Danish system export between ideology and practice
A study of a top-down implemented project for bottom-up development in rural Russia
Institute of Anthropology University of Copenhagen
Paper presented at the workshop "Micro Perspectives on Post-Soviet Transformations", Helsinki, Finland, March 14-16, 2003
To download, print, or bookmark,
|The paradox of a top-down controlled ‘bottom-up development’|
|Two opposed approaches|
|The command economy of the Soviet Union|
|The post-Soviet era|
|Top-down management as an organisational structure|
|The bottom-up approach|
|Two coexisting approaches|
|Oppositions within the project design|
|Funds and initiative come from Denmark|
|The role and responsibilities of the counterpart|
|An active local counterpart|
|The case of the malfunctioning machinery station|
|Donors’ demand to improved local cooperation|
|Tactics to circumvent top-down strategic demands|
|Flexible organisations – the unclear status of the machinery station|
|Conclusion: the structural opposition in the project|
|Why continue doing projects?|
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union the West has donated large sums to help Eastern Europe with the expected transition from communism to market democracy. Much of the transitory help is channelled through Western funded programmes and projects with the explicit goal of developing western style institutions that honour the ideological principles of democracy, transparency and a free market economy – all central within the dominating discourse of neo-liberalism(1) in Western Europe. Among actors in this ambitious project to transform Eastern European societies is the Danish government, which has taken a point of departure in the ‘Danish Model’. The Danish Model is a concept within Danish development discourse that denotes an approach based on democracy, institutional independence and horizontal cooperation. One of the most prominent features of the model is the cooperative movement, which has played a key role especially within agricultural production. The cooperative movement grew large in the late 19th Century in Denmark when farmers joined forces and established local cooperative dairies, machinery stations etc. where the farmers themselves where both owners and users. Profit was shared in relation to the size of the individual farmer’s business with the cooperative while decision making was based on the principle of ‘one man one vote’ regardless of size of production. The Danish cooperative model is therefore understood as truly democratic and bottom-up as local development is seen as springing from local initiatives and resources and resulting in local user-owned institutions.
No matter how good a model of bottom-up development donor possesses the actual aid has to be administrated and implemented through someone outside the local context. The donations are public funds and administrative principles of accountability and transparency are set to secure that the funds are used according to the political objectives and not wasted. This includes administrative procedures as certain ways of writing reports, making projects, spending money etc. These procedures are imperative and they thereby constitute top-down criteria on the individual projects.
This means that the overall political wish in Denmark to ‘do good’ and help the new neighbours in the East is realised in projects that use certain political and administrative procedures in order to uphold two main ideals: a) an ideal based on a democratic approach with a focus on the active participation of the target group (bottom-up development), and b) an ideal of accountability and transparency in the economic and administrative procedures (top-down management). Both ideals are central within liberal market economy, but as the experience with the project shows, they clash in the concrete execution when they are combined.
This paper will explore the conflict between an ideal of bottom-up development and top-down administrative practice in a Danish agricultural project in Russia and show how this opposition is overcome by using methods that resemble those used in the Soviet Union to overcome the opposition between Soviet rhetoric and everyday practice. The paper is based on my fieldwork carried out in the autumn of 2001 by the Danish project in Russia. The project is a cooperation between the Danish donor, the Danish Agricultural Ministry, and the local regional agricultural administration. Its main elements are the building of three agricultural institutions: an agricultural advisory centre, a machinery station and a grain store. The initial aim was to provide the newly established individual farmers with access to agricultural expertise and expensive machinery on the basis of the Danish cooperative model. The local situation however meant that fewer independent farmers than expected used the institutions and the work of the institutions was therefore expanded to also include the former collective and state farms.
Before I explore the opposition within the project I will describe the two different approaches: top-down and bottom-up.
