*be sceptical - take nothing for granted!
Unless otherwise indicated all photos © Richard McKie 2005 - 2019

Who is Online

We have 103 guests and no members online

Article Index

A little historical background

Perhaps, like me, Romania has been a bit of an enigma to you?  This mystery has been partly due to one off the most convoluted and complex political histories in the world.

Modern Romania consists of a number of more ancient kingdoms or principalities that have been fought over ever since the advent of agriculture when wealth came to be synonymous with the possession of good farmland. In the 20th century oil was added to the list of Romania's riches. 

Competing empires for these lands included: the Roman; the Byzantine; the Ottoman; the Austro-Hungarian; the Russian; the Napoleonic; and the German. Historians might list several more (Swedes, Vikings?).  There are numerous cultural remnants of these struggles and the language is interesting for its familiar words from Latin and German dotted through it, like raisins in a bun.  

Principal among these older kingdoms in the region were the lands of Wallachia and Moldavia, later joined by Transylvania.  But the borders of  'Romania' have been fluid, incorporating and excluding neighbouring lands as the local balance of power and influence waxed and waned in the adjoining empires. The present country dates back to 1859 but since that time it's boarders have been fluid and it has undergone some big changes in government.

 

Romania Map

By User:Scooter20 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

In the early 19th century the principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia were 'suzerains' (self governing vassals) of the Ottoman Empire and were ruled by local princes or 'domitors'. But in 1862 a single prince, Alexandru Ioan Cuza, became domitor of both principalities, uniting them in what was to become Romania.  Four years later another, Prince Carol, sized power in a palace coup d'état.

 

Constitutional Monarchic Romania

Thus in 1866 the first Constitution of Romania enshrined Prince Carol as ruler. The throne was made an hereditary office to be held by the male descendants of Carol. Legislative power was to be exercised by the Prince and Parliament (composed of an Assembly of Deputies and a Senate), while executive power was entrusted to the Prince, who exercised it through his ministers.

Voters were divided into colleges based on their wealth and social origins. The Prince's constitutional powers were similar to those of a monarch in contemporary constitutional monarchies. Citizens' rights enshrined in the Constitution included the freedoms: of conscience; of the press; of assembly; of religion; equality before the law, regardless of class; individual liberty; and the inviolability of the home. Capital punishment was abolished in peacetime.   Yet, the Romanian Orthodox Church was declared 'the dominant religion' of the Romanian state. And despite the freedoms of religion and of conscience, non-Christians, like Jews, could not become citizens and therefore, like those other strange creatures, women, couldn't vote.

This Constitution was given full legitimacy in 1881, when Romania was declared an independent country, with King Carol I as ruler, in the Treaty of Berlin, after the Ottoman Empire was defeated in the Russo-Turkish War of 1878. 

 

Romania Romania
Romania Romania
Royal Accoutrements

 

King Carol ruled for 33 years but then died, as do we all.  In this case he ceased to be in October 1914, three months into the First World War (WW1).  He left no direct heirs and so a nephew, Ferdinand, together with his influential English consort, Princess Marie of Edinburgh, ascended to the throne.

After initial alliance with pre-revolutionary Russia, Romania, which has strategically important oilfields, was forced into neutrality, but effectively in support of Germany, .  At war's end in 1918, taking advantage of the power vacuum created by the Armistice, the county was amalgamated with Transylvania, Eastern Moldavia (Bessarabia), and Bukovina.  Ferdinand got the credit and was nicknamed: Intregitorul, the unifier. In celebration, in 1921 Italy gave the new expanded country five copies of  the 'Capitoline Wolf' to place in strategic locations to represent the new Romanian unity and their 'Latinity'.  This is a bronze statue, of the Roman she-wolf with Romulus and Remus, suckling beneath her that was thought, at the time, to date back to the 5th century BCE *.  

During the interwar period Romania remained a constitutional monarchy and some progress was made towards improving the life of the peasants, who made up the vast majority of the population, and  Romania embraced industrialisation, particularly in armaments. Meanwhile the new federation immediately went to war again, this time to oust the Bolsheviks from Hungary.

In 1927 Ferdinand I died to be succeeded by his young grandson Michael I.  Then 1930 as a result of parliamentary changes Michael was obliged to abdicate in favour of his father, Carol II.  In 1938, in the lead up to the Second World War (WW2), Carol II assumed total power as 'Royal Dictator'. 

