Month: July 2015

‘The Jinga standard’

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Early day motion 291, tabled on the 13th of July, 2015 within the Chamber of Commons of the British Parliament read:

That this House commends the work of the outgoing Ambassador of Romania to the UK, Dr Ion Jinga, who has played a significant part in developing relations between the two countries; recognises Dr Jinga’s deep historical understanding of the Romanian-British relationship, and the effective and skilled manner in which he has represented his country and the Romanian community in the UK; notes Dr Jinga’s impressive diplomatic and intellectual record; and wishes Dr Jinga well in his future roles.

And Amendment 291A1, tabled on 15th of July, 2015, read:

…and highlights his work in Scotland working with the Scottish Government, MSPs, local authorities, Chambers of Commerce, non-governmental organisations, universities and students’ associations of around 800 Romanian students and also his active support for the successful integration of Romanians in local Scottish communities’.

This is for the first time when any Romanian Ambassador enjoys such recognition within the British Parliament, hinting towards the present-day arguably unprecedented level of friendship, cooperation and shared interests between Romania and the United Kingdom. However, it would be insufficient to contend that the first commendation a Romanian Ambassador in the British Parliament is exclusively owed only to the Romania-UK present cooperation within the broader context of shared interests. Far from that! No matter how big a subject of interpretative and normative attention, international relations in general, and diplomacy in particular, are acts of human agency – sets of actions decided upon and implemented by individuals of various formations and of various professional capacity.

Ritual, formality, and ‘raising your sleeves’

Even as we find ourselves in the early years of the 21st century, ritual and formality still dictate the behavior of diplomatic envoys, especially upon appointment. Dr. Jinga’s case was no different and, on March 7, 2008, after he presented his letters of accreditation to HM Queen Elisabeth II, in a formal atmosphere, he began his mandate. What came afterwards was one of the most challenging posts possible for a contemporary Romanian diplomat, not because London represented, in Dr. Jinga’s own words “a hub of world diplomacy”, not even because of the wide array of issues on the British-Romanian agenda, such as trade, defence, internal affairs cooperation, social affairs and employment, consular affairs, or cooperation on various bilateral and multilateral issues, but because Dr. Jinga had to face head-on the ‘convulsions’ of the British post financial crisis polity, as well as their effects on the image of Romania and its citizens.

Few could have anticipated the rise of UKIP’s superficial populism in one of the most principled democracies in the world, and few could have fought it head on in such a way as to not only avoid harming the significantly important British-Romanian relationship, but also to present a point of view characterised by tactfulness and elegance. Most importantly, however, if one is to believe former Foreign Minister Titus Corlatean’s view on Dr. Jinga’s anti-xenophobia performance: “few would have fought back in the local media”, then Ion Jinga pioneered an approach. This isn’t to say that it is admirable for a diplomat to present a press opinion in another state. This would be a necessary but insufficient condition for admiration. But to intervene on more than 100 occasions means establishing a normative mechanism for monitoring and response – one that tactfully scraps the rigidity of (i.e. arguably secretive and elitist) classical diplomacy in favour of ‘raising your sleeves’ for a good cause, even if this could be risky from a personal standpoint. This can be easily codified as ‘the Jinga standard’, making the condition both necessary and sufficient for admiration, not least as it successfully obtains important political gains, such as the late 2013 expression of position by William Hague: “we acknowledged the positive contribution that most Romanians in the UK make to the UK economy”, at the highpoint of anti-Romanian tabloid xenophobia.

Qualitative achievements

Nonetheless, rhetoric alone is not sufficient when it comes to national interests and the quality of Dr. Jinga’s mandate would not survive scrutiny in today’s age without improvements within various other quantifiable aspects. One such aspect is UK-Romania trade balance: on a constant rise and – surprisingly enough – in favour of Romania. A second one is a consolidated strategic partnership between the two states, which Dr. Jinga did not negotiate, but revived and implemented, at a time when shifting geopolitical variables dictate a particular need for its functioning. Third, Dr. Jinga’s “Diplomat of the Year” awards, given to him by British ‘revolving door’ press institutions, represent nothing less than prestige for Romania in the bulk and in the plenty.

