“A great empire must descend in order to receive small countries, like the big river receives its tributaries. A small country must bend in order to be protected under a great empire. Thus, one will gain in size, the other in the power of ruling the people. Similarly, the great ones must bend when it is necessary.”
When, some 10 years ago, I read for the first time this fragment (chapter 61) of “Tao te King”, the ancient description by Lao Tse (4th Century BC), I felt – I must admit it – very indignant, as citizen of a small country that was, during its almost complete history, under the direct occupation, or in the sphere of influence, of various “empires.” I saw it like some sort of justification for all the conquest wars waged through history by the empires greedy of land and wealth, and a humiliation of small and defenceless nations, a justification that was even more surprising as it came from a philosopher, not a great conqueror.
Why – I wondered – is it absolutely necessary that “small countries” simply yield to the “great empires”? Why are they not entitled, even in theory, to be simply left to their own small troubles and joys?
Now, 7 years from my country’s accession to the European Union, I must confess that I start seeing things in a slightly more nuanced light. First because what we call “process of European integration” is, in itself, concrete proof of the fact that an “empire” can incorporate a “small country” without bloodshed and, even more, can offer it more than it demands in return. And I do not mean the logistical support, the missions of volunteering or the substantial funds that are made available, but that “power to rule the people” evoked by the great Chinese philosopher. Because one of Romania’s key problems is represented by the fact that it was and remains a hard to govern country. Almost ungovernable. (And this is not a recent problem, even if we think that the only flourishing period of Romania’s modern history was under the kings of the Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen dynasty, under a foreign, not local authority).
With a population overwhelmingly disenchanted, full of prejudice and frustration, fears and obsessions, which votes more emotionally than rationally, with a quasi-inexistent civic spirit and a visceral opposition to the idea of state (but also with unlimited demands from it) on one hand and – as a consequence – a political class with narrow views, preponderantly pushed by opportunism, self-pride, hypocrisy and voraciousness on the other hand, Romania had – neither after 1989, nor after 2007 – a wide, unitary and own vision of the way it must go from the communist type of state to that modern European. This is also why, paradoxically (and also embarrassingly) it does not need only support from abroad, but also insistences and pressures in order to accept this support. An example with this regard is the unusual diplomatic incident that recently took place at governmental level between Romania and Sweden. As it is known, the Swedish minister of Foreign Affairs, Birgitta Ohlsson said that, after several rounds of talks at level of state secretary with Romanian authorities on the European funds destined to the social integration of the Roma population, noticed that the Romanian side simply refuses the Swedish proposal referring to the creation of a team of European experts that will assist Romanian authorities in the process of spending these funds. The tone was vehement and Ms. Ohlsson declared herself explicitly “angry” at the attitude of the Romanian side and even sent a letter of protest to Brussels. “I believe there is a problem of inertia and political prestige: one does not want that other countries interfere with the internal policy affairs (of Romania). Plus, this is not something that would help Romanian governments and elects win the elections. I am upset at the disinterest they showed for this subject,” the Swedish diplomat states.
It is well known that the problem of the absorption of European funds in general, not just those for Roma, is a chronic issue in Romania, the country that continues to hold the last place in Europe with this regard, despite the improvement registered during the last year, proudly announced by Premier Ponta several weeks ago. Practically, this means that Romanian authorities continue losing huge sums of money because they are unable to manage them of a coherent and efficient manner, on concrete and well justified projects. In such conditions, the gesture of an old member state, which consistently contributes to these funds, of proposing a method to improve the absorption rate, even if this method implies a direct intervention, should seem offensive to nobody. Yet Bucharest reacted caustically. Both the minister of Foreign Affairs, Titus Corlatean and that of European Funds, Eugen Teodorovici made indignant statements, accusing the Swedish side that it uses this matter out of electoral reasons and that the statements of the Swedish diplomat are “offensive” to Romania, without referring to the intentions of improving the management of European funds. And we must not necessarily return to the great classics of philosophy in order to understand this attitude. On the other hand, in the answering letter to the complaint made by Ms. Ohlsson, the European commissioners Viviane Reding, Johannes Hahn and Laszlo Andor adopt a conciliatory tone, slightly favourable to the Romanian side, appreciating that Romania proved, and still proves, “political commitment” in the matter of Roma population and promising that Brussels will further grant an increased attention to how Romanian authorities intend to promote the inclusion of Roma in the society. It is to be seen if this goodwill of the “Empire” will give results or not.