Academic journal article East European Quarterly

Training and Technical Assistance for Local Government in Hungary: A Critique and Suggestions for Reform

Academic journal article East European Quarterly

Training and Technical Assistance for Local Government in Hungary: A Critique and Suggestions for Reform

Article excerpt


In 1990, Hungarians replaced their communist government and centrally planned economy with democratic, parliamentary government and capitalist, market economy (Szoboszlai, 1991; Held, 1992; Peteri, 1991). The transformation replaced soviet-style local councils with local self-governments that are democratically elected and enjoy considerable autonomy (Buss, 1993; Verebelyi, 1990; Peteri, 1991).

Because Hungarians have been ruled by non-democratic institutions for most of their history - Austrian monarchy until World War I, communism in 1919, right-wing authoritarianism under Admiral Horthy from 1920 to 1940, fascism from 1940 to 1945, and communism, again, from 1946 until 1989 - they have no experience with modern self-government (Sugar, Hanak, and Frank, 1990). Local elected officials have little practical knowledge of democratic decision making - many are from universities and professions or from the ranks of dissident organizations. At the same time, many local bureaucrats are hold-overs from the communist regime. Although most hard-core Communist Party members have been purged from top-level and middle-level positions, especially those in the secret police, many remain at lower levels. At best, only a handful of local government officials - elected or appointed - have studied or worked in democratic countries.

Therefore, building local government capacity in Hungary must be a high priority for training and technical assistance programs if democratic reforms are to succeed. With the Support for Eastern European Democracy Act (SEED), the Bush Administration and Congress recognized this need, spending seven million dollars promoting democracy in Hungary thus far. In addition to these efforts, private American foundations, international organizations, and foreign countries are also involved, as well as programs sponsored by the Hungarian national government. Results have been uneven: some have worked and should be expanded, others are ineffective and should be terminated or reworked.

Because developing and strengthening local government will be essential, the lessons learned from Hungary will be important to many countries, especially Russia and its former Republics and new nations like Slovakia that are just beginning to receive assistance. But there are few evaluations of how well programs have worked. None of the local government projects discussed in this paper have been formally evaluated, and no evaluations are planned. Major funding agencies - including the United States Information Agency (USIA) and Agency for International Development (USAID) - have sent fact-finders to Hungary but they did not examine projects and approaches in detail or systematically. Congress's General Accounting Office (GAO) has looked at American assistance to national governments, but overlooked help at the local level (GAO, 1990, 1991, 1992).(1)

This paper describes (see overview of projects in the Appendix) and evaluates the overall effort (rather then individual initiatives) of American, Hungarian, and some international initiatives intended to help local government.(2) We believe this paper shows what it is like to do research, training, and technical assistance in an emerging democracy, and will help inform Western policy in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.


Most training and technical assistance in Hungary is centralized, even those programs aimed at local government. Many programs are developed and operate through (or closely with) national ministries, especially Interior and Finance, in Budapest. Many organizations, such as the World Bank, are mandated to work through national government. Even programs not run through ministries are headquartered in the capital, since resources and authority reside there. It is easier to bring city representatives to Budapest than national government officials to the cities - travel between regional cities is slow. …

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