January 6, 2014
I have recently read an article concerning the concept of ‚Eastern Europe’ and it’s validity today. I might not agree with all the points the author makes, but some of the conclusions are worthy to be retained and transferred in different debates, as they have an inherent value. The article can be found here, and the idea I want to retain from it is that while countries of the former Eastern Bloc have almost en masse decided to transition to a reality comparable to that of the Western Bloc, the paths they have chosen and thusly the objectives atained differ vastly. Keep this in mind, we will return to this shortly.
Wikipedia defines development in a variety of ways, depending on the type of development we are discussing. Given my professional background, i’ll darw your attention to the term development geography (DevG). DevG is a branch of geography with reference to the standard of living and quality of life of its human inhabitants. In this context, development is a process of change that affects people’s lives. It may involve an improvement in the quality of life as perceived by the people undergoing change . It is interesting that we are talking of standard of living and quality of life, but most importantly as percieved by the people undergoing change. Looking further into the wikipedia article will reveal though that measuring development in this sense implies the use of quantitative and qualitative indexes. Those that are quatitative (GNP, PPP, acces to water, etc) are provided by mathematical calculations, and we shall leave them aside, since their determination is standardized. The qualitative ones though prove a tad more interesting. The Wikipedia article lists a few – freedom, corruption or security […] mainly non-material benefits. All these in turn can be accurately assessed by use of standards. But while standards on qualitative aspects are mathematical and therefore universal in nature, the latter depend heavily on the scale and established or perceived standards.
Now if we return to the first part of this article, we have to agree that upon the dismantling of the former Eastern European communist bloc, the perceived standard to be attained for the people within was the established standard of Western Europe. Nothing bad about that. Quite the contrary. It is those standards that provided the necessary incentive for people to push forward, towards a better life.
However as the aforementioned article pointed out, the roads chosen to achieving these standards have been different for the countries we are talking about. There have been similarities, but mostly, there have been differences. Established from a historical, social, geographical and economical viewpoints, grinded down and mixed with national sentiment, these differences account for the difference in development between these countries.
Up to this point everything is pretty much logical. And sustainable if needed with cold facts and figures. But that is not my point.
Upon pausing this train of thought recently it doomed on me that we have neglected a few aspects. Surely, from an analytical point of view, these aspects are harder to qualify, categorize and use. But they are real, and the economic crisis that so much has been written about in the past 4 years made it even more poignant.
First off – are the standards we relate too fluid or are they static? And who decides that they are not? Recent years have seen all matters of debates arise – privacy issues, security issues, trade and issues with the banking system, the occupy movement, etc. These debates, and their ongoing debacle generate changes in quality of life as perceived by the people undergoing change. So it is safe to assume that some standards have changed. But these standards, while different amongst the people, have yet to be properly implemented in DevG.
Second off – has the achieving of said standards remained a guiding force? It is a most difficult question, as people faced with crisis have, for the most part, regressed on pursuit of standards, particularly on the qualitative front, because they are more interested in literary money in their pocket and job security. Deficits have risen, cuts have been made – people suffered, and thusly quality of life has gone down. But their availability in pursuing the standards as established earlier has also suffered. And even if the effects coming from this are to a degree integrated in DevG, the underlying cause is not.
Third off, and most important – should these standards be maintained? Some of course are beyond doubt. Some on the other hand, especially when discussing perceived quality of life feel like they need to be changed. And I mean that in terms of standards. Because one thing that bothers me, and I see this particularly in Romania, is that achieving standards is done with a complete and utter ignorance of how they were achieved in Western Europe. We have adopted the standard, but failed to adopt the mechanisms that made those standards, such as they are. And I begin to wonder.
Which leads me to my point – can we, in terms of development, create new standards? Can we decide, adopt and pursue a set of standards outside the usual standards? Yesterday’s post on highway systems is a starting point in this debate.
We find ourselves in a unique position – we still have time to change where we are going. And if the idea is to develop, than the idea is to give people a better quality of life. We all know that development for development’s sake does not work – 45 years of planned economy and industrialization should have taught us that.
So have 2 options, clear, from the start – first – if people adopt the standards of the day, such as they are, then we as a community must create the necessary environment to allow for those standards to come into effect; second – if people don’t adopt those standards then we must either change the standards or provide better education for the people, in the hope that in one or two generations, the percentage of those inclined to adopt western standards will increase.
The first option has not proven to be quite the case in Romania so far. Those who have embraced standards completely are unfortunately a minority. There is a vast array of standards adopted sequentially by a large populace, but not as a complete set.
The second option is quite undemocratic – it presumes that somebody has already decided the road to follow, and now it’s a simple matter of persuading the populace to follow. What about what happens in the meantime? Who accounts for those lost opportunities? And it is presumable that this would imply certain homogeneity in leadership and policy. Which as time has proven does not happen.
So there is a need to address this differently – and it is this writer’s opinion that this can be achieved by changing standards. Let’s be realistic – let’s keep the goal intact – a better quality of life. But let us change the way we perceive development.Horatiu Ferchiu