Translating Canadian Models: International Partnerships and Public Policy Reform in Russia

By Coleman, Heather J. | Canadian Slavonic Papers, March 1, 2009 | Go to article overview

Translating Canadian Models: International Partnerships and Public Policy Reform in Russia


Coleman, Heather J., Canadian Slavonic Papers


The collapse of communism in Central and Eastern Europe between 1989 and 1991 opened up a new terrain for international development work. The countries of the region faced the combined challenges of rapid political and economic transformation in the context of widespread economic crisis. Like other western countries, Canada sought to support a transition to democracy and a market economy. In 1990, the then Department of External Affairs established a Task Force on Central and Eastern Europe, with the mandate of assisting the former socialist states to move toward political democracy and market economies. The task force was renamed the Bureau of Assistance for Central and Eastern Europe in 1993; in 1995, its functions were transferred to the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), the government agency responsible for Canada's foreign assistance programs.1 In the case of Russia, between 1992 and 2002, Canada funded 260 technical assistance initiatives worth $150 million; such support continues at a rate of approximately $20 million annually.2

Early on in the encounter between western development agencies and the former socialist countries of Europe, it became clear that the tasks at hand were of a different type than the international development community was accustomed to. As Janine R. Wedel argues in her study of western aid to Eastern Europe in die 1990s, "the industrialized and highly literate countries of the 'Second World' presented a new development domain." In contrast to die "underdevelopment" of the Third World, where western aid agencies were accustomed to working, the Second World was perceived as a case of "misdevelopment." It would, of course, be naive to suggest that earlier development programs were free of ideology; indeed, in recent years, organizations such as the World Bank have promoted a "good governance" agenda as a condition for economic aid. But it is clear that the post-communist variety placed much more emphasis on transforming a society's values, with a diree-prong strategy emphasizing economic change, political reform, and promotion of civil society, thus bringing into stronger relief the fact mat values accompany aid. Writes Wedel, "Aid to India, as an example, tended to be couched mainly in terms of economic growth, not institutional and social change. But exorcising the legacies of communism in the Second World often required changing the very nature of recipient institutions...."3 Certainly, an early version of "CIDA's Programming Strategy for Russia," published in January 1997, listed "promotion of democratic values and a market-based economy," in its summary of Canada's four main interests in Russia, alongside ensuring global security by fostering a stable and prosperous Russia, furthering co-operation on issues of bilateral interest, and developing Canadian trade and investment links. tIn assessing what had been learned in the first five years of Canadian engagement with post-communist Russia, the document highlighted the special qualities of work in the post-socialist world, asserting mat "Canadians used to working in developing countries must take care to adopt a different approach in Russia. The nature of the task at hand and the character of the local partner will differ significantly from those in developing countries. It is crucial to appreciate the distinction between reform and development."4

The partnership between the University of Calgary and the Gorbachev Foundation in Moscow constituted one of the earliest and longest lived of these CIDA-funded programs. From 1994 to 2005, this consortium sought to contribute to the process of reform and to do so in a way that enabled Canadians and Russians to work in a collaborative and egalitarian manner on issues of common interest related to Russia's economic and democratic transitions. This article uses the second phase of this partnership, the University of Calgary Gorbachev Foundation Public Policy Project (UCGF99), as a case study for exploring the challenges of international participation in promoting reform of the content and context of public policy in Russia. …

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