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Western Civil-Society Empowerment

and the Lessons Learned from

the Balkans


Prof. Biljana Vankovska

DCAF and the University of Skopje

TFF associate


May 7, 2002

DCAF Workshop
Promoting Civil Society in Good Governance: Lessons for the Security Sector
Prague, 15-16 April 2002

At first glance it seems that the assessment of the Western democracy promotion programmes in the Balkans is a relatively easy task. The territory of former (or better, Second) Yugoslavia has been a focal point of various international interventions. Many of the lessons learned (and/or lessons that should have been learned) concern conflict management and post-conflict peacebuilding. One way or another, all these attempts have inevitably tackled the reform of the security sectors. The old and the emerging security structures have been de facto parts of the conflict structure(s). Thus the security sector reform (SSR) is usually associated with a painful debate on state building through conflict but also on traumatised, fragmented and frustrated civil societies and their recovery. Not surprisingly, what managed to stay immune from the ethno-nationalist zeal and/or emerged and matured during the clashes with the most dictatorial regimes deserves full appreciation not only as an object of further international support but also as the 'best practice' model for the others.

The starting premise of this analysis is that the Western policy of civil society empowerment has at the same time differed and coincided with the general policy of conflict management (or better, mismanagement) in the region. Western political interventions and civil society aid programmes confronted and/or supported each other but there has not been any consistent strategy of orchestrated approach. Understandably, the results at the end of the day appear to be minor and inadequate.

In order to avoid any misunderstandings (quite usual when the presenter comes from one of the 'recipient countries'), it is important to stress that the roots of the problems are merely internal. But the paper primarily deals with the lessons learned for the international community, and consequently the observations and policy recommendations will be made in terms of the interplay of the local civil societies and international donor community. The local actors (both political or societal) have vastly misused the omissions and/or weaknesses of the international endeavours. This unembellished approach may sound cynical but the analysis represents an inner view of someone who is in-between 'internationals' and 'locals' but also one who has experience in the research and policy community. Being a 'local' by origin and currently having an insight into the projects of the "democracy-promotion community", the author tries to point out the weaknesses of both 'internationals' and 'locals' in democracy-advocacy with special emphasis on the SSR.


1. Civil Society Between Myths and Reality

There is something charming and irresistible with buzzwords - more they are used less there is a need to re-consider their substance and ambiguity. The same applies on civil society. The famous third wave of democracy has been accompanied with a wave of 'democratisation business'. The post-communist countries appeared to be a very receptive to the new ideas and provided a good stage for the new 'business'. The notions of democracy and civil society have been the dominant leitmotiv for these endeavours, which cannot be said for the SSR. A more than a decade later, numerous members of, what Thomas Carothers rightly names, global chattering class still argue whether or not the research and policy community have paid balanced attention to the formal and political/legal aspects of the SSR and civil society's role in promoting good governance in the security sector.

Advocacy of structural and institutional reforms of the post-communist countries things looks as the easier part of the job. Both donors and recipients agree that countries in transition have, more or less, completed the institution building and simultaneously have set up a legal framework for the political processes and objectives. These 'achievements' are quite visible and even measurable, at least, on the surface. When it comes to in-depth analysis of how the implanted institutional and legal structures work in practice, the picture gets more blurred contours. In many cases international and domestic elites have found it convenient to praise the swift pro-Western reforms and to plead for patience in implementation process. Critical and somewhat cynical observers put more emphasis on what they see as a bare imitation of Western institutions and sycophantic attitude towards the international community. At first glance it looks as if almost all countries in transition have successfully passed the so-called 'first generation' of reforms but with various results. If the end of the Cold war brought to the fore the so-called 'peace dividend', almost simultaneously the collapse of communism in Eastern European countries, and the coincident process of consolidation in many countries in Latin America and Africa, provided a ground for 'democratisation dividend'. The international donor community and the aid recipients shared quite high and unrealistic expectations. A decade later it is obvious that in many cases the anticipated 'transition paradigm' did not fit well the reality. 'Transitions' have not always led towards democracy, and furthermore often did not follow the pattern.

