Academic journal article International Issues & Slovak Foreign Policy Affairs

Hungarian Transition Assistance: A Look Behind the Narrative

Academic journal article International Issues & Slovak Foreign Policy Affairs

Hungarian Transition Assistance: A Look Behind the Narrative

Article excerpt

Following their ELI accession, the countries of the Visegrad Group (Czechia, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia] have frequently been portrayed as "democracy's new champions,"1 with both the legitimacy and credibility to share their knowledge about the challenges and good practices of transitioning from autocracy to democracy and from a centrally-planned to a market-based economy with those on a similar path of transition. The sharing of the Visegrad transition experience has entered the narrative along with practices regarding international development cooperation policies as a specific approach to promoting democracy, above all in the countries of the immediate neighborhood of the European Union.

While the narrative has been around since the Visegrad countries joined the ELI, until now relatively few academic and policy papers have thoroughly assessed the content and impact of the transition experience as shared through the Visegrad countries' international development cooperation policies. Hungary is one of the smaller and to date least developed donors of the four to have adopted the transition experience narrative, and even less analytical work has focused on what Hungarian transition support has entailed and the impact it has had in practice.3 The present paper seeks to partly fill this niche, while acknowledging that the quality and quantity of the publicly available information on the use of Hungary's transition experience in its international development policy do not allow for a thorough impact assessment. Therefore, building on the available information (official strategic documents and annual reports issued by Hungary's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade]3, the paper seeks to explore the role of transition support in Hungary's bilateral development cooperation policy over time, looking at what it entailed and the extent to which the frameworks and structures in place on the Hungarian side enabled it to share its transition experience effectively.4

Before proceeding, it is important to note that the paper focuses only on bilateral activities conducted or financed by state actors (the foreign ministry, line ministries and other state agencies. Therefore, it does not consider the activities of the NGO sector, unless they were implemented directly using foreign ministry or embassy grants, and it does not discuss the activities of the private sector. Although Hungary participates in twinning and TAIEX programs and projects, where it can use its transition experience, these are omitted from the analysis as they are not part of international development cooperation.

The paper is structured as follows: the first section discusses the concept of transition experience in a regional context and the difficulties faced in trying to assess its impact. The second section assesses the status transition experience - and by extension, democracy assistance - occupies in Hungarian development cooperation policy, while the third takes a closer look at specific activities and trends. The fourth section reviews the suitability of the frameworks and structures for sharing transition experience, and then the concluding section briefly discusses what the future might be for Hungary's transition assistance.

Transition experience and its assessment

Having just undertaken an apparently successful political and economic transition, the completion of which was embodied in the Visegrad countries' accession to the ELI, Central and Eastern Europe's [CEE] new donors argued thatthey had a special set of knowledge, as well as the credibility and normative legitimacy to share it with partners on the road to democratic transformation and consolidation. Therefore when (re-]launching their international development cooperation policies in the early 2000s, the Visegrad countries, along with other post-communist CEE states, promoted their transition experience as an added value of their own development policies and those of the EO. …

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