Top-down management is simply when the top, whether a single person or an institution, centrally plans and gives orders that lower levels in the hierarchy should follow(2). That is, when there is a central leadership for management and control which through vertical lines of authority implements a given plan. The leadership will have formal authority and possess different mechanisms of control. It can be through both positive actions such as the ability to distribute resources, and negative through different types of sanctions – the carrot and the stick. Top-down management is known in all places, in East as well as in the West to different degrees in both public and private administrations.
I see top-down management as more prevalent in Russia than e.g. Denmark. This can be understood as part of the inheritance of the political tradition from the Communist regime with its pervasive centralization and vast public administration(3).
The command economy of the Soviet Union
Verdery (1991) describes socialism’s basic "laws of motion" as based on the principle of "rational redistribution": "The ideology through which the bureaucratic apparatus justifies appropriating the social product and allocating it by priorities the party has set" (Verdery 1991: 420). The power of the centralised state thus lies in its power to redistribute products and resources. The centre must therefore have control over the resources and the production apparatus.
The units at the same horizontal level in the hierarchy were in strong competition with each other over the same scarce resources and products. The gatekeepers who controlled the flow of resources were in a powerful position, and personal ties, deals under the table and exchanges of favours etc. could prove essential in the allocation of resources. The hierarchy in the socialist system existed of units within each other as a system of Chinese boxes (or maybe more appropriate Russian Matrohska dolls) within each other, where the centralised system of redistribution is replicated from a national over a regional level down to the individual productive unit. "Like the feudal estate, the socialist enterprise is not simply an economic institution but the primary unit of soviet society and the ultimate base of social and political power" (Simon Clarke (1992) in Verdery 1996: 206). Nielsen (1988: 6) describes the productive units as islands of stability and security which must be protected from the chaos and instability of the outside world by strong barriers. Barriers can be physical as walls and barbed wire to protect the unit against theft, or administrative e.g. using rationing coupons which keep products from floating out of the unit. But no unit is entirely self-sufficient: "There must be Gates in its Barriers, to allow a certain flow of skills, resources and people in and out of it… Thus, Barriers are defended, insisted on at all costs. But at the same time, they are controverted and undermined – even by the powers that erect them (Nielsen 1988: 7). The direct relation between different productive units were often unofficial and illegal (Humphrey 1998: 444) but helped the individual units to overcome shortages and bureaucratic "bottlenecks", and as Sampson (1987: 122) notes, they were at the same time corrosive and lubricating for the official economy.
The post-Soviet era
The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 was analogues to the king’s death within a feudal system (to stay within Verdery’s analogy). This initiated a power struggle between the ‘feudal lords’ - mainly the leaders of the large newly privatised enterprises (e.g. the oil industry) and the regional governors. But in spite of the turmoil and the division of centralised power to different ‘feudal lords’ the system of top-down management remained. Humphrey (1995: 41) uses the metaphor of the iceberg to describe the situation, in which only the visible top is removed (the symbols and institutions of the Soviet Union) while the underlying structures and old nomenclature networks remain in place.
At a local level the same system of personal networks exists. I was told that most of the directors in the collective farms and the regional administration in the region have a background in the Komsomol(4), and that personal ties rather than professional skills are decisive when people are appointed. When I asked about individual persons in good positions, I was often told that their appointments were due to their personal friendship with specific higher ranking officials. Changes in the top of the local hierarchy also meant changes in lower levels as new leaders tended to take people from their own network in.
Also elected directors (in opposition to appointed) in collective farms(5) have strong personal networks. They are often elected repeatedly as a consequence of their established network, also even when the farm experiences a decrease in production and income under their leadership. It is more important for a director of a large-scale farm to have good connections with the administration than organisational skills regarding the production. The system of redistribution still dominates the agricultural sector and the farms still rely on the goodwill of the local administration for continual support (cf. Bruno 1998: 177). By not letting the market forces reign freely, the regional administrations stay in control with most of the agricultural production and are able to both secure cheap food supplies to public institutions and uphold a net of social security in the country side via the large-scale farms (Amelina 2000: 20).
