Workshop: Active citizenship and democracy in the Western Balkans

The purpose of this workshop is to discuss the various aspects of the crisis of democracy in the WB, but with a strong accent on bottom-up tendencies to overcome it and challenge the status quo.

The crisis of representative democracy has become a global issue of concern, highly debated in the EU as well, where it is tangibly manifested in a low election turnout, progressive withdrawal of citizens from the arenas of democratic participation and in the consequent rise of populism and far-right tendencies. The post-socialist and post-conflict societies of the Western Balkans are experiencing additional challenges such as the infinitely prolonged interregnum accession to the EU, as well as the rise of the so called “stabilocracy”, a type of government where the EU is de facto ready to turn a blind eye on authoritarian, populist and anti-democratic Balkan leaders as long as they vouch for political stability in the fragile region.

However, recently we have witnessed a tide of citizens’ dissatisfaction with this trend. Different kinds of citizens’ mobilizations against authoritarian tendencies and for greater inclusion of citizens into the decision-making processes and for more democratization in general has started to emerge: from the so-called colourful revolution in Skopje, to citizens’ ad hoc assemblies, or plenums in Bosnia and Herzegovina, to civic initiatives tackling urban rejuvenation projects, to various forms of less-visible ‘every-day, discrete activism’ in smaller communities. They all exhibit citizens’ willingness to democratize societies in which they live and to experiment with different forms of bottom-up participation and inclusion.

In such demands for participation citizens of the WB countries sometimes look to their own past, whether in search for inspirational traditions, like socialist self-government modes, whether to avoid the perils of ethno-national divisions that came as a result of the 1990s conflicts and subsequent consociational arrangements. But they also look for inspiration to other forms of participative strategies and democratic innovations taking place in various social movements throughout Europe.

Our aim is to gather scholars, CSO members and other experts to discuss the following issues:

  • EU integration of the WB: failure or stagnation? Critical approach to key explanatory notions: transition, internal lack of democratic tradition, EU enlargement fatigue.
  • Transition to what? Examining the “true” indicators of democratization; social justice, rule of law, democratic procedures, civic participation.
  • Civil society organizations and the promotion of democracy: whose allies?
  • Critical approaches to the notion of populism: who can represent “the people”?
  • New social movements and protest culture in the WB: agendas, actors, and ideologies.
  • Inspiring models and networking: what do social movements in the WB share with similar movements in Europe?
  • Democratic experimentations: direct democracy, horizontality, and every-day activism; challenges and obstacles.
  • Regional synergies and the creation of “Yugosphere”: from Yugo-nostalgia to new regionalism.