CEC Journal: Issue 2

The Sustainable Development Goals - Westernizing ‘developing’ countries

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is a platform developed by the United Nations Development Group (UNDP), which aims to positively impact different parts of the world. The SDGs are divided into 17 goals, all of which encompass a variety of global issues including poverty alleviation, conflict resolution, and democratic governance; the objective might be summarized as an attempt to alleviate the aforementioned issues in the most sustainable way possible. However, one must ask if the SDG platform oversimplifies the issues it is trying so hard to resolve. Could the root of these goals – which are based in Western European and US values -- bring out unseen consequences? Can the SDGs be seen as a form of neo-colonialism? Are they simply another way for ‘Western’ powers to once again exert their power in ‘developing’ countries? Will the implementation and monitoring of the SDGs in different countries require the UN and its ‘Western’ allies to again play the part of saviors who are rescuing ‘developing’ countries from their misguided ways? I would argue that the implementation of the SDGs in developing countries might be seen as a contemporary method of cultural colonization, weakly disguised as modernization. In this article I will use my home country – Kosovo -- as an example of such a culturally colonized country, which is experiencing an identity crisis and a feeling of inferiority – a context in which the SDGs function as a laundry list of rules that must be fulfilled for Kosovo to be considered a ‘modern’ and ‘developed’ (European) country.
Elements of Western culture come to Kosovo in the form of Western organizations (both governmental and non-governmental organizations) with a clear agenda: to help Kosovo’s development. The Kosovo War of 1999 created the idea that the general population should be eternally grateful for the international community because of their interventions to stop the war. That idea -- coupled with Kosovo’s desire to join the EU--fabricated the perfect conditions for the need of a “modern” country as defined by the West. Furthermore, this approach also supported the total abandonment of traditional values; particularly the ones that tie Kosovo to the ‘East’, and specifically to Islamic values. Kosovars are, thus, indoctrinated to believe that their traditional values are inferior to Western values and that they, as people, are inferior to Westerners. The Kosovar leaders (with the pressure of Western presence) believe that to modernize is to forget important cultural values that define who Kosovars are and to embrace Western values. For the past 16 years in Kosovo, therefore, citizens have questioned their cultural identity and I predict that this identity crisis will deepen with each new generation. Young Kosovars will not have any experience or knowledge of the cultural values that have been lost to the past. Instead, holidays like Thanksgiving are taken out of context and celebrated although they hold no meaning to Kosovo’s culture and tradition. One may argue that this exchange of cultural knowledge is only a part of globalization but can we not argue that globalization itself is a form of solidifying the cultural hegemony of the ‘West’?
After Kosovo’s war in 1999, there have been two main organizations that have “helped” Kosovo’s government. UNMIK (United Nations Mission in Kosovo), active after the war until the declaration of Independence in 2008, and EULEX (European Union Rule of Law), active now -- neither have had a large nor positive impact on the country. UNMIK’s purpose was to ensure a peaceful life for all Kosovar people and be a force of stability in the Balkans. However, UNMIK’s purpose did not align with their fieldwork which was mainly to control and monitor the government. Similarly, EULEX was developed as an extension of UNMIK. Its purpose was to help with the rule of law in Kosovo and to implement and monitor agreements from the negotiations between Kosovo and Serbia.  Both of these organizations have forced the Kosovar government to take certain decisions that may not have been in the public’s best interest. Not to mention, of course, that the income of the international workers in these organizations are astronomically high when compared to the rest of the country. The belief that the international community is Kosovo’s ‘savior’, in conjunction with the socio-economic disparity between foreigners and locals, has fostered the ideal conditions for a local inferiority complex. This complex neutralizes the possibility for any resistance or protest against the “suggestions” of the international community – suggestions like the SDGs. At the same time, the longer the international community has control over the government and the people of Kosovo, the more Kosovar culture will change to mimic contemporary cultural ideals from the ‘West’. It seems like the people and the leaders of Kosovo believe that to become modern is to become Western and to lose trace of any authentic cultural value Kosovars possess.
In this scheme of things, can the SDGs be anything but another colonial effort that has been designed to control and culturally change countries like Kosovo? 


Tomlinson, John. 2007. Globalization and Cultural Identity. Proceedings of the Twenty-First World Congress of Philosophy. Available: https://www.polity.co.uk/global/pdf/GTReader2eTomlinson.pdf [October 2016]. 

Babran, Sedigheh. 2008. Media, Globalization of Culture, and Identity Crisis in Developing Countries. Intercultural Communication Studies. 17(2):212-221.

Gay, Federico Ferro. 1974. Cultural Colonialism.The Southwestern Journal of Philosophy. 5(1):153-59. 

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