glossary” one can easily understand the varieties and the depth of the conversations with the local peasants. The list of acronyms, measurements and the schematics of the Agricultural Institutions in Romania are indicators of the analysis with the consciousness of the policy and local particularities, within households and inter-households, following cooperation, exchange and kinship.

 

Relating ‘modernity’, ‘progress’ and ‘civilisation’ with ‘transition’, the complexity of the status of peasant and the threat of marginalisation are unveiled. EU integration is seen also as Enlightenment epistemology and as a neo-liberal process of social and economic alignment in the implementation of common legislation. The analytic direction is to assess what persons are produced by the neoliberal project and how resilient are the manoeuvres of resistance (or compliance) in the long run. “Through the [modernization] project, an epistemology of colonisation is deployed: the expert subject creates an object of transformation, the peasant, which is diagnosed to be in need to change.” (p. 97) But within the particular Romanian context, this change intended by the elites is undermined by the weakness of the information vector – the “object of transformation” is not object of information too. “Generally, the institutions in formation in charge of CAP implementation were not well versed on how to get the ‘information’ to their ‘target audience’. The Ministry of Agriculture, it was often said, was one of the most ‘closed’ ministries in Romania, where little ‘reform’ had happened during the 1990s, and where procedures were very slow to be adapted to the new European framework.” (p. 97-98) Even the specialists have sometime a hard time dealing with the confusion and secrecy surrounding the details of the policies and regulations. Indeed, Romanian agricultural bureaucracy in charge with this modernisation lives off secrecy and manages ignorance very well to its own advantage (cf. Weber).

 

The study addressed also the orientation and effects of CAP in Romania. Kathy Fox notices four aspects of disjuncture “between integration and participation, information and institutions in formation, training and work opportunities on the countryside and welfare and the good life.” (p.111) Progress is related to real, material conditions that sustain or not the developments of this progress. When material infrastructure is absent or deficient, the progress policies are not founded. Originally CAP’s policies were designed for countries without the experience of state socialism. In post-communist states they might function as neoliberal rather than welfare measures, as they were originally intended. People experience closure and ”make do with what they have feeling both the constraints and the potential in their lives as they unfolded along a ‘margin of manoeuvrability’ and possibility”. (p.135) Human affairs emphasize the tension between means and ends and evolve unpredictably. The author identifies the male-centred organisation of the economic activity, especially the bounded character and closure status of women in the household. Their work is devalued and their life projects especially challenged. 

 

From the perspective of ‘restructuring’, within Romanian agriculture and animal husbandry the import and imposition of standards was not accompanied by the necessary accumulation of capital, with the exception of the large-venture entrepreneurs. The Western profit logic was thus impaired in Romania and led to a situation where animal welfare seem to value more than human welfare. Kathy Fox discusses the small improvement brought about by the EU’s Direct Payments (DP) policy (implemented for the first time in 2007). Thus, the implementation of DP gave in fact another boost to the bureaucratic systems, installing a reality of misunderstood and incomplete implementation. As a consequence, the idea of ‘partial’ implementation became the norm. Another aspect under investigation is here the paradoxical trait of the reform that disembeds local food production and shows that EU legislation and processes of branding further marginalized Romanian peasantry and did not bring much benefice through EU’s ‘certified traditional produce’ policy. (p.231)

 

Philosophy, sociology and ethnography come together to present the peasant as a homo economicus, who sought self-interest in a quest for improved positioning, while he understood when to cooperate and when to manoeuvre, despite the shaken trust in others both by state socialism and aggressive capitalism. The very idea of progress seems conquered by a dispiriting perpetual transition. The valuable perspective of the author is to relate to EU legislation as visions of social order and frameworks for ‘thinking forward’, and not just technical regulations. People are to learn not merely legislation and procedures, but the wider lesson that dichotomies, incomplete stages and partial success are part of the modernist vision that modern economic and political projects share. The key element is not the elite and expert benevolent action addressed to the immature and knowledge-deprived peasantry, but rather the transparent dissemination of information and the construction of material conditions and the infrastructure crucial for the successful implementation of the EU policies and reforms.

