Romania does not take seriously the prospect of weakening Western influence in the region

The last part of the interview with Sergiu Mișcoiu deals with a number of nuances in the Bulgarian-Romanian relations and Romanian foreign policy: the two countries’ possible common interest in the Western Balkans, the role of Francophone movement for their bilateral relations with each other, how their elites position in the debates between eurocentrism and third-worldism and the contingency plans of Romania in case major geopolitical changes in our region take place

In the last part of the interview with the professor of European Studies at the University of Cluj-Napoca Sergiu Mișcoiu we discuss the possible common interests of Bulgaria and Romania in the Western Balkans, the Eurocentric tendency of the Romanian elites and the role of the Francophone movement in Romania’s foreign policy and Romanian-Bulgarian relations. According to Sergiu Miscoiu, both countries could play a greater role in defending Western influence in Serbia. At the same time, the role of the Francophone movement in Romania and Bulgaria’s foreign policy has been significantly reduced in recent years. As far as relations with the Third World are concerned, it seems that the academic opportunities Romania offers allow for a dynamic in relations with universities in the Global South. But the Romanian elite remains extremely eurocentric.

Romanian and Bulgaria as allies in the Western Balkans

Romania and Bulgaria, both have traditional interests in the Western Balkans. But could they somehow cooperate in this regard? We have had examples in the past when there was divergence in their approach toward these, especially in the Black Sea region. But maybe the war in Ukraine could be changing that. I don’t know. I’m asking you for your opinion.

Of course, the war in Ukraine changes things, especially as far as the relation of Romania and Bulgaria respectively with Serbia is concerned. As we saw even yesterday, there was a visit of the Minister of Interior of Serbia to Moscow and the regime in Belgrade seems increasingly willing to further cooperate with Russia in spite of all the recommendations given by the states of the EU and NATO. And of course, this is a very different attitude from the one of Romania and Bulgaria. And I think that this could be an element of cementing the relations between Romania and Bulgaria in that one of the objectives of these two countries should be to contribute to the, let’s say, westernization, cultural westernization of Serbia. At least they should as a minimal objective, discuss together, create together a plan for preventing Serbia to enroll even more in an alliance with Russia.

Francophone movement as an element of Romanian foreign policy

You’re well known in Romania as a French speaker. I can’t help asking you what is the role of the Francophone movement for Romanian foreign policy and for the Bulgarian-Romanian relations?

I would say that this role was much more important in the past to a high extent for Romania, at least, the Francophone movement, especially the International Organization of the Francophonie, offers a possibility to continue the relations, especially with the African countries. We know that both Romania and Bulgaria had lots of African students during the 1970s and 1980s coming from the French speaking countries in Africa, and they had very intense relations with these countries. After the 1990s, these relations collapsed and the Francophone movement is one way to promote and restore as much as possible these relations.

To be very honest, the level of Francophonie in Romania and especially in Bulgaria is increasingly low. And apart from a thin elite and some people working in francophone environments, I don’t think that the French language could be a common ground for cooperation. Of course, myself as an academic, I cooperate with colleagues from Bulgaria, especially under the Francophonie. But this is a very small contribution to the development of the common relations as compared to what they could be. So I’m rather prudent in assessing, in crediting with too much importance the Francophone movement as a very strong tie builder of the relations between our two states.

Romanian elites’ eurocentrism

You’ve mentioned that Romania has had even today a lot of students from Africa. I have two questions for that, unrelated directly. One thing is, if possible, for you to comment on the policy or philosophy of internationalization of Romania. To what extent academic institutions seek consciously to open up to the world, be part of the world, and even open up to unconventional spaces like Africa or the Middle East. And the second question is to what extent Romania continues to be a Eurocentric country with strongly Eurocentric elites, or isn’t its cooperation with Western Europe and this internationalization leading to opening also to the Global South?

Yeah, it’s a very good question. And I think that for the moment the Romanian leads remain very Eurocentric. I would also say pro-American and pro-European. All the major functionaries in the Foreign Ministry believe that the best way to build their careers is to be in an embassy or consulate in Europe or maybe in North America. And this does not contribute to the genuine globalization of Romania. There are some steps that were done in this direction. But still the means that Romania has and the tools that Romania mobilized in order to promote the image of Romania in the global south, to promote cooperation based on win-win investments are still quite disappointingly weak. They do not raise themselves to the ambitions shown in the declarations of foreign policy of the government and the consequences are that on many fronts of international cooperation Romania is not at the level it should be in terms of presence and in terms of efficiency in Africa, in Latin America, in Southeast Asia. And so on.

Romania’s foreign policy bet in the region

Let us finish with a hypothetical situation. We described Romania as a country which is Eurocentric and betting on a united West, with the USA and Western Europe together. What is the strategy of Romania in case this bet on the United West and on a weaker periphery of Europe fails. And it turns out that the balance of forces in the world somehow changes more significantly and the party, which Romania is not betting on, somehow affirms itself in our region.

Yes. I think that this worst case scenario is partially considered by the decision makers. But at the same time, I do not think that it is seriously taken into consideration. Well, historically both Romania and Bulgaria had the capacity to adapt. And even if today it seems that those times are no longer possible, we know that the foreign policy of both states changed in function of different geopolitical developments. Of course, back then, the capacity of adaptation was more important. So was the availability to take risks, including geopolitical territorial risks. Nowadays the situation is different. But I think that the question is very good. Because there is, to my knowledge, no such thing as a realistic contingency strategy, if the current majo structuring strategy, which is based on EU-NATO-USA, would fail.

Photo: (source: Pixabay, CC0)

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