Wednesday, March 5, 2014

EU initiative aims to rebuild solidarity

In 1989, I was fortunate enough to meet an Estonian living in Helsinki who was trying to figure out a way to organize a movement that would result in the removal of Soviet influences from his country—especially the puppet government.  This man had a wide assortment of reasons for wanting them out but the essential reason was pretty clear.  "In the 1930s, we had roughly the same standard of living as Sweden," he said and went on to describe why he thought Estonia should be able to equal Sweden economically again.  Since I had spent the 1980s witnessing (and writing about) the deliberate dismantling of the sort of capitalism that had made USA, Western Europe, and Sweden so rich, I suggested he might just have to wait awhile and the Western living standards would return to his level.

I think of him every once in a while.  The good news was that Estonia did rid itself of much of the influence of USSR / Russia.  The bad news was was that neoliberalism was coming into full flower about that time and poor Estonia soon found herself in an economic shit hole from which she has been unable to extricate herself.  As Michael Hudson put it in 2012, "The Baltic countries of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania already have been plunged so deeply into debt that their populations are emigrating to find work and flee debt-burdened real estate."

Yesterday, I saw an interesting post at the DW site that immediately reminded me of my Estonian acquaintance and a story he told to illustrate why he wanted those damn Russian / Commies out of his country.  It involved an Estonian farm that had been collectivized post WW II.  The new managers had been chosen for their political correctness and not their experience in agriculture so not surprisingly, the yields immediately began to fall.  This happened in spite of (because of?) the fact that the managers were religiously applying their best Marxist understanding to the problems of growing food.  Finally, the zealots come to the "stunning" conclusion that what they really needed was some fertilizer.  So they applied to the appropriate agency to get some—only to be told that they were on a three-year waiting list.  Yet one spring day, the collective farm was informed that they were going to get their shipment of fertilizer.  Unfortunately, it wasn't going to arrive until planting was done.  Not the best time, but...

The train arrives with the fertilizer.  Unfortunately, the folks unloading it didn't really know what it was so they piled it up on the ground and before the collective could claim it, it got rained on and the granular powder turns into a big crusty blob.  It could be reclaimed by smashing it into powder again and letting it dry but this required a lot of labor that was unfortunately trying to plant the crops out at the farm.  Soon the fertilizer pile gets rained on again.  This time it is beyond reclaiming.  So the fertilizer they had waited three years to get didn't actually make it to the fields.  The output of the farm not only did not go up, it went down again.

The agricultural bureaucrats up the line were not amused.  They didn't actually know what had happened but they did know that they had sent scarce fertilizer to a farm and the yields had not gone up.  So they dispatched folks to find out how this could be.  For some reason they weren't terribly interested in the fertilizer-in-the-rain story because what they were looking for were signs that the folks on the collective farm weren't ideologically pure enough.  But the farm's managers were indeed gung-ho Marxists so the investigation concluded that the farm's workers (who, remember, didn't cause any of the problems) were suffering from "alienation" (an official Marxist disease.)

The senior bureaucrats went back to headquarters and came up with recommendations.  Surprisingly, they did not recommend supplying fertilizers in winter months, training rail workers how to handle expensive fertilizers, or building waterproof storage facilities to keep the shipment until the farm could pick it up.  Oh, no, no, no!  The diagnosis was "alienation" so the prescription would be cultural uplift.  So the good workers at the collective farm were treated to a performance by one of the minor ballet companies from nearby Leningrad.  Not surprisingly, this did not raise yields.

I was assured that this story was absolutely true.  And now we see that the EU is going to try to placate people whose lives have been destroyed by the EU's economic mismanagement with—wait for it—cultural renewal.  Apparently, stupid Leisure Class bureaucrats we have with us always.  I should warn these dunderheads that I once met a man who was so furious with people like them, he seemed perfectly willing to die to get them out of his life and country.

EU initiative aims to rebuild solidarity

DW.DE Sabine Kinkartz / jrb  03.03.2014

Europe's economic crisis has been politically devastating, leaving many to question the European idea. Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso are pushing culture to promote unity.

The year 2008 will probably go down in European history as disastrous. The financial crisis, fuelled by a near insatiable thirst for profits and craving for self-regulation, resulted in an implosion well beyond its own sector. Millions of people have lost their jobs. Especially in Southern Europe, many people are still suffering from the consequences of the crisis.

Politicians responded to the economic malaise by demanding more oversight, regulation and rules. But they're fighting an uphill battle. Never before have so few citizens of the European Union felt like Europeans.

A new form of nationalism has spread, nourished by populist prejudices thought to have been left in the past as well as a feeling that everything would work much better if everybody focused more on themselves.

How to achieve greater unity

Policymakers across Europe are alarmed but, at the same time, display a certain helplessness. They're looking for ways to achieve greater unity. European Commission President Barroso and the EU Parliament hope to deliver answers on that front with the initiative "New Narrative for Europe," which was launched six months ago.

As part of the initiative, a cultural committee consisting of 20 prominent artists, culture experts, intellectuals and scientists has developed a vision of Europe's future. In Berlin on Saturday (01.03.2014), the committee presented a declaration calling for no less than a paradigm shift in society, art and science - similar to the intellectual awakening in the 15th and 16th centuries.

The message from the culture committee to politicians is loud and clear: They need to think in completely new dimensions. While the committee acknowledges the need for economic and financial rules and regulations, it argues for a realignment of Europe's political focus.

Policymakers, the culture committee contends, could learn from the art world when it comes to exploring new and radical approaches. What's needed are bold, imaginative and informed politicians who speak and understand the language of the new Europe.

Peace, liberty and prosperity

But what exactly do these recommendations mean concretely, and how might they be implemented? At the event, EU Commission President Barroso noted the declaration should be understood not as a point of departure. It's important, he said, to win over as many citizens as possible to breathe life into a new vision of Europe. In particular, young people who have been less able or willing to identify with the continent's unique qualities need to convinced.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel stressed that in the search for a new leitmotiv for Europe, the region's three initial guiding values - peace, liberty and the pursuit of prosperity - should not be forgotten.

"Many like to say the mission for peace is now fulfilled, but when we take a closer look, the last war in the western Balkans is not even a generation ago, and we still have our work cut out to ensure lasting peace there," she said. There remain, she added, extremist, misanthropic tendencies that Europe "unfortunately" must also confront: " Hatred, violence, terrorism and mobilization against minorities - all of that can be found in Germany, and that's a reality not only here." more

No comments:

Post a Comment