Engineering Revolution: The Paradox of Democracy Promotion in Serbia

In This Review

Engineering Revolution: The Paradox of Democracy Promotion in Serbia
By Marlene Spoerri
University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014
256 pp. $59.95

Governments, especially that of the United States, have long been in the business of promoting democracy in various parts of the world. But “democracy assistance”—that is, organized efforts to foster political parties, electoral processes, and free media in other countries—is relatively new. One much-touted instance of successful democracy assistance was the revolution that drove Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic from power in 2000. Not so fast, says Spoerri. Having spoken with 150 people who were involved—Serbians and outsiders alike—and having read the internal reports of the primary aid-giving institutions, Spoerri concludes that although outsiders played a role in the events, it was not as large as they have claimed, and at times they actually hurt their own cause. In considering democracy assistance in Serbia both before and after Milosevic’s ouster, Spoerri argues that it succeeded only when it worked hand in glove with the other elements of the aid-giving countries’ foreign policies; when it did not, or when its true goal was to pick winners rather than to genuinely promote democracy, it was often counterproductive.