* For those of you unaware, in legend Romulus and Remus were the founders of Rome.  They were twin boys, born of a vestal virgin who had been inseminated by the God Mars. The king, fearing them as possible rivals, had them 'exposed' to die by the Tiber.  But with the intervention of Tiberinus, the God of the river, they were suckled by a she-wolf and thus saved to found the city.  These myths, that are represented on Roman coins as early as 269 BCE, were thus in general circulation long before the similar, and probably derivative, Christian myths.

 

Fascist Romania

When WW2  broke out in 1939  Carol had declared neutrality.  But as Romania's borders crumbled and its allies were defeated the local Fascists quickly gained support.  In 1940 there was a popular uprising against Carol and the Romanian Fascists sized power. Romania became a fascist dictatorship, under Mareșal Ion Antonescu and joined the Axis, with Germany and Italy.  Romanian troops played a major role in Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of Russia, where 370,000 were killed.  Romanian troops and the Romanian dictatorship also assisted in the holocaust against the Jews abroad but mostly against the Romani at home. See the Appendix to this article.

 

Communist Romania

Towards the end of World War 2, the Fascist dictatorship was defeated by the Allies and the Constitutional Monarchy, with King Michael I at its head, was briefly reinstated.  But in 1947 the king was forced to abdicate under Russian pressure and the Communist Party took control. With that Romania became part of the Warsaw pact.  After a decade under tight Russian control, Romania began a separatist policy.  So that by 1968 Romania was condemning the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia.  But this was posturing for world attention during the cold war.  Romania had escaped from a wartime Fascist dictator and Russian hegemony only to be captured by the increasingly bizarre Communist dictator: Nicolae Ceaușescu and his wife Elena. Under this government the economy ground to a halt and widespread poverty ensued.

 

Republican Romania

The Ceaușescu dictatorship ended with the Romanian Revolution of 1989, leading to elections in 1990 and a new constitution a year later. 

Henceforth the President was to be democratically elected in two rounds for a maximum of two four (now five) year terms.  Candidates cannot be members of any political party.  As in the United States the President has similar powers to those of the former kings but as in the Westminster System must now act in consultation with a democratically elected bicameral Parliament (of 136 Senators and 329 Deputies) on the advice of a cabinet of Ministers, led by the Prime Minister.  Suffrage includes all citizens 18 years and over. Voting is not compulsory.

Again thumbing its nose at Russia, Romania joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 2007 and the European Union (EC) in 2007.

Nevertheless Romania has not become a member of the European Monetary Union, the Euro zone. The The Romanian leu (lion) - plural lei - is subdivided into 100 bani (also meaning money). In August 2016 we got about 3 lei to the A$. This floating currency has allowed Romania to be competitive in Europe and it presently has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the EC. But the floating currency means that wages are relatively low and freedom of travel within the EC has allowed Romanians to take better paid jobs in the UK. This has been one of the forces behind the BREXIT movement in England.

Fortunes have changed quite dramatically across this country.  In recent times, there were riots during the Global Economic Crisis.  But then the economy began to recover and Romania is enjoying rapid growth again, as evidenced by: the number of late model German cars on the roads; diners in street cafés; evident rural prosperity; infrastructure projects underway; and private urban renewal in Bucharest.

 

 

Add comment


Security code
Refresh


    Have you read this???     -  this content changes with each opening of a menu item


Travel

Denmark

 

 

  

 

 

In the seventies I spent some time travelling around Denmark visiting geographically diverse relatives but in a couple of days there was no time to repeat that, so this was to be a quick trip to two places that I remembered as standing out in 1970's: Copenhagen and Roskilde.

An increasing number of Danes are my progressively distant cousins by virtue of my great aunt marrying a Dane, thus contributing my mother's grandparent's DNA to the extended family in Denmark.  As a result, these Danes are my children's cousins too.

Denmark is a relatively small but wealthy country in which people share a common language and thus similar values, like an enthusiasm for subsidising wind power and shunning nuclear energy, except as an import from Germany, Sweden and France. 

They also like all things cultural and historical and to judge by the museums and cultural activities many take pride in the Danish Vikings who were amongst those who contributed to my aforementioned DNA, way back.  My Danish great uncle liked to listen to Geordies on the buses in Newcastle speaking Tyneside, as he discovered many words in common with Danish thanks to those Danes who had settled in the Tyne valley.

