The NGO Paradox: Democratic goals and non-democratic outcomes in Kazakhstan
The promotion of local non-governmental organisations (hereafter LNGOs) in the successor states of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe has increasingly become the focus of international democracy-building efforts, orchestrated through the active involvement of Western non-governmental organisations (hereafter WNGOs). As part of the democratisation process, Western liberal democracies perceive that support for LNGOs serves as the initial building blocks of a civil society. These efforts at democracy building raise two sets of broad questions. First, what is the nature of these efforts? More specifically, what strategies do WNGOs employ to achieve their goals concerning the development of LNGOs in particular and the promotion of democratisation in general? Second, and more importantly, what have been the net results of these efforts thus far? To what extent can we say that, several years into the transition from state-sponsored socialism and communist party rule, LNGOs are evidence of an emerging 'democratic culture'? Are they indeed contributing to the wider process of democratisation in the former Soviet Union? In short, we find that LNGOs have played an increasingly limited role in environmental policy making since independence. We argue that this is a result of both domestic and international constraints. At the domestic level, LNGOs face institutional obstacles in a political system that has become more restrictive since 1994, and lack access to organisational resources owing to the continued decline in economic growth. At the international level, the interests and strategies of the multiple international actors involved-including WNGOs, international donor organisations, foreign oil companies and foreign governments-often serve to hinder rather than enhance the role of LNGOs in promoting environmental protection in the energy sector. Thus, environmental LNGOs in Kazakhstan have grown in number thanks to the financial encouragement of WNGOs at the same time as their political impact has declined owing to the domestic circumstances in which they must operate. As such, we find that the convergence in goals and strategies among environmental LNGOs and WNGOs has inadvertently contributed to the arrested development of a civil society in Kazakhstan.
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