 

 

Viorella Manolache (ed.), Centru si margine la Marea Mediterana. Filosofie politica si realitate internationala (Bucharest: Editura ISPRI, 2009)

This journal has proven a wide opening to a great diversity of recurrent themes present now within political sciences. Certain “marginal” areas of interdisciplinary investigation are also present, included in this same broad philosophical view. The volume maintains precisely this type of innovative ambitions and the manner of relating to contemporary tendencies as the journal, hence approaching through its several original studies select newer theoretical concepts adequate to the complexities associated with the research of the chosen theme. These studies are coming from different scientific areas. Estimating the present geo-political research of the Mediterranean community, it endeavours to enter into a dialogue within the Mediterranean scientific community. Center-Margin at the Mediterranean Sea (Political Philosophy and International Reality) accesses scientific contributions from seven countries (Romania, Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey, Brazil, USA, Italy) providing a rich mix of theoretical and philosophical comparative, international and transnational issues, addressed to all who are interested in the contemporary political Mediterranean phenomena. The three constant investigated dimensions are placed into a dynamic formula described by the three parts of the volume: Political philosophy of Mediterranean Centre and Margin; Cultural approaches on the Mediterranean Margin and International Reality at the Mediterranean Sea.

 

The volume is integrated within a theoretical landscape and is justified by the anticipative answer offered by the authors to a series of variables with which the imperative of the current European politics operates, of the “maps projecting the macro regions” – a decentralized space of cooperation. The volume anticipates the conclusions of the European Council (June 24, 2011) which counts especially on the coincidence of culture and creative industries, on the capitalization of historical, linguistic and, in general, cultural diversity, and also on the application of a macro-regional strategy. All these dimensions illustrate the potential of catalyst of the “Union for the Mediterranean area”.

 

The volume’s approach indicates significant insights, pre-figurations of the European imperatives correlated with the analysed theme, with a double effect: the analysis of the international implications of the Mediterranean space and of the considerations concerning soft power; and a withdrawal within the philosophical, theoretical and political framework that configure the dimensions of this profile. The approach is explained in the introductory chapter – Political Philosophy of Mediterranean Centre and Margin.

 

According to Abderrazzak Essrhir, the idea of the centre is the indicative of the systematic invention of a peripheral space – racial, geographical, religious, cultural – resulting in a binary opposition that is the outcome of reciprocal experiences between the centre and its assumed periphery. It is in this very context that the relations between the East and the West can rightly be appreciated to have always been conducted, marked by conquest, demystification, subjection, or colonial confinement. The centre assumes in this perspective a position wherein it perceives itself as the nucleus of authority and power, the source of emanation of knowledge, the cradle of high culture and civilisation. The margin, as a consequence, turns out to be a mere indication of that “positioning is best defined in terms of the limitations of a subject’s access to power.” It is, in this respect, perceived, and indeed made to be, as the consumer, the dependent, the subaltern, or the anarchic space. This type of centre-margin binary opposition is multi-dimensional in the sense that the centre, conscious of its identity, systematically locates and confines its margin by devising a set of strategic practices such as othering, ethnic categorisation, subjugation, and discrimination (Abderrazzak Essrhir).

 

For Abdenbi Sarroukh, the question that arises is whether the new U.N partnership will contribute to the blossoming of at least a positive Mediterranean pluralism that goes beyond the borders of the nationalism that is still recast in ethnic identities, so as to reshape them to conform to the new cultural exigencies. The author refers to the universal values that tend to homogenise specificities and the spirit of communities that are irreducible and resist being explained away by the power of discourse from the point of view of the dominating centre.