The sad truth is that in many cases, particularly in the Balkans and the former Soviet Union space, the transition meant beginning from the scratch. In the collapsed or war torn states there was nothing much to 'redesign' or 'democratise'. Even worse, there was no solid ground to implant the newly envisaged democratic institutions. The state-building sometimes started with the new militaries, or better para-militaries. The invalid and definitively not democratically flavoured security sector was supposed to be the main 'tool' for the state and nation-building process. The states that emerged after the collapse of the former communist federations (with exception of Czechoslovakia), and some other countries (i.e. Albania), created political agendas on which the security sector was on the top; democratic objectives had to take back seats and wait for the state-building process to be completed (mostly through violent means). The 'grey zone' of transition was occupied by countries which could not be defined either dictatorial or clearly headed emerging democracies. And finally, only few from the 'transitional club' deserve a praise of being 'successful stories' (such as Slovenia, Hungary or Czech Republic). The vast variety of individual cases lead some analysts towards the conclusion that the word 'post-communism' has lost its relevance due to the different outcomes of the democratic transitions in Central and Eastern Europe. All this calls into doubt the dominant transitional paradigm, which blind adherence makes the aid programs wedded to the main focus on political processes and institutions in the respective countries. That is the 'original sin' out of which many of the civil society-related myths come from.

The modern debate on civil society creates somewhat cacophonous voices on the relationship between civil society and (good) governance. The crucial point of divergence is whether civil society should be understood and developed as merely 'apolitical' sphere of 'dense network of civil associations', or as former communist dissidents have advocated a strong political civil society that would energise resistance to the authoritarian regimes. In any case, civil society idea veiled with euphoria and promises for a better future was embedded into the 'spring movements' against the communist regimes. The truth is, however, that it was rarely a goal per se but rather contained a mixture of enthusiasm and idealism with very pragmatic approach (i.e. ousting communist regimes and installing the new political/national elites). Civil society had a very instrumental and merely political role in mobilising the citizens against the ancient regime. It was very much the practical usage of the Marxist idea of Antonio Gramsci on civil society as medium for alternative and independent political activity against oppressive regime. This understanding and practical use of civil society's potential had a boomerang effect on the very Marxist notion and affected the very core of the communist system i.e. its 'untouchable' security sector. For example, the "Solidarity" epic movement and resistance are usually taken as an example par excellence in this regard. The communist security forces were on a test having been used against own citizens and lost much of their legitimacy.

Former Yugoslavia's contribution to the post-communist story on civil society is a bit weird one. This case showed how the very idea of 'democracy' and 'civil society' can be misused for ethno-nationalist mobilisation and belligerent politics. Truly, the first attempts for de-mystification of the security sector and spelling out new alternatives for the country's security arrangements began in the most developed Yugoslav republic, in Slovenia. The "Slovenian Spring" announced first signals and demands for democratic civilian control over the Yugoslav military. Slovenian civil society was born and established through the critical observation of the security sector. Civil society's appeals were authentic and democratic, but without any national substance, at least, at the beginning. However, a year before gaining independence societal impetus was turned into an instrument with political goal. The public debate primarily focused on the need for demilitarisation of the Yugoslav society and at the end it finished with the search for an optimal solution for Slovenian state and security system. This turnabout is explained by a domestic author, who argues:

"Compatibility of pacifism and militarism was achieved that moment when the idea of nation-state was promoted and won at the election. Through the establishment of the nexus nation-state, which indivisible elements are the concepts of "one's own military" and "national security", there was introduced a distinction between "our" and "their" military, between the good (Slovenes) and bad (the others) boys, between justified and unjustified militarisation, and at last instance - all these led toward revolutionary (Leninist) logic of differentiation between "just" and "unjust" wars ..."

The concept of Demilitarised Slovenia remained at the level of a cultural notion. It was a kind of reaction and antithesis of the Yugoslav Army's privileged social and political position. However, when Slovene society and politics agreed on the thesis that "in order to truly be a nation, we need our own state to protect us", the creation of a separate Slovene Army became a necessity. The opposition to the ruling communist regime, especially when accompanied by harsh repression, created heroic and victim-image for the civil society's leaders that appeared to be a political credit for their would-be political careers. The civil society movements associated with ethno-national mobilisation, and even populism (such as Serbian pro-Milosevic's rallies) proved to be very efficient but not democratically oriented. In some cases 'civil society' (certainly in its unnatural and weird way) served for re-establishing new ruling elites who had two slogans emblazoned on their banners: one read "democracy," while the other demanded "justice for our nation". Nationalists had no democratic credentials, and no plans to deepen democracy once they came to power. Their emphasis instead was on the claims of nationhood. Political opposition as well as ordinary citizens who dared to question the new regime and its actions were labelled traitors, international spies, foes of their country and its independence. The lessons learned from the period of pre-communist collapse could be summarised in the following way: first, the idea of civil society was intrinsically associated with the 'natural' antagonism with the 'state' (i.e. political sphere); second, this 'antagonism' sometimes lasted as long as the new elite got into power and civil society's leaders transform into politicians.

