During the last few years, I have developed a real passion in attending conferences if there is the smallest glimpse that I might find something interesting. I just see it as a better way of learning things. Over time I have learnt a great deal of thing from attending conferences, I have exchanged a lot of ideas, some of which very fruitful, and I have met enough people to understand the value of networking.
YoungDiplo conference last Saturday looked like a very interesting prospect, if only for seeing the ICR London building from the inside. As it turns out, it was more than just that.
The argument for the conference was kick-starting Young Diplo, a formal para-educational programme for Romanian undergraduates interested in political sciences and international relations. The way it started, I thought I was going to spend the rest of the day in Boreville. I don't mean to sound rude or mean by any chance, but the way Eliza Gheorghe carried out her speech was so plain and bland that it could be used to put ADHD kids to sleep. As honored as I felt to see the Romanian ambassador in England in person, mr. Ion Jinga's speech went on in the same manner. I extracted some interesting bits of data from HE's readings, though: 38% of Romanians in the UK are college-educated (highest of all the foreign ethnic groups here), unemployment rate of the Romanians in the UK is 4.4% (lowest of all the foreign ethnic groups) and there are over 3.000 Romanian professionals working in the health care industry in the UK.
Mr. Jinga spoke a lot about the dream of an united Europe, a dream that Romania likes to cling on to maybe a bit too much. And in our ecstasy about sharing the same table with Europe's greats and expecting them to solve some of the internal problems that are of our own making and should be ours to solve, we sometimes forget the values of de-centralisation and find ourselves lost in cliches like "finding common solutions to common problems" in a time when it is obvious that Germany's problems are different than the ones Greece faces, for instance, and when there's a growing concern that maybe we entered the European project with an East-West axis too heterogeneous.
Mr. Dorian Branea followed and his so-called "escape speech" drew some nice parallels between the diplomatic role of the Ancient Greek Olympics and this year's London Olympics, a great opportunity for increasing the international standing of a country, both through sporting results and diplomatic PR.
I didn't understand much of mr. Nicolae Ratiu's speech, but it was mostly a lesson about Ratiu family's history and about the efforts Ion Ratiu did of promoting Romania's cultural values in the UK ever since the 40s. Perhaps this speech would have been of good use some 22 years ago in Bucharest.
HE Dr. Emil Brix, the Austrian ambassador in UK opened the first of the two panels of the day with a much more realistic and grounded speech. Taking the dream of a united Europe for granted, mr. Brix underlined the challenges presented on the way from where Europe is to where Europe wants to be and some ideas about how to tackle them. Without being afraid of delivering some very blunt and maybe not so pleasant truths, mr. Brix talked about a series of UE failures of the last five years, the most interesting of which I remember being the failure to develop an emotional component of the union, the lack of an "European identity" of the kind the revolutions of the modern age created for the modern nations. Another very interesting idea HE surfaced was the development of local, smaller-scale transnational alliances, such as Romania-Bulgaria, or Romania-Hungary. This worked for the Balkans in the early 20s with the Little Entente and I've been wondering ever since 2005 or so how come no one thought about the number of advantages such an enterprise has. I guess there haven't been that many great diplomatic minds in the Balkans of late, have there?
"Truism Parade" are the words I wrote next to mr. Dan Berendel's name in my notes, and such was his speech. Representative of an oil company, mr. Berendel delivered us success stories from the wonderful world of petroleum and natural gas extraction. Otherwise an interesting and well-articulated speech, mr. Berendel's considerations were - in my humble opinion - based on a very flawed assumption: oil is a resource for the future. I can agree with the fact that we don't really know how much petrol we have left and that the development of oil-extracting technologies can give us access to currently unknown deposits, but I know one thing for sure: there is only a finite amount of oil left. While we might just get away and not run out of oil in our lifetime, the end of oil isn't far off. On a historic scale, we are dread close to it, actually. There's still some good money to be made out of it though, so there's no real point in caring about anything else, apparently. I can also take mr. Berendel's point about keeping oil extraction going for reasons pertaining to national strategy, but when he speaks about billions of dollars being spent on oil-extracting technologies, then minutes later says green technologies are expensive, something just doesn't fit. But hey, all that money we can get from under the sea at the sole cost of our planet's health have to belong to somebody, right?
Now, I have no idea what mr. Hugh Ward is doing at SAAB, but I sure hope he's getting good money for it. Given that he's in the weaponry industry, he probably is. He might put those presentation-delivery skills to better use, though. His was by far the best presentation of the day and one of the best I have ever seen. Dynamic, methodical, aesthetically pleasing, with just about the right balance of graphs, information, emotional bondage and trivia, his presentation had it all. I am eager to find his presentation online. When a man is sent to tell you about strategic weaponry of the 21st century and he gives you bits of Fenimore Cooper, Kolb's learning cycle, Plato's Republic or Horace's Odes, you don't question the man. You just listen!
Mr. Seth A. Johnston, sir!, was the most honest speaker of the panel. A captain of the US Army working in the military intelligence, the guy's as close to a real life Bond as it gets. A Bond with an Oxford Ph.D., though. Young mr. Johnston shared with us some of his first hand experience from the NATO mission in Afghanistan. He flattered us with a fact that, whilst not unheard of, we are reluctant in believing: one of Romania's greatest resources is the people. Human intelligence, as he called it. When exchanging professional experiences, Romanian often tend to end up having the upper hand. Same happened in Afghanistan he said, and he also had a glaring smile while saying it. He also told us how the Romanian mission in Afghanistan was entrusted with the command of the entire Zakul province. Which is a big deal, apparently. Nice kid, cpt. Johnston. He probably could've killed us all faster than blinking.
Before heading for the break and for the absolutely delightful lunch generously offered by our host, the Romanian Cultural Institute, Diana was about to start an international diplomatic incident during the Q&A session. She asked speaker's opinion about the Romanian civil unrests. "What civil unrests?" was largely the speakers reaction, in line with Tugurlan's reaction I mentioned a while ago. After learning about them, mr. Brix delivered another blunt opinion, putting things in perspective and metioning the Greece protests, the London riots of last summer, the "Occupy..." movements and a few more. Something along the lines of "Of course our system is not perfect. Of course democracy is flawed. Of course some people will be unhappy. But, please, do protest all you want. It's not like The Man cares, anyway."
It wasn't much, but it was enough to activate mr. Jinga, who felt compelled to interfere and reassure our dear guests that it's really nothing and that Romania will behave as long as you call us "Europe". His tone borrowed something from Batista's dissing of the 1958 Cuban revolution. There was also another intervention from the public, not a real question, but a comment (the long, empty ones everybody loves) from a girl that felt the urge to explain how the protests are actually fueled by the media and the freezing bonkheads in Bucharest's University Square are nothing but manipulated sheep. Because, you see, she simply KNEW.
I would've stayed for the afternoon panel, as well, but my allegiance is to Diana rather than GRASP, so I left right after abusing the hosts' kindness by stuffing some delicious, untranslatable mici. Congratulations are in order for ms. Eliza Gheorghe though, I thought the conference was great, and the effort she put in it is not to be taken lightly. My respects for her drive, her relentless work and her good intentions. Some credit should also go to mr. Dorian Branea and the way he is leading the ICR in London. After my second visit there today, the Institute looks more and more respectable, and I sense there could be a lot more good things coming from them in the future.
A good learning experience, overall, a new word in my dictionary, BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa), which is an acronym for "too big to be ignored, to weak to have a say yet" and plenty of new lessons to learn. We might be getting somewhere, after all.