Home » English » “The way out of labyrinth”

“The way out of labyrinth”

Doctor Honoris Causa acceptance speech at the Polytechnic University of Bucharest, March 10, 2011, of Mr. Emil Constantinescu, former President of Romania 1996-2000In recent years, in my capacity as a scientist, a representative of civil society and a statesman, I have often been asked for my insight as regards the state of the nation and its future.
I remembered that, at the end of World War II, general Marshall, the one entrusted with drawing up a recon­stru­c­tion plan for a devastated Europe, thought that ancient Greek philoso­phers would find better solutions than contemporary politicians, so I chose the myth of Theseus, the founder of Athens, as seen by André Gide.
André Gide wrote his essay on Theseus in 1946, towards the end of his life, in a France marred by human and economic losses, torn between the euphoria of victory and the humiliation of collaborationism. He was trying to convey a message of recovery starting from the individual to the city and from city to mankind.
At a first reading, in the ’70s, I saw Theseus as a guideline for human development: „You must first under­sta­nd who you are“… „Be a man. Prove yourself able to show to your fellows what man can be and what he can aim to be“… „There are great deeds to be done in the world. Make yourself!“… „Always think that to loiter is to be­tray“… „It is not enough to be and then to have been; you must leave some­thing behind, act so that nothing ends with you.“
More recently, I came to attach importance to the Labyrinth scene, where the central role is played not by Theseus, the warrior, but rather by Daedalus, the scholar, craftsman, engineer and chemist. Daedalus defines the „labyrinth“ as a place with unfenced gardens, which open into one another, so that the Monster is not truly imprisoned in them, but he cannot get out either. Similarly, those who enter the labyrinth are unwilling, rather than unable to come out. Intoxicated with the odours, their mind concocts unsubstantial speculations, and driven by the confusion in their own mind, each man gets lost in his own labyrinth. When his son Icarus believes the only way out is by flying, Daedalus makes wings for him. But Icarus, the embo­diment of restless quest and poetic élan, overestimates his strength, flies to high and dies, although he lives on as an eternal symbol. To get out of the labyrinth, Daedalus gives Theseus a thread, which stands for the sense of duty and the connection between past, present and future, because „only what you are now will shape that which you will be tomorrow.“
At the end of his life, Theseus learns that suffering elevates and redeems. He is proud of having founded the new Athens, of the fact that the Athenians are the only ones worthy of being called a People and that after his death people will see that they are happier, better and freer. The individual, the city, mankind: the thread that ensures the exit from the labyrinth of fate.
Returning from the ancient myth to today’s world, we notice, after a two-millennium long experience, that the historical fate of nations depends on their capacity to imagine a great political project. And this can only be achieved if it is preceded by a cultural project, the only one that can push people towards progress. „The fate that drives the heroes of Greek myths is not „external,“ but „inner,“ derived from each person’s psychological coordinates,“ young Gide wrote in 1919, at the end of World War I.
What are the psychological coor­dinates that make ever more people around us think that they are in a labyrinth with no escape? If we tried to find the word that best describes the contemporary Romanian society this would be, without doubt, confusion. More precisely, the confusion of values and implicitly of evaluation criteria in all the areas of social life: politics, economy, administration, justice, education, culture, morals. A terrible paradox has made the exacerbation of this widespread state of confusion overlap the exact moment when Ro­mania’s European accession mar­ked our inclusion in a system of rules which, whether accepted voluntarily or firmly imposed, has led to the progress of the Western world.
Could this major success turn into a defeat? Unfortunately, yes, if one is not prepared to understand it, because prevailing confusion that creeps through democracy and freedom is worse than the evil of dictatorship. The evil builds solidarity among the forces of good, scarce as they may be; confusion paralyses the positive energies of our nation, just when we need them the most. That moment should have been used as a starting point for a new national political project.
In 2007, after one and a half centuries of effort, errors and sacrifice, the Romanian nation completed the political project launched by the 1848 intellectual elites. The visionary political project of the 1848 Revolution proclaimed a number of national ideals: the unity of Romanians, inde­pen­dence, the progress and moder­ni­sing of the country, freedom from the domination of eastern empires and Romania’s joining the advanced and pros­perous democracies of the Euro­pean West.