Nevertheless, compared to Australia or the US or even many other European countries, Denmark is remarkably monocultural. A social scientist I listened to last year made the point that the sense of community, that a single language and culture confers, creates a sense of extended family.  This allows the Scandinavian countries to maintain very generous social welfare, supported by some of the highest tax rates in the world, yet to be sufficiently productive and hence consumptive per capita, to maintain among the highest material standards of living in the world. 

Read more ...

Fiction, Recollections & News

The Cloud

 

 

 

 

 Chapter 1 - The Party

 

 

 

This morning Miranda had an inspiration - real candles!  We'll have real candles - made from real beeswax and scented with real bergamot for my final party as a celebration of my life and my death. This brief candle indeed!

In other circumstances she would be turning 60 next birthday.  With her classic figure, clear skin and dark lustrous hair, by the standards of last century she looks half her age, barely thirty, the result of a good education; modern scientific and medical knowledge; a healthy diet and lifestyle and the elimination of inherited diseases before the ban on such medical interventions. 

It's ironical that except as a result of accidents, skiing, rock climbing, paragliding and so on, Miranda's seldom had need of a doctor.  She's a beneficiary of (once legal) genetic selection and unlike some people she's never had to resort to an illegal back-yard operation to extend her life. 

Read more ...

Opinions and Philosophy

Climate Emergency

 

 

 

emergency
/uh'merrjuhnsee, ee-/.
noun, plural emergencies.
1. an unforeseen occurrence; a sudden and urgent occasion for action.

 

 

Recent calls for action on climate change have taken to declaring that we are facing a 'Climate Emergency'.

This concerns me on a couple of levels.

The first seems obvious. There's nothing unforseen or sudden about our present predicament. 

My second concern is that 'emergency' implies something short lived.  It gives the impression that by 'fire fighting against carbon dioxide' or revolutionary action against governments, or commuters, activists can resolve the climate crisis and go back to 'normal' - whatever that is. Would it not be better to press for considered, incremental changes that might avoid the catastrophic collapse of civilisation and our collective 'human project' or at least give it a few more years sometime in the future?

Back in 1990, concluding my paper: Issues Arising from the Greenhouse Hypothesis I wrote:

We need to focus on the possible.

An appropriate response is to ensure that resource and transport efficiency is optimised and energy waste is reduced. Another is to explore less polluting energy sources. This needs to be explored more critically. Each so-called green power option should be carefully analysed for whole of life energy and greenhouse gas production, against the benchmark of present technology, before going beyond the demonstration or experimental stage.

Much more important are the cultural and technological changes needed to minimise World overpopulation. We desperately need to remove the socio-economic drivers to larger families, young motherhood and excessive personal consumption (from resource inefficiencies to long journeys to work).

Climate change may be inevitable. We should be working to climate “harden” the production of food, ensure that public infrastructure (roads, bridges, dams, hospitals, utilities and so) on are designed to accommodate change and that the places people live are not excessively vulnerable to drought, flood or storm. [I didn't mention fire]

Only by solving these problems will we have any hope of finding solutions to the other pressures human expansion is imposing on the planet. It is time to start looking for creative answers for NSW and Australia  now.

 

 

Since my retirement Wendy and I have done quite a bit of travel, often these days to less 'touristy' places, although that's just a matter of degree. After all we're tourists and we were there.  On occasion we've revisited old haunts after a decade or so absence. 

Everywhere we go there is one thing in common with our home in Australia:  there are a lot more people than there were a decade or so back. Everywhere we go there is evidence of resource depletion, particularly water resources, and environmental degradation. Everywhere we go new dwellings have spread like a cancer across once green fields.and forests. Concrete forests now stand where humble dwellings or open fields once were.

It's no good blaming our parents, the underlying causes of the many environmental challenges we face go back the start of the 19th century and the Industrial Revolution when no longer were the great masses of humanity the children of farm labourers, serfs, slaves or servants serving a small cultured elite.

With industry came systematic applied science, engineering, and improved medical understanding. Now workers needed new skills and had to be educated. With education came many benefits, including independent volition, and improved living conditions.  Death rates declined; fertility improved.  By the end of the 19th century world population had more than doubled its pre-industrial record, reaching 1.6 billion.  But then it really took off.

By the mid 20th century many informed commentators were getting alarmed and calling for population restraint.

In 1968 the world human population had topped 3.5 billion, over a billion since the end of World War 2.

That year Professor Paul Ehrlich, of Stanford University in the US, published The Population Bomb correctly warning that: 'hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now.'   Critics claimed that he was alarmist, yet very soon 260 of every thousand babies born in Zambia were dying due to malnutrition before their first birthday. In Pakistan the number was 140 per thousand (source: The Limits to Growth). 