All of the above are easily identifiable within motion 291 as key defining characteristics for Ambassador Jinga’s seven and a half years long mandate in Britain. However, it is important to note that the motion, for all it encompasses, fails to capture what the York Romanian Society (YRS) considers the key for ‘the Jinga standard’ – crediting him for the establishment of the Romanian student-led cultural activism structure in the UK, or, in short, the students’ associative environment.

Beyond motion 291

In order to comprehend Dr. Jinga’s role in the creation and functioning of the students’ associative environment, it is important to change perspectives – from the strategic to the tactical and from the national to the personal, and to note the key role played by events such as the post-2008 Conference of Romanian Students, Professors and Researchers in the UK (CRSPR), as well as of the Ambassador’s Diploma. The former represented a meeting point awing aspiring leaders of student organizations with a glimpse of the ritual and formality which described Dr. Jinga’s official functions, and, at the same time, a key moment in learning who’s who in student activism. The latter can be best described as a compelling recognition – meaning that it would remark one’s achievements in various fields and associate them not only with the ‘political correctness’ of national representation, but also with the image of the Ambassador himself – another potentially risky element.

In Dr. Jinga’s view, the Romanian students’ associative environment in the UK had to promote Romania in the English language, it had to do it in a structured manner and it had to be cohesive.  Why? Because the strong and unanimously recognized academic capabilities of Romanian students needed to be seen, and because a structured and intellectual associative environment could be a partner in combating superficial populism. If this was to be achieved, though, the personal involvement of the Ambassador was necessary.

Consequently, Dr. Jinga visited every relevant student association, met the executive representatives of host universities and placed the seal of endorsement on everything that met the Ambassador’s expectations. Where expectations were not only met, but shared, the Ambassador increased his level of association with the group, taking on roles such as Member of the Manchester Debating Union (University of Manchester), or honorary president of the York Romanian Society (University of York) – unthinkable in the enclosed framework of ‘classical diplomacy’.

It must be understood that where values were shared within the students’ associative environment, the endorsement of the Ambassador meant that one was not allowed the luxuries of failure or of superficiality. The YRS was privileged to receive one of the highest levels of endorsement from Dr. Jinga – three Ambassador’s Awards, the Ambassador as honorary president, and co-hosting two CRSPR editions – one in the Embassy itself. Thus, sponsorships would flow and high-level guests were ensured by just mentioning the relationship that the YRS had with the Embassy of Romania. All doors were open, but with a caveat – the YRS had to perform, as its failure to do so would have had consequences beyond York.

The YRS credits Dr. Ion Jinga with transforming Romanian students in the United Kingdom – members and officers within the students’ associative environment – into responsible and organized activists of public and cultural diplomacy, into relevant and reliable partners in the process of defending Romania’s image, and into competitive professionals with normative experience, through the use of precision-placed encouragements of a symbolic nature. Most importantly, the YRS credits Dr. Ion Jinga for having done this while taking a symbolic risk to his own image.  At present, the Romanian student-led cultural activism in the United Kingdom is carried-out in one of the most structured associative frameworks outside of the country, through shared values reasoned by the Ambassador himself.

Consequently, it is vital to note that, although admirable, motion 291 is, in its contents, insufficient, and the York Romanian Society feels the necessity of it being complementing through the acknowledgement of HE Dr. Ion Jinga’s role as the architect of the Romanian students’ associative environment in the United Kingdom.

Thoughts Before Leaving Britain

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Published in Huffington Post on 14/07/2015.

Dr Ion Jinga Headshot

In 1993, when I first came to Britain to study International Relations at the University of Leeds, I did not dream that one day I will be back as Ambassador of my country to the Court of St James’s.

