One of Mediolana’s firmer convictions is that in an era of ‘deep’ globalisation, it pays to keep an open mind as one never knows from where the next great idea or concept will emerge; our adhesion to this principle was recently rewarded when we stumbled across a quite brilliant notion articulated by the Istanbul-based analyst Aylin Kocaman in the pages of the Manama-headquartered Gulf Daily News. Inspired by the recent protests over the proposed construction of a shopping mall on top of a park in central Istanbul, Kocaman – who combines distinctive blonde bombshell looks with a prolific journalistic output – posits in Democracy means better quality (5th July, 2013) that this kind of proposal is evidence of a lack of qualitative approaches in public policy. To counter this, she stresses the need for ‘a properly defined ministry of quality [to] be established…and for people in general to be educated in line with that superior aesthetic conception.’
Kocaman appears to be particularly concerned with certain developing countries (some of which are emerging markets) within the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (‘OIC’), some members of which – as is the case in many developing countries – are dominated by quantitative methods of evaluation. And is is true that the idea that bigger, faster and more ‘modern’ are innately superior is transforming landscapes from Tirana to Jakarta – and not always for the better. One need only think of the Chinese-built tower blocks in Algiers, the industrial haze of Malaysia or the East Germany-style suburbs of Tehran to recognise that qualitative perspectives are on some level in short supply in the geographical domain discussed by the A9 Television presenter.
However, after some reflection, we think that Kocaman’s idea has profounder global relevance. Millions of New Yorkers shield themselves using state-of-the-art personal electronic entertainment devices while utilising decrepit public transportation infrastructure. China is remaking its cities according to a spiritually and culturally disastrous blueprint, whereby historic buildings and indeed entire neighbourhoods are demolished to make way for cookie-cutter residential and commercial property developments ribboned by expressways. Scanning the world for qualitative best practices in the realm of public policy, it is sometimes tempting to think that worldwide, only a handful of European and Asian states – as well as a few cities of global import outside of these countries – are even addressing this question.
We will be genuinely fascinated to read in the future how Kocaman defines the rights, responsibilities and workings of a ministry of quality: how it interacts with other government departments and its precise remit will be crucial to its successful functioning. But as a idea vital to the very substance of the twenty-first century – and as a crucial contribution to the concept of Gross National Happiness or GNH – it has few parallels.
On 1st July 2013, the European Union will gain a twenty-eighth member: Croatia. This broadly banana-shaped republic with one of the most stunning coastlines anywhere in the continent will become only the second constituent member of the former Yugoslavia to sign up to what is still in nominal terms the most affluent economic bloc in the world.
However, Croatia – a nation of just 4.28 million people – will be acceding to the EU under very different circumstances to those countries which rode the credit bubble wave of the 2000s and enjoyed massive but ultimately fatal injections of credit into their economies. With the European Union struggling to expand its institutional balance sheet fast enough to prop up the collapsing eurozone periphery, Croatia is unlikely to enjoy any obvious short- or even medium-term financial benefits of membership.
This matters because Croatia is currently undergoing a severe economic crisis despite not being part of the EU or eurozone: an estimated 30% of Croatians now live in poverty, with the Akcija Čista hrana or Clean Food Movement operating as an alternative food bank: specially-labelled grocery bags of food are left adjacent to municipal bins for usage by the country’s poorer citizens. Things are so bad that Croatia has spawned a not insignificant Occupy movement of the kind more usually associated with large cities in the neoliberal United States or United Kingdom.
Given that many of Croatia’s strategic assets are likely to be acquired by its European partners following accession, we at Mediolana are left wondering: has the country really embarked on the right course? Could Croatia have charted a different path by following the old Yugoslav model of being close to several power blocs whilst retaining that vital element of political (and ultimately, economic) independence? Would partnership agreements with the EU, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina is an observer member), ASEAN and Mercosur have constituted a new, more viable future?