In the same year concerned scientists in Europe formed The Club of Rome.  Three years later the Club published 'The Limits to Growth', the results of a state-of-the-art, yet primitive, multi-factorial computer model that projected the impacts on food consumption/production; pollution and the cost of reduction; energy resources; and non-renewable industrial minerals, of unrestrained exponential population growth. The model forecast multiple disastrous consequences early in the 21st century. The authors feared no less than anarchy, driven by food and resource riots, and the total collapse of civilisation.  The final sentence reads: 'The crux of the matter is not only whether the human species will survive, but even more whether the human species can survive without falling into a state of worthless existence.'

 

 

My copy of The Limits to Growth
 

 

Only a few paid any heed. Several of these were later described as the 'Asian Tigers'.

 

Singapore's Stop at Two policy
From 1972 Singaporeans were encouraged to have two child families
- incentives included payment for sterilisation and public housing for married couples without children
- disincentives included precluding couples with more than two children from applying for public benefits
The result was a decline in fertility from 4.7 in 1960 to 1.7 in 1980
Although the campaign stressed the need for girls, as in China, cultural factors resulted in a preponderance of boys
- an ongoing social and economic problem
Nevertheless, Singapore has gone from a struggling third-world country to become the fourth richest country in the world (
1)
On the other hand, since independence in 1947 India's population has grown sixfold
- India will soon overtake China as the world's most populous country - visit and compare 

 

Critics of The Club of Rome, like Herman Kahn, of the Hudson Institute, cried: 'garbage in gospel out', a popular objection to computer modelling at the time, and lo, the Club's projections were soon proven to be overly pessimistic. In the 1970's science came to the aid of mankind. New crops were developed and there was a 'green revolution'; new processes and products improved efficiency and new mining technologies, like remote sensing from aircraft and satellites, together with new extractive methods, like deep-sea oilwells and 'fracking', redefined resource availability. In first world countries rivers and air was cleaned up and pollution ceased to be our number one concern.

 

 

The Hudson Institute's Herman Kahn's riposte - one of many
The Hudson Institute was later employed by the NSW Government to help plan the State's future
- no mention of global warning

 

Everyone breathed a sigh of relief - we didn't have to do anything.  The religious among us were right: God, or the Gods, had it all in hand - it was all part of 'The Plan'. It was business as usual.

Yet today, the Club of Rome's foremost prediction: that unless we did something, by 2020 world population would reach eight billion has proven alarmingly prescient. And Paul Ehrlich's predictions are also vindicated.

In 2013 a Global Hunger Summit in London(2) was told that: 'Malnutrition is the underlying cause of death for at least 3.1 million children [per year], accounting for 45% of all deaths among children under the age of five and stunting growth among a further 165 million [children].'

Although they factored in 'pollution' as a general concern, the research team behind The Limits to Growth said, or knew, nothing about the specific threat of carbon dioxide. Was this an oversight?

With our new skills scientists now have ice-cores, containing entrapped air bubbles, that go back half a million years.  These show a close correlation between global temperature and the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  The highest level ever was around 300 thousand years ago, when it was much warmer and carbon dioxide reached 300 parts per million.

Because of man's multifarious activities, including agriculture, the atmosphere broke that half million year record in the 1950's and we have been in uncharted territory ever since. While correlation does not necessarily denote causation, and it's still not as warm as it was back then, I find it rather alarming. Read my paper: Climate Change - a Myth?

It seems highly probable that climate change is at least in part due to the current mouse-plague that we call humanity: clearing forests; digging up the ground; building things; making stuff soon to go to garbage tips; consuming resources without concern for the future and, of course, burning things.

How long can this go on?  I hope there will be a deus ex machina, that some, as yet unknown, aspect of quantum science, genetic engineering and/or nuclear energy will save us.  Failing that, I hope that current civilisation will outlast my grandchildren and perhaps theirs?  One glimmer of hope is the declining fertility in first-world countries as more women have careers beyond motherhood and living standards improve. Yet as I pointed out in 1990 this would consume far more energy than the third world has to hand. Is it now a case of too little too late?

I won't be around to know.

As the The Club of Rome pointed out, and should be obvious to 'Blind Freddy', the indefinite exponential growth, that our economies are addicted to, is unsustainable. 'Soon or later,' as Alice remarked about drinking from a bottle marked 'poison': 'it's bound to disagree with you'.

 

 


Terms of Use                                           Copyright