CHALLENGES AND DILEMMAS OF CONTEMPORARY DEMOCRACY
PARTICIPATORY EXPERIMENTS IN SERBIA: DEMOCRATIC INNOVATIONS?
Since the beginning of the 21st century, several experiments
that can be, without doubt, classified as democratic innovations have
taken place in Serbia. Despite this fact, this field of study is relatively
underdeveloped in Serbian political science. This paper aims to remedy
this gap in literature, by offering a preliminary review of innovative
democratic initiatives in Serbia, as a starting point for future research.
In order to do this, the paper starts with construction of a theoretical
and methodological framework, based on solutions from recent
scholarly literature. Such framework would allow for identification and
classification of democratic innovations. Analysis of publicly available
data on democratic innovation projects shows that the most of them
can be categorized as direct democracy, co-governance or consultativedeliberative
procedures or innovations based on new informationcommunication
technologies. The instruments of direct democracy –
referendum, citizens’ initiative and citizen assemblies are guaranteed
by appropriate legislation, but are rarely used. This is partially due to
the strict deadlines and thresholds prescribed by law, but also can be
attributed to the lack of formalized follow-up procedures.
Participatory budgeting is the most widespread and most
thoroughly researched form of democratic innovation worldwide, so
it is not surprising that there were efforts to replicate these experiences
in Serbia. It was introduced on local level within three internationally
funded projects, but the sustainability of the established procedures
is yet to be determined. The major obstacle to wider application of
participatory budgeting is the fact that only a minor part of the local
budgets can be subject to this type of decision-making.
Finally, digital innovations are usually focused on national
level, and have not resolved the standard controversy related to this
type of experiment: whether they promote more inclusive participation,
or are they petrifying the existing power disbalances and replicate
General conclusion may be that introduction of democratic
innovations in Serbia is still in its infancy and primarily donor-driven,
which has both positive and negative consequences. On one hand, it
allows for more intensive involvement of civil society organizations,
but on the other, the dependency on international funding is diminishing
the chance for long-term sustainability. Nevertheless, there is the need
for deeper research into inner workings as well as impact of those
innovations, in order to provide not only better understanding of their
strengths and weaknesses, but also guidelines for future projects.