COLLISION AND COLLUSION - Reviews
The Slavic and East European Journal
vol. 44, No. 1. (Spring, 2000), pp. 158-160.
Janine R. Wedel. Collision and Collusion: The Strange Case of Western Aid to Eastern Europe, 1989-1998. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1998. 286 pp., $27.95 (cloth).
Evguenia Davidova, Wolfson College, Oxford
When the Berlin Wall fell, feelings of euphoria gained ground all over the "East" as well as in the "West." Both regions cherished hopes for a quick, painless, and irreversible unification of the two Worlds. Both categories forged during the Cold War period are still valid in the story of Western Aid to Eastern Europe. In this particular case they continued to presuppose each other's existence-the "West" offers models and gives aid and the "East" receives it. In the tradition of the Marshall Plan it was self-evident that the West should help to build up democratic, free-market countries.
Collison and Collusion follows the strange and even cynical story of Western aid. Janine Wedel examines the discrepancy between what donors and recipients defined as "Aid." Isolation during the period of the Iron Curtain and the lack of mutual understanding lead to many misconceived aid concepts. The author goes beyond describing the phases of aid strategies and programs to concentrate on "how aid actually happens" (6) , i.e., why it was carried out in this way, and who were the aid actors; this is the first book dealing with the subject of aid on such a scope. It focuses on Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia, usually defined as the Višegrád countries, plus Russia and Ukraine. The Central European states are perceived by the West as "model" countries, the first group "to return to Europe" (19). According to the donors, east of the Višegrád there were only a few potential Europeans. Actually, after the collapse of communism the polarization between East and West assumes different dimensions.
The structure of Wedel's book follows her own classification of the aid story as a process focusing on the priority goals of donors and the cultural, social, and political contexts of recipient societies. The initial phase, "Triumphalism," is soon replaced by a period of "Disillusionment" for both. Nevertheless, some people realized that "training of the trainers" (119) might be helpful, and the last stage, "Adjustment," took place after a considerable period of learning. Wedel tracks the major approaches of the donors in terms of the relationships between participants and underlines that interactions between both parties are of great importance for the outcome. In addition, this work follows the language of aid created by the donors and sometimes copied by the recipients. I would confess here that I myself, as an East European, appreciate that contribution of the book very much.
The book consists of six chapters. The first one explores the real encounter between East and West, or the Second and First Worlds- the building of aid agencies and procedures, the gap between real needs, great expectations, and what was done. Chapter two examines the role of technical assistance, a prevailing strategy of donors in achieving their priority goalprivatization of state-owned enterprises. A myriad of so-called "econolobbyists," the "Marriott Brigade" consultants, and Big Six accounting firms played a pivotal role in cleansing communism. Chapter three discloses another important trend in aid strategy: giving grants to selected groups of recipients for building up democracy, pluralism, and civil society. Economic aid to Russia and Ukraine is the subject of the fourth chapter. The business partnership between Harvard University's Institute for International Development (HIID) and St. Petersburg, and the strengthening of the Russian mafia, are treated in detail. Assisting the development of small and medium-size business and infrastructure is the main issue of the fifth chapter. Most of Wedel's analyses and conclusions are based on case studies (discussed in chapters 2 through 5) seen as "model projects" (205) by the donors. Four appendixes include seven tables, two maps, and a broad bibliography. The charming cartoons at the beginning of every chapter support some important points.
The principal methodological approaches, defined by Wedel as an "extended case method" and "ethnography across levels and processes" (205-208), treat aid as processes of interactions between donors and recipients. All these concrete interactions are set against the background of the larger systems they represent. The author has consulted many reports, internal memoranda, and evaluations carried out by donors, recipients, and other organizations. This impressive study is the result of ten years of work in the field, including participant observation and more than 1,750 interviews.
Indeed, following the changes and trends within the aid process through one decade makes the author's insights not only thorough but also markedly interdisciplinary. She brings in various perspectives to throw light on the aid issue and distinguishes between U.S. assistance and the EU approach. The former has emphasized the "private sector," while EU programs and most other donors sought government-to-government relationships, recalling more a Third World model of aid implementation. Although Wedel is following a number of individual case studies, she tends to overemphasize the cases of Poland and Russia at the expense of other countries, and the U.S. aid strategies at the expense of the EU. An interesting point in this context would be an analysis of the EU's Phare-Lien program. The place of aid efforts in the context of nationalist feelings in the recipient countries would be a stimulating issue to consider. The invasion of many religious organizations (some profiting from rich funding) in the East is also omitted in Wedel's story. Another question that might be developed in more detail is the relationship not only on the donors-recipients axis, but also among the different levels of local recipients within one country, and in the framework of the other East European countries.
The book should be of value for both general readers and specialists because it covers a very broad range of issues on a large comparative basis. An important contribution is the emphasis in all the phases and levels of the aid story on the political character of technical aid, which often strengthened communist legacies. The combination of easy reading style and creative cartoons is a definite advantage of the book.
After closing the book, no reader can remain indifferent. One can't help asking why aid efforts did so little to help, and where have the billions of dollars gone? The paradox is that even with different strategies, aid efforts resulted in less than optimal outcomes. Actually, Western assistance replicated some communist-style patterns. Some readers may insist that this was not a coincidence; others may suggest that the aid story tells us that we need more time to know and understand each other.