Top-down management as an organisational structure
I will use the term top-down management not only referring to the Soviet system and its legacies, but as a general mode of administration exercised in all levels of public and private administrative bodies. Top-down management is characterised by vertical lines of responsibility and control, where higher hierarchical levels on the one hand distribute resources to lower levels, but on the other hand sets up regulations for the use of these resources. The planning and management is thereby placed outside the individual units, and thus each unit ideally functions in relation to the system as a cogwheel in a machine.
Most development work is constructed in accordance with similar mechanisms of top-down management where the donor is in the top of the hierarchy. Development depends on external initiative and funding from a donor, who (directly or through a partner) makes plans and has different mechanism of control and resources available to implement those plans. Therefore does all development work entails some kind of top-down procedures and can never be truly bottom-up.
In the bottom-up approach, the decision-making and planning is placed at ‘the bottom’ of the hierarchy and each productive unit is seen as autonomous with both an ability to manage itself and to influence the overall structure(6). Whereas one of the dominating metaphors within the ‘top-down’ approach is the machine and each unit is seen as a cogwheel in the larger structure, then the dominating metaphor within the bottom-up approach is organic, and this is expressed in words such as ‘grassroots’ and ‘development’ in the understanding of both growth and evolution. The central role of the donors is to nurture the ‘environment’ and help create the best possibilities for the different actors to develop themselves (cf. Morgan 1998)(7).
The bottom-up approach is central within liberalism. The basic conception is that individual actors are rational if the foundations of society are in place. The role of the state within liberalism is not to govern and control society directly, but to provide the basic framework of a functioning market and a living civil society and ensure the individual’s right of citizenship (Rose 1993: 289). The freedom of the individual to pursue its own interests and initiatives should ensure a great variety of practices and thereby also a continual improvement of society by the force of the better example as other rational individuals would copy successful elements. Liberalism stands in opposition to political ideologies such as socialism and the idea that society can be planned and administered centrally. As organisms in themselves, individual actors should in liberalism be self-regulating and take responsibility for themselves, and state regulations should only ensure that this freedom is not harmful for other individuals or society in general.
The two approaches thus stand in opposition to each other. Within top-down management vertical relations of distribution and control are prominent, while the bottom-up approach is characterised by horizontal relations of cooperation. But, as the experience with the socialist plan economy shows, there is never a complete top-down management, and correspondingly there is never a complete bottom-up development. The Danish project in Russia shows how these two approaches exist side by side, which at times creates confusion and problems.
The difference between the two forms of management was evident in conflicting ideas on how the institutions within the project should work. I experienced this when I accompanied a Russian advisor and a visiting Danish consultant on their visit to a former collective farm. The farm is a costumer of the advisory centre and has received Danish grass seeds through the project in order to demonstrate the efficiency of modern agricultural methods. We were shown around in the stables and the farm agronomist answered questions, but she did not ask any questions herself nor took any initiatives. The Russian advisor said that we wanted to see the demonstration field with the imported grass seeds, and the head agronomist asked if she should come along and show it or we could find it ourselves. The Dane said, annoyed by her attitude and her tone of voice, privately in Danish to me:
"It’s typically Russian! Like she is doing us a favour by showing us the field! She should have prepared herself by having questions to ask and things to show the advisor. She is the one, who gains from our visit and she should prepare herself to secure an optimal outcome of this visit. It is the same with R. [another former collective farm], when we arrived the director asked us, what we wanted to see!"
With the two opposed approaches in mind, the situation can be analysed in two different ways, as I also understand that the actors do. The Danish consultant clearly expected the farm agronomist to react to the advisory service as a rational costumer under market conditions (that is within a bottom-up approach), and she should therefore use the visit to her own benefit and be the active person in the situation. He considered his own visit as a good chance for the agronomist to get free and competent advice, not only from the advisor, but also from him as a foreign expert. Her passive and apparently disinterested attitude seems so irrational to the Danish consultant that no explanation can be given, and the irrational behaviour is reduced to a cultural trait as "typically Russian!"
