Johns Hopkins Gazette: September 19, 1994

Self-Government Project Eases the Way to Democracy
By Steve Libowitz

When the Iron Curtain fell, the West hailed it as a triumph
for democracy. Marie Flasarova, now the head of the
environmental division for the Department of Planning and
Development in Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic, worried
that the people were not prepared for the realities of
    "For example, the government businesses became
privatized so rapidly that no one considered the jobs that
were eventually lost or the effects it might have on the
environment," she said. 
    Miles away in Policka, the new vice mayor, Jakub
Skalnik, worried that people eagerly grabbed for their new
freedoms but were unwilling to take the responsibility that
came with it.
    "Hospitals wanted the freedom to operate free from
government control," he said, "but then they put profit
first, instead of the people. And the government was unable
to stop it."
    Carmen Morosan, the chief of trade activities in the
mayor's office in Piatra Neamt, Romania, was distressed
because no one in the factories knew how to order raw
materials that always had been provided automatically by the
    "We were used to being told what to do and when to do
it," she said. "But we didn't know what to do or even how to
think for ourselves. We were starting from nowhere to create
a free society."
    And mistakes have been made. Ginka Kapitanova, mayor of
Zlatograd, Bulgaria, lamented that in the rush for democracy,
all the communist systems and bureaucrats were thrown away,
before successors were trained.
    "We were wrong," she said. "We were too fast in getting
rid of everything from the past, even things that worked
well. We had a lot to learn, and we have learned too many
times the hard way."
    For Michael E. Bell, a principal research scientist at
the Johns Hopkins Institute for Policy Studies, the process
of democratic reform may seem global but is, in fact,
essentially local. 
    "As the euphoria of democratic reforms began to subside
in Eastern and Central Europe, the reality set in that the
real work of achieving these reforms is not so much about
nations and economies but about a long-term process that must
be implemented in the cities and towns," he said. "The
problem is that the human capital needed to effect change at
the local level simply did not exist in the previous system."
    To assist in this transition, the Institute for Policy
Studies created the Local Self-Government Project, which in
its first two years carried out a variety of activities
designed to build the human infrastructure necessary for
effective, free government. This year, the project added a
new component: it has brought to Baltimore a dozen mayors,
city managers and other high-ranking municipal officials--
Carmen, Ginka, Jakub and Marie among them--from five formerly
communist countries for an intensive six-week internship
program to learn how to run a democratic city.
    "This project is teaching them the broad strokes and
some of the nuances of running a democratic local government,
for which they have no model," Dr. Bell said.
    The group arrived in Baltimore from Bulgaria, Romania,
Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia on Aug. 22. They
spent several days sightseeing, settling in with their host
families and learning about local government and politics
from city councilman and IPS staff member Bill Cunningham,
Councilwoman Vera Hall and other local officials. Then they
went to work with mentors at Baltimore and regional
government agencies.
    Flasarova is working at the Baltimore Department of
Planning with the blessings of her curious mayor, who hopes
she will return with ideas about how to encourage people to
protect the environment now that industries are no longer
government controlled.
    "We want to start a recycling program in my town, and we
have no idea how to get people to go along with it," she
said. "So, I have a very real goal to learn how this is being
done here."
    Mayor Kapitanova wants to return to Zlatograd with ideas
about how to improve economic development and encourage
responsible privatization.
    "I have to do something for my region," she said.
"Unemployment is increasing, and there is a lot of
competition for new business."
    Florin Matei, chief of election activities in Bucharest,
Romania, had a front-row seat for Maryland's primary last
    "I didn't come here to copy your system," he said. "I
came to find new ideas that get results and adapt them to my
district. And I am getting a very good education."
    More than halfway through the project, Dr. Bell is
pleased with the progress of the participants, whom he
hand-picked from interviews conducted in Europe earlier this
year. Dr. Bell said he was looking for people who spoke
fluent English, who had never traveled outside Europe and who
represented some of the brightest lights in the European
reform movement. 
    "We felt that the work of reform required bright, young,
open-minded managers who were in positions of responsibility
and who had authority to effect change," he said.
    There have been some problems along the way, Dr. Bell
admitted, but nothing serious.
    "What we are learning is that the participants want to
see how towns smaller than Baltimore handle their problems,"
he said, "because a number of them are governing in small
towns. So, we've taken them to Annapolis and to Garrett
County and have plans to visit Chestertown and Frederick."
    The other problem, Dr. Bell said, is that the schedule
may be a little too packed.
    "In our effort to make this as complete an experience as
possible, I think they may feel a little overwhelmed," he
    The pace does not slow, however. The group traveled to
Cleveland last week to focus on that municipality's strong
public/private development initiatives, which have been
instrumental in Cleveland's recovery from bankruptcy in the
late 1970s.
    "We're throwing a lot at them in six weeks," Dr. Bell
said, "and we don't expect that they'll be able to implement
everything they learn. But having experienced for themselves
the way democracy works at the local level, we hope they will
approach their problems with a broader perspective of the
possible solutions as they begin the long, hard work it will
take to create a similar open system in a place where only a
closed communist system existed for several generations."

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