 

The historical registration appears as architecture and even as a film of the Mediterranean space diving into the discourse of postmodernity as post-tradition, either rebuilding the cultural referential of the marginal discourse of the Mediterranean space – a system of indexes, emblems, constituents of a typical language that asks for deciphering, first and foremost politically speaking, in order to deserve to be termed of a Mediterranean polis  (Viorella Manolache), or the investigation of the communicational ethical and political implications of this fascination of the interlocutor via Richard Rorty, Jean Baudrillard or Simon Critchley (Henrieta ?erban).

 

The chapter Cultural Approaches on the Mediterranean Margin reaffirms the dependence of the imaginary on the mise-en-place of a very special Mediterranean syntax. The relationships between the “full and signifying forms” and the “determinations” of symbolical images, conferring them a “particularizing function” are emphasized (Gheorghe Manolache), within an analysis that employs essential (proto)types (present in the works of Eugen Lovinescu, Anton Naum – e.g. the Don Juanic character, Ulysses –, or Vasco da Gama). These profiles express the metaphoric idea that the waters of the Mediterranean space have a vocation of refrain: they are always the ones which bring boats, and invite the analyst to imagine Ulysses abandoned on the rocky shores of Portugal in distress; one sees Vasco da Gama directing his ships and people on the warm and quiet waters of the Mediterranean Sea, with an impact on the symbolic-cultural map of the countries washed by the Mediterranean waters. What remains behind is precisely what should happen: a silent revolt of the water and then, the numerous endless tides, the tides which charmed the sovereigns and awarded gold and glory, the waters of the bereaved bride named melancholy (Diana Adamek).

 

The philosophical and metaphorical level is completed by a more investigative and practical level in International Reality at the Mediterranean Sea that assesses the Mediterranean space as one of the important geopolitical and geostrategic pivots in world history. The geopolitical and geostrategic significance of the Mediterranean realm is not quite constant along the entire history of the region. For a while, the geopolitical and geostrategic significance of the Mediterranean decreased, because the “center” of the world gradually glided to the Atlantic. But, starting with the opening stages of the Cold War, the geostrategic importance of the Mediterranean realm grew again, a trend which is still maintained to a certain extent nowadays as well, in the context of the so-called ‘clash of civilizations’ and of the global war against terror. Other important events, connected with the war in the Caucasus region, prove again – similarly to the era of the Cold War – how important is for the West to control the Mediterranean Sea, and how ambitious post-communist Russia already is on the international arena (Florin Diaconu).

 

In this analytical key, the international realities operating in the Mediterranean space raise the question of how culture and identity contribute to the lasting peace, facing the geopolitical context and the efforts of a generation of intellectuals who have implemented this idea by building a unique and successful structure such as the European Union. It is thus important to examine the possibility of designing a community of security in the Mediterranean region through economic growth, with the contribution of this regional culture, without which any construction will be only short-lived and deprived of depth (Lucian Jora).

 

Beyond this snapshot of the main dimensions of the volume Center-Margin at the Mediterranean Sea (Political Philosophy and International Reality), one can easily identify the need to re-evaluate in a more complex light the Mediterranean space, accepting a cultural and reconciliatory mental map – a matrix where the Mediterranean space does not cease to provide to an equal extent, both philosophies and realities.

 

Oana M. Oprean, Romania’s Accession to the European Union and Its Impact on the Roma Minority (Saarbrücken: LAP Lambert Academic Publishing, 2012)

The present book proposes an inventory – historical and from an international legislative point of view – of the social inclusion and fundamental rights of Roma populations. The author notices: “the main problem concerning Roma minority rights is the strong anti-Roma prejudice prevailing in all European countries” (p.6). Since the eastward enlargement of the European Union, the social inclusion of the Roma population and the policies aimed at preventing discrimination became a European imperative. The recommendation was not left without an echo in Romania, although, beyond the European integration and the legislative prerogatives, mentalities and minority status are to be reconsidered. The book is structured in six parts: Introduction, History/Origins of the Roma, A Historically Discriminated Group, EU and the Roma, Accession Criteria and Policy and Conclusion.