But the former collective farm is not merely a costumer of the advisory centre, it is also a recipient of resources from the project. The farm is a ‘demonstration farm’ within the project and the imported grass seeds have been received for demonstration purposes from the project. This means that the project and the advisory centre is part of ‘vertical’ lines of resource-distribution, and that the visit is just as much an inspection as a consultation. Basically I think the farm agronomist considered the visit a waste of her time, but she had to fulfil the role of host and serve the guests, which are representatives from higher parts of the hierarchy.
The irritation or confusion of the situation lies in the double role of the relationship between the farm and the advisory centre. On the one hand the farm and the advisory centre have an equal and horizontal relationship as costumer and provider of agricultural advise, and on the other hand they each have a position in the hierarchy of vertical distribution of resources connected to the agricultural sector – a hierarchy in which the Danish project is placed as a source of resources - resources that also require certain obligations from the recipient, such as hosting Danish ‘inspections’.
In this section I will go into detail with how the opposition between top-down management and an ideology of bottom-up development exists on different levels in the project and how this is a key into interpreting the project.
First of all there is a general opposition in development work, when the Danish donor from the outside tries to initiate a bottom-up development locally. As Hobart (1993) notes, the outside initiative and support means that development will never be a purely bottom-up grassroots development in its strict sense. The project is planned in Denmark, and the donor always has the last say on how to use its funds.
The project executer (in this case DAAC – The Danish Agricultural Advisory Centre) and the target group (the local agricultural producers) only have access to the donated funds if the specific political and administrative conditions(8) are observed. The conditions the donor and the project executer have agreed on are written into the approved project application, which sets the plan for the execution of the project. The official documents specify the target group of the project, what the allocated money can be used for and conditions in the form of e.g. local input. These procedures have been established to secure transparency and an open and fair competition between the actors in development and thereby optimal use of governmental money. But the time-consuming procedures decrease the responsiveness and flexibility in the projects when/if circumstances change. A flexibility that is important especially in relation to the speed of changes in Eastern Europe (Howell 1994: 61).
Below I will go into detail on some of the specific demands from the donor. These demands can be discussed and negotiated by DAAC and the Russian partners, but they often have the status of a sine qua non for further support, and the firm top-down control of donor is evident – also in the paradoxical form of a top-down insistence on bottom-up participation and leadership.
An active local counterpart
Most modern development projects use the active participation of a local counterpart to secure the sustainability of the project (c.f. Gardner & Lewis 1996: 110). The counterpart should in principle be involved as much as possible and share responsibility for the execution of the project with the foreign developers. This is also the case with the Danish project and has been so from the beginning.
The counterpart of a project is normally the immediate target group, who are supposed to have a shared interest in the success of the project as they are the ones to benefit from it. The target group for this project is the agricultural producers, but the counterpart is the regional agricultural administration. This discrepancy is due to different reasons: Firstly it would be against the logic of promoting bottom-up development on market conditions if a few individual farmers were to receive the help directly, and secondly, in order to avoid heavy custom duties on the donated resources, the project needs to have the status of ‘humanitarian aid’ and have an official Russian institution as recipient. This of course compromises the Danish ideological goal of having a pure grassroots involvement and control, but the project set-up tries to avoid this by separating the actual ownership of the project institutions (the regional administration) from the right of using the institutions (the agricultural producers in the cooperative). The idea is that the cooperative should gradually pay the value of the machines in the cooperative back to the administration and thereby eventually become the real owner of it all.
In the following I will take a point of departure in the machinery station established within the project and first show the problems created as a result of the ‘top-down controlled bottom-up development’ and then how the actors try to deal with this.
The machinery station is part of the project, officially owned by the regional administration and run by a chairman of the board of directors of the cooperation of independent farmers. The official structure of the cooperative follows the ideological Danish model of a user-based cooperative based on the tradition of the Danish cooperative movement. But there is a problem; the machinery station is running extremely poorly and both the Russians and Danes involved in the project agree that the situation is intolerable and that something most be done.
