Letter: A place for benign paternalism

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The Independent Online
Sir: It is now five years since I led the first post-war mission of my firm to Central and Eastern Europe in anticipation of the momentous changes that have been occurring there. Even ignoring the benefit of hindsight, the current political, economic, social and ethnic problems could have been anticipated if the international community had shown more courage and more vision in responding to the needs of the people there.

During the Seventies and Eighties I was involved in programmes examining the cultural history of Eastern Europe. Anyone with this background could not but be conscious of the way in which ethnic minorities have maintained their cultural identities and traditions over many hundreds of years. No veneer of 20th- century materialism or communist uniformity could obscure the reality of the passionate nationalistic and frequently xenophobic identities which were always only just beneath the surface. Yet the cultural dimension is an approach which seems rarely to have figured in the response by politicians to Eastern Europe over the past five years and has been positively derided by all but the most perceptive businessmen and women seeking to do business there.

There can be no doubt that we have allowed events in Eastern Europe to move at a speed greater than that with which the rudimentary checks and balances in place can cope. In particular, we should not have pandered to jingoistic nationalist aspirations by encouraging and recognising statehood at the drop of a hat.

Surely one of the lessons of postcolonial Africa is that good statehood and democracy do not come naturally but need to be learnt. Few of the international aid agencies have devoted sufficient attention to supporting programmes to develop these two ideals, with the notable exception of the UK Know How Fund which has always had an overtly political aim.

Such benign paternalism was a major factor in bringing stability to Western Europe after 1945. It was made possible because of the leverage which could be exercised through the scale of the assistance provided under the Marshall Plan on aspects of West European society which extended beyond economics. Yet a Marshall Plan for Eastern Europe has been steadfastly rejected and the total assistance has not been sufficient or well co-ordinated enough to provide the leverage in the political and social sphere. Unless action is taken now, both in increasing the amounts available and in co-ordinating the political and social conditions attached to the aid, the result will continue to be instability and an eventually larger bill for the developed countries to sort out the mess.

The current melee of conflicting, poorly funded Western macro-economic advice has often been presented with a shameless disregard for intellectual integrity; current Western capitalist uncertainties have been put forward as universal truths. Is it any wonder, then, that when expectations have been raised by the immediacy of short, sharp shock treatments, only to be dashed by their failure afterwards, that full rein is given to the pernicious nationalism and ethnicism which lies so close beneath the surface and with which we seem so unwilling to interfere?

Yours faithfully,

JOHN M. HOWELL

Partner

Ernst & Young

London, SE1

14 August

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