Global Advocacy or Self-Interested Relativism? Socialist Romania, International Organizations, and the Quest for Economic Development (1960s-1980s)

by Vlad Pașca, at the conference The Other Globalisers: How the Socialist and the Non-Aligned World Shaped the Rise of Post-War Economic Globalisation, University of Exeter, 6-7 July 2017

Since early 1960s, socialist Romania insulated itself within the Comecon due to its nationalist and anti-hegemonic perspectives, which translated into fending away of cooperation projects with other member states. This position though was accompanied by a renewed readiness towards trans-systemic cooperation on the European and the global scene. In order to satisfy its developmental drive, two strategies were designed by the party leadership in tandem with economic experts. First, they emphasized Romania’s European affiliation as a common denominator in negotiating trade relations and economic cooperation before and during the negotiation at the Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE). Second, the country’s representatives, both in international organizations and in bilateral relations, made efforts towards the recognition of Romania’s status as developing socialist country. Simultaneously, Romania’s multiple initiatives in both the European (UN Economic Commission for Europe, CSCE) and global organizations or agencies (UNCTAD or the group of 77) shaped its image of world-peace promoter and advocate of a new international economic order.

The paper situates several policy initiatives in their historical-economic context and argues that the rhetoric of Romania as “socialist European developing country” at the confluence of Cold War’s political geographies was a pragmatic rather than an ideological decision by party elites and developmental experts. I am discussing, on one hand, Romania’s trans-systemic practices in international organizations (UNECE or UNCTAD) as attempts to limit Cold War, bloc-dependent policies in terms of trade, technology transfer, investments etc. On the other hand, I discuss these Romanian practices from the point of view of the global economic trends during the 1970s and early 1980s. As “the group of 77” challenged the Western-based status quo by advocating the creation of a New International Economic Order, Romania found itself caught in between its commitment to the cause of the Global South and its ambivalent belonging to the North (either through membership in the socialist camp or by way of interest in East-West rapprochement). As a result, Romania had multi-layered patterns of economic interconnectedness with the Global South, ranging from charitable collaboration to screened exploitation, thus appearing within the socialist bloc as a peculiarity even compared to Yugoslavia, the most comparable case.

The position that Romania acquired in global debates on development during late 1960s and mid-1970s will become inextricably tied to the identity of the regime at home. Counter-hegemonism abroad will prove, especially during 1980s, increasingly difficult to harmonize with the growing systemic difficulties at home. The article relies on Romanian primary sources and documents from United Nations and Radio Free Europe archival collections.

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