November 1, 2012
No less than 23 years ago there were 2 ”Europes”. One in the West, one in the East. A wave of democratic movements across the continent coupled with the inherent failure of the socialist model solved that problem. One problem however remained unattended: the people.
And I will stick to the Romanian experience, because I know it best. Friends and colleagues from other former communist nations in Europe have largely confirmed my views in the past, with the addition of local characteristics that were to be expected.
Yesterday I went to a book launch on fighting corruption in Romania. The guest line-up was impressive – the incumbent chief prosecutor of the National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA), the president of the National Integrity Agency (which apparently is unique on the continent), a judge member of the Romanian Superior Council of Magistracy, key persons from NGO’s involved in fighting corruption. The debate on corruption and how to fight it was serious, grave but also with an optimistic outlook – a lot has been achieved in these past 10 years.
One thing though kept popping up in the conversation – the inability of the general populous to reject corruption. During the communist years small corruption enabled a big part of the population to live decently, or at least living with the appearance of decency. At a time when you had hard times securing food for example (like the ‘80’s) small corruption allowed people to survive. In communist Romania “who you knew’’ was an important part of everyday life.
And this carried on past the end of communism. Early ‘90’s where a time of great confusion in Romania – how do you go from a hard and strict communist regime to democracy? And so people did what they already knew – appeal to corruption.
And it flourished – opportunities were all around, prime for the taking.
Years later, thanks to the accession process to the EU, things began to change, and it is indeed surprising that the Romanian PM who created the structure known today as DNA is now behind bars for corruption. The paradigm appears to have changed.
But, because there is a ‘’but” much to this writers dissatisfaction, people have not been so proficient at removing this from their bag of tricks. It’s quite hard actually, because examples of non-corrupt officials are hard to find. And there is this overwhelming feeling that corruption is something we will always have to deal with. And it is not. But people need to change.
Corruption implies, at the very basic level, 2 actors – one that needs it, and one that provides it. So far efforts have been mainly on finding and prosecuting those that provide it. Basic capitalism teaches us that in order for this fight against corruption to be effective we need to eliminate the need.
And in order to do that we have to educate people. People live in a constantly corrupted environment – media presents cases, gossiping talks of corruption. Heroes of anti-corruption are needed, as well pointed at last night’s debate. Superheroes, we need superheroes. And we need small scale examples. We need to find those anonymous people that refuse corruption. We need to foster them and push them forward.
I felt the need to bring this up because there is this ever present talk of the 2 speed Europe. Definitions and clusters vary, from west-east debates, to Euro or non-Euro Europe. But one thing that should be mentioned is that Europe truly consists of 2 distinct bodies – non-communist and former communist nations. I know to some it might appear as a cliché, but it’s just a matter of calling things by their name – people from former communist nations are different, because of their experiences.
You can’t go through 45 years of fear and total control of the state over your life and not come out damaged at the end. Unfortunately the generations that lived under communism passed on their experiences, their modus operandi to the next generation. And the new democracy failed in correcting that early on.
Things are beginning to change. Not on upper strata level – but at the base of the society. And I say that because in my daily activity I deal quite often with public servants. And one thing I can tell you, looking back 7-8 years, is that there is a new player on the table – fear! Fear of getting caught. And fear is a powerful motivator.
One Europe will be achieved when all of us will respect and uphold the same cluster of values. Some are innate to our European overall identity. Some we need to grow and spread.