For the sake of the democratisation process itself but also for the purposes of the international democracy promoters it is very important to define the 'framework' of a civil society. In other words, one should define what is to be included into the category of civil society actors. Such classification might be especially useful from a point of view of SSR. Obviously not every actor has the same importance and can give the same contribution to the overall endeavour. One of the most widely spread myths on civil society is on its benign nature and democratic potential. Even within this benevolent understanding there are still open discussions on what belongs to the civil society 'club'. It seems that democracy-promoters rarely think on a strategy with dealing with the 'dark side' of the civil society in the countries in transition. As many rightly stress, civil society can (and often has) very malign forms and elements (such as various criminal gangs, mafia groups often associated with state structures, private security actors, etc.), such as the one created by Radovan Karadzic in Republika Srpska (in Bosnia) or the ones vigorously operating in today's Kosovo. (By the way, the latter does not represent a classical state entity, but the issue does not lose its accuracy even applied on a would-be state or an international protectorate.).

The 'bright' side of the story on post-communist civil society manifests extraordinary proliferation of NGOs and other forms of organisations that reminds on the appearance of 'mushrooms after the rain'. The picture should be completed by inclusion of what many see as a "virtual army of Western non-governmental organizations". At first glance it looks as if the civil society space constantly expands but it also gets (too) crowded. Unfortunately, the number of NGOs and the figures concerning their budgets, programmes and publications do not always give a realistic picture on the effectiveness and vivacity of civil society. The 'traditional' civil society, that once ago managed to keep ties of the communist society, the neighbourhood, seems as if it has lost its significance in the modern times. Interestingly, some recent public opinion surveys indicate that the citizens exist in a sort of a 'vacuum'. Namely, the exact number of registered members of NGOs and other associations is extremely low but even more indicative is a very high per cent of people unwilling to join any political or non-governmental organisation. That shows a 'missing link' between the citizens and the state and societal forms of organisation. The huge gap and even distrust into the institutions and leading elites still leaves some free space for other 'unidentified' forms of social networking, which usually stays beyond political and other actions.


2. On Perceptions of the SSR and the Role of Civil Society

Somewhat congested civil society in the transitional countries is burdened with various paradoxes, which are given different interpretations depending on the one who does so. The first and most important paradox is that it is not because of the membership that the civil society looks dense but rather because of numerous forms of formally registered associations. The second indicative thing is a pretty vague 'division of labour' is accompanied with competing interests in the arena. Being very tiny and not well-established agents, local NGOs are constantly engaged into grants hunting, mostly from foreign sources. However, sometimes the competition emerges between international NGOs and local ones over certain projects, not to talk about purely Western competition. The bad image and sometimes the bitter taste that stay at the end of the day raise the question if all this is about business as usual.

The civil societies into the transitional countries are usually fragmented and badly synchronised. The local NGOs are nothing but 'one man/woman show' created with no intention and/or power to make a real impact on the societal/political sphere. As some see it, for a good market presentation i.e. for a NGO to be easily sold out all that is necessary is relatively good education, English proficiency and an attractive name (usually centred on democracy, peace-building or human rights). On the side of the international partners, the situation shows high degree of competitiveness, lack of coordination and awareness of the other in-theatre actors. The other extreme is related with international NGOs' underestimation of the local potentials and bring their own experts to work in the field. That makes also the foreign budgets to make one full circle and practically stay within the original framework. On more substantial level, it is even more important that foreign experts engaged in such missions (some call them cynically 'missioners') usually have no expertise on the respective country and its specific problems whatsoever.

The empowerment of civil society in respect to the SSR in the countries in transition depends on several factors that should be taken into account by everybody involved.