When officials from the Danish Ministry of Agriculture visited the project in the autumn 2000 they demanded a local initiative to improve the cooperation between the project institutions. Locally this lead to the writing of the official document, ‘The Conception of the continuation of cooperation’ signed by the four central Russian parties(9) and additionally approved by the regional vice-governor of agriculture. Within the document the future plans for the cooperation between the different project units were set out, and the document mandated the creation of a standing council of the signing parties, which should work to secure a functioning cooperation. The document has estimated budgets for the advisory centre and the machinery station for the period 2000 – 2005 that include a continual Danish support.
The document was well received by the Danish side (especially DAAC) and fulfilled the demands made by the Danish ministry. The DAAC project staff wrote that they together with officials from the Danish Ministry of Agriculture: "agree that we have never seen such a well set-out and thoroughly prepared minute from the Russian side, and that this could be the basis for a new project(10)." In the negotiations between the Danish ministry, DAAC and the regional administration on the possibility of a future project both the Russian side and also DAAC referred to the document as a proof of local commitment and emphasised how the local plans and budget includes further Danish support. But despite this, the document alone did not impress the Danish ministry and they chose not to react on it.
The case shows how the donor has the last say and can make final demands, and in this perspective it is impossible to talk about any real bottom-up development. But the important point is that this does not mean that everything is decided upon by donor and that donor ‘controls’ the development. As Norman Long (1992: 22) points out, all actors regardless of the situation possess agency, and are capable of influencing their situation. Russians have proven this point more than most as individuals under the totalitarian rule of state-socialism.
Michel de Certeau (1988: xix) describes the power of the ‘powerless’ as tactics in opposition to the strategies of the powerful. Tactics are responses to changing circumstances, where the grounds of possible actions are determined by external factors. "The space of a tactic is the space of the other. Thus it must play on and with a terrain imposed on it and organized by the law of a foreign power" (de Certeau 1988: 37). In contrast strategy is planned and calculated actions that are possible if the actor has an independent place isolated from outside powers and can foresee possible actions by other actors and prepare own actions (de Certeau 1988: 36p). Top-down implemented plans are strategies by the powerful and tactics are the local responses to cope with these plans in the best possible way.
The Russian actors in the project are very competent in responding to top-down strategies as they draw on years of experience of tactics learned from coping with the top-down bureaucratic system of the socialist regime, and, as I will show, the same tactics have also proven useful in dealing with the bureaucratic system of the development world.
In the following I will describe the uses of three different tactics to circumvent top-down demands in the project: the separation between ‘paper reality’ and ‘real reality’, the use of ‘flexible organisations’ and tactical ignorance in order to avoid open confrontations.
Within bureaucracies documents are of high importance, and as the official from the Danish Ministry said, they are themselves as bureaucrats directly responsible in relation to these documents as they pass up and down in the bureaucratic system. This means that statements written in these documents – the ‘paper reality’ – often have greater importance than the ‘real reality’ – the people and institutions in the distant Russian setting. Acts, agreements, expenses etc. only become fully accepted in the bureaucratic system if they are officially documented. Expenses for travel costs can only be covered if the receipt exists. Cooperation with a partner only officially exists if a ‘letter of agreement’ is written and signed by all parties. This is the case in all bureaucracies and problems only start when somebody confuses the ‘paper reality’ with the ‘real reality’.
When I asked about the standing council, the one mentioned in the document ‘conception of the continuation of cooperation’, I found that this was only part of the ‘paper reality’ not the ‘real reality’. The answer to how it worked was:
"It doesn't work! It was a stupid paper made only because it was demanded from Denmark. But how can they foresee what kind of income they will have in the next five years? Not only in rough numbers, but also divided on analyses, fuel, laboratory etc. I am not sure that they [the signing parties] even know it themselves that they are supposed to be part of this council(11)."
