My apologies for the minimal posts of the past fortnight – I was moving from the attic flat I had in central Sofia to a somewhat larger one just down from General Dondukov Bvd and off Vasil Levski – but another “period” piece, this one from the early 1930s and the building (housing a café which is the haunt of the locals - and 3 flats) still owned by the family whose grandfather built it.
Then, on Sunday, a snowy drive through Bulgaria to Bucharest for car servicing and, Wednesday, to the mountain house which had, amazingly, seen no snow.
In Bucharest I got back into Leonard Woolf’s spell-binding 5-volume auto-biography – following this time his discovery and mapping of the British cooperative movement 100 years ago – and the powerful role played in its educational system by working class women.
It brought back memories of the Cooperative Society in my home town of Greenock in the 1960s – basically the complex of shops, funeral parlour and insurance which was the staple of working class life for so many decades in the West of Scotland; and the great community spirit evident particularly amongst the women in the housing schemes I represented in the late 60s through to 1990. Women were the backbone of the tenant associations and various self-help schemes – including a famous adult education one which is described in this big study – The Making of an Empowering Profession
That, in turn, got us talking about the absence of such a spirit in 20th century Romania; its decline in the UK; but its continued strength elsewhere.
I remember the Head of the European Delegation in Romania in 1993 handing out to those of us who were working here as consultants summaries of Robert Putman’s new book which traced the differences in the performance of Italian Regional authorities to the habits of centuries. This was a warning that Western “best practice” might have some problems in this part of the world. Putnam’s work spawned an incredible academic literature which is summarised in papers such as “Social Capital in CEEC – a critical assessment and literature review” (CEU 2009) and “The deficit of cooperative attitudes and trust in post-communism (2013)
Catherine Murray’s 2006 paper “Social capital and cooperation in CEEC – toward an analytical framework" is, with its various diagrams, probably the most helpful introduction to the issue
There was a (very) brief moment in the early 90s when cooperatives were talked about – at least in some places – as one of the models which might be relevant for the central European economies but market “triumphalism” swept all away….killing an opportunity which has been taken in other countries as well set out in this short paper “Cooperative Enterprise Development after 30 years of destructive neo-liberalism”
The Resilience of the Cooperative Model is well described in the paper in the link; in “Coops – pathways to development” and also on the website of the European Research Institute for cooperative and social enterprise - for example in this paper