‘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.

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