 

Without entering into an in-depth analysis of some concepts defining the operational terms, the author establishes that the history of the Roma is full of oppression, segregation and discrimination (p.8). The affirmation is sustained by an inventory of historical, linguistic, literary, religious arguments, not excluding the short effervescence witnessed through elements of self-organization (the 1930’s establishment of the journal Neamul Tiganesc – The Gypsy Clan, the General Association of Roma in Romania, Glasul Romilor – The Voice of the Roma, the newspaper O Rom). While the explanation of the etymology of the term “gypsy” is present, incidentally, the label of “Roma” itself is not addressed. A possible recommendation in this respect is the analysis of the changes of these references to this specific population outside the linguistic realm. Old and new labels operate now simultaneously, some are more manifestly cultural and, in this respect, have their international resistant prejudicial shadows (such as the “gypsies”), and others are more political and limited as “Roma” (although they do not succeed at all to escape the prejudicial realm). The complex social and political implications of this naming game are numerous (for example, is the Stabor a “Roma” or a traditional “gypsy” institution?)

 

The Second War World ended the rise of Roma self-organization throughout Europe. Nazi and communist policies alike strongly substantiate the affirmation according to which the Roma can be considered a historically discriminated group (p.24), and yet, it must be noted, the author does not operate any comparative analysis of minority oppression, in order to establish general or particular historical forms, frequently left out in such case studies.

 

The succession and sensitivity of terms envisions the difference between a first “gypsy / non-Roma” model, resistant to a certain mainstream cultural models with positive or negative stereotypes already implemented (in terms of occupation, life-style, ritual), and a new one, “Roma”, the only one sustaining transformations at the political, social and cultural levels, attempting to function as an integrative mechanism, and representing more than a strategy of survival in interpretation (Rostas, 2000). Capitalizing these theoretical interpretations the author captures well the intensity of the terminological tempest, especially when she refers to the marginalisation, oppression, subjection to forced assimilation, discrimination, and the difference between Roma and non-Roma models of realigning with the “other”.

 

The author shows the Roma populations gliding between an a-national status and the newer national one that “instead of finding a better life, the Roma found a continent, Europe, which at first seemed inviting, but it, within a short period of time, turned the Roma into a much hated and discriminated-against group of people” (p.53). This is a questionable affirmation from a historical standpoint and brings to the fore, in fact, the status of nomadic, a term reduced by the author merely to a vestment code and artistic abilities: “The colorful clothing that the Roma wear, the fact that they move around (nomads) and their rich culture of traditional folk songs and dancing, all run antithetical to the political life of the modern sovereignty of Romania”. (p.53)

 

The book is organised didactically. The Romanian historical events after 1989 are discussed in it and follow the general destiny of minorities and in particular that of the Roma population, indicated correctly as the weaker member of Romanian society, in a fair characterization of the period 1990-1995 as one of community violence against Roma, which was a feature of life in Romania, on the basis of the identification of incidents remained unknown to the general public. The author explains that among the most important events in the history of violence against the Roma, there was the strange riot of February 1990, when the coal miners from Valea Jiului of Romania were called to Bucharest to defend the newly elected democratic government. “A large number of miners attacked the Roma minorities, an act of violence which was by no means provoked by the Roma.” (p.25) Oana Oprean states that this case gained a lot of international attention and was covered in newspapers all over Europe, but there were no reaction from the international political community. The events of March of 1990 in Targu Mures are presented in the same light, yet including the Roma into the equation of the Romanian–Hungarian ethnic conflict.