I remember that after being appointed to the UK but before arriving to London from Brussels in March 2008, my British friends offered to help with good advices and thousands of pages to read. So, I got the movie The Battle of Britain, with the kind suggestion: “Watch this film and you will understand why we, British, are as we are.” I was also advised what models of shoes to wear (Cambridge and Oxford style) and how to dress in traditional British clubs and events. But above all, I was warned to use jokes in speeches: “If you have to deliver a speech and in the first two minutes you do not say a joke, you are considered boring”.

Well, I watched many times The Battle of Britain and I have travelled from Southampton to Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool, from Cardiff to Kent and Lincolnshire, from Brighton to Edinburgh, Glasgow, Highlands, Belfast and Londonderry, trying to understand Britain and Britons. Only to Scotland I have been no less than 20 times.

In my seven and a half years as a Romanian diplomat on the British soil, I have travelled almost all over in Britain. I did it not only because it is within the remit of an ambassador to become acquainted with the country in which he is accredited, to meet the local authorities and the Romanian communities who live there and bring their valuable contribution to the British economic, social and cultural life. I did it because I wanted to understand the spirit, the soul and the traditions of the British people, to understand why words like “to behave like a lord” and “fair play” were not invented somewhere else, and why Magna Carta was not written in 1215 in a different corner of the world.

I had the opportunity to discover Britain’s true values: national pride, high moral standards and an incredible rich history. Because I am married to a History teacher, the love for history is a must in my wonderful family who, so loyally, stood by me in al l good and difficult moments.

Being Ambassador of Romania to London was for me both a privilege and a challenge, because London is a hub of world diplomacy and the meeting point of most important axes of global interests. It is a capital of civilization, culture and European economic liberalism. Today, Britain is one of Romania’s best friends, partners and allies in Europe and I did my best to consolidate this relationship. I am most grateful to our British friends for their invaluable support to this endeavour.

The diplomatic environment in London is highly professional and competitive. I was lucky to make many good friends among diplomats accredited to the UK. For the last three years I was the doyen of the European ambassadors in London. I will always keep a fond memory of the cooperation and friendship of my European colleagues but also of many other ambassadors from around the world. Because the Earth is round, I am sure that there is a chance to meet again somewhere else, sometime in the future.

There is an important Romanian community in Britain. Around 6,000 Romanian students are enrolled in British universities and more than 4,000 Romanian doctors and nurses are working in the British NHS. There are Romanian researchers in Physics, Biology, Chemistry, Medicine and IT in almost every important research centre in Britain. Thousands of young Romanians are employed in the City of London or run their own companies in the UK, and there are Romanian workers in every construction site in Britain. Together with my colleagues in the Embassy, we worked tireless and passionately to defend their rights and public image. I want to thank my Embassy team for its professionalism and dedication.

The President and the Government of Romania have now decided to entrust me with a new diplomatic mission. From August 2015 I will take over the job of Permanent Representative of Romania to the United Nations in New York, with the rank of Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary.

But Britain will always keep a very special place into my heart.

In Celebration of Freedom and Justice

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Posted in Huffington Post on 17.06.2015

Dr Ion Jinga Headshot

2015 is a year of commemorations and during the last few days I had the privilege to attend three symbolic events with profound historic resonance.

On 13 June, it was Her Majesty The Queen’s Birthday Parade, with the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards trooping the Queen’s Colour to mark the British National Day and their centenary year. It was the 8th Trooping the Colour that I have attended as Ambassador of Romania to the Court of St James’s. This ceremony is always impressive because is a homage to those who protect the realm and defend the freedom. This year we also celebrate the 70th anniversary of the end of WW2 and the 70th anniversary of the creation of United Nations Organisation. But probably the most acclaimed celebration is of Magna Carta Libertatum.

