Development discourse in Romania: from Socialism to EU Membership

Oprea, Mirela (2009) Development discourse in Romania: from Socialism to EU Membership, [Dissertation thesis], Alma Mater Studiorum Università di Bologna. Dottorato di ricerca in Cooperazione internazionale e politiche per lo sviluppo sostenibile, 20 Ciclo. DOI 10.6092/unibo/amsdottorato/2228.
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With their accession to the European Union, twelve new countries - Romania among them - (re)entered the international community of international donors. In the history of development aid this can be seen as a unique event: it is for the first time in history that such a large number of countries become international donors, with such short notice and in such a particular context that sees some scholars announcing the ‘death’ of development. But in spite of what might be claimed regarding the ‘end’ of the development era, development discourse seems to be rather vigorous and in good health: it is able to extert an undeniable force of attraction over the twelve countries that, in a matter of years, have already convinced themselves of its validity and adhered to its main tenets. This thesis collects evidence for improving our understanding of this process that sees the co-optation of twelve new countries to the dominant theory and practice of development cooperation. The evidence collected seems to show that one of the tools employed by the promoters of this co-optation process is that of constructing the ‘new’ Member States as ‘new’, inexpert donors that need to learn from the ‘old’ ones. By taking a case-study approach, this thesis gathers data that suggests that conceiving of the ‘twelve’ as ‘new’ donors is both historically inaccurate and value-ladden. On one hand, Romania’s case-study illustrates how in the (socialist) past at least one in the group of the twelve was particularly conversant in the discourse of international development. On the other hand, the process of co-optation, while being presented as a knowledgeproducing process, can also be seen as an ignorance-producing procedure: Romania, along with its fellow new Member States, takes the opportunity of ‘building its capacity’ and ‘raising its awareness’ of development cooperation along the line drawn by the European Union, but at the same time it seems to un-learn and ‘lower’ its awareness of development experience in the (socialist) past. This is one possible reading of this thesis. At a different level, this thesis can also be seen as an attempt to account of almost five decades of international development discourse in one specific country – Romania – in three different socio-political contexts: the socialist years (up to the year 1989), the ‘transition years’ (from 1989 to the pre-accession years) and the membership to the European Union. In this second reading, the thesis seeks to illustrate how – contrary to widespread beliefs – before 1989 Romania’s international development discourse was particularly vivid: in the most varied national and international settings President Ceausescu unfolded an extensive discursive activity on issues pertaining to international development; generous media coverage of affairs concerning the developing countries and their fight for development was the rule rather than the exception; the political leadership wanted the Romanians not only to be familiarized with (or ‘aware of’ to use current terminology) matters of underdevelopment, but also to prove a sense of solidarity with these countries, as well as a sense of pride for the relations of ‘mutual help’ that were being built with them; finally, international development was object of academic attention and the Romanian scholars were able not only to reflect on major developments, but could also formulate critical positions towards the practices of development aid. Very little remains of all this during the transition years, while in the present those who are engaged in matters pertaining to international development do so with a view of building Romania as an EU-compliant donor.


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