Promoting democracy in the western balkans after the global financial crisis: Good intentions badly executed?
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International donors got involved in the Western Balkans during the last two decades, mainly through civil society organisations (CSOs), with the initial aim of providing emergency relief, and then to promote democracy and broadly support the Europeanization agenda. The intention has also been to contribute to the spread of western values and norms, as well as advance notions of ‘good governance’ and state reform. However, most local CSOs in receipt of such assistance have not developed high capacities and remain dependent on donor funding. They are also vulnerable to political pressures and have become detached from their local constituencies. Through a survey of donors that have operated across the region, this article seeks to examine why the long-term provision of aid and attempts to promote democracy via civil society have seemingly not delivered a sufficient dividend. What is examined here is whether donor conceptualization of ‘civil society development’ is the critical variable determining success. If we acknowledge that how donors view civil society and its contribution to democracy and state building is the basis from which aid is provided, projects are supported, and objectives set and measured, then better understanding the donors’ perspective is an important basis for trying to understand limited success. This, combined with poor co-ordination and collaboration amongst donors and between them and local stakeholders, arguably compounds the problem. The article concludes that although it has long been recognised that donor strategies are contentious and determine the impact of assistance, the economic crisis is exerting a significant impact in terms of priorities, exit strategies and co-ordination, the outcome of which is by no means certain.