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

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

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


Coleman, Heather J., Canadian Slavonic Papers


Abstract:

This article uses 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 post-communist Russia. Drawing on evidence from a series of interviews with Russian and Canadian participants, it focuses on how cultural and power issues played out in UCGF99's work. Because public policy stands at the juncture between state and society, public policy reform is an ideal rubric for exploring how values accompany aid and the way that the culture of the receiving society shapes the implementation of that aid. The interviews reveal an inherent tension between the ideal of egalitarian co-operation and the reality that the work done by the partnership was dedicated, ultimately, to the "reform" of one side by the other. They also highlight the extent to which reform is a process of translation: as concepts and international models make the transition to another society, their own cultural specificity becomes apparent, as does the challenge of translating them in a manner meaningful to the society undergoing "transition." This article focuses on two related questions of translation: how issues of language, culture and power played out in the "consultant" structure of UCGF99 partnerships, and the concrete challenges of transforming Russian political culture using Canadian models.

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. …

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