Written by Arlinda McKeen March 9, 2016
Tirana, Albania, 1996 – After spending a couple of months in Albania 20 years ago, one lesson was very clear: the language in that country only had a word for “politics.” There was no word for “policy.” This was a challenge for us.
That lesson was underscored through additional work in Bulgaria, Poland, Ukraine, Georgia (the country), and Armenia. Visitors to SPPG from Slovakia, Croatia, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Poland, and elsewhere confirmed the same situation.
SPPG’s work typically involved helping groups from nations emerging from strong authoritarian rule to understand public policy, and that coming together with like-minded individuals or organizations could help shape public policy. Not so easy when the very concept of public policy didn’t exist!
And very hard to explain and show public policy is relevant in their lives.
A bit about Albania. Not to go too deep, right after World War II, a group of communists worked quickly to drive others out and isolate the area from the rest of the world. In December 1945, an election was held where 92% of the electorate voted, and 92% of them voted for the Democratic Front movement, which promptly ended the monarchy and created the People’s Republic of Albania.
Enter Anver Hoxha. He was top leader in the communist party, continued the isolation of the Republic, ensured his continued leadership through many thousands of political executions, and harshly ruled the country for 40 years. For a time, Hoxha entertained positive relations with China, but that came to an end when China hosted Richard Nixon in the early 1970s, which signaled China as too liberal and tied to the West. Hoxha died in 1985. Soon after that, there were rumblings of change, and in 1990 the government, still communist, did open the borders so Albanians were allowed to travel outside the country for the first time since WWII. An election in 1991 retained communists in power, but widespread unrest led to a coalition that included non-communists.
So… Elections. Have. Consequences.
Using the Trendy. Punctuation. For. Effect, doesn’t really do justice to the importance of that short statement.
Enter SPPG. We arrived early in 1995 to a country that did not have public policy! Just recently, citizens had been allowed to have cars and drive. (And, the drivers did not have much experience.) Hoxha was reviled. Hotels across the country were the old five-story communist hotels, and in significant disrepair. There were a couple of new hotels, one Italian and one Austrian. We stayed at the Italian one. Electrical service was sporadic. Over the 50 years the borders were closed and religion was abolished, the two primary religions became intermingled when marriages linked families of Greek Orthodox faith with Muslim faith. This was a surprise to many, and they were just beginning to sort that out.
There was no understanding of how an economy works. Private business was emerging in the form of bakers, rugmakers, and “beverage” distillers – and they were struggling. They had yet to learn that they needed to price their products based on what it cost them to produce them, plus a little profit. That was an odd idea.
The micro-entrepreneurs we worked with were astounded at some of the concepts we introduced, especially as we explained how public policy systems are supposed to work:
There are elections.
The people elect their leaders who are expected to listen to them.
The people have access to their elected leaders to voice their needs and tell them how they think problems could be solved.
If you can come together and agree on your requests, there is a louder voice to those elected leaders. (AKA associations – another alien concept)
Elected leaders may disagree with each other – they are from different parties. Sometimes about 23 different parties.
They talk, shout, bicker, debate, maybe even listen to some of those associations. That is good politics.
They know they need to do something….and they COMPROMISE! That is good policy.
Good politics makes good policy.
That message plus showing them United States policy systems based on good politics leading to good policy was the central theme in our many sessions in Albania, Bulgaria, Ukraine, and elsewhere. And they learned and began to embrace those principles that healthy discussion leads to bringing the best of both (or all) sides to a middle ground.
Des Moines, Iowa, USA, 2016 – Election year. School boards, city councils, boards of supervisors, state legislature, Members of Congress, US Senate, President and Vice President, and many more – such as soil conservation commission.
Which elected officials and which bodies of government should we bring our visiting international group to for good examples of how our policy systems work?
GOOD POLITICS MAKES GOOD POLICY.
ELECTIONS HAVE CONSEQUENCES.
VOTE in every election.