Foreign Aid for Civil Society in Post-Socialist Serbia: a Comparative Study of the Impact of Norms on Public Acceptance
30 Pages Posted: 8 Sep 2014
Date Written: 2014
Even though Western democracies have for over 20 years provided assistance to facilitate development of the civil societies of the countries of the former Yugoslavia, research suggests that many local civic organizations lack strong bases in their societies. Our field-based study of comparable towns in Serbia seeks to determine why Western-aided civil society organizations, particularly women’s organizations, have often not been able to develop broad-based support among their populations. We also examine factors that explain variation in public support, including by investigating Sundstrom’s (2005) findings in Russia that Western-supported NGOs must pursue locally resonant norms in order to be successful. Our research aims to fill a gap in the literature by doing what studies of civil society aid rarely do: focus on the views of the ultimate recipients of this aid and those who will influence NGOs’ sustainability: ordinary citizens. Interview testimony from ordinary people and activists from four Serbian towns suggests that women’s NGOs have failed to connect with the local population on broad basis. Norms only partly explain this failure. We find that NGOs’ activities’ responsiveness to local priorities, the resonance of the norms NGOs pursue, and the openness of NGOs in terms of membership, activities, citizen feedback, and spending decisions significantly determine their level of public acceptance by local communities.
Keywords: Civil Society, Foreign Assistance, Women's NGOs, Democratization, Postsocialist region, Serbia,
JEL Classification: 013, 011
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation