The Bridge, January 2007

The unbearable lightness of Europeanization, by Alina Mungiu-Pippidi

European Union accession day for Romania and Bulgaria on January 1 was anticipated with mixed feelings in Nicolae Ceausescu’s spoiled home town of Scornicesti, Oltenia. Its artificial communist industry was dismantled years ago and its vast fields lie neglected by most of the inhabitants, who are no longer ‘peasants’ but have yet to become really ‘urban.’
The only thing that keeps the town going is the women putting in hard graft for small textile manufacturers, sharing what was once Ceausescu’s pride, the roofed stadium, modeled after the Roman arena in Verona. Rumor has it that the EU will close down their irregular sweatshops, leaving everybody jobless.
At the opposite extreme, Europe holds no secrets for the people in the Moldovan villages of Neamt county. All members of the younger generation already work there, and when they return they spend all their money building three-story houses with the floors covered in imported tiles. New neighborhoods are springing up named after the European cities where the homeowners work, such as Rome, Munich and Madrid. However, as they do not pay any income tax at home, the village cannot afford sanitation yet and the wooden toilets in the garden continue to serve their purpose.
There is, to paraphrase Czech novelist Milan Kundera, an unbearable lightness to the EU accession of former communist European states: Only after they get there does it become obvious how much more is still needed for the inhabitants to experience a quality of life similar to that of the ‘old’ Europeans. People here yearned for a ‘return to Europe’ throughout communist rule and since its fall they have undertaken brave reforms to be accepted into the European Union. The expectation was that Europe would miraculously cure all their ills inflicted by historical underdevelopment and communism’s perverse social engineering. When this was slow to happen, people would start raising barricades on Budapest’s main bridge to the west to attract attention to their subjective misery.
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