Aid and Democracy, Finding the Least Imperfect Solution

To start things off, I really want to thank the Weingartners for this opportunity to research with Professor Pickering this summer. Last year I stumbled upon the complex nature of Eastern Europe almost entirely by accident, and I am now completely consumed by the fascinating politics of this region. From my two classes on this area and my discussions with Professor Pickering, there are three main points about Eastern Europe that make it both incredibly interesting and endlessly frustrating:

1. It’s impossible to analyze the area only quantitatively
2. It is seemingly impossible to administer neutral aid
3. Every solution will have some sort of adverse effect

To elaborate on the first point, its important to first understand that modern political science research almost always includes some sort of quantitative analysis. Statistical studies are a great way to analyze political issues, and great for assessing whether certain variables have significance in various conflict zones. Opinion polls are also of vital importance, since local voices are integral in understanding both what a community wants, and how aid projects are affecting them. The Gallup Balkan Monitor is a great resource for understanding trends of local opinion as various projects and reforms are underway. However, there are huge caveats to quantitative results. Numbers do not bring to light various nuances in every conflict, and these nuances can be complete game-changers. Currently, Bosnia is constructed a diverse mix of Bosniaks, Croats, and Serbs. While there are regional concentrations of these ethnicities in various parts of the country, there are plenty of communities in which no ethnicity holds a majority. To assess opinions and collect data equally across heterogenous communities and homogenous communities would result oversimplifying the political situation. Each municipality has to be assessed in its own light, uniformly assessing these municipalities can result in an incorrect analysis. I anticipate when we do our research, and are quantifying interview answers and attempting to interpret the patterns of local level responses to aid we will have to aid various qualitative explanations in order to fully explain the various factors that are involved in each individual interview.

To address the second point, Anderson writes in “Do No Harm” how aid can never be administered neutrally. This will probably be the most frustrating aspect of our project, as we analyze various channels of administering aid and building civil society in Bosnia and Macedonia. It is important to ensure that the distribution of aid does not in fact exacerbate existing tensions. In Bosnia this becomes particularly complicated, since oftentimes it is one particular ethnic group that has a greater need for aid over another. It is important to emphasize that aid itself can be neutral, and donors may be impartial, however the distribution and implementation of aid can be easily politicized. It is important to ensure aid, especially when building civil society, does not worsen tensions in a post-conflict environment.

In my third point, in class as we read various solutions to dealing with ethnic conflict, post-conflict tension, and aid-giving it became clear that there was no perfect solution to any of these issues. Especially in Bosnia and Macedonia, where the complexity of the situation on the ground leaves numerous factors and variables to be considered when discussing any answer to the problems they face. The focus of our project involves administering local-level aid driven by what specific communities need and want, and while this has the potential for immense success, it has plenty of drawbacks as well. Oftentimes local-level aid is so such a small scale that the effects of it can take years to truly create an overall positive political impact. However we have learned about some projects that have done some real good in the region, such USAID’s Citizen Service Centers in Bosnia that administer birth certificates and various other records. In these offices, there are large windows separating people who are coming to collect their birth certificates and the administrators who conduct their work. This ensures physical transparency and accountability between the workers and the clients. These offices also excel in efficiency, and many patrons claim their requests are handled in under 10 minutes. Projects like these help enhance the legitimacy of government administrative offices, and are a good way to crack down on corruption and overwhelming bureaucracy. With this in mind, its evident that if aid givers focus on the right projects, (ones that focus on serving community needs, good governance, and building civil society on a local level), it is possible to make an impact on the ground.

With all this in mind I am immensely excited to dive into the research Professor Pickering has planned for us this summer. As I learn more about aid in the Balkans I will continue to update this with various findings and research. Thanks for reading!