An analysis of the Romanian case reveals that there has never been a true dilemma in choosing between a national cultural identity and the Euro­pean one. They have been comple­men­tary, rather than opposite. This comple­mentarity can be traced back to the early 19th Century, when the founders of a great cultural movement, the „Transylvanian School,“ put forth a doctri­ne according to which the Roma­nian people, divided by the Wallachian, Moldavian and Transylvanian borders, may find a common identity, different from those around it and at the same time European thanks to its Latin roots and alphabet. Thanks to the efforts of the 1848 generation of visionary intellectuals and politicians in Mol­da­via and Wallachia, this model was turned into a state policy. We can therefore say that the Romanian nation state was established in a European civilisation matrix. The construction of Romanian patriotism and nationalism first relied on education, and then on institutional and administrative for­mulas. The reform of the state was possi­ble because the two major political parties that shaped Roma­nians’ political history — the Conser­vatives and the Liberals — both embraced this educational and cul­tural project. They only differed in the means and pace of the Europea­ni­sation process, and in the Conser­va­tives’ preference for the German culture, as against the Liberals’ focus on the French one. This early European option enabled Romania, after gaining its independence, to become a regio­nal model of institutional development, as well as a centre of linguistic radiance, which turned Romanian into a vehicle of culture and civilisation. In this context, Romanian turned into a language used as a regional commu­nication instrument in south-eastern Europe. Romania’s European project revealed, as a collateral effect, the exis­tence of important Romanian communities in the Balkans, identified through their common language and the education for which the Romanian state earmarked substantial financial and diplomatic support. As I reviewed the succession of political develop­ments related to Romania’s European integration and recalled my own experience, I realised that it is precisely the soundness of the European cul­tural project initiated by the Romanian intellectual elites in early 19th Century and the construction of the Romanian identity project on this foundation, which managed to overshadow, in the difficult transition period after the 1989 Revolution, both the 1945-1960 years, subordinated to the nationalism of Soviet Russia, and the national-communism of 1964-1989, subordi­na­ted to a dictator’s cult of personality. At a cultural level, the exaggerations of inter-war and Ceausescu-era theory of an idealised past left its supporters on a marginal position in the Romanian culture, as compared to the promoters of the European ideas. After the fall of the communist regime, this facilitated the return of the Romanian culture to the great European cultural arena.
At this point, I am bound to men­tion and appreciate the post-1989 Romanian scholars’ affirmation, defi­ni­tion, defence and dissemination of the European idea, in its three-fold dimen­sion (cultural-literary, ideological and political), from a Romanian perspec­tive. The Romanian intellectuals also managed to turn the European ideas into a political project. If the two meetings in Snagov (1995 and 2000) led to a consensus of political parties with diverging ideological platforms, this was because they were organised by a committee of senior experts from civil society, under the leadership of a distinguished member of the Academy. The solidarity of the civic and academic circles around the European inte­gra­tion project ensured its success.
In 2007, Romania became an EU mem­ber and saw its century-old ideals fulfilled. It also received firm guaran­tees for their preservation. But as we and other former communist states found out, the years that followed the euphoria after the dictatorship collap­sed did not mean „the end of history,“ but the beginning of another history, which also needs a great national project.
What should this new national project be, and who are those entitled to outline it?
The historical context of Romania’s membership to the EU and the globalising world requires that we build our European identity project in a globalising world, while at the same time accepting common rules in terms of administration, economy, justice, and delegating some of its sovereign foreign policy and national defence decisions. This identity project cannot be limited to those citizens who live within national borders; it must also address those who acknowledge their membership to the Romanian nation, irrespective of their host country. The national project can be proposed — but not imposed — and will only be accepted if a significant part of the Romanian people finds in it elements enabling it to regain their national dignity and individual self-esteem.
Why didn’t we have a new national project prepared for Romania as an EU and NATO member, able to cope with the challenges of the knowledge-based society and the globalising world? In my opinion, this happened because in 1999-2000, when people accepted to pay the price of change, a small, but vocal part of the intellectual elite, which mistook ideals for illusions, did not understand it and voiced its disa­ppointment.
Why didn’t this part of the intel­lectual elite understand it? Because it was not used to operate with a history of concepts, but only with a history of rescuing, charismatic personalities. Adding to that was intellectual indo­lence — because in a knowledge-based society a national project involves the capacity to transfer information into knowledge and a substantial effort to understand the distribution of know­ledge and of life support systems.
Overcoming the current crisis is related not so much to financial, economic or political difficulties, but to a new national project. We have replaced a dictatorial system with a system that pursued democracy and free-market economy, without a tho­rough analysis of the past, and we wasted 20 years trying to understand others, without first understanding ourselves. To this day, we have no accurate and updated information on Ro­mania’s natural above and under­ground resources, needed for the development of the real economy. We have no assessment of the country’s human resources, of the nation’s physical and mental health, and no transparent presentation of its financial resources. Even worse, we have no records of its scientific, technological and cultural resources, in a self-professed knowledge-based society. This is why I often feel that Romania is viewed — and, even more dramatically, Romania sees itself — as a trade company that may be appraised by anyone against a set of financial, economic or social indica­tors, which are not even regarded as interconnected, but rather as mere statistics.