Since the beginning of 2015, hundreds of events were organized to mark 800 years since Magna Carta was sealed. Two of them were of a particularly poignant significance to me. One took place on 14 June at the Temple Church, in London, the other on 15 June at Runnymede, near Windsor.

The celebration of Magna Carta at the Temple Church was special because during the crisis of 1215 King John had one of his headquarters in the Temple, where he was safe under the protection of the Knights Templar (the other headquarters was in the Tower of London). The King was in the Temple on 17 May when the barons captured London and on 10 June he left the Temple for Runnymede to seal Magna Carta: “John, by the grace of God, King of England, to the archbishops, bishops, abbots, earls, barons, foresters, sheriffs, stewards, servants and all his faithful subjects, greetings. Know that we wish and firmly command that the men of our realm shall have and hold all these liberties, rights and concessions well and peacefully, freely and quietly, fully and completely for them and their heirs of us and our heirs in all things and places for ever…”.

But the real hero of Magna Carta was William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke. He negotiated on the King’s behalf and insisted that he sealed the Charter on 15 June 1215. After John’s death in 1216, William Marshal became Regent to the young King Henry III and in this capacity he reissued the Charter under his own seal in 1216 and 1217, and so ensured its survival. He is buried in the Temple’s Round Church and I bowed in front of his tomb.
At Runnymede, the ceremony took place in the presence of HM The Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh, the Duke of Cambridge, the British Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary, with thousands of people attending.

Two of the original Magna Carta clauses continue to be of a tremendous importance: clause 39 – “No free man shall be taken or imprisoned or disseized or outlawed or exiled or in any way ruined, nor will go or send against him except by the lawful judgement of his peers or by the law of the land”, and clause 40 – “To no one will we sell, to no one will we deny or delay right to justice.” These are fundamental law principles in any modern democratic society, namely that no one should be deprived of their freedom without just cause, and that people are entitled to fair trial by their peers according to the law of the land.

As Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond remarked: “Magna Carta is a symbol of the UK’s deeply rooted democracy: a story of evolution rather than revolution”. This document has influenced not only the evolution of English history, but also the evolution of world history and continues to be seen as a cornerstone of liberty 800 years after its publication. Maybe its greatest resonance was in the United States of America where Magna Carta was inspirational for the 1791 American Bill of Rights. It is therefore not by chance that at Runnymede an American Memorial dedicated to Magna Carta was erected in 1957 and its rededication ceremony on 15 June 2015 was attended by Loretta Lynch, the Attorney General of the United States and William C. Hubbard, the President of the American Bar Association.

Magna Carta was also embodied in the Universal declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948. Now the UN prepares to celebrate its 70th anniversary, but major crisis challenge the international peace and security, making the UN more relevant than ever, as it is the only global international organization.

Romania will celebrate soon the 60th anniversary of its membership to the UN. Although in 1946, at the Paris Peace Conference, the Head of the Romanian delegation, Gheorghe Tatarescu, declared that “Romania is determined to bring about without delay its total adhesion to the principles of the United Nations Charter, principles which it has already put into practice”, our accession was blocked until 1955. But Romania’s contribution to multilateral diplomacy is much older, my country being particularly active in the League of Nations, where Nicolae Titulescu, the greatest Romanian diplomat, was twice elected President, in 1930 and 1931. In this capacity, he fought for the preservation of stable borders through the maintenance of peace, for good relations between neighboring states, for the respect of the sovereignty and equality of all nations in the international community, for collective security and the prevention of aggression. In 1926, Romania asked the League of Nations to consider drafting a convention on the punishment of terrorism. As the expansion of terrorism and its appalling atrocities terrify today the civilized world, Romania strongly advocates to creating a universal legal instrument to fight this global threat.

Sealing the Magna Carta was a major event in the journey of democracy. Justice and freedom are at the foundation of our society and it is our duty to act in their defense when the legal international order is challenged. By doing so, we pay tribute to all those who have developed the rule of law to protect us against injustice and abuse of power.