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Steven Sampson

Steven Sampson

Professor emeritus

Steven Sampson

Fifteen Years of Democracy Export in the Balkans: Who Did What to Whom?


  • Steven Sampson

Summary, in English

Conference on Remembering Communism: Celebrating 15 years of Democracy, Thessaloniki, June 4-5, 2004

Fifteen Years of Democracy Export in the Balkans: Who Did What to Whom?


Steven Sampson

Department of Social Anthropology

Lund University

Lund, Sweden

Contact: Sampson [at] Get2net [dot] Dk.

This paper argues that we must analyze democracy assistance as a specific practice separate from democracy and democratization. Based on the author's consulting and research on democracy assistance in Romania, Albania, Kosovo and Bosnia, it is shown that democracy assistance has led to the export of project culture and project organizations, but it is questionable whether it has had impact on democratizatoin as such.


For a conference focusing on 15 years of post-communism, and with the recent entry of 8 former socialist countries into a democratic EU, it is appropriate to begin with the problem of “historical legacies”. One of these legacies has been the lack of democratic institutions and democratic culture. For the Central European states, the task was to rediscover and revitalize democratic traditions which had existed prior to World War Two. Democratic culture had to be resuscitated and reactualized. For the Balkans and the Former Soviet Union, it was a question of creating a democratic culture where none had existed, where there had been tribalism or corruption, or where there had been at best only enclaves or islands of democratic, modern thinking. Where was this democracy going to come from? How was it going to evolve? Early on, despite the proliferation of new political parties and elections, it was clear that “deep democracy” would not simply spring up. With the onset of the EU accession project, it was decided – in the smoke-filled rooms of Brussels, in the End of History think tanks in Washington, and in the dillusioned formerly pro-Tanzania foreign aid offices of Scandinavia—that democracy was necessary for economic development, and that democracy itself would develop only if it were implanted. The techniques and methods of democratic society, the attitudes of openness and tolerance, the practices of governance and accountability, all this should and could be exported. One could democratize these societies using democratic models from abroad. Thus was born the “democracy export” industry. No one ever used the term “democracy export”; rather they called it “democracy assistance” and used a host of familiar metaphors related to agriculture (seed programs), navigation (pilot projects), health prevention (injection) and even warfare (attacking problems with campaigns and democratization officers). Democracy, an end state connected with people gaining control over their own lives by holding elections and making decisions, this kind of democracy became “democracy assistance”. Democracy became a project for stimulating “democratization”.


  • Socialantropologi








  • Social Anthropology


  • Southeast Europe
  • Balkans
  • capacity building
  • NGOs
  • civil society
  • development assistance
  • aidland
  • development aid
  • democracy assistance
  • democracy export
  • social anthropology
  • democracy

Conference name

Conference on Remembering Communism: Celebrating 15 years of Democracy

Conference date