A historical project, able to gene­rate a synergy of all collective and crea­tive values, must not only recall the past and appropriately describe the present, but also foresee the directions in which our nation should develop in the first half of the 21st Century. A sustainable development strategy for the next decade can only be drawn up on the basis of a vision of Romania, Europe and the world by 2050. Only starting from such a strategy can we come up with a set of consistent public policies for the short term. The ongoing political deadlock can only be over­come if this strategy is ratified in the form of a pact between civil society and the main political parties, so as to guarantee its implementation regard­less of the alternation in power. It is the right of political parties to choose specific implementation means, de­pen­ding on their particular ideo­logies, but without changing the essence of the national development strategy.
Who are entitled and able to outline such a historical project? I will try to answer this question by exclu­sion. At first sight, this should be the task of those specifically appointed to do it, namely the political class, i.e. the government, parliament, political par­ties. Unfortunately, we see no doctrine-based approach of the future of our nation among political parties. And even if there was one, politicians’ involvement in solving urgent adminis­trative or legislative issues would not allow them the time for larger-scale intellectual endeavours. There are no signs of convincing strategies among Romanian business and financial circles either. And even if there were any, they would naturally focus on making profit, and corporate interests will never fully overlap citizen interests.
This is why I believe such a great natio­nal project is the direct responsibility of intellectual elites. By this I mean personalities whose value is acknowledged in European and world excellence centres, and who own a capital of competence and morality. Fortunately, there is a Romanian intel­lectual elite, represented by prominent values in fields like natural sciences, technology, economics and huma­ni­ties. What we lack is the synergy of these values around a great project, by means of a communication, discussion and cooperation forum. We can build a national project, and at the same time build a new way of thinking, freed from passion and bitterness, in which truth and value prevail over ungrounded, empty talk.
We need to revive the academic spirit in our society, because it involves precisely what we lack: respect for the others’ views, civilised and rational dialogue. This is the only way to create a space that promotes academic dialogue, the exchange of knowledge and ideas between generations, that supports young minds on their road towards performance, that establishes new communication channels between the members of civil society and bet­ween civil society, political circles, admi­nistration and the business envi­ron­ment, that identifies and capitalises on traditional Romanian values and universal ones, that promotes Roma­nians’ cultural identity in the context of European integration and globalisa­tion, that sets up a partnership with the mass media to disseminate these values throughout the Romanian society. But the priority is to regain the respect the Romanian society used to have for its intellectual elites, because that respect generates confidence and progress.
Can we put behind us the inap­propriate tradition of a country where thinks are never seen through? I am confident we can. This is why in 2009 I established the ROMANIAN ACADEMIC FORUM, under the leadership of an honorary council including Romanian Academy presidents, rectors of the Poly­technic University and the Univer­si­ty of Bucharest, whose mission is to draw up the Romania 2050 and Romania 2030 studies. I invite all the great minds of the Romanian scientific and cultural elites to join this endeavour.
I also believe we must support the Romanian Academy project, initiated by Academy member T. Postolache, of writing the New Encyclopaedia of Romania. This fundamental work may be the reference we need in order to identify our current resources. Moreo­ver, because it is designed as a third-generation Encyclopaedia, it suits the concept of a knowledge-based society by incorporating various visions on the future.
The knowledge-based society mar­ks a radical change of relations between science and politics, between scientists and statesmen. In this dimen­sion, no rational strategies and policies can be „independent“ from science: researchers are urged to offer what they know to society, to mankind, politicians included; they are urged not to conceal what they don’t know, to allow different opinions as they are revealed in research and to analyse them objectively.
A national project for Romania may bring back into our society the weltan­schauung, the particular worldview linked by German philosophers with each era, and, more importantly, the gestalt der weltanschauung according to which the whole is more than the sum of its parts.
Scientific and technological inno­vation, the economic financial prag­matism can harmoniously combine with the imagination of philosophers, writers and artists, because this concept best suits what politics should be in a knowledge-based society and the globalising world of the future: a complex vision of the future, based on a new dialogue on human values.
To find our way out of the LABYRINTH we need to create a new balance between knowledge and power, able to reconfigure a framework in which individuals can not only be, but also become. It is only by turning our centuries-long survival strategy into a self-improvement strategy, that we can take „the Romanian sense of being“ beyond the „Romanian sense of self-hatred,“ to a „Romanian sense of self-respect.“
The 21st Century Romanian National Project may thus be the pillar of newfound solidarity, based on self-respect and generating a sense of national dignity, without which we cannot be reliable partners in today’s world or in the days to come.

© 2010 REVISTA CADRAN POLITIC · RSS · Designed by Theme Junkie · Powered by WordPress