The ‘paper reality’ is not necessarily untrue but refers mainly to the documents created in order to satisfy the administrative criteria from donor. The creation of documents to prove a ‘successful’ project was especially important at the end of the project period during negotiations for a new period. The Danish consultant remarked: "The Danish bureaucrats are just as bad as the Russians in their insistence on documents. Fortunately for the project though, Russian collect and keep all numbers and figures. They might not be true or ever be used for anything, but they are always kept!"
The point here is that all parties are aware of the pragmatic necessity of creating the right documents to feed higher levels of the bureaucratic hierarchy. The Russians are accustomed to this practice as they do the same with the current public administration, which to a large extent consist of the same practices and same bureaucrats as under the socialist administration. It is therefore not a big problem to demand the writing of official documents as the ‘conception of cooperation’ or to make official documents of goodwill and cooperation.
Even though the ‘paper reality’ is a constant point of reference for activities and working goals and of vital importance in the project cycle none of the central actors refer only to this. They all engage in negotiations, informal talks and often make oral agreements before an official paper is constructed.
Flexible organisations – the unclear status of the machinery station
The document ‘conception of cooperation’ was made in the autumn 2000 and it states an improved cooperation between the project institutions and the regional administration as demanded by the donor. But the officials from the Danish Ministry were not impressed by the document and the running of the machinery station had not improved at the time of their visit the following year. The Danish donor continued to demand substantial changes if they were to even consider further support. These demands were made to the project partner, the local administration, and not the cooperative, which by then was almost completely out of the picture. Different meetings and discussions took place during my stay concerning the future status of the machinery station, and I will below describe such a meeting.
A Danish consultant visited the Danish project early autumn 2001 and even though he was not directly involved in the planning of the project or the negotiations, he agreed to meet with Mr Z, a representative from the local regional administration. Mr Z. made in this meeting an inquiry about the Danish attitude if the regional administration changed the formal status of the machinery station. Mr Z said that the administration wished to give the project machinery station the same status as eight other machinery stations in the region, which all are independent, but under the regional budget. Already this part of the setup is difficult to understand – how can the machinery stations be independent if they are under the regional budget. Mr. Z continued and explained that if this change occurred the regional administration would be able to support the machinery station within the ordinary regional budget and the change would only affect the administration not the practical work of the machinery station. To put it short, the plan he presented combined tighter control of the grain-store with more support from the regional budget, but without changing the daily management or structure.
The proposal of Mr Z appears self-contradictory but is actual a very pragmatic solution to the problem of the malfunctioning machinery station. The Danish donor wished to support the machinery station as a private cooperative under the condition that the local counterpart supports it on equal terms. The regional administration is not allowed (or do not want) to give resources to a private institution outside its control, especially considering the general shortage of resources in the agricultural sector. This means that the Russian and Danish criteria for supporting the machinery station are contradictory. To avoid a clash of conflicting interests the status of the machinery station is therefore left in a grey zone in which it can be presented as both an independent cooperative institution towards the Danish donor and as a regional machinery station towards the regional administration and duma.
The machinery station thus resembles the ‘flex organisation’ described by Wedel (2001: 152, 2002: 3). Wedel uses ‘Flex organisation’ to describe organisation working with foreign aid in Russia and she shows how these organisations exist in the boundary between the state and private and have their strength in this ambiguous status. The ‘flex organisations’ Wedel focuses on are efficient in canalising resources through their "impressively adaptable, chameleon-like, multipurpose character" (Wedel 2001: 152). "They afford maximum flexibility and influence to those who use them, while burdening them with only minimal accountability" (Wedel 2002: 3).
But how is it possible to uphold such obvious contradictions? The Danish side – both donor and DAAC – are aware of the insignificant role the cooperative play in the running of the machinery station and how the demand of an improvement inevitable would lead to more local top-down control by the regional administration.
