The Washington Post
February 17, 1999

A 'Rogue State' No More

By NORA BOUSTANY, Washington Post Foreign Service

The 'Marriott Brigades'

Janine R. Wedel spent several years in Poland in the early 1980s, and while she was a Fulbright scholar working on her dissertation there 10 years ago she saw the first wave of foreign advisers and delegations coming to help Eastern Europe's former communist countries map their economic futures. She traveled to Russia and other places to take a hard look at the phenomenon of global entrepreneurs and hedge-fund investors who came in and turned a world of babushkas, labor unions and subsistence living upside down. "It became clear it was not going to work out," she said of the foreign advisers, self-styled privatization magicians who stayed a couple of days in smart hotels and then moved on to peddle their know-how elsewhere. She called it the "Marriott Brigade syndrome" in her book "Collision and Collusion," a cautionary tale about efforts to impose change on societies through the delivery of aid without understanding how they really work.

Wedel is now an associate research professor at George Washington University and a research fellow at the university's Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies.

The chapter on Russia in her book deals with the actions of the Harvard Institute for International Development, a private entity with its own corporate agreement to preside over the U.S. aid portfolio to Russia. In the case of former deputy prime minister Anatoly Chubais and his colleagues, who benefited as conduits of Western aid, the Western advice was ignored as long as the aid money kept coming, she wrote on the basis of extensive interviews. The Harvard project poured millions into Russia's privatization program -- what became known as prikhvatizatsiya or, as Wedel chose to translate it, "grabitization."

She charges that favoritism and corruption played a large role in the failure of U.S. policy toward post-communist Russia. A federal grand jury in Boston is conducting a criminal investigation into the work of a Harvard professor and former Harvard legal expert who ran the assistance program to Russia and allegedly benefited from private business dealings using institute resources and staff to make investments of hundreds of thousands of dollars in Russian bonds. In May 1997, the U.S. Agency for International Development suspended its ties to the Harvard program in Russia and canceled the last installment of $ 14 million in contracts with the university. Wedel said the group managed $ 300 million between 1992 and 1997, in addition to $ 57 million in contracts awarded directly to the university by AID.

Cartoons are used to illustrate the tediously abstract details of Wedel's book. One depicts a group from the Harvard Institute shaking hands with a representative of the Chubais clan. It lists the agenda of both groups as "Money, Power, Influence." The dialogue, however, is as follows: "It's so important to work with people who share our values."

Wedel's probing look at cross-cultural miscommunication demonstrates that Western resolve and the global rush to benefit from the demise of communist rule was costly not only to societies resistant to change, but to the American taxpayer as well.

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