Dušan Spasojević

The book before you is a comprehensive analysis of the state of democracy in Serbia over the last decade. Iit is also an analysis of the current democratic crisis and an answer to the question of how did we get here – 20 years after the fall of Milošević’s regime, here we are fighting for democratic standards all over again. The goal of this publication was to conduct an overview of the dominant processes that have shaped political life in Serbia, as well as to create a methodological framework that will enable us to, in five, ten years’ time, assess whether or not a change has been made. At least partially, that would stop the practice of selective and opportunistic assessments of democracy. We wanted to avoid stripping democracy down to a single term or a single evaluation by giving a more complex explanation; an explanation that reveals mechanisms and phases of the democratic collapse, seeing as that is a process, not something that happens overnight. For every chapter, we have formulated trends that shape outcomes, and assessments of their impact on democracy; at the same time, those trends show us what are the estimates and expectations and what needs to be changed to improve the state of democracy.

The concept of the study is carefully designed. Though we were inspired by The UK’s Changing Democracy: The 2018 Democratic Audit, we believed that such research is impossible to replicate in Serbia. This is the reason why we consulted numerous international and local experts to create the structure that you see here, which is the product of our understanding of democracy. As a result, some chapters are common for this type of study, while others are a sign of the times or express local particularities.

Democracy as a concept is not explained here in itself but can be deduced from CRTA’s research so far, as well as from the work of the authors we cooperate with. It means that democracy in its core can be viewed through the lens of elections and the election process, their competitiveness and inclusivity, but that elections alone are not what makes a democracy. In other words, it is impossible to have free and fair elections (or for that matter, an election campaign) in a society that does not foster values and mechanisms that lead to such elections. That is why the first chapter of the study talks about the rule of law as a fundamental value of the democratic order; this chapter is followed by chapters that represent the core of contemporary processual and institutional regard of democracy – elections, political parties, and the parliament. These core areas are followed by analyses of the system without which the democratic order would not function. Firstly, the chapters on human rights and gender equality, because we wanted to emphasize the importance of gender equality in our society, as well as reflect on the specific moment in which we are publishing the study, with an intensifying fight for equality, and an increased media interest in gender-based violence. The media chapter belongs here as well. It showcases the growing importance of the media sphere as a mediator between actors, but also as a factor that shapes our opinions and beliefs. The role of civil society can be seen similarly – while in the past it was regarded as a field for articulating interests that create a bond between citizens and parties, now it is becoming a place of initiative, a place of movements that challenge the party monopoly; simultaneously, owing to the lack of institutional solutions, civil society actors are taking over numerous control and regulatory mechanisms. Bearing in mind that social inequalities present a decisive factor in political participation, we believed it was important to cover this subject in a separate chapter. Finally, because of the evident foreign influence on the state of Serbian democracy, one chapter is dedicated to international actors, which was in itself a methodological and empirical challenge.

We would like to point out, that even though each chapter is a study in its own, the research topics are viewed from the perspective of their influence on democracy, which means that certain aspects and elements are being overlooked. Nonetheless, the goal of this study was to consider the influence of chosen elements pertinent to the state of democracy, not analyze in great detail all of the factors that form the socio-political reality in Serbia. Influence on democracy is the prism through which we aim to analyze, evaluate and give recommendations for improvement of democracy in each of the observed areas.

When it comes to the time frame of the study, we aimed to deal with the subject of the state of democracy as a series of analytically separable, but intertwined processes without limiting ourselves to a single moment in time or a single parliamentary convocation. That is why this publication observes a longer period, only loosely limited to the 2010-2020 interval. Taking into account that, in order to understand certain areas, it is necessary to widen the analyzed period and for example, include the parliamentary convocation following the 2008 elections, we found it made sense for the authors to have certain liberty in deciding where their analyses begin and where they end; availability of data or the regularity of research is not the same in all fields, so some chapters do not include the end of the analyzed period.

The second challenge we faced is the strong influence of recent events; the authors tried not to be influenced by ongoing processes and recent breaking points, focusing on trends relevant for the whole analyzed period. Despite that, it is clear that events of this or last year greatly shape the reality we live in. This problem is further emphasized by the periodization used by the authors of the majority of chapters because almost all of them speak of a deepening of the democratic crisis in the last few years (more precisely, since the 2017 presidential election).

The choice of contributors was not an easy task – we wanted to gather influential and esteemed experts in specific areas, and avoid them coming from a homogenous environment, only one institution, university, or city. We wanted to create a dynamic team, with disagreement and disciplinary differences, but a common understanding of the problem and the subject of research. During the choice of reviewers, we had a similar approach – each chapter was read by two experts, persons that do not have a history of cooperation with CRTA nor with the chapter authors, to have the text subjected to rigorous academic scrutiny. 

Despite all of these challenges, we believe that before you lies a comprehensive study that will contribute to a more general understanding of the decline in the quality of democracy in Serbia. Even more importantly, the study is not limited to providing a diagnosis, but aims to offer a roadmap for improvement of each of the analyzed aspects and their influence on democracy.

In hope that we will not wait for the desired changes for too long, 

Professor Dušan Spasojević,