1. Security sector belongs to the spheres of special interest for every state. Most of them are unwilling to let 'non-experts' and/or foreigners to meddle with their sovereign domains. Acceptance of the international assistance is usually a result of the countries' wish to gain a better image in the eyes of the 'international community' (especially in the light of their wish to join NATO). The likeliness of a state's officials to cooperate is usually higher with external 'guests' than with the local actors. The good standing of the international NGOs could, consequently, be very helpful in providing better prestige and positioning of the local NGOs with their reluctant governments.

2. In the war torn societies the civil society's actions are not needed only in respect to the 'formal' (i.e. visible) security sector but also in regard to many shadowy actors (such as non-state security actors, paramilitaries, rebel groups, corrupted elites, etc.). The crucial question is not always how to 'empower' (parts of the) civil society but also how to 'disempower' (other parts) of that very civil society.

3. The crucial issue for the security sector reform (SSR) endeavours imported from the West is the selection of the local partners. The same question can be posed on the other side: how to chose or is it possible to 'select' one's external partner. It looks as if there is no reliable criteria towards which the local NGOs should try meet in order to be granted a support from the external sources. On the other hand, the local NGOs have much more limited possibilities to be 'selective' because having an external partner is often a matter of survival.

4. Being too close to the power centres, as the experience of the countries in transition shows, can be very seductive. Intellectuals and scholars are usually the main agents of civil society but they are not immune of these affections. To the contrary, often they change the 'sides' and are seduced by the political opportunities and/or by their being 'opinion-makers'. Civil society in the post-communism brings in a special element of 'seductiveness' - it can be transformed into a profitable business only for the people who are in a position to articulate voices and serve as messengers between elites and society, while for the rest of the society gets only the leftovers.

5. Some local analysts rightly talk about 'enforced politicisation' of the civil society. One of the reasons is already mentioned 'mobility' between the political and civil society 'elites'. However, in the opinion of some intellectuals, the post-communist Balkan countries lack human potential and time to develop separate economic, political and intellectual elites. In their opinion, it is a moral duty of the intellectuals to get politically involved in the processes in a society burdened by nationalism and traditionalism. Others, however, believe that independent civil society 'elite' has to stay independent and critical towards the political sphere even when the 'good guys' get into office, and in that context they warn on a sort f a 'brain drain' that usually follows the more radical political changes. The additional reason for this 'politicisation' of the civil society is in the very fact that in the turbulent times, when the state and society face historical choices, civil society's activity is exactly about political choices, values and methods.

6. No matter how important is the building of an alliance between international and local actors there is a tendency of taking ownership of the conflict in all its dimensions. This is the experience drawn from the Yugoslav conflict(s). External interventionists rushing for fast results and quick fixes have usually forgotten that the reforms of security sector depend merely of the acceptance by the local stakeholders. Building up the ability of the respective societies to find solutions for themselves is usually one of the missing points in most of the realised projects.

7. Conditionality of the international assistance also may hamper the civil society's development, especially if the local partners perceive it as unjust or as blackmailing.

8. As tailoring of the security structures' composition has proved to be a long-term and rather sensitive process within the national efforts, the same applies to the external actors. However, the rush into direct and overt interventions often give opposite effects in long run, especially if the point of intervention has been identified only within the security structures. Following the 'logic of the business' some forget that the SSR cannot be the first item on the democratisation agenda but represents rather a 'mine-field' that calls for a patient and cautious approach.


3. Teaching and/or Preaching: Learning from One's Mistakes or Misfortunes

Various and numerous exchange programmes, workshops, trainings and assistance endeavours have flourished in all transitional countries in the past decade. Something unimaginable before the Cold War has become a fashionable trend all at sudden. This development helped inciting a new and more open way of thinking of problems that used to be reserved only for researchers of military provenience. In many respects, 'eastern' scholars have started learning the alphabet of democracy and democratic control of armed forces throughout their frequent meetings with their 'western' counterparts. After the initial blooming, however, also some problems appeared.

The 'recipients/students' have often been offered quite basic knowledge and even old-fashioned theories. The original interest of the 'teachers' in their own environment has, however, shifted toward issues beyond the classical theory of civil-military relations. The result is not difficult to assume: again the gap has not been bridged between 'Western' and 'Eastern' strategic community and civil society. In other words, dominant scheme is that there is an invisible division between 'recipients' and 'donors'. The obvious lack of real dialogue and exchange of expertise and opinions resembles the talk of deaf people. The vocabulary of the chatter class has been 'enriched' by introduction of the distinction between 'internationals' and 'locals' even without being noticed that it assumes paternalistic approaches and implies un-equal and humiliating relationship for one of the 'partners'.