Realising the difficulties in implementing the project, the Danish side takes on a pragmatic approach and focuses on what is possible within the given circumstances. By ignoring problematic elements in the project it would be possible to make the project institutions work. This gives the Danish side the opportunity to introduce different elements of "good agricultural practice". Another factor is that it is difficult to view or directly measure the working of the cooperative – how democratic and efficient it is, while it is very easy to measure the activity of the machinery station and see the machines. The Danish side therefore accepts that not all is, as ideally set out in the project plan, and they take on a pragmatic approach which allows the project to continue regardless of minor irregularities.
One irregularity was the position of the local project-coordinator who is hired by the regional administration to ‘coordinate’ the Russian and Danish cooperation in relation to the project while he at the same time was director of a construction company that built the machinery station and had done extensive work for the regional administration and large-scale farms connected to the project. When I asked directly about his connections I was told, that of course his personal relations with the farm directors and people in the regional administration influenced who became part of the project, but no money were involved and besides "it is normal for friends to do small favors like this for each other".
The Danish consultants were in the beginning sceptical about the person’s double role as both director of a private company working for the project and coordinator of the project. But over the years they found him indispensable in keeping the project running locally. He persuaded the people in the Russian administration to keep supporting the project and he continually kept an eye on things. The attitude among the Danish consultants is that to have a person like him is essential for the daily work of the project, and that it is only fair that he receives payment for this, official or not. Just as long as most of the resources for the project go the right way and help improve the agricultural sector locally. "It's peanuts," said a Danish adviser to me referring to the value of the free seed material the project-coordinator was in a position to distribute. ‘Peanuts’ both compared to the farms overall budget and considering the extra work needed implementing the new system. The overall attitude among the Danish consultants was that the "petty" corruption was a reminiscent of the old system, where everybody expected a side deal or special arrangement made before a contract was written, and it is a nuisance but not a hindering for the project-work. "It is of course a problem, but if we want to improve the agricultural production over here, we have to play along with the system to some decree."
Without knowing much about Russian legislation I found that the case above was close to an 'abuse of office for private gain’ (The World Bank definition on corruption in Wedel 2002: 2). But it was not an object for discussion neither on the Russian side nor the Danish. If it was corruption or not did not seem to matter much, because both sides acknowledged that this is the way of the "system". By ignoring it and never officially speak of or inquiring about it, the minor discrepancies would not exist in the official ‘paper reality’ and the donor would not have to react to them. Ignorance can thus be a pragmatic tactic which allows the project work to continue despite minor irregularities (cf. Quarles van Ufford 1993: 157).
The result after years of project work is positive in the way that the practical side of the project have been implemented more or less according to the plan – the three project institutions have been established, study tours have been conducted, demonstration fields have demonstrated better agricultural practices etc. But this has only been possible by methods, which oppose the Danish ideology behind the project.
The relative success of the practical implementation of the project shows the flexibility and responsiveness from the counterpart. They have locally been able to cope with the different Danish demands as well as local administrative procedures, which proves a ‘tactical wit’ and ability to manoeuvre in a system of top-down strategies. Steven Sampson (1996) speaks of the procedures around development work as ‘magic’ by which actors through different words and documents try to obtain access to resources from donors. He writes: "The magic of transition requires strange jargon and a host of rituals and ceremonies in which inequality between west and east masquerades as ‘partnership’ or ‘coordination" (Sampson 1996: 141). And this is also true in this case. There is a great deal of magic in the sense that they try to say and do the right things locally in order to get continual support without really knowing if the ‘magic formula’ will work. But this is not magic in the sense that these practices are strange or unknown. It is rather business as usual, as the same logic of distributing resources on the basis of political goodwill and administrative control applied during socialism. The ‘project speak’, the key words of transitions, just replaces the socialist rhetoric and as Creed & Wedel (1997: 256) point out, the Western donor replaces the Communist Party both in the role as source of resources, and in the role of the enlightened planner, whose plans you need to pay lip-service to locally. The consequence is that the Western project risks that the Russian counterpart and those involved belief that the western models and ideologies in the project are only models and ideologies, similarly in kind to the Soviet propaganda, and that people therefore act upon these models in order to get the ‘real deal’, the actual resources transferred, and may ignore the ideological message on a practical level. The Western donations risk becoming part of an already established system of redistribution – as Bruno writes "Presumably involuntarily, donor agencies are offering through development projects, new sources for reinforcing the elitist, feudal type system of social stratification" (Bruno 1998: 179).
