Building Local Democracy: The Role of Western Assistance in Poland1

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Abstract

This article argues that foreign assistance, as an external force, has played an important role in shaping the local democracy-building process in Poland. The local context, which is omitted from the transition debate, is considered, and the influence that U.S. public donors exercised at the local scale is highlighted. The article claims that the delayed commitment on the part of these donors to local democracy and to the building of self-governing capacities and participatory practices has undermined the stability and effectiveness of the reforms in Poland. It is shown how this process took place through three different constructs: initial lack of direct assistance; the form under which this assistance was provided; and the donors' selectivity of recipients, both in terms of social groups and of geographic areas. It concludes by outlining areas where changes of assistance delivery should be made both by the donors and recipient communities.

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