Openness in regard to one's own society but also towards the outer (regional, international) community is (or should be) an inherent characteristic of genuine civil society. Progress depends on the open and frequent contacts with various forums and associations existing on a national level but also on the international one. Hence, any civil society (and particularly an immature one) faces challenges of international cooperation. Mediation with one's own governments and societies is still the major objective. However, 'internationals' still overlook a very important fact of life. While for them SSR can be a noble project, business or even hobby it can be highly dangerous matter for their local partners dealing with the SSR. Such activities call for an exceptional personal courage and many of the local intellectuals have paid (or will pay) huge prices. Their personal examples thou rare can make far more impact and get bigger echo than any successful international workshop or publication.

Having proved unable to cope with the transitional hardships as well as with the intra-state conflicts in a peaceful manner, many SEE states have became a scene of a decade long presence and interference of the international community. In that sense the external influence (both positive and negative) has become a very important variable of all significant developments and processes in the region. The effects of this unique external policies can be seen through two main dimensions - conflict resolution endeavours and political/economic impetus. Unfortunately, political meddling was not always accompanied with relevant scholar analysis and advice about the countries concerned. As some authors rightly stress, research and policy communities do not communicate well. What has never been lacking is 'peace and/or democracy business' for all kinds of international, governmental and NGO missions in the region.

There is a widespread belief that the issue of democratic management of the security sector cannot be seen in the traditional perspective as a purely domestic affair of the state concerned any longer. Concrete analysis of the effectiveness, or better the possibilities and limitations of international assistance to the post-communist countries must take into account, at least, two dimensions. First, one has to identify points of 'intervention' and methods how to do it in the best possible way. The other question is identification of the appropriate agents who can do the job. So far, the interventions from abroad resemble to physicians prescribing treatment without prior diagnosis. To put it in a simpler way: research community has a knowledge-how but has no means to make an impact, while the policy community has a budget and a will but is still unaware of its being ignorant about the basic facts on their own missions. The policy community pick ups the recipients countries ad hoc and in accordance to some major political concerns. Since the priorities are made in rush (due to the somewhat unpredictable political turnabouts, such as fall of Milosevic, for example), there is no time to collect all relevant data, to scan the situation on the 'terrain' and to create specific methodology of work.

The race that followed the 2001 October change in Yugoslavia, in the words of the local experts, was akin to 'safari'. Over-night the deeply isolated and demonised country turned into a very attractive market for selling various democratisation projects. This very case, however, shows also another side of the coin of the democracy-promotion community. Truly, a vast international effort (i.e. money) had used in civil society's empowerment in order to oust the strongman in Belgrade. However, in the aftermath of the 'Belgrade Revolution' each side claimed "we did it" - the 'internationals' had to justify their budgets and politics, while the 'locals' needed an internal legitimisation. By its very nature the democratic control of the security sector is supposed to be determined and dependent merely on the internal factors. The way they are implemented in a certain society depends on a list of factors with various natures (societal, economic, political, cultural, and historical).

In regard to most of these factors there is practically no way of influencing or re-directing them in the short-run either from within the country or through the international assistance. For instance, historical traditions are what they are (although historical perceptions differ sometimes radically). Economic development is also a process that takes time and is usually accompanied with many hardships and pains. Democratic constitutions and legal regulations can be easily copied but their implementation calls for democratic culture that assumes decades of hard work and learning on own mistakes. The radical re-building of the security sector in the countries with deep traumatised historical experiences are very much related with the courage, willingness, self-confidence and disobedience of the citizens.

On the surface it may look that the dictatorial regimes are strong and powerful because of their reliance on the use of force (i.e. security structures), but the moment people dare and become disobedient the regimes show their fragility and collapse as a card tower. The question is how can international community help in this regard? Hence, the international assistance programmes should be focused on a positive action in the points where it is indeed possible to prevent, support or advice the local agents. Expertise of the international organisations (governmental, international, non-governmental, foundations, academia, etc.) in many cases represents very useful and helpful advice on how democratic institutions can assert themselves, and especially how to avoid possible dangers and challenges that lead in opposite direction. However, despite the current 'inflation' of offered external expertise there is something that most of the donor-agencies forget: expertise must be based on a solid knowledge NOT only about democracy but rather about the target country.