In a larger context the size of the Danish support is small and nobody expects the flow of resources within the project in itself to make a substantial difference to other than the actors directly involved in the project. The Danish idea with the project is its demonstrational effect – if the project succeeds in demonstrating the effect of more efficient practices, then Russian producers, as all other rational people, would copy the useful elements and they would spread out like ripples in a pond.
One of the officials from the Danish Ministry of Agriculture compared the role of the Danish advisors to that of missionaries and said "the only thing that is left when we withdraw is what we leave in the minds of people". The Danish advisors were repelled by this image of them as missionaries, but still they also focus on the ‘software’ in the project and consider this much more important than the ‘hardware’(12). As they say, if it just were a matter of transferring resources, "it would be easy to argue that the farmers would have been helped better just by giving them this [the cost of the project] money cash." The ‘hardware’ in the project is, in this respect, just tools to demonstrate the efficiency of the Danish approach – not the essential part of the project. Put a bit crudely, the Russians swallow the Danish ideology and models in order to obtain the resources (hardware), while the Danes allow a flow of resources in order to demonstrate Danish ideology and models (software).
But if the local counterpart does not take the ‘Danish model’ seriously, why keep doing the project? This is because the official local counterpart – the regional administration – is not the primarily intended beneficiary of the ideological message. The recipients are in this respect mainly the independent farmers, the experts on the large-scale farms and the agricultural advisors – those people who are directly involved in the agricultural production and who are to gain from an increased production. The official counterpart, the regional administration, is merely the gatekeeper to reach this group. This is of course put a bit crudely as also people in the regional administration can see the positive in an increased efficiency in the agricultural production and work competently to improve the local situation.
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1 I use the notion of neo-liberalism and a very broad sense similarly to Rose’s (1993) concept of ‘advanced liberalism’.
2 In ‘development jargon’ top-down is defined as "interventions imposed on local people by those in authority" (Gardner & Lewis 1996: xiv).
3 Writers as Gerner & Hedlund (1994) see the pervasive top-down governance as belonging to a much older tradition with a continuation over time from the orthodox emperor in Constantinople, over the Tsars to the Communist regime. Even though the regimes were very different, they were all similar in the aspect that the political leader was the same as the religious/ideological leader, and this lack of a clear dividing line between politics and moral stand in contrast to the West European tradition (Gerner & Hedlund 1994: 13).
4 The youth section of the communist party.
5 Local directors of former collective farms are elected for a four to five year period (personal communication).
6 In ‘development jargon’ bottom-up is defined as interventions that "come from the grassroots as opposed to government planners or development agencies" (Gardner & Lewis 1996: xii).
7 Gareth Morgan writes in "Images of organization" (1998) how management theory and practice is shaped by metaphors.
8 I distinguish between two criteria – a political and an administrative. The political criterion refers to the reasons for why the aid should be given based on the donor’s current political agenda. The administrative criterion refers to how the help should be given, based on the administrative tradition of the donor.
9 The four Russian actors are: a) the project coordinator, b) the director of the advisory centre, c) the chairman of the board of directors of the cooperative, and d) the chairman of the regional farmers union.
10 Communication between DAAC and the Danish Ministry of Agriculture October 2001.
11 Comment from staff connected to the project
12 By ‘software’ I mean organisational models (as the layout of the cooperative and knowledge (modern agricultural knowledge and technical know-how) and by ‘hardware’ concrete things such as machinery, office equipment and Danish seed material.