 

Bringing again the attention onto the situation of Roma populations in March 1990, Oana Oprean established that the lack of action taken by authorities since 1990 in order to mitigate the threats and violence against the Roma has proven the actual stance that the authorities have taken with regard to this minority. According to the author, between 1990 and 1995, there have been numerous instances where attacks were sparked by a crime committed by a Roma against a non-Roma person. As numerous examples are shown throughout the book, a small aggression can turn very quickly the non-Roma population onto the local Roma population (as happened in H?d?reni and in several other cities and villages in Romania).

 

The affirmations of the author are not always sustained by documents, NGO analyses, statistics or declarations of the authorities; for instance when she claims that non-Roma individuals are rarely, if ever, brought to justice for these attacks, even in cases where Roma have been fatally injured or even killed. In Romania, it is said in the book, the Roma population suffers from a broad spectrum of social disadvantages, and the population is subjected to social exclusion and marginalization as a result of racial discrimination, said to be three times higher than the national average. But how is that measured? The book offers no adequate substantiation. Apparently, the misperceptions from the non-Roma population towards the Roma in both Romania and Europe are simply denied and opposed by means of personal impressions concerning the Romanian and European authorities.

The conclusion of Oana Oprean is that despite some positive changes, such as the recognition of minority status, establishment of political parties and cultural organisations, and the publication of books and newspapers in their language, the Roma’s problems in Romania have been particularly severe since the fall of communism, and the ascension to the EU has not done much to mitigate the problems or elevate the status of the Roma minority. However, one can easily illustrate though several political, cultural and social policies the efforts made for inclusion in Romania: the efforts to enrol Roma children into the pre-university school system; the efforts to raise awareness concerning the situation of Roma young women, forcefully married at a very young age and retired from school, if ever registered; the guaranteed places for the Roma students within the state university system; the high visibility of the Roma artists – there are movies about and with Roma (see also the activity of Gadjo Dijlo);  the promotion of various types of Roma music (from jazz and fiddle music to “manele”); the Roma poetry  anthologies, etc. As a further token of the efforts of inclusion, there are also Roma–Romanian dictionaries and the possibility for Roma children to learn in primary school in their maternal language.

 

It is worth mentioning that Roma inclusion is still on the EU’s agenda, both political and moral, with effects on the direct and opportunity costs measured in public budgets. The first European Summit concerning the Roma, underlined the EU’s role in implementing Roma public policies based on structural funds and on their involvement in the management of EU Roma, a network of management authorities – sustaining also good governance.

 

Still, Oana Oprean correctly indentifies some of the weak points of the European construction, recommending that if the EU wants to be a true vehicle for social change, it should focus more upon persuading the Romanian government and exerting pressure on local governments to implement and follow through with their initiatives. But the truth of the matter is also that these modern initiatives might just not have the support and understanding of the majority of the Roma population, but just of a minority elite. The mentality of opportunity is not the modern mentality of rights and duties and it has, rather often, a short-circuiting effect on the inclusion initiatives, especially within the complex equation of migration, globalization, plus economic and financial crises.

 

There is still a romanticised view of the Roma population in Romanian culture, and there has been an analogous tradition in Europe too. Isabel Fonseca wrote in 1996 the marvellous book entitled Bury Me Standing, a reportage of the romantic journey of the European Roma population (“gypsy” she said, as it was accepted to say at the time) through history: holocaust, communism and post-communism included. The book was part of the genuine European effort to fight for minority rights and had the merit of inquiring into realities with both sensitivity and realism. The author tells the story of a girl burned because the locals decided to burn down some houses. She does not shy away from child prostitution or children sniffing glue, while she keeps the human and romantic vibe of her story alive.

 

Nowadays this is endangered. The fledgling European anti-racism institutions have been silenced by more pressing “economic” concerns. We still remember Roma houses burned down in Italy, of all European countries. This kind of hideous racism is indeed increased by the on-going economic and financial crisis, while any good will is down to a lower level. Under these circumstances, the contribution of social sciences should attempt to better meet the expectations of the NGOs that should in turn network and cooperate more intensively.