Abstract and merely theoretical concepts have no effect if they do not correspond with the conditions that prevail in a certain country and especially its specific needs. So far there is a usual pattern of giving such expertise: the expert has his/her first contact with the state-receiver when comes for the mission accomplice. Paradoxically enough, the expert gets confused and needs some time to understand the national setting, the political culture - and finally, needs some instruction from the local staff. Given the sensitivity of SSR the international donor organisations prefer to be on the safe side i.e. to work with consent of the host government. The 'real-politic' requires that they cooperate and launch programs even when the partner has a dubious international standing. Thus, since very beginning there is a sort of 'flirting' with the host government officials and the local strategic community. Giving open support to the critically oriented NGOs may endanger the 'business'. Thus, the 'compromise solution' sometimes follows quite a weird logic. Namely, the 'perfect' local partner can be one of the so-called phantom NGOs, established either by the ruling regime or by the former supporters of the overthrown dictatorial regime who have just re-written their CVs and put on attractive labels (such as 'Atlantic Club of...').

Reforms concerning democratic management of the security sector inevitably involve reliance on foreign civil (and military) expertise due to the simple fact that one has not enough time to 'learn on one's own mistakes'. Nevertheless there are also some objective limitations. The best proof is the fact that South East Europe has the biggest ratio of 'democratisers' per capita while still stays a grey zone of instability and insecurity. Many international agents get engaged in a region not because of their altruistic wish to promote democracy but rather because of running their business and circulating their budgets, or at least that is the general perception among the local community. For example, recently a well-known Western-based centre for security studies made a concrete proposal to an independent research centre in Yugoslavia. According to it, some 13 foreign experts were supposed to give training to 17 parliamentarians, while the role of the local research centre was supposed to be only in organisational matters with more than humiliating compensation for their work. Such an arrogant attitude only contributes to deepening the gap between the parties that are supposed to work together on promotion of the democratic control of the security sector. The Western officials and experts have constantly claimed, "the West does not want to impose a model of democratic control of armed forces". It may be true but the immature political elites in the post-communist states have developed clientele psychology and insincerity.

As long as there is no open and frank dialogue between the donors and receivers on the authentic needs and the best methods of satisfying them - there cannot be substantial results. In the globalised world the questions related to peace and democracy promotion call for international co-operation. But cooperation is not the same as assistance. Hence, the ultimate criterion for the effectiveness of the international assistance to the governmental and civil society institutions is (or better, will be) a hypothetical situation in which the aid receivers transform into equal partners and furthermore, learn from each other. It looks even more important to stimulate regional cooperation. There is a huge unused potential of sharing good, and especially bad experiences from the past decade equally. There is a striking mix of best and worst practices when it comes to the civil societies' role in the past developments. Surprisingly, these cases in the Balkans do not follow the stereotypes on the respective countries' international images. For example, some of the best practices can be found in Yugoslavia and Croatia, which civil societies had to cope and get mature during the struggles with the open autocracies, while Macedonia that used to be known as 'oasis of peace' has the weakest and ethnically divided civil society. Most of the countries in the region share similar problems but the achievements differ. Their bringing together may help in various ways, such as tackling the most sensitive issues of the role of their security forces in the nation-building and the state building processes, their transformation in the context of the democratic changes in the political sphere, and finally - the whole discussion can help the reconciliation process and building a regional awareness on the indivisible nature of peace and security.

Democratic control of the armed forces cannot be a gift. Hypothetically, even if one imagines that it is possible - yet there is a necessary precondition i.e. there must be willingness for the gift to be accepted and embraced. Post-communist states, especially those burdened with internal conflicts, first of all must be ready to accept the 'gift' and to open the package. Transitional civil societies should accept responsibility for introduction and advocacy of the new ideas and concepts. At the same time, their counterparts in the West bear responsibility regarding their own policy community, which have to learn to listen to the research community and its advice before the major political decisions are made.


