Active citizens in Belgrade and Valjevo: Citizens’ Assemblies

Within the European project "Active Citizenship: Promoting and Advancing Innovative Democratic Practices in the Western Balkans", which explores the potential of innovative democratic practices and their application in the Western Balkans, two Citizens’ Assemblies will meet - one in Belgrade, on November 21st and one in Valjevo, on November 28th.

The Citizens’ Assemblies will gether 40 participants. Due to the difficult epidemiological situation in the country and the safety of the participants, the Citizens’ Assemblies will be organized online. Twenty-eight participants were selected to represent the wider population from the territory of the city of Belgrade and Valjevo and its demographic characteristics, while the remaining twelve participants will come from civic associations whose views and reactions to this topic were represented in the public space.

The goal of organizing a Citizens’ Assembly is to include different and opposing views and opinions within a carefully moderated and informed public discussion. In that way, an environment that stimulates the exchange of common-good-based arguments and reaching a  thoughtful decision will be provided.

The topic of the Belgrade Citizens’ Assembly will be the issue of expanding the pedestrian zone from Knez Mihailova Street to the narrow downtown area of Belgrade. There is no doubt that traffic is one of the biggest problems for Belgrade’s functionality. Insufficient public transport and lack of capital facilities, such as bridges, bypasses and subways, significantly burden self-transportation, city traffic, including bicycle and pedestrian mobility. In the context of this problem, the downtown area has been the subject of extensive reconstructions for several years now, one of the main goals of which is to turn the downtown area into a pedestrian zone. Although it has been highlighted in the reports of the Environmental Protection Agency on air quality and is well-known to the professional public, the

problem of air pollution in Valjevo became politically recognized only when the citizens of Valjevo, for whom this problem is of health and existential importance, self-organized. The fact that citizens are still dissatisfied because they are not receiving enough information about what the institutions are doing about this problem is the reason for organizing the Citizens’ Assembly, which is itself prompted by the question of the scope of local self-government and citizens of Valjevo in solving the problem of air pollution. The goal of the Citizens’ Assembly is to find clearer answers to these questions, but also for decision-makers to take responsibility for the implementation of plans and measures adopted by local authorities.

Citizens’ Assemblies are bodies that aim to involve citizens in discussions on issues of public importance (local, national or international). Citizens’ Assemblies are created as an attempt to institutionalize wider and more significant (comprehensive) participation of citizens in response to the problems of modern democracies and democratic practices, in which citizens are not sufficiently involved in the process of formulating and making political decisions that affect their lives.

Coordinated by the Institute of Philosophy and Social Theory, the project "Active Citizenship: Promoting and Advancing Innovative Democratic Practices in the Western Balkans" is supported by the Erasmus + program, through the Jean Monnet network. The project partners are the Belgrade Fund for Political Excellence, the University of Graz (CSEES), and the departments of political science at the University of Turin, the University of Sarajevo and the University of St. Cyril and Methodius in Skopje. The implementation of the project was also supported by the American Embassy in Belgrade.