Internalizing the human development paradigm: reflections of a witness
Andrey Ivanov Russian/Русский
December 2009 - The emergence of the human development concept coincided with the collapse of the socialist system. This had profound implications for the way human development has been internalized in Europe and Central Asia. Unlike other regions, human development in these countries faced a dual challenge: historical (surmounting the legacies of the past) and conceptual (appropriately translating the human development concept into national languages). This combination of challenges is reflected in some important peculiarities of transition processes in the region.
The shadow of the legacy
The former socialist bloc’s public space was littered with ‘human’ terminology and slogans in all possible variations reflecting some basic building blocs of socialist ideology. The old system was nominally human- and people-centered, (все во имя человека, все для блага человека). It sought to promote brotherhood, equity, justice and equal opportunities (человек человеку – друг, товарищ и брат) and human dignity was supposed to be at its core (человек – это звучит гордо, a phrase from Maksim Gorky elevated to the rank of a slogan). The fact that these ostensibly human-centred objectives were sometimes pursued by non-humane means (including overt repression) was seen as a minor detail. Ideologically and politically, the system claimed to be the ‘most human of all possible systems’ and prided itself on protecting human values against ‘bourgeois exploitation’.
The legacies of this ideology had profound long-term consequences for transition. With the collapse of communism, the rhetorical pendulum swung in the opposite direction, as countries that were disenchanted with egalitarian undemocratic socialism eagerly embraced individualism, entrepreneurship, self-reliance and increased inequality. Sceptical attitudes towards anything resembling the old ideology also clouded perceptions of human development (‘oh, that’s the same old ideological stuff!’). Others–nostalgic for the ‘glorious’ past–favoured more collectivist approaches to development and did not always appreciate the difference between the human development paradigm and de facto pre-transition development models (‘oh, that’s what we have always been doing!’). Human development was perhaps among the few points of the early transition consensus: both groups were sceptical about it, but for different reasons.
It took some years for the euphoria to fade away and emotions to settle. The publication of the first global Human Development Reports (HDRs) in the 1990s contributed to the understanding that both ‘camps’ were wrong. They showed that human-centered development approaches had been expropriated and exploited by the communist ideology, and that communism’s dramatic failure had not been a failure of human development as such. By 1994, the first national human development reports (NHDRs) had been published in the region, introducing the conceptual challenge to post-communist publics.
Translating the message
Words encode messages; translating the message is the primary task of any translation. In introducing the human development paradigm to the countries of Europe and Central Asia, this simple fact was somewhat neglected. Perhaps because of difficulties posed in translating ‘human development’ into Slavic languages, or because translators were not sufficiently versed in the subject, when the first NHDRs were published in the region in the mid-1990s ‘human development’ was introduced in a variety of linguistic forms. In the Russian-language literature, for example, four different translations have been in use since then: развитие человека, развитие человеческого потенциала, развитие возможностей человека, and человеческое развитие. Although человеческое развитие is closest to the real meaning of the concept, it remains the least popular; ‘развитие человеческого потенциала’ is the most common translation. Развитие человеческого потенциала is however the correct translation for ‘human capacity development’; развитие возможностей человека denotes ‘human capabilities development’. While all these concepts are integral to the human development paradigm, none of them reflects its wealth in full. To a certain extent, the same also applies to the term ‘development’ (развитие) itself–this term connoted the ‘maturing’ of social systems, movement from ‘underdeveloped’ to ‘developed’ status (e.g., the concept of ‘developed socialism’, развитой социализм, as an intermediary stage between ‘socialism’ and ‘communism’). As a result, the question of the degree to which ‘human development’ has been properly understood and adequately internalized in the region remains open.
To a certain extent, this problem reflects a duality in the definition of ‘human development’. On the one hand, it denotes a human-centered pattern of development, whose ultimate objective is improving people’s opportunities and capabilities. On the other hand, it also means the level of development reached in the process. In English, the differing dimensions of the term can be distinguished through the context; but in most Slavic languages, the different aspects (the nature of the process and the outcome) should be defined with different words. In Russian, references to the process (human-centered development) should be translated as человеческое развитие or развитие, ориентированное на человека. In regards to the outcome of the process (as reflected in the human development index–HDI), both terms are applicable (индекс человеческого развития and индекс развития человека). Although even this is not that simple–the HDI is itself a combination of outcome and input indicators (GDP and enrolment rates are clearly input indicators; literacy rate and life expectancy are outcomes). This duality also contributes to confusion about how to translate what.
‘Human development’ is not unique in that regard. It is equally difficult to translate terms like ‘advocacy’ or ‘policy’ into Russian and other national languages. While language should ideally follow reality, in the post-socialist context this has not always been true.
In the case of human development, the message in the English language is clear: people are the objective rather than a means of development; money is a means and not an end. Meeting basic needs for goods and services is important, but only in the context of other, broader issues (freedom, democracy, gender, environment, community, culture). Freedom of choice and the expansion of people’s choices are the priorities in a human development context. But while these are issues that should underpin transition processes in the region, they do not automatically appear on national development agendas. In this respect, problems of internalizing human development may be conceptual and linguistic as well as being about policy.
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