4. The Way Ahead: The Day After Western Aid Ceases?

Despite the good wishes and willingness, often the donor community has own constraints that directly reflect on the state of affairs in the recipient countries. First, the number of 'clients' that need international assistance grows rapidly, far faster than the increase of the international organisations' budgets. The second factor is that the target countries and regions are often selected according to some global geo-political considerations: one day a country can be in the headlines and gets full attention, but the next day it may be easily forgotten. That is why the most important question for everybody in this business should be - what to do the day after the Western assistance ceases to flow in the country/region?

A decade of international assistance in the Balkans sadly shows a very ambiguous picture. The dependency syndrome is often associated with a self-pity or victim image held by the local communities. Citizens still suffer out of apathy and unbelief in own potentials and strength to take own destiny in the hands. Unlike the citizens, some individuals and small groups are fascinated either by state or by 'civil society business'. The race for international grants and pleasing the donors make them beholden to their foreign donors more than own public. As some more critical analysts rightly stress, the local NGOs are often funny caricatures of their Western models. Their objectives are merely limited to pleasing the donors, and in that way to ensure own existence and budget. Instead of speaking for a segment of their own society and to their government, they invent stories that they guess the Western donors would like to hear. These 'usual suspects' are rarely to be found out from the capitals and small elites. In case the local NGOs are unlucky with the international donors they easily turn towards the internal alternatives and become clients of semi-political groups and/or political parties, and thus lose their independence and raison d'etre. Some naively believe that the recovery and civil society maturation need time and that naturally the 'generational change' will bring more positive results. The sad truth is that these countries are facing bad perspectives ether because of the huge 'brain drain' towards the West or because of having traumatised young generations that still remember and suffer from the war traumas, poverty and social hopelessness. In such circumstances human security plays far more important role than any military/defence/police reform. In other words, the international donors should think twice before launching an assistance programme, or should wisely re-think how can the SSR help re-allocate more money into the social sphere by making security structures more transparent, less expensive and more accountable.

It is not difficult to conclude that 'internationals' come and go, but 'locals' stay and it's up to them to finish their 'homework'. So far the most helpful programmes have been the ones that focused on cherishing and supporting grass-root movements and local expertise. It is possible only with Western institutions that do not hold stereotypes on 'communism' and its alleged lack of professionals and knowledge. These institutions do not preach but try to empower the best core of the local civil society by showing empathy, understanding and encouraging them to find their own solutions for the accumulated problems. Unfortunately, the majority in the international race for democratisation business lacks empathy and refers to the recipient countries with cynicism and irony calling them in the couloirs 'ghostly' or 'primitive' countries that should be though the lessons if necessary by endlessly repeating the 'Western wisdoms'. Instead of sticking to their moralistic approaches and the perception on self- righteousness, the Western donors should also think a bit more on the conflicting role the Western diplomacy, military power and aid programmes have been playing for years. It is far easier to judge than to get into one's shoes and sense the whole seriousness of the situation in which the 'locals' have to live and promote democracy.

The reality in many of the countries that badly need consolidated governments and powerful civil societies is depressive indeed. However, the paths and options are numerous, while case-by-case approach is the best. Regional mirroring and exchange sometimes can be more beneficial and less costly than any missionaries from the West. Furthermore, the actions must get wider scope and reach people in the small provincial towns equally as it is the case with he capitals. Training of the future trainers makes the better future a reachable goal. Democracy as well as civil society will hang over as empty phrases as long as there is no substance i.e. solid economic ground for change and progress. Weak non-functional states and poverty create fertile ground for extremism, radicalism and all negative forms of civil society. Striving to achieve grand results the Western donors are sometimes unaware that doing small (on the surface insignificant things) can be much more valuable than their expensive conferences, stock-taking charades, etc. The civil societies of the poor and non-democratic countries badly need small things that would help them do their 'homework' (i.e. deal with their own sources of insecurity and their 'securitizers' on the top of the state hierarchy). These small things include more libraries, journals, access to reliable and independent information, Internet, tools and methodology of better education, etc. International donors should make up their mind whether they prefer 'high profile' policy-oriented spectacles or 'low-visibility' but more effective approaches. The latter will certainly not bring fast and excellent publicity but will breed the seed for the better future.


© TFF & the author 2002  


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Vegagatan 25, S - 224 57 Lund, Sweden
Phone + 46 - 46 - 145909     Fax + 46 - 46 - 144512

© TFF 1997-2002